CALGARY, AB -- Prospects of the Calgary Flames will look to shine at the Young Stars Classic.
But they aren’t the only ones looking to leave an impression on their respective NHL clubs.
The next wave of Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, and Vancouver Canucks will descend on South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton from Sept. 16-19 with the hopes of leaving a lasting impression on their future employers.
And there is plenty of potential to keep an eye on.
Including Jesse Puljujarvi, the No. 4 pick from the 2016 NHL Draft, and potential headliner of the tournament.
“He’s a neat story for me,” said Peter Loubardias, Flames radio colour analyst. “I had a chance a few years ago, before everything exploded for him and (Patrik) Laine and (Olli) Juolevi in the sense that I watched all those kids at the Mac’s Midget tournament when they won that in Calgary.
“At that point you could tell, that maybe not all were going to be selected in the top-5 of the 2016 NHL Draft, but those kids excite me for the simple reason that in some ways I feel like I had a great look and a preview of those kids before anybody else had a clue who they were.
“To see their progression … and Puljujarvi has great size, explosive, great skater … all three are different, but even in the final of that tournament against Switzerland, he was arguably the best player that day in that 7-1 win.
“He was absolutely dynamite.”
Puljujarvi helped Finland to gold at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, posting five goals and 17 assists in seven games to lead the tournament. He was the highest-scoring under-18 player at the tournament since Jaromir Jagr recorded 18 points in 1990, and became the youngest player to earn tournament MVP honours.
He will be joined by Tyler Benson (No. 32), and Markus Niemelainen (No. 63) at the tournament. Benson had nine goals and 28 points in 30 games with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League last season.
Puljujarvi will also have a connection to Vancouver’s entry in the tournament. He and Juolevi were teammates at the World Juniors.
“Juolevi, to me, he’s so smart … reads the game so well, sees it well,” he said. “He isn’t the most physical guy, but I think he’s going to be a heck of a pro when the time comes. I don’t know if it’ll be this year. It’s hard to play in the NHL, for most people, at 18, on the back end.
“I like his game. He’s calm. He’s very composed. The only element for me that I don’t think he’s fabulous at is the physical side. But the way he reads it, sees it, makes first passes, can help you on your power play potentially, he’s a really, really good player.”
Juolevi was selected fifth overall, one pick ahead of London Knights teammate and Flames prospect Matthew Tkachuk.
As a rookie, Juolevi had 33 assists and 42 points with London, and along with his gold medal from the World Juniors, also captured the J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL champions, and the Memorial Cup as Canadian Hockey League champions.
Juolevi will play alongside goaltender Thatcher Demko and defenceman Jordan Subban. Demko went 27-8-4 in 39 games with Boston College last year, with a 1.88 goals against average and .935 save percentage.
He’ll see former NCAA standout Kyle Connor represent the Jets in the tournament.
“Connor is probably first for me,” Loubardias said. “I’m still astounded he didn’t make the United States World Junior team last year. He had an outstanding year at the University of Michigan. He played at the World Championship for the United States.
“The first time I saw him was at the World Junior A Challenge in Kindersley a couple years ago. You could see he had elite level skill. I was absolutely astounded that he didn’t make the World Junior team last year.”
Connor had 35 goals and 71 points in 38 games at the University of Michigan last year, and added two assists in five games at the 2016 IIHF World Championship. He signed a contract to turn pro in April.
Patrik Laine, the second overall pick in the 2016 draft, will not be in Penticton. Laine is representing Finland at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. Logan Stanley, selected 18th overall, will be.
Stanley, a 6-foot-7 defenceman, had five goals and 17 points in 64 games with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL in 2015-16, and represented Canada at the 2016 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.