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Why The Upcoming World Juniors Are Important To Vegas

Learn more about why the tournament is important to both hockey and the Golden Knights.

by Dan Marrazza @GoldenKnights /

When Las Vegas was awarded an NHL franchise on June 22, it was the impetus for a lot of firsts.

The first major league sports franchise for Las Vegas? Check. Nevada's first chance to take center stage in the hockey world? Double check.

As the Golden Knights take the ice in their first season next fall, a whole slew of other firsts - the first goal, first win, first players - will follow.

For general manager George McPhee, an important first will be coming in the next week, when he and his staff attend their first World Junior Championships as a Golden Knights staff.

"We'll have at least six members of our staff, and probably seven at the games," McPhee said. "You can also watch in Canada, and at least in some parts of the U.S., on television. I'm sure a few of our scouts that are traveling will be able to pick up a few of those games. We'll have a big presence there. It's important to be sure we're comprehensive."

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The World Junior Championships are an annual international tournament held from late December-early January, where the world's top players under the age of 20 represent their countries in a high-stakes amateur tournament.

This year's tournament will be held in both Toronto and Montreal. A round-robin schedule will run from December 26-31, with eight of 10 nations qualifying for a single-elimination playoff round that will run from January 2-5.

"With respect to Las Vegas, we're watching in two different ways," McPhee said. "We're watching for any draft eligible players that are playing. We'll get to know them better and see how they're playing against better competition, and older competition. We're also watching players who have already been drafted. To see how they have developed and how they come along, and what the other teams can expect."

For those Golden Knights fans who will be watching their first World Junior tournament, here are four important things to know about what the tournament is and why it is important.

RELATED: Full World Juniors television schedule

1. This is the world's most prestigious tournament for players who have yet to reach the NHL.

And not only that, it's often an accurate predictor of what players will go on to star in the NHL in coming seasons.

For example, Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets is a favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year this season. Just last year, Laine was one of the vital cogs in Finland's drive to gold medals.

Watch: Youtube Video

If you scroll through World Junior tournaments from the past decade, almost every teenager to take home individual hardware has gone on to star in the NHL.

They include: 2015: Current Arizona Coyote Max Domi won the award as the tournament's top forward.

The same award was given to Filip Forsberg (Nashville Predators), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton Oilers), Evgeni Kuznetsov (Washington Capitals), Brayden Schenn (Philadelphia Flyers), Jordan Eberle (Edmonton Oilers) and John Tavares (New York Islanders) the previous six years.

2. Some of these players may be available for the Golden Knights next summer.

The World Juniors is largely a 19-year-olds tournament, when players are normally selected in the NHL Entry Draft at age 18.

As a result, several of this year's top performers, especially on stacked Canadian and American teams, have already been drafted by NHL teams.

But as you make your way through the rosters - especially those of European teams - there are many top talents that will be eligible to be selected in this June's NHL Entry Draft, in which the Golden Knights are scheduled to make seven selections.

The top draft-eligible players in this year's World Juniors include:

Eeli Tolvanen (Forward/Finland)
Nico Hischier (Forward/Switzerland)
Miro Heiskanen (Defense/Finland)
Martin Necas (Forward/Czech Republic)

3. It gives Vegas fans something to root for.

Hockey's a sport that's way more interesting for fans when they have a favorite team to cheer for. And with the Golden Knights not beginning play until next fall, the 2016-17 NHL season doesn't do much to provide Vegas fans with a favorite team to root for.

With the United States entering the World Juniors as one of the tournament favorites, it'll be a fun opportunity for Vegas hockey fans to watch high-level hockey and have a team to get behind.

"It's a very, very exciting tournament," Golden Knights GM George McPhee said. "There are lots of lead changes, lots of goals. Lots of mistakes made, which makes it exciting. And when you're playing on an international level and representing your country, players are typically playing as hard as they can. From a spectator standpoint, it's really fun to watch."

4. United States vs. Canada

In recent years, the rivalry between these two countries has become incredibly fierce, especially in this tournament.

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The pivotal point in this rivalry, to many, came in 2004. After U.S. teams had rarely contended for medals in previous decades and been dominated by Canada, the Americans - led by Zach Parise and Ryan Suter - stunned their neighbors to win the nation's first gold medals.

The bizarre ending of that game (watch below) was especially memorable.

Watch: Youtube Video

In recent years, Canada has still maintained an advantage by winning five of the last seven meetings against their American rivals, although the U.S. has scored some critical victories in elimination games.

Team USA and Canada renew the rivalry on New Year's Eve.

For those who've yet to experience this rivalry, it's must-see hockey.

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