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Future Watch: World Junior Championship

The 2017 World Junior Championship begins in just under a week with two Oilers prospects vying to participate in the tournament

by Paul Gazzola / EdmontonOilers.com

 

In just under a week, the pucks will be dropped in Toronto and Montreal for the commencement of the 2017 World Junior Championship (WJC). In Montreal, playing out of the Bell Centre will be Group A: Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Denmark and Switzerland. Group B will skate in Toronto's Air Canada Centre and feature Canada, USA, Russia, Slovakia and Latvia.

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With this year's edition of the annual tournament comes a new book of storylines. New configurations of national jerseys are unveiled. New players are introduced to the world.

A new chapter will be written, and new memories will be created.

"All growing up at Christmas break, it's what you look forward to and you watch it," said Peterborough Petes goaltender and Oilers draft pick Dylan Wells. "I think every kid that lives in Canada dreams of one day playing, so if I had the chance to represent my country there, I'd be thrilled."

Wells, who is well-known to Hockey Canada after winning a gold medal at the Ivan Hlinka U-18 event - and is believed to be in the conversation to tend the twine for Canada next year - stated the general consensus for all World Junior hopefuls. His sentiment could be universally applied to all skaters that are either on the cusp of making their nation's team or not. The perennial circuit is one that every junior hockey player dreams of being part of.

Just having the experience of participating is an accolade in itself.

Among the Oilers organization, two players are still skating with their country's national under-20 team: Portland Winterhawks defenceman Caleb Jones (USA) and Sioux City Musketeers centre Aapeli Räsänen (Finland). Every team's final roster must be submitted by December 25, as the competition begins the next day.

"I'm obviously going there expecting to make the team," said Jones, who won a gold medal at the under-18 championship in 2014-15. "It should be a fun tournament. My goal is to go there and make the team and hopefully contribute to winning a gold medal."

Jones' brother, Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Seth Jones, won a gold medal at the World Junior tournament in 2013. Although they don't talk about it with each other - or about hockey very much when they're together - the younger Jones is hoping he can achieve the same honour.

"I obviously won one at the U-18 but I think the under-20s are just a different level and it's even cooler so hopefully I can get it this year," he said.

Very few players actually get to live out their fantasy of playing in the event, but a constant that all skaters and hockey fans share is a special memory of the WJC that they look back at fondly.

For Wells, it's Jordan Eberle's 2009 semi-final game-tying goal against the Russians with 5.4 seconds left on the clock in Ottawa.

"I remember sitting in my living room watching that one with my parents and we were all going nuts," Wells said. "Five seconds left in a game, you can't really see something like that coming. When the goal was scored and they ended up going on to win the game, it was a pretty awesome game to watch."

Jones - a Texas native - vividly remembers John Carlson's overtime winner the next year against Canada in Saskatchewan.

"In 2010, John Carlson's overtime goal," Jones said. "That one definitely sticks out to me… it was a cool moment."

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - when questioned what his favourite World Junior moment is, as Eberle stood 10 feet away from him - jokingly decided not to give his Oilers teammate the acknowledgment he so often receives.

"I'm not going to bring that one up because he (Eberle) hears it enough," he joked. "But there's a lot of great moments that I remember. I mean, (Jonathan) Toews in the shootout and just watching Sid (Crosby) play as a young guy was really cool."

Oilers Director of Player Personnel Bob Green, who will work out of Montreal for the 2017 edition of the World Juniors, attended last year's event in Helsinki, Finland. What he witnessed in that finale proved to be a memorable experience.

"Watching (Patrik) Laine and (Jesse) Puljujärvi and the Finnish team at home in front of big crowds, and playing the way they did and finishing the tournament with a gold medal was pretty special to watch," Green said.

Green and the Oilers scouting staff ended up selecting tournament MVP Puljujärvi fourth overall later that year in the 2016 NHL Draft.

To say that the hockey world is excited for the newest instalment of the World Junior Championship would be an understatement. By all accounts, the buzz is just beginning - and increasing.

After years of sensational displays of hockey, moments made and holidays capped, the elation will undoubtedly reach its climax when the gold medal game is played on January 5 - no matter which of the 10 nations are the final two facing off.

A question remains: which team and players will be the ones to script the next chapter?

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