- Beginning on Dec. 26, Alberta will be home to the world. Split between Edmonton and Calgary, the 2012 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship will pit the world's greatest 20-and-under players against one another in a battle of skill, will and national pride.
"These players are not only the next NHLers, but they're the next great NHLers," said Oilers President of Hockey Operations, Kevin Lowe. "It's an incredible tournament. I'm really pleased that it's in our own backyard, too. We've spent a lot of years going to Russia and Sweden and other places, so it's really special to have it here."
While most players have already been selected by NHL teams, it's an opportunity for each to check in on their talent's development; their ability to handle a high-pressure situation, too, as the sold-out buildings will exude a most thrilling (and challenging) game-night atmosphere.
Some, such as Team Canada's Tanner Pearson and Ryan Murray, are eligible this coming June, allowing space for teams' amateur scouts to do their best; but the Oilers will, as you'd expect, be providing a consistent presence, keeping an eye on the orange and blue's budding prospects.
"A lot," Lowe said, regarding the Oilers' view on this tournament's importance. "Our amateur guys assess and scout, then they move away and our pro guys come in. (GM) Steve Tambellini, (Head Amateur Scout) Stu MacGregor and (Coordinator of Player Development) Billy Moores and our entire development crew watch the players.
"I like to tell people that they see the future of the Oilers right now, but what I'm most excited about besides those players (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
, Jordan Eberle
, Taylor Hall
and others) because they're great players, is we've got another wave of real talented, solid players that will build the hockey club for many years down the road."
The Oilers will be represented well at this year's tournament. While no player made the cut on Team Canada, Martin Gernat
and Martin Marincin
will suit up for Team Slovakia, David Musil
will don the Czech Republic's red and blue, and Oscar Klefbom
will be the team's lone Swedish representative.
All are rearguards, and all are eager to please the Oilers' brass in the same province where the parent club won multiple Stanley Cups in the team's storied history. Joining that contingent is Kristians Pelss
who, in his second season with the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings, has emerged with 13 goals and 25 points in 34 games.
"We categorize players that we assume are going to play [in the NHL] and ones that are our prospects, but are uncertain of whether or not they'll play," Lowe explained. "I use this from a statistical standpoint, because the odds of every player making it aren't good, and it won't happen."
That being said, the Oilers are optimistic with this year's assembly. Gernat is a WHL rookie and has set a torrid pace with seven goals and 25 points in 31 games with the Oil Kings. Marincin is in his second Jr. season, posting three goals and 16 points in 28 WHL contests; a similar campaign to Musil, too, who's amassed one goal and 16 points.
While those three are setting a break-neck pace in the CHL, Klefbom is across the pond in Sweden's Elitserien. He's gone without a point in 17 games this season, his second with Farjestads BK, but he's the only Oilers prospect to be playing in a pro league at such a young age (18).
All are towering blueliners, known as elite puck-movers with an even greater ability to produce at both ends of the rink. With young talent already patrolling the Oilers' backend, this grouping will emerge as the team's next generation.
"I really think that they all have similar attributes," Lowe said. "They've all got great size, they all have good skating ability, they all can pass the puck, they all have great hockey sense and they're all very competitive.
"I think that in a number of years, in all likelihood, all four of those players will be on the blueline for the Oilers."-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
- Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick