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PRINCIPE: Playing in Penticton

by Gene Principe / Edmonton Oilers
Photo Getty Images

It's back to school, back to work and back to Penticton. Another year and another Young Stars Tournament. This all started in 2010 and since the inception of this event, Edmonton has rolled through some high-end talent. From the opening tournament that involved Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Pääjärvi, to last year's event that was highlighted by Connor McDavid — in-between Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl — there has never been a shortage of Oilers talent, and this year is no different.

Next up is Jesse Puljujarvi. The Finnish kid who was supposed to go somewhere other than Edmonton. Even if Columbus has a General Manager from Finland, Edmonton has a history with Finns, namely Jari Kurri and Esa Tikkanen. Same nationality, but way different players. The one thing they had in common, other than their birthplace, is they knew how to win. Five cups for Kurri, four more for Tikkanen. One was quiet, while the other never shut up. Just ask their opponents. It is way too early to tell what Puljujarvi will end up being. Here's what we do know. He's big, he's strong, he's talented and he's got the chance to jump right into a spot on the wing with Edmonton.

Whether they had to or they wanted — to or somewhere in-between — the Oilers have moved their high picks right into a spot in the NHL. Save for Darnell Nurse, it's been a fast track to the NHL. It has been met with more success than failure when it comes to planting these players in the big leagues. Puljujarvi has everything available to him in order to be the next one to do it. While the 18-year-old wasn't healthy enough to skate at prospects camp in the summer, he's ready to go for Penticton.

The excitement surrounding him first stems from the unexpected landing of the Finn at the draft. Secondly, it may still be summer, but what he did last winter still resonates in the world of hockey. At the World Juniors he won a gold medal with Finland. He also had an individual performance worthy of gold. In seven games he had five goals and 12 assists. The 17 points placed him second all-time for points by an under-18 player. One point back of Jaromir Jagr's 18 and equal to Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros. He was named the tournament's best forward and MVP. Hard not to be impressed.

While the focus will be on Puljujarvi let's not forget players like Ethan Bear. A fifth-round pick who had a great season with Seattle, including 22 points in the playoffs. There's Seth Jones’s younger brother Caleb Jones. There's a couple of local boys in Matthew Benning and Tyler Benson. And how about Drake Caggiula? He led North Dakota to the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four title as an assistant captain and also earned the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award. Just a few of the reasons they are players to watch in Penticton for this year's Young Stars Tournament.

- Gene Principe
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