There is still a long way to go until October, but there will be some players hitting the ice later this week in Kamloops, British Columbia.
Many of the top under-20 players in the world will take part in the World Junior Summer Showcase, a camp that is the first step in determining the rosters of the United States, Canada, Sweden, and Finland for the 2019 World Junior Championship.
Among the players participating will be Dallas Stars forward prospect Jason Robertson, who will be vying for a spot on Team USA's roster for World Juniors, which will be held in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia beginning in late December.
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"It's a priority," Robertson said. "My No. 1 priority is to play for the Dallas Stars eventually, but (the World Junior team) is a separate goal and something I am going to work to be on. I've talked to the head coach, and he personally invited me there, so I think that is a good start."
This will be Robertson's second appearance at the World Junior Summer Showcase. He was invited to last year's event in Plymouth, Michigan and it was a learning experience for Robertson, who has never played for the USA internationally at any level. He was among the first players cut from the USA roster at last year's World Junior Summer Showcase, but expects to be better prepared this time around.
"My first time was, I wouldn't say awkward, but I wasn't in the groove doing anything USA related," Robertson said. "Going into the second year, I know what to expect. It was the first time I had ever played a Swedish team or a Finnish team. I had just watched it, never played it. Going into my second year, I understand what they are going to play like and how I should play. I am looking forward to it, and the (U.S. World Junior team) is something I want to play on."
Robertson, who turned 19 on Sunday, is coming off a second straight superb season with the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League. Robertson tallied 87 points (41 goals, 46 assists) in 68 games in 2017-18, tying for sixth in the league in goals and tying for seventh in points. His 15 power-play goals tied for fifth in the league and he led the OHL with 308 shots on goal.
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"He's got extremely quick hands, slick hands," said Rich Peverley, the Stars' player development coordinator. "You can tell he's getting a little more explosive and that's probably from the off-ice training. His shot is an NHL shot now. He can pick corners. He's got great hands and instincts around the net."
In the postseason, Robertson recorded 18 points (10 goals, eight assists) in 16 games as the Frontenacs made it to the Eastern Conference championship series, losing to fellow Stars prospect Nick Caamano's Hamilton Bulldogs. It was Kingston's longest playoff run in a quarter century.
Ask Robertson about his season, and he doesn't focus on his statistics. He prefers to talk about the deep playoff run and the leadership role he played on the team. Robertson was an alternate captain for the Frontenacs last season, wearing the "A" on his jersey during home games.
"They knew going into my third year I needed to be more of a leader not only on the ice but off the ice," Robertson said. "It was just being a confident player and being consistent every night is something I strived to do this past year to try to show how I play. I thought I did that this year. Statistically, it is what it is. Stats are stats. On the ice, I try to work hard to be a great leader for my teammates.
"We acquired some very skilled players and tried to build around that. I was lucky to be a part of that and be one of the guys they could lean on in order to make this run. It was a good season although we eventually got knocked out in the third round. It was good to get Kingston in the third round for the first time in 25 years. It was really special to do that."
The Stars selected Robertson in the second round (39th overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft. He might have gone higher, but there were questions among some scouts about his skating. That's an area he continues to work on and improve. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Robertson, who plays right wing and shoots left-handed, made strides in other areas as well over the past year.
"The grit part, harder to get more pucks. Using my body -- my 6-2 frame -- to my advantage," he said. "The two years before, I don't think I used that a lot and didn't play as hard as a game that I could play. This past year, I've been a lot more gritty, hard to play against, harder on pucks, forechecking, and driving the net."
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Robertson was named to the OHL's Third All-Star team last season and in the annual OHL Coaches Poll he finished among the top three vote-getters in four categories in the Eastern Conference: Smartest Player (second); Most Dangerous in Goal Area (third); Best Shot (third); and Best Shootout Shooter (third).
Not long after Robertson's season ended, the Stars announced they had signed Robertson to a three-year entry-level contract, and then he headed south to spend some time with the Texas Stars. Robertson didn't play for Texas, but he got to soak up the experience of what it is like in the pros.
"It was an eye-opener. To be able to see them in the playoffs and see all these players training as hard as they can," Robertson said. "I flew in there by myself and was the only Black Ace at the time, the new guy. Some guys came in with other guys, but it was just me, and I had a lot of one-on-one time with J.J. (McQueen, a Stars player development coordinator). He went through a lot of stuff and things I need to work on. I took that back to Toronto, where I am training this summer."
Robertson is expected to play one more season in juniors, but he is paving his path to the pro ranks. He is working out this summer with highly-respected Gary Roberts, who trains many NHL players and other top prospects.
"He's taken a huge step. The door has been kicked open for him to be a professional hockey player," Peverley said. "He's training with Gary Roberts this summer, which is a huge commitment on his part. He's living up there by himself. He's training with other guys that are taking that big step, and that is ultimately going to make him a better player next year."
And while that should help push Robertson toward his long-term goal of becoming a Dallas Star, he'll take on a more immediate goal this week as he looks to put his best foot forward at the World Junior Summer Showcase in hopes of landing a spot on the USA's World Junior team.
"It wasn't meant to be last year," Robertson said. "This year is something I am really striving for, and I think I have a good chance."
2018 World Junior Summer Showcase
Robertson won't be the only Dallas prospect at the World Junior Summer Showcase, which runs from Saturday, July 28 to Saturday, Aug. 4. Forward Ty Dellandrea (first round/2018) is on Canada's roster and forward Oskar Back (third round/2018) is on Sweden's roster.
Teams will hold practice sessions over the weekend and then begin playing games on Monday, July 30.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.
Read more: Jason Robertson, World Junior Championship, Dallas Stars