There was a time in this fair land when the World Juniors did not run. The annual post-Christmas tournament is in Buffalo this year and Oiler fans will be rewarded once again with prospects present and future.
Team Canada begins its camp today. The roster is here. There are two Oiler prospects in the mix:
- G Olivier Roy looked good at the summer camp and would have to be considered a favorite to at least make the team. Calvin Pickard’s strong WHL season may give him the edge for the starting job.
- Big winger Curtis Hamilton is in the top 10 in WHL scoring and stands a good chance at making this year’s tournament. There aren’t many returning forwards and Hamilton’s size/skill combination should get him a long look from the coaches.
Once again the Canadian squad will have two or three exceptional draft eligibles at the camp. Several of these kids are can’t miss prospects and all of them are on the Oilers radar:
- C Sean Couturier. 6.03, 192. Big winger is very likely #1 on the Oilers list for 2011. Ranks 3rd in QMJHL scoring (32gp, 16-35-51) and looks like that big C the Oilers have been searching for since trading Jason Arnott. If there’s one player at this tournament we should get to know it’s Couturier. At this point he’s probably headed to the Islanders (better there than Calgary) but you never know.
- C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. 6.0, 166. 31gp, 8-33-41 is good enough for 11th in WHL scoring. Ridiculous puck skills make him a lottery pick and scouts have been doing the same thing all season: going in worrying over his lack of size and coming out dazzled by his wizardry. This could be a big tournament for RNH. If he posts a strong number, it could carry him to the #2 pick.
- D Ryan Murphy 5.11, 176. 28gp, 13-31-44 in the OHL (good enough for a 9th place tie in league scoring, he leads all defensemen). This is a player Oiler fans should watch closely. Quality puck moving defender, if he makes the team it’ll be an upset (Canada is stacked along the blue) but he looks like a game breaker.
There are some terrific Oiler prospects from other countries who we may see in Buffalo. Here are three:
- C Anton Lander (Sweden): He went 6gp, 5-3-8 at last year’s WJs and is having a fine season in the SEL (30gp, 7-7-14 E) with Timra. He is a strong candidate for center on the Oilers moving forward.
- D Martin Marincin (Slovakia): 6gp, 0-2-2 -3 a year ago; he turned heads at the tournament and should be even better with a year’s experience. I’ll be interested to see how much offense he brings considering his breakout season in the WHL.
- R Toni Rajala (Finland) Scored 6gp, 1-2-3 last season and impressed with his speed. Rajala’s SM-Liiga season is only average so far (20gp, 5-5-10) but he has tremendous talent and should impact the WJ’s.
NOTE: Selections haven’t been made for these countries (and others), so this is a select list. There are other names who may be included by the time the WJ’s arrive, this is not meant to be a comprehensive list of Oiler prospects who’ll play at the World Juniors this season.
There are about three times a year when I say "this is my favorite time of year": trade deadline, draft day and the world junior’s. They’re all like Christmas for hockey fans, with the WJ having the added advantage of sliding into a holiday period for many of us. Oiler fans have much to look forward to this season, at the NHL level and below. The world junior championships should be no exception.