Four or five years from now, many of the top prospects we’re seeing at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Edmonton this week will make up the next wave of young stars in the NHL. Before they get there, before they even get drafted this coming June, we get a glimpse them all in one place at hockey tournaments like this one.
While not many people have taken advantage of that opportunity through the first days of the tournament – there have been far more empty seats than fans inside Rogers Place – this is where you get to catch a rising star. Be it one of the Team Canada kids like Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, Peyton Krebs and Alexis Lafreniere or their Russian, Czech or Team Swedish counterparts, it doesn’t matter.
This is where scouts – about 285 of them are registered to attend the tournament – and fans try to figure out where everybody stacks up in the pecking order of that next wave. Most of these kids were long ago funneled into elite streams and teams that have landed them here. They are unquestionably talented, but they’re still so young and, in many cases, so raw. They are works in progress, and not all of them will make it.
Having been locked in NHL mode the last two decades or so, wandering around Rogers Place the last couple of days took me back to the 1991 World Junior Championship in Saskatoon, the last major junior tournament I covered. The fuzzy-cheeked kids then were Pavel Bure, Eric Lindros, Doug Weight and Ziggy Palffy. They all made it big. Not so much, at least not to the same level, Jiri Slegr, who was named the best defenceman in the tournament, or Pauli Jaks of Switzerland, named the top goaltender.
The truth is, whether you’re a seasoned scout or just a fan wanting to catch a rising star, you seldom know for certain how the players you watch today will turn out four or five years from now. Down the road, it’s very cool, though, to be able to say you saw the next great player, whoever he might be, when he was just a kid. I’ve still got the scoresheet from the 1991 gold medal game in which Canada beat Russia 3-2. Lots of future NHL stars on the ice that day, just as there are at Rogers Place this week – I just can’t say for certain who they’ll be.
WAITING ON JOE
It’s been 10 days since I wrote about the plight of former Oiler Joe Murphy, who is homeless and living in Kenora, Ont. Murphy is living in a tent in a field, he doesn’t have a permanent address or even a phone, so he’s difficult to reach, as people who are living on the street often are unless you can physically look for them.
I’ve talked to several people in Kenora, including Mike Aiken, who wrote the original story about Joe, and I’ve reached out to Michael Strecker, who owns the land Murphy is staying on and has taken my contact information. I’ve let Strecker know there are people willing to help Murphy if he wants it, but he basically finds himself as a reluctant middle-man in all of this.
“He sits around and he smiles and he talks to people,” Strecker said of Murphy. “He seems to be pretty satisfied from what I see about him. You can leave a message or whatever and when I see him I’ll give it to him and he can do what he wants with it. It’s none of my business what he wants to do. To be honest, I think he’s just trying to get away from everything.”
LOUIE AND DREW
I don’t have a problem with today’s reports that Louie DeBrusk will be taking over color commentary duties from Drew Remenda alongside play-by-play man Kevin Quinn for Oilers TV broadcasts on Sportsnet next season. I enjoy the work both of them do, even though their styles are markedly different.
Remenda has been a polarizing figure with the fan base and that’s fine. I think he’s a real pro who is always prepared and I like it that he wasn’t a fart catcher for the team. You may well have a different opinion and that’s okay. For me, he was substance over style.
As for Louie, who was replaced by Remenda back in 2014, I think he’s improved dramatically in the years since, when he was seen as something of a homer, the opposite of Remenda. Louie is easier on the ears, for sure, and his takes now provide a lot more insight than they did a few years ago.