Oh, it's the most wonderful time of the year – the World Junior Championship is upon us! And the top story at the tourney will naturally be Canada's effort for a sixth straight gold medal, but for Oilers fans, there are players on a whole slew of teams to watch out for.
On Team Canada, the golden boy is Jordan Eberle, drafted 22nd overall by Edmonton in 2008. Eberle had a great training camp with the Copper and Blue and has a legitimate shot at the NHL roster next season. At last year's world juniors, the diminutive center was an offensive force, using his speed and shot to do damage. As one of the returning players for Canada, Eberle will once again be looked upon for goals.
If Eberle is a future Edmonton sniper, Sweden's Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson is the future playmaker. Paajarvi-Svensson was good at the tournament last year, but with another year in the Swedish Elite League under his belt, I really expect him to fly in Saskatchewan. At 6-foot-1, 201 pounds, MPS has both size and elite skill and though he will need time to adjust to the North American game once he comes over here, this kid has top talent.
Also on Sweden, but providing a different skill set is Anton Lander. Known for his leadership and solid two-way game, Lander was picked later in the same 2009 draft as Paajarvi-Svensson, but has the opportunity to put just as much of a stamp on Edmonton as his teammate from Timra.
But the player I'm most excited to see in Saskatchewan is Finland's Toni Rajala. A wunderkind since he was a young teen, Rajala was once touted as the Finnish Sidney Crosby. At 5-foot-10, 163 pounds, he may not wear that tag anymore, but keep in mind Phil Kessel was once called the American Sidney Crosby and he turned out all right.
The key for Rajala is that he has been honing his North American game with the Western League's Brandon Wheat Kings this season, where he has been quite successful. Rajala has 33 points through 31 games and is learning how to fight through physical play and work his offensive magic on the smaller ice surfaces. He'll face off against Wheat Kings teammate Brayden Schenn at the tourney, who will star for Canada.
So no matter who comes out on top this year, the future for the Oilers looks bright.
This article also appeared in the Edmonton Metro newspaper.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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