Sunday, 9 September 2012

Junior Teams See Stars

I've already spoken about the opportunity in past articles for younger players to gain an opportunity to play in the AHL if the NHL and NHLPA cannot come to an agreement. Having watched AHL hockey for a number of years, I can honestly say that it is an excellent alternative to the high-priced entertainment of the NHL. The games are entertaining, the tickets are affordable, and the teams really seem to reach out to their communities. But what about those players drafted this past season who are too young to play in the AHL? If you have a junior team near you, there's a good chance that you'll be able to see a number of great young stars shining brightly in the CHL this season.

A number of young players have already committed to playing in the CHL this season if the NHL season is postponed. Among them include Ryan Murray who will join the WHL's Everett Silvertips, Doug Hamilton will go back to the OHL's Niagara Ice Dogs, Griffin Reinhart will rejoin the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings, and Alex Galchenyuk will report back to the OHL's Sarnia Sting. In short, this might be a great season to check out the junior ranks as a vast number of teams will have overage stars suiting up for them.

The one place that always seems to hurt with some of these outstanding young men cracking the roster of an NHL team are the junior national teams. Canada routinely sees three or more players who could play in the World Junior Championships miss out due to their contributions with their NHL clubs. Russia, USA, Sweden, and Finland also experience this problem, but this season could prove to be one of the better tournaments if all of the best under-20 players are made available to their respective World Junior teams.

With the World Junior Championships taking place in Ufa, Russia this year, there's a good chance that a strong Russian team will bring the Russian hockey fans out to the rink. Nail Yakupov, who has already stated that he would be playing in the KHL if there is a lockout, would be a major star in his home country. There would be a good chance of him actually missing the tournament as it was expected that he would be suiting up for the Edmonton Oilers this season.

Canada, however, will get a big boost if the lockout actually happens. Players like Mark Scheifele, Jonathan Huberdeau, Ryan Murray, and even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can suit up when it was thought they would be playing for their NHL clubs, providing a huge boost to Team Canada to go along with potential returnees Ryan Strome, Boone Jenner, and Scott Harrington. Nathan MacKinnon was thought to be a lock for this team, but with the vast number of stars available, he'll have to shine to knock one of the older players off the roster. There's no doubt that Canada will roll into Ufa with a huge bulls-eye on them if the NHL does lockout the players because they will have a deep pool of NHL-ready and NHL talent to sift through in picking this team.

The American squad will also see a few big names become available. Alex Galchenyuk, Jacob Trouba, and JT Miller should be returning, but the Americans will have Nick Leddy, Kyle Palmieri, and Jeremy Morin available if they so choose. While the pool isn't as deep for the Americans, they'll still have a number of weapons available to them.

Of course, all of this is just speculation in the hopes that the NHL and NHLPA come to some sort of agreement soon. If they do, some of these names will not be available in December for a trip to Russia to represent their chosen national team. The CHL teams that are employing some of the overage players may also find themselves a little shorthanded as well. The risk of losing a star player, though, is something most teams will take for the short-term gain.

If you have a shot at seeing a CHL game this season, I highly recommend it. The line-ups will feature future NHL stars, and there's a good chance that you'll get to see a vast number of World Junior Championship participants before they head to Russia. Junior hockey is played fast, hard, and tough - exactly what hockey fans love to see!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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