SASKATOON – For Oilers fans watching the World Junior Championship, there have been some very big positives concerning the team’s future.
Edmonton was well-represented in Saskatoon and having watched all the major players while there on assignment, I can say three of the top prospects truly played like they were the best.
The first and most obvious was Team Canada’s Jordan Eberle. As I mentioned last week, Eberle is very close to cracking the Oilers roster and based on his play in Saskatoon, I can easily see him in the copper and blue next year. The young pivot was very strong on the puck and displayed a sick wrist shot. Heading into the gold medal game, Eberle was tied for the team lead with 11 points through five games (with St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo).
Another impressive showing in Saskatoon came from Sweden’s Anton Lander. More known for his two-way play and leadership, Lander nonetheless scored both Swedish goals in the team’s semifinal loss to Team USA. The young center was also an amazing penalty-killer for the Tre Kronor.
Lander has been playing in the Swedish Elite League, so he’s used to battling men, but starting his North American career in the American League next year probably wouldn’t hurt his long-term development.
Edmonton’s other big Swede, left winger Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, led the team in scoring heading into their final game with nine points in five games. MPS showed some great strength on the puck and drove to the net against the Americans, but wasn’t rewarded for his efforts.
Paajarvi-Svensson is best known for his playmaking and that will give him at least a crack at the Oilers next year.
Elsewhere, the Oilers had a pair of high-profile Finns in the tourney, but both are still a couple years away. Toni Rajala, who plays in the Western League for the Brandon Wheat Kings, still looks too slight for the pro game and will need to get stronger.
Teammate Teemu Hartikainen had six points in six games for the Finns and still plays at home, where he has put up decent points for a youngster.
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 will appears Monday and Wednesday, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.