The kids are growing up quickly.
It was only 16 months ago that Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty and Luke Schenn were helping Canada’s world junior team to a gold medal. Ten months back, they were each selected in the top five picks of the NHL draft. Now the three teenagers have all been chosen to represent Canada at the upcoming IIHF World Hockey Championship in Switzerland.
“It’s obviously a special year for three 19-year-olds,” Stamkos told The Canadian Press on Monday. “It just goes to show the young guys can come into the NHL and make an impact right away.
“It’s pretty cool to be part of something like this, especially with guys that I’m very close with.”
Stamkos was a little surprised to receive an invite from GM Doug Armstrong. The No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft had a tough first month or two with the Tampa Bay Lightning before coming on later in the season.
He ended up finishing with 23 goals and 46 points – pretty solid numbers for a rookie.
“I didn’t really hear my name being thrown around, especially the way things went at the beginning of this season,” said Stamkos. “It was obviously a tough situation.
“Things went smooth down the second half and I had some success, but I wasn’t really thinking about world championships. This obviously turned out all right in the end.”
The three teenagers will be joined in Switzerland by 21-year-old James Neal, who had 24 goals in his rookie season with the Dallas Stars.
Armstrong isn’t concerned about having so many young players because he’s also got veterans like Shane Doan, Martin St. Louis, Dany Heatley and Dwayne Roloson.
Plus, he feels the youngsters can hold their own.
“When you take away the birth certificate, these players have earned the right to be there on their play,” said Armstrong. “It’s going to be a well-blended group of veteran players and younger guys.
“The job we have now is to get to Switzerland and bring it all together quickly.”
The most excited guys in the dressing room might be the teens.
Tampa Bay selected Stamkos at the top of last year’s draft class while Doughty went to Los Angeles at No. 2 and Schenn ended up with the Toronto Maple Leafs at No. 5.
Now with their rookie seasons in the NHL behind them, they’ll try to help Canada reclaim the world championship gold it last won in 2007. Coach Lindy Ruff is looking forward to working with the young guns.
“I think there’s always a couple players that are seeds for the Canadian program,” he said. “Tremendous young players. Not having been involved at the NHL level with these players, we’ll give a little different perspective (to them).
“I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a real good experience.”
The three Canadian teams that missed the NHL playoffs are well-represented. Heatley, Jason Spezza, Mike Fisher and Chris Phillips have all come from Ottawa; Maple Leafs teammates Schenn and Ian White will suit up; and Shawn Horcoff of the Edmonton Oilers will join Roloson on the squad.
The forward unit features plenty of world championship experience. Derek Roy, St. Louis, Heatley, Doan and Spezza were all part of the team that won silver last spring in Quebec City. Colby Armstrong and Matthew Lombardi have also appeared in the event.
On defence, Nashville Predators teammates Shea Weber and Dan Hamhuis are back. Josh Harding is the team’s other goalie.
Stamkos can’t wait to fly to Europe and get to know some of his new teammates.
“It’s going to be a great experience for me,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s nice to get to know the guys on a personal level, you’re battling against them every night.
“It’s a big honour for me and I’m excited.”
The best part of all is that he’ll have two buddies along for the ride.
Stamkos, Schenn and Doughty have kept in close contact since becoming friends.
“We’re texting each other all the time, a phone call here and there,” said Stamkos. “We got to spend a couple days at the Young Guns game in Montreal together and had a good time there. When we play each other, we’ll try to get out for dinner the night before games.
“We definitely keep in touch. It’s pretty cool when you have someone around your same age to share some experiences with that you’re going through.”