“Is it October yet?” It’s that question that hockey fans keep asking themselves all summer long as they wait for the regular season to begin. Some big name prospects, however, have another date in mind. They wait for December, the month in which the world’s best hockey prospects converge for a tournament known for it’s blistering speed and high-end skill. For anyone who has been lucky enough to see a World Junior Championship game, you can understand. The tournament boasts the best hockey players under 20 years old, many having the talent level hockey fans witnessed at last year’s World Cup of Hockey when Team North America (USA and Canada under 23 years old) impressed all who saw her. This year is sure to provide similar entertainment.
To prepare for the much anticipated tournament, the IIHF hosts a WJC Summer Showcase in late July and early August so that each team can get a taste of their players before training camps, and decide who they would like to play for them come December. The showcase will be relatively short, consisting of practice games between the USA, Canada, Sweden, and Finland.
In the past, Islanders prospects have shined in this tournament. Before he was drafted, John Tavares played with Jordan Eberle in the 2009 WJC and were the second and third highest scorers. They were also remembered for scoring the goal that sent their semifinal game against Russia to overtime. John Tavares was that tournament’s best player. Eberle received the honor at the 2010 tournament. More recently, goalie Linus Soderstrom won best goalie honors in 2016 while in 2017, top prospect Matthew Barzal scored 8 points and was a +4, and Kieffer Bellows helped Team USA to a gold medal.
While older prospects like Barzal and Soderstrom are no longer eligible for the tournament, younger Islanders prospects will get a shot at making World Junior rosters this summer.
One player that will likely be returing to play for Team USA will be Kieffer Bellows. The forward will begin play with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL this fall. He left Boston University in search of more playing time. He saw the WHL as a fit because of the higher amount of games he would play. During his time in Boston, the 19th overall selection in the 2016 draft scored 14 points (7 goals, 7 assists) in 32 games played. Although it doesn’t seem like much, he had scored 32 points in 23 games for the USNDT in 15-16 and 52 in 58 games for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL. His international statistics are also impressive, scoring 11 points in 14 total international games played (WJC 2017 and U18 WJC 2016). Bellows will not be an Islander this season but has stated his desire to fight for a roster spot next summer.
Trying out for Team Canada is defenseman David Quennville. The offensively minded blueliner scored 59 points in 49 games played for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL. He has been improving over his junior career, increasing his point totals from 20 in his first year to 59 this past year. Last year, he scored 55 points in 64 games played and was a -21. This year, he was a +5, meaning he is becoming less of a liability in his own end. He also played for Canada in the U18 WJC last year, scoring 8 points in 7 games played. He was also a +7. He will be at training camp this year but will play for Medicine Hat for one more season before being eligible to play in the AHL or ECHL next year.
Last but certainly not least is Robin Salo, trying out for Team Finland. The 18-year old was the Isles’ first pick in the 2017 draft, falling to 46th overall. He is a defensive minded defenseman, totaling only 16 points in 54 games this past season Finland’s elite league, Liiga. He, like Quennville, has been improving over his young career. He had an even +/- this season, an increase from -8 a season ago. He’s also played in the U18 WJC twice, totaling only a point in 14 games played. He an even +/- in both tournaments as well. He will likely need time to develop his game but he is promising nonetheless.
Unfortunately, hockey season doesn’t start for another two months, and the World Juniors are twice as far away. The Summer Showcase promises to be a source of much needed exciting hockey during the summer months but also provides teams with an opportunity to evaluate their players and scout potential draft picks. We still have a ways to go until the actual tournament begins and we will to continue to provide updates about it and the accomplishments of our prospects as the season progresses.