by Ian Esplen
December 31, 2013 (ISN) – The World Under-17 Hockey Challenge got under way yesterday in Cape Breton, N.S. and already the powerhouses are starting to show their muscle. Day one saw the always powerful United States and Ontario squads beat up on Russia and Germany.
This tournament is the first step for players in Hockey Canada’s “Program of Excellence” and has seen many future Hall of Famers cut their teeth at it.
Here are 10 players who may be staring at the World Juniors in a few years.
Mitchell Marner – Team Ontario – London Knights
Cracking the roster of a team that is hosting the Memorial Cup is no easy task for a 16-year-old, but Marner has done just that this season and hasn’t looked out of place. Currently, he is leading all OHL rookies with 36 points in 35 games. Marner’s game revolves around his skill, vision and competitive nature. He will surely be near the top of the scoring leaders when the tournament is done.
Mitchell Vande Sompel – Team Ontario – Oshawa Generals
While he still has a little growing to do, the five-foot-ten defenceman from the Oshawa Generals is a player considered by some to be the total package. He skates extremely well and he has the skill set to run the power-play. Vande Sompel is also a player with a very high compete level, that will never give up on the play, and is very solid in his own end. He’ll be relied upon a lot by Team Ontario.
Mitchell Balmas – Team Atlantic – Cape Breton Tradesmen (Midget)
“Good things come to those who wait. Great things come to those that don’t,” are the words that are written on Mitchell Balmas’ Twitter page. And waiting might be the only thing that he isn’t all that good at. At only 15-years-old, he plays with the skill, poise and intelligence of a 20 year-old. Despite his age, he should be one of Team Atlantic’s best players.
Nathan Noel – Team Atlantic – Saint John Sea Dogs
After being selected third overall in last year’s QMJHL draft, Noel has not disappointed Sea Dogs fans this year, scoring 24 points in 35 games. Anytime he is on the ice he is a player that is hard not to notice because of his speed, skill and intensity. The 16-year-old has all the skills to be an elite power-forward in the NHL one day. Look for him to be near the top of the scoring leaders by the end of the tournament.
Jeremy Roy – Team Quebec – Sherbrooke Phoenix
If you only watch one player at this event, make sure Jeremy Roy is that player. Simply put, Roy is one of the best 16-year-old defencemen to come through the Canadian Hockey League in years – there really aren’t any holes in his game. The way he can control a game with his poise and intelligence is almost Lidstrom-like. Quebec will count on Roy to play a ton.
Nicolas Roy – Team Quebec – Chicoutimi Sagueneens
The other “Roy” on Team Quebec is hard not to notice when he is on the ice. Already standing at six-foot-four, Roy is an intimidating presence. For his size, he skates pretty well, has good skills and knows how to use his size to his advantage. He is very good at playing along the boards and knows how to protect the puck and wear down the opposition. Quebec will need Roy to be at his best.
Jackson Keane – Team West – Winnipeg Blues (Midget)
When your dad plays nearly 1,200 games in the NHL some of that is bond to rub off on you and that is exactly what has happened with Jackson Keane. The Swift Current Broncos fourth round pick from 2012 is the same type of gritty player as his dad. Look for Keane to be where the action is for Team West.
Ethan Bear – Team West – Seattle Thunderbirds
You won’t find a more complete 16-year-old defenceman in the WHL than Ethan Bear. He is an excellent skater, who isn’t shy about throwing around his five-foot-11, 200 pound frame. Along with the physical side, he also makes smart decisions with the puck and he has the skills to contribute offensively for Team West.
Jansen Harkins – Team Pacific – Prince George Cougars
Someone better check Jansen Harkins birth certificate, because he certainly plays like a player that is a few years too old for this tournament. After being selected at No. 2 overall in the 2012 WHL Draft, Harkins has fit in nicely with the Price George Cougars. While he hasn’t scored a ton, he does have the skill, maturity, intelligence and competitive nature to be a top player top player for Team Pacific.
Tyler Benson – Team Pacific – Pursuit of Excellence U-18
Added as a late injury replacement, Tyler Benson is one player to look out for at this event. Despite being on of the youngest players at the tournament, this talented 15-year-old shouldn’t look out of place. Benson’s biggest attributes are his off-the-charts intelligence and his will to win. He’s already played two regular season games in the WHL and while he hasn’t registered a point, he was named the third star in one of the games. Keep an eye on Benson if you’re wondering what a 2016 NHL first round pick looks like.
For a complete schedule and live feeds of the games visit: http://stats.hockeycanada.ca/schedule/league_instance/16178?subseason=140901