Hockey Canada is currently waiting for final word from the remaining two NHL teams with Junior eligible players, on whether or not those players will be released to represent Canada at the WJHC. Those two teams are the Edmonton Oilers (Sam Gagner) and the St. Louis Blues (David Perron). Minnesota (James Sheppard), Boston (Milan Lucic), Pittsburgh (Jordan Staal) and Chicago (Jonathon Toews) have already stated that their respective players will not be released to participate in the tournament. My question though is not should these remaining two teams release their players, but should they even be ALLOWED to release them for this tournament?
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The WJHC is a showcase event for the world"s best junior players. Well, actually it is for the best junior aged players, but most of the time people just skip the word aged in that statement. And I believe that is how it should be. If a player was selected out of training camp for the roster of their NHL team, and then stuck with the team past the traditional 9 game "limit", they are for all intents and purposes no longer a junior player. They have graduated from junior and are now a professional hockey player. I do not believe that these players, like Jordan Staal or Sam Gagner should be allowed to participate in the WJHC, for a few reasons. First off, they have a tremendous advantage over other junior-aged players, but who play in junior leagues. The NHL competition is much, much greater than that of the best junior leagues around, so players like Staal and Gagner have the edge of playing less talented opponents than they are used to. Just look at how Patrice Bergeron did when he played after a season with the Bruins. He was a force.
Second, those players have already had their time in junior, if they wanted to play in the WJHC, go back and play in your junior league. It is a showcase event, and many players have really had their "coming out party" at the WJHC. Look at a player like Clarke MacArthur a few years back, he was a third or fourth liner, maybe even a scratch coming into the tourney, and ended up being a hero for Team Canada. Had there been up to the 6 NHL players (that are eligible this season) on that team, Clarke would not even have been on the roster, and would not have had that chance to show how good of a player he was. NHL players do not need that opportunity, like regular junior players do.
And lastly, there is sometimes pressure for NHL teams to release those players from fans, media etc. And that is unfair to those teams. A team like the Phoenix Coyotes kept US junior eligible player Peter Mueller on their roster from the start of the season because he was good enough to play for their team. There is no reason why they should be pressured to release him for an entire month of the season. He is under contract just like any other NHL player, and is a part of that team. If they release him, they have to fill his spot for a month with a player who they previously felt did not contribute as much to the team as the player they released.
So basically, I feel that once a player has reached the NHL, their junior days should be behind them. Tournaments like the WJHC are great developmental tools for top players looking to make that next step, and show the world what type of player they are. Players who can benefit from that opportunity, should be the ones taking it.
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