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Young Canadians show skills at Worlds with Sochi in mind

Shane McNeil, TSN.ca

5/4/2013 1:41:39 PM

As Team Canada begins the 2013 IIHF World Championship in Helsinki and Stockholm, TSN.ca Producer Shane McNeil offers up three reasons why hockey fans should pay close attention to this year's tournament. Coverage of the Worlds begins today on TSN and continues all the way to the Gold Medal game on May 19.

Looking over the forward corps of Canada's roster for the 2013 IIHF World Championship, it is not one name that jumps out, but a whole cast of young and experienced talent that have all stepped forward to volunteer for the tournament in Stockholm and Helsinki.

This year's Canadian squad features three of the top-10 NHL scorers from 2012-13 in Steven Stamkos of the Lightning, Eric Staal of the Hurricanes, and Taylor Hall of the Oilers.

Complementing those three, however, is a collection of some of the league's most talented young forwards. The 25-and-under bracket is out in full force with Matt Duchene, Jordan Eberle, Ryan O'Reilly, Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal.

Now, it's not like Canada has had problems attracting talent in the past.

Skinner and Eberle both suited up for the 2012 Canadian team and were joined by Olympic alumni like Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Duncan Keith.

But what is it about 2013 that has brought out the best available Canadian talent?

The answer may lie in what is looming on the horizon.

This year's World Championship will mark the final best-on-best men's tournament before rosters are submitted for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

For these forwards, especially those mentioned above who have never represented Canada on the Olympic stage, these Worlds offer up an opportunity to audition for a spot on the Sochi roster in front of some key members of Team Canada's front office.

In 2009, it was a pair of young defencemen that used the Worlds as a springboard to a spot on the Vancouver Olympic roster.

Drew Doughty and Shea Weber, who were 19 and 23 years old respectively in 2009, stepped up for Team Canada after their teams missed the playoffs.

At the time, the two defencemen were coming from different spots on the Canadian depth chart.

Weber had just come off a career season, scoring 23 goals and 30 assists with the Nashville Predators and had represented Canada a couple times, both at the World Championship and World Junior level.

Doughty, meanwhile, was following up an impressive rookie season where he netted 27 points with the Los Angeles Kings. After breaking into the NHL as an 18-year-old, Doughty was short on international experience.

Both players would impress at the 2009 Worlds in Switzerland and with impressive starts to the 2009-10 season, both were able to usurp expected, experienced blue line options like then-Calgary defenders Jay Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf to earn spots on Canada's blue line for the Vancouver Games.

With many returning members of the 2010 Canadian team still playing at an elite level, the 2013 Worlds could provide some of those young forwards an inside track on winning the few available jobs.

Certainly the likes of Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews can rest comfortably in the likelihood of representing Canada at Sochi, but can the likes of Giroux, Stamkos, and others push veterans like Joe Thornton, Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow or Dany Heatley out of the equation?

Their performance at the 2013 World Championship may well provide the answer.