The rumour has been floating around for a few days now that Hockey Canada may invite Edmonton Oilers prospect Jordan Eberle to play at this summer’s World Championships. Eberle’s just finished his junior career with Regina and is now in Springfield getting ready to play for the Oilers’ AHL affiliate. Naturally, everyone with an interest in the Oilers is curious to see how well Eberle will perform with the Falcons, but Hockey Canada’s interest increases the pressure of this minor league cameo, as it’s been confirmed that officials will be watching Eberle as they decide whether or not to invite him to the tournament.
Even allowing for his World Junior heroics, there isn’t a case to be made that Eberle deserves to be on that team based on merit. This would be a case where Hockey Canada is investing in developing a young player, banking that the experience will benefit him and encourage him to return for the tournament over the course of his career. Normally, I’m strongly opposed to that rationale, as I feel the development of players at this level is best left to the NHL clubs who own their rights.
The World Championships are a little different though, frequently spurned by NHL’ers who want to take a break after a long and gruelling season and rest the injuries they’ve accumulated over the past 82 games. It’s a situation where investing some time in a player could plausibly pay off down the road. Balanced against that is the fact that a single tournament at a young age isn’t likely to be personality-altering; if Eberle’s one of those players likely to decline the request later on a single tournament isn’t particularly likely to change his mind.
I don’t know that it makes sense for Hockey Canada to ice less than their best possible team, even at a tournament that is certainly not a high priority for Canadian fans. The other thing that bothers me is the perception of influence from the Oilers organization; they have deep connections to Hockey Canada and like Lowetide I don’t like the idea of those connections unduly influencing the selection process.
If Eberle does get selected it will be undeniably good for the Oilers and for the player to be involved in the tournament, playing with veteran NHL’ers and getting used to the idea of continuing to play after the regular season ends. It’s just one of those cases where the interest of the player and the NHL team is quite clear, and the interest of Hockey Canada a little less so.