The World Junior Championships (WJC) or “World Juniors,” is always an exciting and highly anticipated tournament. Held during the holiday season, it’s become a tradition in some households for families to get together, wear their country’s colours, and cheer on their teams with pride. It’s also a glimpse to see some of the best hockey players 20 years old and under from all over the world compete for their country in hopes of capturing a gold medal.
The World Juniors have been pivotal for many players since it’s inception in 1977. For some, it’s just the beginning of a long and illustrious life of hockey and for others, it’s the pinnacle moments of their career. This year, the tournament is set to kick off on Dec. 26 with Red Deer and Edmonton, Alberta, as hosts.
The Edmonton Oilers are currently on pause along with the rest of the NHL due to COVID-19. Had they been playing, they would’ve been on a road trip, in order to give up their arena — Rogers Place — for the World Juniors. Many current Oilers have previously played in the WJC’s — from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, to Zack Kassian and Leon Draisaitl. Yet, there have only been five current players that have helped their country claim the first-place prize, and we’ve ranked them in order of the impact they had on their respective gold-medal winning WJC teams.
No. 5 Oscar Klefbom: Won Gold with Team Sweden at 2012 World Juniors
Oscar Klefbom is currently on the long-term injured reserve list with Edmonton, but he makes the list at the No. 5 spot. The Karlstad, Sweden, native represented his country several times prior to becoming an NHL player, winning a bronze medal at the U17 World Championships and a silver medal at the U18 tournament.
He was drafted by the Oilers at 19th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft, and in 2012 he was selected to play for Team Sweden at the World Juniors that was hosted in Calgary, and also in front of his future home crowd in Edmonton.
The Swedes went undefeated in their preliminary matches, and beat Russia 6-5 in overtime to win their first gold medal at the tournament since 1981. In six games, Klefbom produced a goal and an assist with a plus-8 rating, and he earned a spot on the tournament All-Star Team. (from “Lowetide: A Short History of Oilers’ Impact Prospects at the World Juniors,” The Athletic, 10/21/20)
No. 4 Kyle Turris: Won Gold With Team Canada at the 2008 World Juniors
At this point in Kyle Turris’ career, he often finds himself in the bottom six on the Oilers or as a healthy scratch, but long ago he was a go-to player when Hockey Canada came calling. He wore the red and white on a few occasions prior to becoming a professional, earning a silver medal playing for Pacific Canada at the U17-Hockey Challenge in 2005. He won a gold medal at the 2006 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in Czech Republic and failed to medal in the U18 World Championships in 2007.
In 2008, Turris played at the University of Wisconsin when he was selected to represent his country at the World Juniors in Pardubice, Czech Republic. He was a third-overall draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes, and he was the highest draft pick at the time on a Team Canada squad that featured future stars, including Brad Marchand, Claude Giroux, P.K. Subban and a not-yet drafted, Drew Doughty, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares.
He was a feature player on a dominant top line with Marchand and Giroux, and the trio combined for 20 points in seven games. He scored both goals in a win over Slovakia, and added two more in another defeat over Denmark in the preliminary round. He led Team Canada in scoring and finished with a point in each of the last five games, en route to winning the gold medal in an overtime thriller against Team Sweden.
No. 3 Connor McDavid: Won Gold With Team Canada at the 2015 World Juniors
Before collecting hardware as the MVP of the NHL, Connor McDavid represented Team Canada on a number of occasions before being selected first overall in the 2015 NHL Draft. He suited up for his country at the U18 World Championships in Sochi, Russia in 2013, where he set a Canadian record in points in a tournament with eight goals and 14 assists.
The following year at the U20 World Juniors, he made the team as a 16-year-old, and became the sixth youngest player at the time to suit up for Canada. In doing so, he joined the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Jason Spezza, Jay Bouwmeester, and Sidney Crosby. (from “World Juniors 2014: Connor McDavid’s Youth Shines Through at All the Wrong Times,” The National Post, 1/5/14) McDavid was benched in a preliminary game after taking a hooking penalty, and he didn’t register a point in the team’s last three games. Still very young, amongst a team of older players, he finished the tournament with a goal and three helpers, playing a minimal role in a third-place finish.
Playing for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), he was once again selected to Team Canada at the 2015 World Juniors. This time, the future Oilers captain had a more prominent role. He played on a line with Nic Petan and Curtis Lazar, and showed the hockey world a glimpse of his speed and untapped potential.
In a game against Denmark, he stole the puck at centre ice, turned on the jets to beat two defenders for a highlight-reel breakaway goal. In the championship game against the Russians, McDavid split the defense for a breakaway and beat the Russian goaltender five-hole, en route to a 5-4 win. He tied for third in the tournament in goals (3), and led all players with eight assists. Max Domi was named the tournament’s best forward, but the younger McDavid joined him as part of the All-Star Team.
No. 2 Darnell Nurse: Won a Gold With Team Canada at the 2015 World Juniors
The Hamilton, Ontario, native first represented his country at the 2012 U18 World Championship in Ontario and helped Team Canada win a bronze medal, while also being named to the tournament All-Star Team. Later that year, he wore the red and white again and captured the gold at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
In 2015, he was captain of his junior team, the Sault, Ste. Marie Greyhounds, when he was selected to be a shutdown defender on the Canadian blue line. Team Canada failed to medal the two previous seasons, but they had the home-crowd advantage with the games being played in Montreal and Toronto.
Nurse was a force on the back end for the Canadians. He finished the tournament with a goal, 10 shots, a plus-8 rating and had a monster performance against the Russians in the final game. He was physically dominant, pounded many players with big checks and used his speed to jump into the rush. In a tight third period, he engaged in a lengthy board battle and used his size to send the Russian player down on the ice. He was a vital piece in his team winning gold on home ice in a 5-4 victory, and for his efforts, he was named Canada’s player of the game.
His role wasn’t about point production, but being a stable defender on the blue line. He was heavily relied on to play important minutes in crucial situations for the club, and he didn’t disappoint. Team Canada allowed a round robin low of only four goals, three of which came in one game against Team USA. Another impressive stat — he wasn’t on the ice for a single even-strength goal the entire tournament. Ultimately, he was named one of the team’s best three players for the tournament, along with Domi and Sam Reinhart.
No. 1 Jesse Puljujarvi: Won Gold With Team Finland at the 2016 World Juniors
Jesse Puljujarvi takes first place on the list — he was a star in international competition before he reached his “Bison King” status with the Oilers. He first represented Finland at the U18 World Championships in Switzerland in 2015 and helped his team win a silver medal. In 2016, he got the call to represent the Finns at the World Juniors on home soil in Helsinki, Finland. He played on a line with future NHL stars Sebastian Aho and Patrick Laine and the trio formed quite possibly one of the best lines of all time at the WJC. However, it was the future Oiler, Puljujarvi, who was the standout player from the line and put on a spectacular performance.
He averaged over two points per game, showcasing his speed and hands to go along with his big frame. Impressively, he tied Eric Lindros and Wayne Gretzky for the second-most points ever by an under-18 skater, registering 17 points in seven games. Finland would ease through the preliminary rounds and would face-off with Russia in a back-and-fourth final game. The line of Aho, Laine and Puljujarvi combined for six points, and Kasperi Kapanen scored the overtime winner in a thriller in front of the home crowd.
Puljujarvi was dominant down the stretch, recording five goals and three assists in the final three games. Throughout the tournament, he was a man amongst boys with the way he muscled through defenders. He won the MVP award of the tournament, making him the youngest player to win it in the 15 years of its existence. His accolades at the WJC certainly raised his draft stock, and the Oilers selected him fourth overall a few months later in the 2016 NHL Draft. In 2019, he was ranked No. 4 of the 10 greatest World Junior Championships player performances of the decade.
The current group of Oilers have had many compete at the World Juniors, but only a select few have gained the World Junior champion bragging rights. This year, they’ll hope to add another name to the list of champions, as they have two draftees of the 2021 Draft class competing at the WJC — Luca Munzenberger for Team Germany and Xavier Bourgault for Team Canada.
First ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – CBC Radio Oilers’ Fan Panel Analyst – Freelance Writer. Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.