Kailer Yamamoto and Jason Robertson have barely had time to take their skates off.
It’s been an endless hockey summer for the two high-scoring major junior forwards and other players chosen in the 2017 National Hockey League Draft in June.
Yamamoto, a right wing for the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League, headed to Alberta, Canada, for the Edmonton Oilers development camp days after the team selected him in the first round with the 22nd overall pick in the draft.
The 18-year-old Spokane native stayed in Oil Country afterwards for additional training on and off the ice on his own time.
“No days off,” Yamamoto told me recently.
Ditto for Roberston, a left wing for the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs. The Michigan resident shipped off to Texas for the Dallas Stars’ development camp after the team took him in the draft’s second round with the 39th overall pick.
“It’s been a pretty busy summer,” he said.
And it’s about to get busier beginning Friday, and both players couldn’t be happier. They will be among 42 American players invited to participate in the 2017 World Junior Summer Showcase at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan.
The showcase, which runs July 28-Aug. 5, is an audition for roster spots for Team USA for the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship in Buffalo, New York, from Dec. 26, 2017 to Jan. 5 2018.
This edition of the World Juniors will have an exciting wrinkle – an outdoor game between the U.S. and Canada on Dec. 29 at 71,608-seat New Era Stadium, home of the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills.
“It would mean so much to me” to make the U.S. squad, Yamamoto told me. “Any time you can put on the crest of your country, it means the world.”
Yamamoto has represented the United States four times, playing in Under-17 tournaments in 2014-15, the Under-18 World Junior Championship in 2015-16, and the Ivan Hlinka Under-18 Memorial Cup tournament in 2015-16.
Robertson, 18, has never played for the U.S. in an international tournament. He’s hoping that he does well enough at the showcase in Plymouth to punch his ticket to Buffalo.
“That would be super-exciting,” he told me. “It’s a great tournament. It would be a huge honor to play for the U.S.A., I hope I do. It’s up to me to perform the best I can in camp.”
That’s the mantra Robertson and Yamamoto followed during their development camps earlier this month.
After getting a long look at his game at camp, the Stars’ coaching staff acknowledged that Robertson is the skilled goal-scorer they thought he was when they drafted him, the player said.
Of course, his team-leading 42 goals and 39 assists in 68 OHL regular season games and 5 goals and 13 assists in 11 playoff games were pretty good clues before the Stars made the pick.
But the 6-foot-2, 194-pound Robertson did leave Texas with a message from the Stars: Get stronger.
“The Number One thing I can improve on is my strength overall,” said Robertson, whose mother was born in the Philippines. “They even expressed that the skating is not a really big issue. They believe that developing more as a man off the ice and in the gym – and putting that time off ice into my strength – will really help my career.”
The Oilers also would like to see the 5-foot-8, 140-pound Yamamoto add some more muscle to his frame.
Yamamoto’s height and weight haven’t hurt in the WHL, where he was sixth in the league and tops on the Chiefs in scoring last season with 42 goals and 57 assists in 65 games.
But if he’s going to someday survive the rigors of an 82-game NHL season and the physical abuse from bigger defenders, it’s going to require a bit more meat on the bones.
“Get bigger, stronger, definitely put on the extra pounds,” said Yamamoto, whose grandfather lived in a U.S. Japanese internment camp during World War II. “They (Oilers) said ‘Keep working, we’re really looking forward to seeing you up in camp. Make sure you’re prepared and ready to go.'”
“Ready to go” means in September, just a few weeks after the World Junior showcase. Yamamoto will head back to Western Canada to report to Oilers training camp. Robertson will go to Traverse City, Michigan, for the 2017 NHL Prospect Tournament.
That event will feature up-and-coming young players from the Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues.
“Most people would be tired and need rest,” Robertson said of his hectic summer of hockey. “But I love it. I love having something to do, especially if it’s related to hockey.”
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