Tom Wilson still remembers the advice he received last December from Anaheim Ducks prospect Devante Smith-Pelly.
Soon after Wilson was cut from Team Canada ahead of the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championships, Smith-Pelly reached out.
“He sent me a message,” Wilson recalled last month, “and said 'Make their job tough next year. Make them beg to have you back. Make the NHL and make them beg to have you.'”
Eight months later, Wilson’s goal is to make the Capitals out of training camp and to spend the entire season in the NHL. But should the 19-year-old either return to the Ontario Hockey League or hit a wall in the NHL by mid-December, the possibility of representing Canada at next year’s WJC is a pretty decent backup plan.
“Hopefully I can stay up [in the NHL] as long as I can, but it's a tremendous honor to play for Hockey Canada. It's been a dream of mine since I was tiny.”
While the 2014 World Junior Championships are more than four months away, WJC hopefuls from the U.S., Canada, Sweden and Finland gathered last week in Lake Placid, NY for a weeklong camp and a series of exhibition games.
Wilson was among six Capitals prospects who took part, along with Americans Riley Barber, Thomas Di Pauli and Connor Carrick as well as Swedes Andre Burakovsky and Christian Djoos.
While Wilson appeared in just one of Canada’s three games in Lake Placid (a plan that was put in place by Hockey Canada before the camp began in an effort to get younger players more ice time), Barber had an impressive camp with the U.S.
Barber, Washington’s sixth-round pick (167th overall) from the 2012 NHL Draft, won a gold medal at the 2013 WJC and is one of only three players from last year’s American roster eligible to return in 2014.
Barber, a sophomore at Miami University, spent much of last week’s camp on the Americans No.1 line with Stefan Matteau and Daniel O’Regan and also saw time on the U.S. power play. In the Americans’ 5-1 win against Canada on Saturday, Barber had a power play goal and an assist.