(*Originally reported on White Cover Magazine)

Now that the Winnipeg Jets have sent down rookie (and budding star) Mark Scheifele, the Barrie Colt has announced that he has “set his sights” officially on the Canada’s World Junior Championship team.

To call Scheifele a “prospect” may almost be insulting. The kid led the Winnipeg Jets in scoring in the preseason and he continued his strong play in his brief regular season “tryout” (which we can effectively call it, now). However, playing as the third line center in the Southeast Division is not an easy task. Not only do you have to score in a limited window of ice time, but the other guys you face the rest of the year have names like Backstrom, Lecavalier, Stamkos and Staal. On your own team, you have to fall in line behind two straight, prized draft picks in Evander Kane and Alex Burmistrov and, in Scheifele’s case, if you don’t score, you’re not doing much that Derek Meech can’t do.

The move back to Barrie was one of common sense, and one that will not only benefit the Colts, but also Canada’s junior team, which now gets a centreman who can play a responsible game with and without the puck, and also dish to a roster of (what will no doubt be) talented wingers and d-men.

Scheifele could become the 2011/12 version of what Cody Hodgson was in 2008/09, when he led Canada (and the tournament) with 19 points, despite the fact that Johnny Tavares was the headliner (he had 18 points).

Now, with Edmonton bouncing around the idea of “putting the toothpaste back in the tube” (as Mark Spector puts it) – sending Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down to Red Deer, where he could conceivably shatter WHL scoring recrods – Canada could get another boost.

The Nuge leads Edmonton in scoring with seven points in seven games, three of those coming in the form of a hat trick against Vancouver, two Saturdays ago. It seems crazy that the Oil would regress their star… unless you believe that Edmonton won’t make the playoffs anyway, and that RNH could only benefit from playing another lead role in Red Deer, rather than rotting away on Edmonton’s depth chart behind a flurry of young stars, including Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and (now) the returning Sam Gagner.

Of course, as is the case with Scheifele, to call Nugent-Hopkins a “prospect” is insulting. He’s more than that now and he may be Edmonton’s best player. Is The Nuge the guy that everyone thought Hall and Eberle were? And, couldn’t the Oilers just free him up for the WJC in December and January? It is, after all, Canada’s version of March Madness, which is saying something… because Canadians love March Madness.

The WJC is two weeks of turmoil, spent cramming pizza, beer and Doritos down your throat as your wife/girlfriend/mother says something in the background. She, of course, is also watching it. Your dad has been missing for five days. It’s all that goes on and, because the entire country can celebrate (or wallow in) it together every year, you often end up caring more about the WJC than you realistically do about your own hockey team.

I don’t know what the Jets or the Oilers should (or shouldn’t do), and I don’t know how they run their team. But, I do know that I’d love to see those two players in red and white come Christmas.

@KolbySolinsky