The world is returning to Camrose Alberta as the 2008 World Junior A Challenge begins on Nov. 2, and one of the players all scouts will be watching is Canada West defenseman Dylan Olsen.
There were 16 players drafted in last June’s NHL Entry Draft who played in the 2007 version of this tournament including Nikita Filatov (CLB), Joe Colborne (BOS), Zac Dalpe (CAR) and Jimmy Hayes (TOR).
The caliber of play in the week-long tournament is top-notch, pitting the best Junior A players in North America against their counterparts from three Europeans nations. Canada will have two entries, East and West. Olsen’s Canada West squad is made up of the best players from the junior leagues of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta.
Olsen is a blueliner with the AJHL’s Camrose Kodiaks, a perennial powerhouse that has not gotten off to their usual strong start. The defending AJHL champs have struggled early on and currently have a 6-13-0-2 record but the team’s standing has not been a reflection of the performance of Olsen, a favorite target among many Alberta-based scouts.
International Scouting Services has Olsen ranked 29th overall among 2009-eligibles in their first release of the season and offer up glowing remarks in their brief report on him.
In a recent radio interview, the 17-year-old was asked what his goals were coming into his draft season.
"Coming into this year it was mainly getting a scholarship to go to a NCAA school," Olsen said. "After that would be making Team Canada which is unreal, further on down the year is getting ready for the draft and getting prepared for the combine."
Olsen has yet to officially commit to a college, which has many scouts held in suspense waiting to factor that part of the puzzle into their reports. To his credit, Olsen is aware of the ramifications his eventual choice will have on his draft stock and is taking his time to make the right choice for him.
"After last year and the beginning of this year, there have been quite a few schools that have expressed an interest in me, but I’ve narrowed it down to my top five now," he said. "I’ve been setting up some fly-downs, in November I’m going down to North Dakota and after that I’ll have a couple more, then I’ll sit down with my dad and we’ll talk about what schools would be the right fit for me. Hopefully I’ll have a decision in the next couple of months."
Which begs the question ‘what makes one program the perfect fit for him?’
"A place where you go into and it has a great atmosphere, great academics, the coaches are good, being around the veterans and seeing that they’re good leaders," he explained. "I don’t want to go to a huge place where I’m not going to be able to play, I want to come in and get ice time. I don’t want to be one of those guys sitting up in the stands that are just going to school. I want to get my schooling done and play unreal hockey and see where it takes me from there."
The rearguard’s future will be bright but it’s current events that hold his attention right now and he was asked if it was difficult not looking too far ahead to the draft or the the WJAC.
"It’s something you definitely look forward to but we’re focused on the season, getting up in the rankings and getting wins under us," he insisted. "When the time comes I’ll focus on Team Canada (West) but until then I’m focused on the season."
Olsen has 9 points in 19 games with Camrose, but is known as much for his defensive play as he is for impacting the score sheet. Coming in a 6’2 and 207 lbs, it is a common sight in Camrose to see opposing forwards on their butt with Olsen towering above them.
"Oh yeah, definitely… I love to make the big hits," he smiled before adding that he brings more to the table than simple physical play. "I’m kind of an offensive defenseman. I like to rush the puck and get into the play but in the defensive zone I like to be strong, take my man one-on-one, make the first pass out of the zone and make plays, get shots on net and score some goals."
Team Canada West will have a strong Camrose component to it as for the third straight year, Kodiaks head coach Boris Rybalka will man the bench. Teammate Andrew MacWilliam (TOR) played in the 2007 edition of the event and returns to the Canada West roster again. Olsen says that having spoken with both of them as well as former teammates and participants like Joe Colborne and Mike Connolly, he knows he’s in for a fantastic ride.
"They said it was unreal and some of the best hockey they’d played." Olsen said of his friends.
The fact that Camrose is hosting the tournament also gives Olsen, MacWilliam and perhaps even coach Rybalka an edge on home ice.
"Probably mostly from the atmosphere," Olsen agreed. "Going through the AJHL playoffs and the Doyle Cup last year we had a sold out barn pretty much every night and the atmosphere was incredible. Getting to play in front of the home town fans in surroundings that we’re used to, I think gives us an advantage."
It won’t be the first time that Olsen gets to represent his country in an international tournament but he says that the experience never gets old.
"Throwing on the Maple Leaf on your chest and being able to play for your country, it’s an unbelievable feeling," he said. "Last year I played for the U17 team in London, Ontario. That was my first time playing for Team Canada and it was a great experience."
Olsen will be one of the players to watch in the tournament as Team Canada West tries to capture their third consecutive gold medal. With the eyes of the scouting world trained on Camrose for the next 10 days, expect to hear some new names for the 2009 NHL Draft. This was the tournament that helped propel Kyle Turris upwards in the rankings in 2007 and helped put Filatov and Colborne on the map last year.
Who will standout from the pack at this year’s WJAC? There are several candidates but one solid choice is Dylan Olsen.
The interview with Olsen appeared on The Pipeline Show in Edmonton, with writer Guy Flaming.