TORONTO — If Dylan Strome had his way he wouldn't be in Toronto when the world junior championships kick off in late December. The 19-year-old would be playing for the Arizona Coyotes instead.
"You want to experience it," Strome said on Sunday, the first day of Hockey Canada's summer development camp for the 2017 world junior squad. "But at the same time your goal is to be in the NHL."
Canada's top two talents for the tournament are both uncertain bets to play for the team this winter.
Selected one pick after Strome at the NHL draft last summer, Mitch Marner is also hoping to be in the NHL come fall and beyond that into the winter. He was more diplomatic about the prospect of returning to junior hockey and playing for Canada at the world juniors, though.
"It's not up to me," said Marner, who skated alongside Strome during the first on-ice session. "If I'm obviously in the OHL I'm going to play (for Canada) and I'm going to look forward to it."
Strome would prefer to have played his last game for the Erie Otters and by extension, Canada's world junior team. He wants to join the Coyotes for good after nearly cracking the roster last year.
"I obviously felt like I could've been done last year," Strome said of junior hockey. "I made it to the last day of (NHL) camp and last cuts. Hopefully this year I can just try to make it a little farther and show what I can do in the exhibition games again. I think (the Coyotes) were pretty impressed with me last year and hopefully they like what they see again and I can get some games in this year."
Strome registered one point in five exhibition games for Arizona last fall before returning to Erie, where he put up 111 points, good for fourth in league scoring. Marner suited up for only a pair of pre-season games with the Leafs (he was held without a point) before he, too, was sent back to junior.
He rung up 116 points in the regular season before adding an OHL-leading 44 points en route to a Memorial Cup championship with London.
The path that neither would prefer has worked out well for others.
In 2014 the Coyotes returned Max Domi to junior for a fourth OHL season and he not only starred for Canada's gold-medal squad (10 points in seven games), but then burst out with 52 points as an NHL rookie last season.
Strome has sought his advice on the experience.
"It sucks to get sent back, (but) it worked out to be the best thing for me," Domi said in a recent interview. "I don't know if I'd be where I am today without doing that. You learn a lot about yourself and how you react to that kind of stuff."
Strome and Marner were both members of Canada's disappointing sixth-place squad at last year's world juniors. There's the odd chance that one or both could play in the NHL and also suit up for Canada as the Canucks' Jake Virtanen did a year ago.
While hoping to make the NHL, both players didn't think returning to the OHL would hurt their development.
"I've been lucky enough to play there the past few years and to go back there and learn more it wouldn't be that bad," Marner said. "It's a great place to play in."
In an unlikely twist of fate, the Maple Leafs and Coyotes are scheduled to meet in Glendale on Dec. 23, the day Canada plays its' first exhibition game in Toronto. Strome and Marner will (likely) be in one of the two places, perhaps together, though neither can say which.
"If you're back in junior odds are you're probably going to be (playing for Canada)," Strome said, "and if you're in the NHL then it's probably 50-50."
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press