-- So what, exactly, are Canada national junior team coach Don Hay and Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast actually looking for this week from the players invited to the five-day development camp that could determine most of the 22-player roster headed to the 2012 World Junior Championship?
Just hours before hitting the ice in the first of eight practice sessions here at Rexall Place, the coach and scout set the record straight in an interview with NHL.com.
"It's a chance to see the chemistry between these players … seeing who fits with who," Prendergast told NHL.com. "It's more for the coaches since we have one from Ontario (George Burnett, Belleville Bulls) and two from the West (Hay, Vancouver Giants; Ryan Huska
, Kelowna Rockets). It gives them a chance to familiarize themselves with players from different leagues and to get an idea what they look like on the ice, skating and personality-wise. It gives everyone an opportunity to see which guys definitely deserve to be here come December and which guys maybe played their way out."
Hay, who coached Canada to the 1995 WJC gold medal in nearby Red Deer, said it's imperative that his group pinpoint the best competitors.
"It's up to you to impress or disappoint and I think that's the message we've kind of given the players," Hay said. "We've told them, 'You're here for a reason. You've been identified as one of the top 47 Canadian players and now we're going to do drills and games in this camp that will give you the opportunity to show why. I would expect you to be able to go out there and perform.'"
Still, Prendergast didn't hesitate when asked if there are some players on the camp roster who would have to play extraordinarily well to be considered among the final roster for the tournament, which will be held Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, in Calgary and Edmonton.
"There are a lot of players we have a stronger feel for because they've been in the program or because they've gone high in the (NHL) draft," he said. "We're looking at a bunch of players here to see exactly where they fit. We know they're good hockey players, but they've never been on a stage like this before, so it gives them an opportunity to see how they fare against those players who have been on that stage."
Seven returning players from Canada's silver medal-winning 2011 WJC team highlight the roster -- forwards Brett Connolly
, Sean Couturier
, Quinton Howden
, Ryan Johansen
and Jaden Schwartz
, defenseman Erik Gudbranson
and goaltender Mark Visentin
. There will be two scrimmages, Saturday at Rexall Place and Sunday at the Casman Centre in Fort McMurray, Alta. The 47-player camp roster includes four goalies, 17 defensemen and 26 forwards.
And what if it comes down to choosing between two players who each had an exceptional camp?
"In a lot of cases, it may come down to one player being a little more versatile than the other one," Prendergast said. "Or one of the coaches has a stronger feel for one player than the other, so that's what it might come down to."
Experience definitely could play a part in picking one player over another.
"This tournament has been more of an older tournament, as far as 19-year-olds are concerned," Hay said. "In the end, you're looking for maturity in players, how they carry themselves on and off the ice. If it comes down to two players who are really close in their skill set, you might tend to go with someone a little more mature."
There are four players eligible for the 2012 Entry Draft at the camp -- defensemen Cody Ceci of the Ottawa 67's, Martin Lefebvre
of the Quebec Remparts, Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips and Matthew Petgrave of the Owen Sound Attack. Lefebvre and Petgrave were eligible for June's draft but weren't selected.
"I'm going into this camp really open-minded," Hay said. "Being a coach who doesn't get to see all the players at certain times, this is my first opportunity to see players. I just want to leave the camp having a feeling of which guys I definitely want to see coming back and which guys will be on the bubble. Because there will be other players who play really well between September and December who aren't here, who might move ahead of somebody here."
While Hay and Prendergast said they would prefer to look ahead instead of recalling Canada's disappointing loss to Russia in last year's gold-medal game -- Canada led 3-0 after two periods but lost 5-3 -- there was much learned from the setback.
"We're trying to move ahead," Hay said. "This is a new group of players, a new team. The team last year had a great tournament, except for the last 20 minutes. Obviously, the key to any successful team is you have to put together a full 60 minutes throughout the tournament.
"Every game is so important, every play so critical. You have to be ready for it, and you have to get ready and focus on this year and this group of players."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale