The team portrait of the next Canadian junior hockey team starts coming into focus with the announcement of the selection camp roster Wednesday in Ottawa.
A pool of about 38 players was assembled by Hockey Canada head scout Al Murray. It's up to head coach Pat Quinn and his assistants to extract a gold-medal team from a five-day camp starting Dec. 11 in Ottawa.
Canada rabidly follows the exploits of its junior teams home and abroad, but Quinn's choice of players for the 2009 world junior hockey championship will be scrutinized even more than usual.
Canada is trying for a fifth consecutive gold medal at the world junior hockey championship, which would tie the country's record of five straight titles from 1992 to 1997.
They'll try to do it in front of 19,000 at Scotiabank Place and millions more watching on television.
"Every time we step on the ice or prepare a team it's with the intention of winning a gold medal," Quinn said. "Clearly there's no way to absolutely predict we're going to win it, but what we can predict is we'll have a team that has some talent ... we'll have high expectations for them.
"There will be lots of pressure on this team."
Out of the four goaltenders, 14 defencemen and 20 forwards expected to be named to the camp roster, Quinn will choose two goalies, seven defencemen and 13 forwards to open defence of the championship Dec. 26 versus the Czech Republic.
Eight Canadian teenagers playing in the NHL - six of them veterans of the previous team that won gold in Pardubice, Czech Republic - creates space on the selection camp roster for 18-year-olds and even 17-year-olds to make this team.
Murray wouldn't reveal details of the selection camp roster Tuesday, but did say younger players will compete for jobs on the team.
"The camp roster has an element of youth," he said from Ottawa "Whether any of them are good enough to make the team will be another thing.
"We could have a full team of 19-year-olds or we could have (players born in) 1990 and 1991 in there sprinkled throughout the lineup."
There's a good chance Windsor forward Taylor Hall and defenceman Ryan Ellis, both 17, will get an invitation.
Brampton forward Cody Hodgson, Montreal goaltender Jake Allen, Saint John defenceman Yann Sauve, Kelowna defenceman Tyler Myers, Regina's Jordan Eberle and Niagara defenceman Alex Pietrangelo are 18-year-olds who have distinguished themselves this season.
Pietrangelo played eight games for the NHL's St. Louis Blues this season before he was returned to the IceDogs.
But the world under-20 tournament is considered a showcase of the world's best 19-year-olds, which is those born in 1989 this year.
Forwards John Tavares of the Oshawa Generals and Zach Boychuk of the Lethbridge Hurricanes and defencemen Thomas Hickey of the Seattle Thunderbirds and P.K. Subban of the Belleville Bulls are the four confirmed returning players from the 2008 squad.
Those four would have to have a terrible selection camp not to represent their country a second time. Tavares is 18 and the projected No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft.
Quebec forward Angelo Esposito is a selection camp subplot if he's invited again because he's been cut from the team three straight years. One more will move him past current Detroit Red Wings forward Daniel Cleary, who tried out three times from 1995 to 1997.
Allen, Spokane's Dustin Tokarski, Vancouver's Tyson Sexsmith and Chet Pickard of Tri-Cities are possible invitees for the goaltender's job. Sexsmith attended last year's selection camp, but was released.
With so many players in the NHL, there are many jobs open on the Canadian team, compared to last year when many had staked their claim during an eight-game summer series against Russia.
"There's very few guaranteed spots and there will be lots of competition for spots and much more so than last year" Murray said. "Going into last year, the Super Series had really established a lot of players and we didn't have that this year."
The NHL players eligible for the Canadian team are: Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay), Colton Gillies (Minnesota), Kyle Turris (Phoenix), Brandon Sutter (Carolina), Drew Doughty (Los Angeles), Luke Schenn (Toronto), Sam Gagner (Edmonton) and Josh Bailey (New York Islanders).
Since Stamkos did not attend the summer evaluation camp, he is not eligible for the selection camp roster. The Oilers did not make Gagner available for the 2008 team and aren't likely to for the 2009 edition.
Hockey Canada's policy has been that the door is open for NHL players up until the start of selection camp, but not after that.
"It's still ongoing and we've had good conversations with all of (the clubs)," said Brad Pascall, Hockey Canada's senior director of the national team.
"When we put this roster together, we're putting it together as if we're not getting any NHL players."