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World junior hockey championship capsules

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A look at the teams that will compete at the 2008 world junior hockey championships:

Canada

Canada lacks the experience, particularly on the blue-line, that it had in the 2007 tournament in Sweden. The defending champs are still contenders for a fourth straight title if they adhere to head coach Craig Hartsburg's systems and play disciplined, mistake-free hockey.

Canada has won this tournament 13 times, including the last three.

Player to watch: Steve Stamkos. If the projected No. 1 pick in the 2008 NHL entry draft can carry his performance at selection camp into the tournament, the 17-year-old could be an impact player for Canada.

Russia

Don't count Russia out based on its performance against Canada in the summer's Super Series. There is talent there, but their Achilles heel has been goaltending. Sergei Varlamov, a first-round pick of the Washington Capitals, wasn't even on Russia's preliminary roster.

Russia has won this tournament a dozen times, including nine gold as the Soviet Union. They've been runner-up to Canada the last three years.

Player to watch : Sergei Cherepanov, first-round draft pick of the New York Rangers.

U.S.

Missing some depth with Pat Kane (Chicago) and defenceman Erik Johnson (St. Louis) in the NHL, but a talented group nonetheless. More than half the American players won a world under-18 title last year and they've got six players returning from the squad that lost to Canada in a semifinal shootout in Sweden.

The Americans' lone world under-20 title was in 2004.

Player to watch: James vanRiemsdyk, the No. 2 pick in this year's NHL draft behind Kane.

Sweden

The Swedes have made a concerted effort to beef up their junior program over the last five years and they've worked their way out of the relegation round and eighth place in 2003 to fourth place in 2007. With 12 NHL draft picks, the Swedes have the talent, but do they have the chemistry to get to the final four? Forward Magnus Svensson Paajarvi is the youngest to play for his country at the world juniors at 16 years eight months.

The Swedes won their lone world junior title in 1981.

Player to watch: Forward Michael Backlund, a first-round draft pick of the Calgary Flames

Czech Republic

The hosts boast NHL first-round draft picks Michael Frolik (Florida) and Jakub Voracek (Columbus) up front, but they'll miss the speed of Vancouver Giants forward Michael Repik, who is out with a concussion. The back end is a question mark for the Czechs. They have five players returning from the fifth-place team in 2007 and could have up to 10 Canadian Hockey League players in their lineup.

The Czech Republic has run hot and cold in the world junior tournament since the country's split from Slovakia in 1993. They won back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001, but their only other medal was a bronze in 2005.

Player to watch: Jakub Voracek. Halifax Mooseheads forward was the top European drafted into the NHL this year going seventh overall to the Blue Jackets.

Finland

Consistently finished in the medals earlier this decade, but have fallen off the podium recently. Three players return from the team that finished sixth in 2007: defencemen Joonas Lehtivuori and Joonas Jalvanti and forward Nico Aaltonen. The Finns will need serious goaltending from Riku Helenius to be a contender.

Finland won the world junior title in 1987 and 1998.

Player to watch: Goaltender Riku Helenius, a first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning

Switzerland

The Swiss have to score more than the six goals they mustered in Sweden to avoid the relegation round. Ten players are returning from the team that finished seventh in 2007.

Switzerland's lone medal in this tournament was a bronze in 1998.

Player to watch: Kitchener Rangers defenceman Yannick Weber, a Montreal Canadiens draft pick.

Slovakia

Narrowly avoided relegation to the world B championship by finishing eighth in Sweden. Same predicament as Switzerland as the Slovaks need to score more than six goals to get into the medal round.

The Slovaks' lone moment of glory in this tournament was a bronze in 1999 when they tied Canada in the preliminary round.

Player to watch:Tomas Marcinko. Six-foot-four Barrie Colts forward is a fifth-round draft pick of the New York Islanders.

Kazakhstan

The Kazakhs return to the world junior hockey championship after a seven-year absence. They earned promotion by winning one of the two world B championships. Kazakhstan was young enough last year that they could have up to 15 returning players, but they're still a longshot to finish in the top eight and remain in the A tournament next year.

Player to watch: Evgeni Gasnikov. Led the Kazakhs back to the premiere world championship with two goals and four assists in five games.

Denmark

The promoted Danes make their first appearance at the world under-20 championship. They'll bring a blue-chip player in winger Lars Eller, who was chosen 13th overall by St. Louis in this year's draft. But Denmark is still in the same boat as the Kazakhs. Promoted teams usually don't stick around in the A tournament a second year.

Player to watch: Lars Eller. A six-foot-one, 200-pound playmaker who can skate like the wind.

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