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Yzerman has Olympics on his mind while watching world championship

NHL.com @NHL

KLOTEN, Switzerland - Team Canada now has some extra incentive to perform well at the IIHF World Hockey Championships.

The man in charge of next year's Olympic team has arrived in Switzerland.

Steve Yzerman, executive director of the 2010 squad, joined the Canadian contingent Thursday night and plans to remain with the team through the gold medal game on May 10.

There no better time for Olympic hopefuls to perform well.

"I want to watch our guys," Yzerman said of his reason for the Swiss trip. "We had said from last year that we're going to watch the playoffs and if you're not in the playoffs we want you to come over here as far as from an Olympic perspective. We want to see guys play."

He'll have to wait until Sunday's game against Norway to see the Canadians in action again. The players were given Friday off to relax with family and friends that were arriving from various destinations around North America.

The final three recruits - Travis Zajac, Braydon Coburn and Marc-Edouard Vlasic - also touched down in Europe and will attend their first practice on Saturday.

The most interesting part of Yzerman's trip is that only a handful of players on the world championship roster are widely considered top candidates for the Olympic team. Even he admits that he'd prefer to see a few more.

"The more guys potentially that would be on the Olympic team playing together more games would be a good thing," said Yzerman. "In that sense, I would love to have seen more guys that might be on that team here. But then it gives guys that are here more ice time, (they) play bigger roles and you get to watch them."

They have been impressive so far.

Canada has won all four of its games by comfortable margins and received some stellar performances. Martin St. Louis has been a sparkplug and leads the tournament in scoring with 11 points; Shea Weber has anchored the defence and used his monster shot to score four times; and teenager Steven Stamkos, the youngest member of the team, leads the way with five goals.

Stamkos is a player who might be able to use this event to work his name into the fringes of Olympic conversation - no small feat considering the rough start the rookie had in Tampa last fall.

"I'm not ruling anybody out at this point, it's too early," said Yzerman. "I watched Tampa play a lot this year and I watched Steve's performance, particularly down the stretch when they put him with Marty and he just took off. This tournament will be good for him.

"He's an NHL player, no question about it."

He seems to be getting more attention than any other Canadian player at the tournament. Czech superstar Jaromir Jagr came off this ice after Thursday's game between the teams and said he was impressed by the tremendous skill Stamkos displayed.

In fact, Jagr noted that the Canadian lineup seemed to be built with skill players from top to bottom.

"I think Canadian hockey, they're on a good way (with) the young guys," he said. "Before it was pretty close - Czech, Canada, Russia, Swedes, now I think you guys beat everybody. I don't know what happened there, if the coaches start coaching differently, play different hockey.

"But you guys don't play the typical Canadian hockey. You guys put a mix there and all the guys that are here are great players, skilled players."

The skill has been most evident on the man advantage, as Canada leads the entire world championship with an efficiency rating of 50 per cent (12-for-24). It's not just that they're scoring power-play goals, either - most of them have seemed almost effortless.

As the team moves towards the must-win games, coach Lindy Ruff and his staff will no doubt be placing an emphasis on better play at even strength.

Thursday's game was the first that Yzerman had witnessed live and he came away impressed with the overall team speed. He was the Canadian general manager for the past two world championships and believes that's an important ingredient for success.

Of course, he's here now in a different capacity and seems to truly be loving the Olympic job.

"I really enjoy it for the simple reason I like watching hockey," said Yzerman. "I like the game. Even just being a member of the Red Wings organization, I'm out watching a lot of hockey. Kenny (Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland) and (Red Wings assistant GM) Jimmy Nill always tell me, at the end of the day it's about player assessment.

"You've got to get out and watch games whether you're watching junior, college, high school, European hockey, anything - it's player evaluation. From that perspective, I'm learning a lot about players from all the countries and the Canadian players, (I'm) learning a great deal about them."

For the next 10 days in Switzerland, the learning process continues. Yzerman will be watching the Canadian players closely.

"The more times you watch them, the more you understand," he said.

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