No player will be watched more closely at the World Junior Championship in Saskatoon and Regina (Dec. 26 - Jan. 5) than Hall, who is expected to be the first overall choice in next summer's NHL draft. The lightning-quick left winger will spearhead the offense with Windsor Spitfires linemates Adam Henrique (Devils, 2008) and Greg Nemisz (Flames, 2008), while returnee Ryan Ellis (Predators, 2009) quarterbacks the power play. It willl be the first time since 1988 that four members of the same junior club were named to Team Canada.
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The final cut at last year's camp, Allen will carry the mail as Canada's starter. The 19-year-old St. Louis Blues pick (34th overall, 2008) has excelled under pressure -- he stopped 96 of 99 shots fired at him in the medal round of the 2008 Under-18 tournament -- and his athleticism and flexibility will prove valuable against methodical European teams.
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Edmonton's top prospect is an undersized center, but he has soft hands and a knack for scoring the big goal. Eberle etched his name in Canada's collective memory when he tied last year's WJC semi-final with just 5.4 seconds left, then added a spectacular goal in the shootout that sucked the life out of the Russians. He'll be the focal point of a Canadian offense weakened by NHL graduations.
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The Finns will be hard-pressed to medal, but the 5-8, 163-pound winger could emerge as the most dynamic offensive talent in the tournament. The 2009 Edmonton fourth-rounder broke Alexander Ovechkin's scoring record at the 2008 Under-18's with 10 goals and 19 points in just six games, and netted the shootout winner that secured the bronze for Finland.
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Since being written off for the season by the bumbling Blue Jackets, Filatov has rediscovered his confidence, and scoring touch, in the KHL. The electrifying winger had five goals and 14 points in 12 games before being assigned to the junior squad, where he'll be motivated to avenge last year's semi-final loss to Canada and send a message to his detractors in Columbus.
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One of the breakout stars of last year's event, the dashing winger led the surprising Slovaks to a fourth-place finish with seven goals and 11 points in seven games. That performance prompted the Red Wings to draft him 60th overall last June and place him with Grand Rapids where, at 19, he's the youngest player in the AHL. His quick transition to that circuit (8-8-16 in 22 games) suggests he could dominate this tournament.
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He was lit up for five goals by Team Canada in exhibition action, but the player some consider to be the best netminder outside the NHL shouldn't be written off. A second-round pick of the Panthers in 2008, the 19-year-old Markstrom is dominating the Swedish Elite League, ranking second in goals-against and save percentage. If he repeats his Top Goalie form from the 2009 event, Sweden has a real shot at gold.
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Looks like help is on the way for Washington's beleaguered blueline. Carlson, the 27th overall pick in 2008, has established himself as a top-two defender in the AHL and his size, smarts and experience make him the likely No. 1 for the Americans. Capitals fans can also watch for Dmitri Orlov of Team Russia, a physical defender who plays a smart, safe game.
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The 2009 Vancouver Canucks first-rounder has struggled this season with the Minnesota Gophers, but as one of just three returnees from last year's fifth-place squad, he'll be thrust into a leadership role with the Americans. Schroeder led Team USA at last year's even with 11 points in six games. Entering his third tournament, he's just six points behind Jeremy Roenick for the all-time American scoring record.
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Mike Lee/Jack Campbell
The Americans were undone last year by the inability of their goaltenders to deliver the big save at the key moment. While they've yet to name a starter, either St. Cloud State's Lee (pictured) or Campbell (inset) of the National Team Development Program should provide a significant upgrade. Campbell led the U.S. to gold at last summer's Under-18 event, posting a 0.75 GAA and .967 save percentage. Lee was Goaltender of the Year as a rookie with the USHL's Fargo Force.
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