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Columbus Blue Jackets' Rick Nash has committed to playing for Canada at the upcoming world hockey championship. ((Jay LaPrete/Associated Press))

Canada has named the first group of players as the team looks to defend its gold medal at next month's world hockey championship in Halifax and Quebec City, with seven members set to return from last year's team.

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash, who earned tournament MVP honours last year, leads a prominent list of players who have committed to joining the team.

"It's an honour to represent your country at any chance, especially when you're playing in your own backyard," Nash, who will be representing Canada internationally for a sixth time, said during a Tuesday conference call.

"I'm pretty excited and I'm sure the guys that are named are excited, especially when it's this big of a deal moving forward to the Olympics and the [international] ranking of the teams, it's a very important tournament for Canada."

Last year's captain, Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes sniper Eric Staal, Chicago Blackhawks rookie Jonathan Toews, Jamal Mayers of the St. Louis Blues and Jason Chimera of Columbus will also be returning up front.

Carolina goaltender Cam Ward, who backstopped Canada on its way to IIHF gold last year, will join the team for a second straight year.

Several newcomers to the team have also been announced, including goaltender Columbus' Pascal Leclaire as well as defencemen Jay Bouwmeester of the Florida Panthers, Chicago's Duncan Keith and Edmonton Oilers Steve Staios, the lone player from a Canadian-based team.

New additions among forwards include Buffalo Sabres' leading scorer Derek Roy, Chicago's Patrick Sharp and Carolina veteran Ray Whitney.

Former Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner Martin St. Louis also joins the team. St. Louis played for Canada at the 2004 World Cup and the 2006 Torino Olympics.

Canadian general manager Steve Yzerman formally introduced Ken Hitchcock of Columbus as head coach on Monday.

Hitchcock's assistants will be Edmonton head coach Craig MacTavish, longtime NHL coach Pat Burns, and Los Angeles associate coach Mike Johnson, who was an assistant with Canada's winning world championship team in Russia last year.

Yzerman told CBCSports.ca there were a number of factors considered assembling the team.

"We've looked at every Canadian in the league and as time has gone on, kind of worked it to a short list but certainly health and fit and trying to project who's going to be available and what we need after the first round [of the NHL playoffs] all come into play," he said. "I don't think whether a guy plays for a U.S.-based club or a Canadian club is a real issue."

Team Canada opens its training camp April 24 in Quebec City and will drop the puck against Slovenia its first tournament game in Halifax on May 2.

With files from the Canadian Press