The world junior championship will be Seth Jones's time to shine.
There are three returning players and eight NHL first-round draft picks on the preliminary roster for the U.S. national junior team, but the one who draws the most attention is the young defenceman for the Portland Winterhawks who may go first overall in the 2013 NHL draft.
Jones, a smooth six-foot-four rearguard, was among 27 players named to the U.S. squad's training camp Dec. 16-18 in Tarrytown, N.Y., at the New York Rangers training base.
The way coach Phil Housley talks about him, it seems like a lock that Jones will be on the 23-man roster for the world junior championship that begins Dec. 26 in Ufa, Russia.
"He's a special player," Housley said Tuesday on a conference call. "He's built for today's game.
"He's big, strong, he skates well and his first pass out of the zone is crisp. His skating has improved and he'll be able to jump into the play offensively. He's the full package."
The final roster will be announced after a camp Dec. 19-23 in Helsinki.
Jones and forward Ryan Hartman of the Plymouth Whalers are the only two draft eligible players on a roster Housley said will be built on speed for the international-size ice surface in Ufa, and grit for the grind of a tournament that begins with four games in five days.
Canada announced its training camp roster on Monday.
The three players back from the U.S. team that finished out of the medal round at the 2012 world juniors are defenceman Jacob Trouba, the Winnipeg Jets's ninth overall pick from last June, forward J.T. Miller, a New York Rangers' 2011 first rounder, and Anaheim Ducks goalie prospect John Gibson.
The list includes forward Alex Galchenyuk, taken third overall by the Montreal Canadiens, and his Sarnia Sting teammate and Phoenix Coyotes' 2011 first rounder Connor Murphy, a defenceman.
Also included were the 21st and 22nd overall picks from the 2011 draft — Toronto Maple Leafs' bruising forward prospect Tyler Biggs of the Oshawa Generals and Plymouth forward and Ottawa Senators property Stefan Noesen.
The Calgary Flames lead all NHL clubs with three prospects: goalie Jon Gilles, defenceman Patrick Sieloff and forward John Gaudreau.
Housley likes Sieloff's chances as a defensive defenceman.
"I like the edge to his game," the coach said. "His role would be a defensive, hard to play against player."
The team plans to have three goalies, seven defencemen and 13 forwards. Only three goaltenders were invited to camp — Gibson, Gilles and Toronto prospect Garret Sparks.
Samuelsson, Schmaltz off list
Also invited was forward Stefan Matteau of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the New Jersey Devils' first rounder who is the son of former NHL winger Stephane Matteau.
Notable players left off the list include Henrik Samuelsson of the Edmonton Oil Kings, the son of former NHL defenceman Ulf Samuelsson and a Phoenix first-rounder, and defenceman Jordan Schmaltz, a St. Louis Blues top pick.
General manager Jim Johannson said both players failed to make the grade but are young enough to be take another shot next year.
The final roster will be announced at the end of a camp Dec. 19-23 in Helsinki.
Johannson said Jones would have been a "big component" on last year's world juniors team had he not missed it with an injury. This year, he will get his chance to show what he can do on a world stage.
"I'm excited that a player of his level will be in this championship," he said. "That's what this tournament is all about. He's grown into a great leader."
Jones may get to test himself against some of his rivals to go first overall, including Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, who will be at Canada's camp.
Galchenyuk is on a scoring tear in the Ontario Hockey League with 20 goals and 49 points in 28 games and will likely be a top-line player in Ufa.
Biggs on leadership
Johansson also likes what he's seen of the six-foot-two 225-pound Biggs, who has 15 goals and 31 points in the OHL.
"He's always impressed me with his leadership," Johansson said. "He's putting up great numbers in Oshawa, and the physical aspect has always been there.
"Opponents know when he's on the ice, but he makes hockey plays instead of just going around hitting guys."
Housley said the three returning players will be key.
Gibson will be the favourite to start in goal, while Miller is the lone invitee playing pro hockey this season in the American Hockey League for Connecticut and will likely be a candidate for captain.
Trouba, playing at the University of Michigan, should be a leader on defence.
"You need to have guys with leadership qualities and Jacob can provide that," Housley said. "He's an all-around player."
Two players who were not at the team's summer camp, forwards Rocco Grimaldi and Riley Barber, played their way onto the list.
The U.S. opens play Dec. 27 against Germany. They play Canada in opening round action on Dec. 30.