Led by top-rated NHL draft prospect Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the group of forwards invited to the Canadian junior hockey team's summer camp is small but talented, according to Hockey Canada's head scout.
Nugent-Hopkins, ranked No. 1 among North American skaters by Central Scouting for the draft June 24-25 in Minneapolis, is among the 46 players invited to camp Aug. 3-7 in Edmonton and Fort McMurray, Alta.
The 2012 world under-20 men's hockey championship will be held in Calgary and Edmonton starting Dec. 26.
The Canadian team that won silver at the 2011 tournament in Buffalo, N.Y., was bigger, but more blue-collar up front.
Nugent-Hopkins is six feet, but currently just 168 pounds and there are other forwards invited to camp that haven't cracked the six-foot, 180-pound mark. They make up for their lack of bulk in skill, says Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast.
"If you look at all of them stats-wise compared to last year's team, so many of these guys are the leading scorers on their team," he said Friday. "They put up a lot of points.
"Last year's team, they weren't the leading scorers on a lot of their teams, but they did exactly what coach [Dave] Cameron needed from them. Last year's group was unique because we needed that type of team. There were a lot of 20-year-olds on every team and we needed that size."
The four goaltenders, 16 defenceman and 24 forwards invited to the summer camp will practice in Edmonton and play an intra-squad game at Rexall Place on Aug. 6, followed by another game the next day in Fort McMurray.
Prendergast selected the players, born in 1992 and 1993, in consultation with junior team head coach Don Hay, assistants George Burnett, Ryan Huska and Pascal Vincent and senior director of hockey operations Brad Pascall.
Nugent-Hopkins, from Burnaby, B.C., was among the last nine players released from the 2011 Canadian junior team last December when he 17.
The Edmonton Oilers have the first overall selection in the draft and thus the option of making the Red Deer Rebel the No. 1 pick of 2011.
"He's going to very high on Edmonton's radar," Prendergast predicted.
Seven players who helped Canada win a silver medal at the 2011 tournament in Buffalo, are age-eligible to play for their country again and have been summoned to summer camp: goaltender Mark Visentin, defenceman Erik Gudbranson and forwards Brett Connolly, Sean Couturier, Quinton Howden, Ryan Johansen and Jaden Schwartz.
But Prendergast is bringing extra bodies to summer camp. Some of those veterans may be playing in the NHL next winter and unavailable to him.
"These high-end kids, there's guys we'd like to have back, but it's going to be difficult to get some of them back because they're already signed to NHL deals," Prendergast said. "I would anticipate four of them, maybe five of them, will be in the NHL next year."
Even a few of those skinny forwards might not be back in junior next season, he added.
"A lot of these kids put on 10 or 15 pounds over the summer and they get to their NHL camps and coaches want to keep them."
All players invited to the junior team's camp must attend, even if they are injured, to be eligible to play for Canada in December and January.
Prendergast will continue to scout players through the first half of next season and about 35 will be invited to a selection camp in Calgary in December. Twenty-two will be chosen for the Canadian team.
The majority of players invited to summer camp have previous international experience with the junior team, the Canadian under-18 teams, or at the international under-17 tournament held every year in Canada.
But five players invited to summer camp don't have experience at any of those levels.
Plymouth goaltender Scott Wedgewood, Tri-City forward Patrick Holland, defencemen Joe Morrow of the Portland Winterhawks, Matt Petgrave of the Owen Sound Attack and Dillon Simpson of the North Dakota Fighting Sioux will be in a Canadian-team environment for the first time.