Dean Blais, who will guide the U.S. at the 2012 World Junior Championship, said he'll arrive in Lake Placid for this week's national junior evaluation camp with a clean slate and an open mind.
So the message is being sent to all 44 players invited to the camp -- including the nine who helped the U.S. win the bronze medal last year in Buffalo -- that past performance does not guarantee future roster spots.
"There's no favorites going into the camp," Blais told NHL.com. "I wasn't there in Buffalo. I don't know how they performed. I don't care how they performed. All that matters is how they perform in Lake Placid."
The players will get their chance to perform in front of Blais and the rest of the USA Hockey staff at the camp, which runs Aug. 6-13 and will be held at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. The first few days will feature two-a-day practices and intrasquad scrimmages, followed by a roster cut to about 25 players. The remainder of the camp will be filled with practices and exhibition games against Finland and Sweden.
Blais has been through this before -- this will be his third time coaching the U.S. at the World Juniors, most memorably two years ago in Saskatoon when he guided the U.S. to just its second-ever gold medal at the event, capped by an overtime win against Canada in the championship game. That U.S. team played a high-speed, attacking, offensive style that resulted in 43 goals in seven games. Blais said he's not going to dictate the style of play for the 2012 World Juniors, which will be held Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Calgary and Edmonton. Rather, he'll wait to see what kind of players he has in Lake Placid, then tailor the system to them.
"I knew that if we had the speed available like we did two years ago that we'd play that way," Blais said. "If we don't have that speed, you might have to be more of a grinding, positional team. We knew that we had players that could get up and down the ice (in 2010), like Derek Stepan and Jordan Schroeder and Jerry D'Amigo and Kyle Palmieri, guys that could really fly. When you have a team like that, you have to use your assets and that was one of our assets. ... We played a style that gave us a chance to win and the players were very disciplined in it. We'll probably try to do the same thing in Edmonton and Calgary if we have the same type of player."
While none of those skaters will be available for the U.S., the nine players who gained experience in Buffalo should be adaptable to whatever Blais wants them to do -- defensemen Justin Faulk, Derek Forbort and Jonathan Merrill, forwards Nick Bjugstad, Charlie Coyle, Emerson Etem and Jason Zucker, and goaltenders Jack Campbell and Andy Iles.
Of that group, Blais knows Campbell and Zucker best, as they were part of the 2010 gold-medal team. Zucker, who had two goals in seven games, was the youngest player on that U.S. team. Campbell, who started three of the seven games, replaced Mike Lee four minutes into the second period of the gold-medal game and stopped 32 of the 34 shots he faced. Last year in Buffalo he was named the tournament's best goaltender after leading all goalies with a 1.70 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.
Among the other returning players, Coyle had the best showing in Buffalo, tying for the team lead with four assists and six points. Bjugstad tied for second on the team with two goals, while Merrill and Faulk were 1-2 in defense scoring for the team, with five and four points, respectively.
Also attending the camp will be four players taken in the first round of the 2011 Entry Draft -- center J.T. Miller (No. 15, Rangers), defenseman Connor Murphy (No. 20, Coyotes), right wing Stefan Noesen (No. 21, Senators) and right wing Tyler Biggs (No. 22, Toronto).
Twenty NHL teams will have at least one prospect at the camp, with three teams -- the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and Florida Panthers -- being represented by four prospects each. The Blackhawks originally had five prospects going, but Friday it was announced goaltender Mac Carruth was removed from the roster due to an injury. He was replaced by Michigan State goaltender Will Yanakeff.
The remaining Blackhawks attending the camp are defensemen Adam Clendening, Justin Holl and Stephen Johns, and forward Kevin Hayes. Kings prospects at the camp will be defensemen Forbort and Kevin Gravel, and forwards Michael Mersch and Nicholas Shore, while Panthers prospects attending are forwards Bjugstad, Connor Brickley, Rocco Grimaldi and Vincent Trocheck.
The two youngest players invited were Fargo Force defenseman Brian Cooper, who is eligible for the 2012 draft, and U.S. National Team Development Program defenseman Seth Jones, who won't be draft-eligible until 2013.
Scott Sandelin and Tom Ward will serve as Blais' assistant coaches, and helping at the camp will be Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and New York Rangers assistant coach Mike Sullivan.
"They're experienced, and I think they're as excited as we are to have them," Blais said. "You can't beat experience when it comes to the World Junior tournament. ... We've always had a strong staff and this might be the strongest with two guys who have been coaches in the NHL. They're going to be hands-on, we'll use them in any way we can. They're going to certainly put the guys through the drills. We'll have Scott take one team and Tom take another and they'll work with Mike Sullivan and Danny."
While this won't be the final chance for prospective players to audition for the U.S. team, the summer camp will go a long way toward that final evaluation -- so the players can consider themselves warned that if they don't show up in the best shape possible, there's a good chance they'll be watching the tournament on television.
"There are nine players that were in Buffalo, but they don't have any advantages on the other players that were there," Blais said. "I'm going into this with an open mind and I believe the coaching staff is, too. We're going to take the players that buy in to the way we want to play, which is taking advantage of anything given us."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK