Young guns Canada's big guns

Canada's John Tavares, Jeff Skinner and Jordan Eberle celebrate a goal against Finland during their...

Canada's John Tavares, Jeff Skinner and Jordan Eberle celebrate a goal against Finland during their 2012 IIHF men's ice hockey World Championship game in Helsinki May 11, 2012. (Grigory Dukor/REUTERS)

Terry Jones, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:37 PM ET

HELSINKI - John Tavares and Jordan Eberle are 21.

Evander Kane is 20.

Jeff Skinner turns 20 next week.

And Ryan Nugent-Hopkins just turned 19 before he came here.

Between the five of them, they've scored 16 of Canada's 30 goals at this world hockey championship. And they only produced three of them in putting away Kazakhstan 8-0 here Saturday.

You can forget, watching games come and go during this tournament that a significant slice of what what this event is all about this year is preparing young players to take the big step to play for Canada on the big ice at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games.

Linemates Tavares, Eberle and Skinner, by far and away Canada's best trio at this tournament so far, certainly have to have made an impression with Steve Yzerman and staff.

And not just this year.

They've been building up to this.

In his third consecutive world championship, New York Islanders centre Tavares has already played 20 games on the big ice, not including pre-tournament games.

He's scored 16 goals with eight assists for 24 points.

"I think coming here two years ago, again last year and now this year has made a big difference," said Tavares.

"It's a tough adjustment and it's not easy to be consistent. It also doesn't hurt to play with two great guys who are playing well and taking pride in it and competing hard.

"I've worked hard on my game here. Obviously I'd love to be there in Sochi. I'm trying to do what I think I need to do to be involved. The best thing I think I can do is try to play my part to win this tournament."

Eberle, who two years ago, like defenceman Ryan Murray this year, played four games at the world championships before he played his first NHL game with the Edmonton Oilers.

Eberle has now played 17 tournament games, scoring nine goals and adding six assists for 15 points.

"Experiencing this tournament twice before and playing as many games as I now have, you start to get used to the big ice," said Eberle.

"It's a bigger adjustment than a lot of people would think."

Skinner, the Carolina Hurricanes forward who won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year last season in the NHL, has now played 13 tournament games and scored five, assisted on another five for 10 points.

With only six games on the big ice so far in his career, this year's Calder candidate Nugent-Hopkins of the Oilers has three goals and two assists.

In the case of Nugent-Hopkins, the lack of it -- at times -- has shown.

"It's definitely taking a little bit of adjusting," he said in the mixed zone Friday after the 5-3 win over Finland in the kind of game the big ice can produce which can show up the odd Stanley Cup playoff game back home.

"But every game I'm starting to feel more and more comfortable here with the size of the ice. It's a different game."

Winnipeg Jets forward Kane has also played the same 20 games as Tavares. His numbers are a little more modest at the same five goals and 10 points as Skinner.

"It's funny with this team," said coach Brent Sutter.

"It's the youngest Canadian team ever assembled, but they're guys that have played in the National Hockey League for a couple or three years already. They've also had some experience here and it's really shown."

Mike Babcock, the gold medal-winning coach from the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, who has been here as an observer at the invitation of Hockey Canada, said it's a terrific time for these kids to be involved in a world championship.

"These kids have another year and then they have three months of the following year. Drew Doughty didn't play at the world championship until the year before the Olympics. That went a long way in his selection to the team. And look at the way he played."

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