19-year-old NHLer Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Getty Images)It's a safe bet that 12 months ago, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was intent on making the Edmonton Oilers and the world junior hockey championship was barely an afterthought. However, with each side bunkering down in the NHL lockout, the possibility has been raised that the 19-year-old whose quick ascension to the big league meant missing out on Team Canada could wear the Maple Leaf yet.
Simply put, it's one thing not to play on account of playing 17-18 minutes per night in the world's top league. Playing for the Oklahoma City Barons instead of playing in a big-ticket tournament such as a world junior tournament where Canada has the challenge of going overseas to win is another thing entirely. With the pressure on for Canada to end a three-year gold-medal drought, it sounds like Nugent-Hopkins might get a shot at wearing the Maple Leaf for the national junior team after all if the lockout drags into December.
From Bob McKenzie:
"So if this lockout extends to the new year, what's the upside for this year's Team Canada? We'll start with Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins played in the NHL last season and has been assigned this season to Oklahoma City of the American Hockey League. But he's still junior-eligible ... The Edmonton Oiler brass has yet to seriously consider whether he'd be loaned to the national junior team. The Oilers haven't said he would be made available, but they're not just saying yet that he would, either ... At the very least, it's a possibility." (TSN)
Nugent-Hopkins was cut two seasons ago as a 17-year-old with the Red Deer Rebels when Canada's coach that season, Dave Cameron, put more of a focus on building the team around grinding down opponents. Nugent-Hopkins, at that time, was barely 160 pounds and either didn't fit with that or wasn't more advanced than the older players who were earmarked to fill the scoring roles.
Who knows, perhaps Nugent-Hopkins is on one of Canada's ghost rosters. It is way too early to start talking about it like it is fait accompli, since first the NHL CBA talks have to remain stuck in park neutral for nearly another three months. A resolution would mean this post never happened, although there will be the usual scuttlebutt about other teens (Ryan Strome, Dougie Hamilton, Mark Scheifele, Jonathan Huberdeau, Ryan Murray, Ryan Murphy, is that everyone?) whose availability for late December is not a sure thing.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.