Any barrier to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins joining Team Canada for the world junior championship could be removed very soon.
It seems like the 19-year-old budding Edmonton Oilers star is up for wearing the Maple Leaf in Ufa, Russia in the WJC, which begins four weeks from Wednesday. Ultimately, it is a matter of dollars and cents for the Oilers and the Oklahoma City Barons, where the former No. 1 NHL pick is sequestered with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, who both represented the country to some critical acclaim during their junior days. All that is hanging in the balance could be whether Nugent-Hopkins would be released from the Barons in time to attend Canada's full selection camp, which is in two weeks' time in Calgary.
@tsnbobmckenzie Been told that it's RNH's decision, but question is whether OKC lets him attend the entire selection camp next month.
— Michael Traikos (@Michael_Traikos) November 28, 2012
There seems to be a rapidly diminishing possibility the NHL will resume play any time before the world junior ends on Jan. 5. Bruce McCurdy also had a post looking at the precedents set with other 19-year-olds with a full season of NHL experience who went to the world junior, such as Patrice Bergeron in 2004-05 and Alexandre Daigle in 1994-95. (It turns out Daigle saw a short-term performance boost from going to the tournament, but didn't sustain it due to reasons that likely do not apply to Nugent-Hopkins. That's a polite way to say Daigle was lazy.)
As McCurdy relates, even if Nugent-Hopkins is separated from his fellow Oilers, he could go head-to-head against Nail Yakupov, so there's added value for Edmonton:
My guess is that Eberle and Hall will encourage him to go, that Nugent-Hopkins will want to go, and that [Oilers] management with all of its Hockey Canada connections won't stand in the way unless an end to the lockout is deemed imminent.
Indeed, the Nuge may well consider it unfinished business on his career bucket list. As he put it in a Cult of Hockey interview exactly two years ago: "If I get a chance to play on the World Junior team that would be awesome." Maybe that's changed since his NHL experience, but somehow I doubt it.
And for Oiler fans who prefer to keep their talent on the same ice surface, the mere concept of a Nail Yakupov-RNH showdown in a high-stakes game is a mouth-watering one. It's far from a remote possiblility; those two countries have met before at this event a time or two. (Edmonton Journal)
Oklahoma City has seven games between Dec. 9 and 22, the period that covers the selection camp and the team-building phase before it leaves for Russia and adapts to the 11-hour time changes. It could be worth it to not have Nugent-Hopkins come until after the selection camp, period, full stop. There is already some precedent for that; Hockey Canada essentially saved a space for Jonathan Huberdeau last season when he was recovering from a broken foot suffered in early November.
Another reason for Canadian fans to be optimistic that it will happen? Well, it's not like Nugent-Hopkins takes a further financial hit beyond his lost NHL paycheques:
RNH's signing bonus for this year is more than his AHL salary. Losing a month of cheques? OH NOS.
— mc79hockey (@mc79hockey) November 28, 2012
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.