November 11, 2012
It can be reasonably believed that Team Canada could add Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the world junior championship if the NHL lockout lasts until Christmas — which is as far from the greater good for the hockey industry as it can get.
Knowing the Edmonton Oilers could make the Calder Trophy finalist who was cut from Team Canada as a wispy 17-year-old in 2010-11 available is one thing. It's another to hear that that Nugent-Hopkins, instead of falling back on the stock quote about being focused on the NHL (the standby of many of a 19-year-old whose availability for the WJC is tentative), says playing in the WJC would further his development. Nugent-Hopkins was speaking after he and the Oklahoma City Barons, with fellow young Oilers Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, faced the Abbotsford Heat in an AHL game on Saturday.
The [national junior team] camp roster will be named Dec. 3 and after being one of the final cuts [from the 2011 team], the 19-year-old Edmonton Oilers playmaker believes international exposure could accelerate his learning curve, just like it did for linemates Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, who are also playing for the Barons during the lockout.
"If it comes up, I'm definitely going to talk about it more," Nugent-Hopkins said Saturday. "Eberle had great success there and so did Taylor and they're two good guys to talk about that sort of thing. If I do get that opportunity, it's something I would take because it's always an honour to play for Canada." (Vancouver Province)
Canada ought to be deep at centre regardless. Returnees Ryan Strome, Mark Scheifele and Boone Jenner (who is an energy player internationally) are three of the Ontario Hockey League's top five scorers. Throw in another defensive specialist such as the Victoriaville Tigres' Philip Danault. Then there are the top NHL draft prospects such as Nathan MacKinnon (who was more effective at centre than as a wing in the Subway Super Series) and Sean Monahan.
However, having a dominant playmaking centre to helm the top line is often catalytic during the world junior. That 19-year-old who's a force unto himself typically hasn't been available to Canada in recent seasons. The bronze-medal-winning 2012 team did not have anyone on par with Russia's Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Washington Capitals first-round pick who is a point-a-game scorer for the KHL's Chelyabinsk. Nugent-Hopkins, no disrespect to the aforementioned accomplished pivots, could have that effect if worse comes to worse in the NHL/NHLPA talks. It's notable that he speaks of it as a great chance to enhance his hockey CV in comparison to playing in the AHL. The minor pro circuit is more for grooming, but playing for Team Canada lets Nugent-Hopkins play the role he's expected to flourish in as a mature NHLer.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.