Canada hopes RNH will be at WJC selection camp
Tuesday, 12.04.2012 / 4:23 PM
By Mike G. Morreale
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has accomplished much during his hockey career, but one experience he has yet to enjoy is the opportunity to represent Canada at the World Junior Championship. He made a valiant attempt as a 17-year-old in 2010, but was among the last nine players cut on the final day of selection camp.
Last season he was busy in the NHL, totaling 18 goals and 52 points in 62 games and becoming a finalist for the Calder Trophy.
The NHL lockout has given Nugent-Hopkins, now 19, one more shot to possibly fulfill that WJC void.
"It's one of the things that's missing from his resume … I know he wants to be part of this," Hockey Canada chief scout Kevin Prendergast said.
The one thing holding Nugent-Hopkins back this time around, however, could be an apparent shoulder injury. Nugent-Hopkins, who missed 20 games with the Oilers last season with shoulder injuries, was hurt in a game last weekend while playing for the Oilers' American Hockey League club, the Oklahoma City Barons. He has returned to Edmonton for a full evaluation.
On Monday, Hockey Canada revealed the 37-player roster of skaters and goalies invited to Canada's National Junior Team selection camp at the Markin MacPhail Centre at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, Dec. 11-13. As expected, Nugent-Hopkins was among the 21 forwards on the list.
"As of [Monday], Ryan is on our list and we would expect him to be here on Dec. 10 just like the other players," Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada's senior director of hockey operations for the national team, told the media. "Our thought is we don't anticipate a change to him being here Dec. 10."
Oklahoma City coach Todd Nelson told TSN on Tuesday that Nugent-Hopkins will remain in Edmonton for the remainder of the week in an effort to strengthen the shoulder. He also said that the 6-foot, 185-pound center would decide by Monday if he'll be able to play for Canada in the WJC later this month.
"[Nugent-Hopkins] told me late Friday night, 'I want to play for my country. I just want to play in that tournament,'" Rick Valette, Nugent-Hopkins' agent, told Sportsnet.ca on Sunday. "He wants to win a gold medal. My instincts tell me that he'll play."
Nugent-Hopkins, who has eight goals and 20 points in 19 games with the Barons this season, was the only AHL player invited to camp. There's no question he would like nothing more than to don the Canadian maple leaf and showcase his incredible skill set at the 2013 WJC in Ufa, Russia.
It's also apparent the Hockey Canada brass would love to have him there.
"He's an impactful player both on and off the ice," Team Canada coach Steve Spott said. "I've spoken to [former Edmonton coach] Tom Renney about Ryan; it's easy to watch him on the video and in games, but I wanted to know the type of person that he is. By all accounts, he's a tremendous young man in the locker room and around the team.
"His experience of having played a full year in the NHL under pressure would hopefully serve our players well in the dressing room."
Canada certainly could use him -- Team Canada last won a WJC gold medal in 2009 and had to settle for bronze at last year's tournament in Calgary. A loss to Russia in the semifinals last year kept Canada out of the gold-medal game for the first time since 2001.
"He's another weapon we can throw out on the ice to bolster our offense, so I'm excited to have the opportunity to work with him," Spott said of Nugent-Hopkins.
Prendergast realizes the value of having a player like Nugent-Hopkins at camp. If he were to earn a roster spot on the team, he might be considered a candidate to be named captain.
"Knowing the young man, he's very mature and certainly he's high end," Prendergast said. "He's a high-caliber hockey player, so we're looking forward to seeing him when he arrives in Calgary [Monday]."