EDMONTON - Having been one of the final cuts last year, it’s likely Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be a big part of Canada’s world junior entry this winter.
However, the first overall pick in June’s NHL Entry draft has his sights set on a bigger target.
With no disrespect to the national junior program, Nugent-Hopkins would prefer to be playing in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers while the World Junior Championships are taking place.
“My main focus right now is on making the Oilers,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who is one of 47 players taking part in the national junior development camp at Rexall Place. “But if I do go back to junior and get the chance to play with the world junior team, that would be alright, too.”
Since being selected first overall by the Oilers in June, Nugent-Hopkins’ focus has been squarely on getting bigger and preparing to attend his first NHL camp this September.
Nugent-Hopkins has put on 10 pounds since his season with the Red Deer Rebels came to an end this spring.
And while the Oilers have high hopes for their top pick, they will not rush him into the NHL if indications are another year of junior hockey is best for his development.
“I don’t know if he’ll be available for us, I hope he is, but that will be up to the Oilers at that point,” said Hockey Canada’s head scout Kevin Prendergast. “He certainly has a lot of talent, but that’s a big jump from junior to the NHL.”
Regardless, having gone through the Team Canada selection process before, Nugent-Hopkins is quite comfortable skating with the top junior-aged players in the country.
Even if he doesn’t get an opportunity to play in the world junior tournament this year, the summer development camp will still be beneficial for him heading into Oilers rookie camp in the fall.
“There are a lot of great players out here, so it gives you a bit of heads up of what to expect at rookie camp for the Oilers,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “There is a lot of skating and a lot of hard work on the ice, so it’s good that way.”
The junior development camp runs through Sunday and will wrap up with an intra-squad game in Fort McMurray.
“It was good having that experience last year, I have a feel for it now,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “Last year I kind of went into the camp a little more timid than I probably should have and it worked against me. This year, I’m more open about it and I have some more confidence coming in.”
Nugent-Hopkins can still play in the World Junior Championships even if he cracks the Oilers lineup this fall.
If they choose, the Oilers could lend him to the world junior team for the tournament, a distinct possibility, considering it is taking place in Edmonton and Calgary.
“If I do play for the Oilers and that’s what they want me to do, then I’ll definitely do that,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “Every kid in Canada grows up watching the world juniors, so it would be a great opportunity for me.”
Having had to settle for silver in the last two tournaments, Team Canada would undoubtedly welcome Nugent-Hopkins with open arms.
Until they are told otherwise, the highly-talented forward is in the plans.
“Right now all my attention is on doing my best here and working my hardest,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “I want to make a good impression on the coaches. After this week, I’m going to get back to training for a couple of weeks, then I’ll head out to Red Deer’s camp and the Oilers camp after that.”