Once again, an NHL lockout is creating unexpected benefits for Canada's junior hockey team.
Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins arrived in Calgary on Monday for the junior team's selection camp.
He's already played for Canada in the men's world hockey championship this year, but the NHL lockout means the 19-year-old will get to play in the world junior championship for the first time in his career.
That also occurred during the NHL lockout of 2004-05, when Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron was named the most valuable player of the 2005 junior tournament in Grand Forks, N.D., after helping Canada win gold at the 2004 world championship in Prague.
Nugent-Hopkins has a full NHL season behind him in which he was a finalist for the Calder Trophy that goes to the league's top rookie. The Oilers didn't make him available to the Canadian team that won bronze at the 2012 world junior championship in Alberta.
Now, two years after he was cut from Canada's junior team at age 17, Nugent-Hopkins is expected to lead it into the tournament starting Dec. 26 in Ufa, Russia.
"I've got to try to take on more of a leadership role this year," Nugent-Hopkins said Monday at the Calgary airport. "As a 17-year-old, I couldn't come into camp and do that. I'm definitely going to try and take some experience from worlds and bring it to this camp here.
Players hit ice Tuesday
"I feel like I'm a different person than I was a couple of years ago. My game has definitely evolved a lot and I see myself more as a two-way player right now so I'm definitely going to try and take on that role at this camp."
Since Nugent-Hopkins brings hockey experience to this Canadian team no other players have, Hockey Canada's expectations of him are high.
"He's a special player," Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast said. "For a young man to step into the National Hockey League and do exactly what he did last year, he brings high energy with him, he's offensively gifted and he makes everybody on the ice a better hockey player.
"From that standpoint, it can't help but help us."
The 36 players invited to this year's selection camp streamed through the Calgary airport Monday. Nugent-Hopkins arrived on a flight with Edmonton Oil Kings goaltender Laurent Brossoit and defenceman Griffin Reinhart.
The players get on the ice Tuesday at Canada Olympic Park and the 23-player team will be chosen by Thursday. The invitees will play an intra-squad game Tuesday followed by games against university players the following two days.
The Oilers confirmed on the weekend Nugent-Hopkins was available for selection camp before the NHL's announcement Monday that the cancellation of games has been extended to Dec. 30.
"For Edmonton to allow us to work with Ryan, we're very grateful that the Edmonton Oilers have allowed us access to Ryan-Nugent Hopkins," Canadian coach Steve Spott said.
"Ryan's message has been very up front with us and that's been he wants to be treated like every other player. We know the pressures that are going to come because he is a world-class player. I can tell you as a coaching staff we're going to treat him like a regular 19-year-old and ultimately put him in situations where he needs to be great."
Nugent-Hopkins was included on the camp roster announced a week earlier, but there was some question about the health of his shoulder, even though he'd been playing for the American Hockey League's Oklahoma City Barons this season.
"It was just something we really needed to take care of and we definitely did in the past week," Nugent-Hopkins said. "I felt like I really strengthened it."
The six-foot, 185-pound centre from Burnaby, B.C., is the lone NHL player available to Canada, although second-year Canadian players such as Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida), Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg), Ryan Strome (N.Y. Islanders) and defenceman Dougie Hamilton (Boston) would likely have been in the NHL this season.
"There's a lot of guys going to this camp that probably would be with their NHL clubs already right now," Nugent-Hopkins said. "It's one of those unique situations that doesn't happen too often. I'm excited to take advantage of it."
Nugent-Hopkins had four goals and two assists in eight games at this year's world championship held jointly in Stockholm, Sweden, and Helsinki, Finland, where Canada finished fifth. He totalled 18 goals and 34 assists in 62 NHL games last season.
"He's such a tremendous player," said Prince Albert Raiders forward Mark McNeill, who was cut from the team last year and is back for another try.
"Being able to have him come down from the pro ranks and help out the world junior team this year is really going to help."
Saginaw Spirit goaltender Jake Paterson is one of four goaltenders vying for two jobs at selection camp, although the Canadian team is planning to take a third goalie to Russia as insurance against injury. He also anticipates testing himself against Nugent-Hopkins during camp.
"Yeah, exactly, it's always a good experience to take some shots from an NHLer," Paterson said. "Having Nugent-Hopkins shoot on me will be good for my development."