Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has never played a game for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. At 17, he was one of the final cuts for the 2011 team that lost to Russia in the gold medal final. At 18, he was tearing it up for the Edmonton Oilers, scoring 52 points in 62 games, so he simply wasn’t available for the team that only managed a bronze medal. Now, Nugent-Hopkins is 19 and he might finally get his chance.
It is seeming more and more likely that there will be at least a partial lockout of the 2012-13 NHL season. If this lockout extends into January, players under 20 who might otherwise be making the jump to the NHL will be available for the World Junior Championship, taking place from December 26th to January 5th. Even if the lockout doesn’t last for that long, there could still potentially be players who might have made their NHL team with a full training camp, but won’t get the chance.
While almost every nation would potentially receive the benefit of a player or two being available who would otherwise be with their NHL team, Team Canada would likely be the biggest beneficiary. The same thing happened during the 2004-05 lockout, as Team Canada iced one of the most dominant teams in the tournament’s history.
The 2005 Canadian World Junior team had not only wunderkind Sidney Crosby playing in his second tournament at the age of 17, but also several players that were slated for the NHL that season. The list of talent on that team is truly remarkable. On defence, they had Shea Weber, Brent Seabrook, Dion Phaneuf, and Braydon Coburn. Both Seabrook and Phaneuf went straight to the NHL in the following season, with Weber playing part of the year in the AHL. It’s possible that all three of them could have played in the NHL as 19-year-olds.
At forward, Canada had Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, Andrew Ladd, Corey Perry, and Patrice Bergeron, all of whom were in the NHL the next season. Bergeron had already played a full season with the Boston Bruins as an 18-year-old, and it seems likely that, at the very least, Carter, Getzlaf, and Richards were bound for the NHL as 19-year-olds.
These players had a major impact for Canada, as they outscored their opposition 41-7 over the course of their 6 games, including a 6-1 thrashing of Russia in the gold medal game. Bergeron and Getzlaf led the tournament in scoring, with 13 and 12 points respectively, while Carter tied with Alex Ovechkin and Rostislav Olesz for the tournament lead in goals with 7. Getzlaf, Carter, Bergeron, and Phaneuf all scored for Canada in the gold medal game, while Bergeron was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
Nugent-Hopkins is the equivalent to Bergeron, in that he would already have a full NHL season under his belt. Would he too lead the tournament in scoring and be named the MVP?
He wouldn’t be the only high-level player unexpectedly available for Team Canada, though. Jonathan Huberdeau came just short of making the Florida Panthers out of training camp last season as an 18-year-old and leading the QMJHL in points-per-game last season likely didn’t hurt their opinion of him. The New York Islanders kept Ryan Strome around for the first week of the regular season, but didn’t get him into any games. As a 19-year-old, he’ll likely be in the starting lineup on opening day, if opening day happens at all.
Then there’s Mark Scheifele, who actually appeared in 7 games for the Winnipeg Jets at the start of last season, but was then sent back down to junior. With a good training camp, he’ll be with the Jets to stay, but without a training camp, he may spend another year in the OHL. As for defencemen, Dougie Hamilton appears to have been pencilled into the Bruins’ lineup already. He would be a massive boost to Team Canada’s blueline if the Bruins have no need for a lineup.
There are a number of other 19-year-olds who have an outside shot at making an NHL roster in the coming season, like Ryan Murphy, Boone Jenner, Ty Rattie, Scott Harrington, and Xavier Ouellet. All of them, as well as the four mentioned above, were part of Team Canada for the Canada-Russia Challenge, which is one of the key steps en route to selecting Team Canada for the World Junior Championship.
This isn’t even mentioning some of the 18-year-olds who might surprise their teams at training camp. Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Murray are two names that jump out, mainly because the Islanders and Blue Jackets seem like the type of organizations that would take a chance on them.
Russia would get Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko in the lineup for sure, though Grigorenko is an outside shot to make the Sabres in any case. Sweden would love to have Jonas Brodin, Oscar Klefbom, and Mika Zibanejad available. The Czech Republic is hoping for David Musil, Finland would like to have Markus Granlund in their lineup, and the US are banking on J.T. Miller.
But none of those countries would benefit from a lockout as much as Canada.