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Canadian junior roster not set in stone

The loss of defenceman Ryan Murray to shoulder surgery notwithstanding, Canada’s national junior team could, in theory, still ice the most powerful squad next month in Russia it’s been able to cobble together since 2005 in Grand Forks, the last time the NHL was locked out.

On the other hand, if the NHL were to strike a deal with the NHL Players Association in the very near future, Team Canada would probably be seriously weakened as top juniors headed to NHL camps.

Then there’s the in between, the gray area.

What happens if the Canadian junior team begins its selection camp Dec. 10 in Calgary, and then the NHL lockout ends?

It could get a little messy.

Normally, at least in recent years, the rule has been that once a player is loaned to the junior team by his NHL club, he’s there from the beginning of camp to the end of the tournament. It’s been this way ever since Eric Lindros, Trevor Kidd and Kimbi Daniels were airlifted into Germany just a few days before the beginning of the ‘92 tournament and the result was a disaster.

But this year’s lockout might force Canada to rethink those rules, at least if it wants to try and send the best team possible to Ufa, having already seen the impressive quality of the Russian entry during the recent CHL Super Series.

The primary problem may revolve around Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Even after playing in the NHL last season, RNH is still eligible for the world juniors. Right now, he and other Oiler prospects are ripping it up with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL, but there seems to be a sense Nugent-Hopkins could be made available to Team Canada.

However, that might come with a condition, specifically that if the NHL lockout ends before Canada’s first game against Germany on Dec. 26th, the Oilers would have the choice of yanking Nugent-Hopkins back for full-time NHL duty. Technically, Canada would still have time to summon a replacement, but it would surely be a major distraction.

Theoretically, Canada could be awfully strong down the middle with RNH, Mark Scheifele, Jonathan Huberdeau and Ryan Strome, not to mention 17-year-old Nathan MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads. If the NHL were to start up before the selection camp, the guessing is that Nugent-Hopkins, Scheifele, Huberdeau and Strome would be NHL bound, at least temporariliy.

However, if they attend the selection camp, right now the speculation is that all would stay regardless of the NHL labour situations with the exception of Nugent-Hopkins.

So if you’re Kevin Prendergast and Steve Spott, do you take RNH knowing you might lose him on the eve of the tournament, and knowing it could set a precedent for the future?

Or do you forge ahead with the selection camp without him knowing that its possible the NHL might not solve its lockout woes before Dec. 26 and he might have been available all along?

It’s a tricky call, particularly knowing that if special consideration is given to the Oilers in terms of being able to pull Nugent-Hopkins back, it might be difficult to deny the Boston Bruins the same rights with Dougie Hamilton, or Carolina with Ryan Murphy, or the Maple Leafs with Morgan Rielly.

Every time the NHL shuts down there’s the potential of a big upside for Canada’s national junior team. This time, however, it could come with serious complications.

Damien Cox

NHL

 
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