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McKenzie: NHL lockout has upside for Canada's junior team

Bob McKenzie
9/26/2012 6:07:42 PM
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If there's a silver lining to the NHL lockout, it's that a prolonged shutdown historically results in the already tremendous world junior championship being even better than usual - especially for Canadian hockey fans.

Everyone remembers the Dream Team that Canada iced during the last lockout at the 2005 World Juniors in Grand Forks, North Dakota, when a star-studded lineup that included Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Dion Phaneuf and Shea Weber dominated en route to a gold medal.

Or the NHL lockout of 1994 that, in the 1995 World Juniors, produced Canada's other most dominant ever national junior squad.

So if this lockout extends into the New Year, what's the upside for this year's Team Canada?

Start with Edmonton Oiler centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Well, maybe.

Nugent-Hopkins played in the NHL last season and has been assigned this season to Oklahoma City of the American Hockey League, but he's still junior-eligible and could be on Team Canada. We say 'could' because Oiler brass has yet to seriously consider whether he'd be loaned to the national junior team. The Oilers aren't saying he wouldn't be made available, but they aren't saying he would either.

They'll discuss it with Nugent-Hopkins as the season unfolds and make a decision later. But, at the very least, it's a possibility.

Now if there's are no NHL games being played, Canada can count on having three returning centres from last year's national junior team - Winnipeg first-rounder Mark Scheifele, New York Islanders first rounder Ryan Strome and Columbus Blue Jackets second-rounder Boone Jenner. With Nugent-Hopkins and those three down the middle, Canada would be set at centre.

If the NHL is back and playing, it seems to be a given that Jonathan Huberdeau will be with the Florida Panthers. But if the lockout continues, the goal-scoring winger would be back for his second straight World Junior tournament.

Team Canada's defence would also benefit greatly. If NHL games are on, Boston first-rounder Dougie Hamilton and Columbus first-rounder Ryan Murray will be in the NHL. But if the lockout continues, Hamilton and Murray should be Canada's No. 1 defence pair. Carolina first-rounder Ryan Murphy is another in that category.

Now, if the lockout ends before Christmas, some of these players - not Nugent-Hopkins, but the others -could still end up on Team Canada. They could be loaned out on a case by case basis, the same way NHL teams make December decisions on underage players each year, but if the lockout does continue into the New Year, Canada is guaranteed to ice its absolute best team.

And since Canada hasn't won gold at the World Juniors for three years, well - that could turn out to be more than a silver lining to this lockout.

Bob McKenzie

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