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Lockout would impact Canadian junior team's roster

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The Canadian Press
11/2/2012 7:59:18 PM
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CALGARY -- As unpopular as the NHL lockout is, its continuation would greatly increase Canada's chances of winning gold at the world junior hockey championship.

Canada dominated the tournament en route to gold during the last lockout in 2004-05.

The question traditionally put to the Hockey Canada's head scout at this time of year is "Which players do you think you'll get back from the NHL?"

The lockout currently makes all but one eligible player immediately available to Canada. They're playing for their respective junior clubs while the NHL is dark.

"This team would certainly give us a high-end chance for a gold medal with all the guys we'd have," Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast said Friday from Kelowna, B.C.

Hockey Canada will announce a month from now its roster for selection camp Dec. 10-15 in Calgary.

Twenty-two players will be chosen for the 2013 world junior championship opening Dec. 26 in Ufa, Russia.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the only 1993-born Canadian player in a pro league right now.

The Edmonton Oilers assigned the 19-year-old centre to the American Hockey League's Oklahoma City Barons prior to the lockout.

Nugent-Hopkins made the Oilers roster as an 18-year-old. The centre played in the NHL last season and not in the 2012 world junior tournament in Edmonton and Calgary.

He played for Canada in this year's world championship.

"The big question mark for us is if the NHL is not back, is Nugent-Hopkins going to come and play?" Prendergast asked.

A decision not required for another month, the Oilers aren't answering that question yet.

"I think it's still too early yet to really get into that," Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini said. "I really haven't had any discussion at all with Hockey Canada or with Ryan at this point.

"I'd want to have a conversation first with Ryan and with our coaches here when the time comes, but I really think its premature at this point."

The agent for Nugent-Hopkins expects he'll discuss the idea of playing for Canada with his client later in November.

"I think we'll probably circle around to that probably the second or third week of November and have those conversations and go from there," Rick Valette said. "I just don't know at this point."

In the meantime, Nugent-Hopkins is at the top of Prendergast's depth chart at centre.

"He's an elite hockey player," Prendergast said. "There's going to be high expectations of this kid if he comes in absolutely."

If the NHL and the players solve their labour impasse in the next month, it significantly impacts the selection camp roster in size and personnel, he said.

Prendergast wouldn't be surprised if centres Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida), Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg), Ryan Strome (New York Islanders), winger Boone Jenner (Columbus) and defencemen Ryan Murphy (Carolina) and Doug Hamilton (Boston) were summoned to hastily-called NHL camps.

"If that was the case, we'd lose our top three centres and if you throw Nugent-Hopkins in there, we'd lose our top four," he said. "Gulp."

Those half-dozen players were among those who won bronze in Alberta and extended the country's streak of medals won in the tournament to 14 consecutive years. Canada last won gold in Ottawa in 2009.

"Guys like Scheifele and Strome and Dougie Hamilton, these kids went through it already once," Prendergast said. "They're physically a lot stronger and far closer to playing in the National Hockey League than they were last year."

Instead of holding its traditional summer evaluation camp, Hockey Canada invited 28 players born in 1993 and 1994 to play Russia in a four-game series in August.

Prendergast doesn't foresee inviting more than that number to selection camp should the NHL lockout continue. He wouldn't have to go as deep into his depth chart to fill positions as in other years.

But the NHL removing even a few elite players from the mix means casting a wide net over that player pool to find replacements.

"If we lose high-end players, normally it's going to take at least two players to look at that one position for us," Prendergast explained. "We could go from a camp of 27 or 28 to 40 or 42."

So the Canadian Hockey League's Subway Super Series versus Russia remains key in backfilling the selection camp roster should the NHL resume.

Prendergast will scout prospects in the annual six-games series. It features players eligible to play for Canada -- born in 1993 or earlier -- from the Quebec, Ontario and Western leagues.

The tour opens Monday in Blainville-Boisbriand, Que., followed by games in Val-d'Or, Que., Guelph and Sarnia, Ont., and Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.

"There's a lot of young kids playing in the series who are on the bubble," Prendergast said. "If the NHL does go back to work then they come back into play for us.

"How are they going to respond to these games? In some cases they only get one chance, but when you get into the world junior championship, one game determines where you go."

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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