EDMONTON – One way or another, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins wants to be a high-profile hockey player in Edmonton this winter.
The Edmonton Oilers made the Burnaby, B.C., forward the first-overall pick in this year's NHL draft. Nugent-Hopkins hopes to make the club as an 18-year-old, but there's another attractive option he's pursuing at this week's Canadian junior team summer camp.
Edmonton and Calgary are joint hosts of the 2012 world junior championship starting Dec. 26. Canada plays all its preliminary-round games in Edmonton.
Nugent-Hopkins, a member of the Red Deer Rebels in the Western
Hockey League, was cut from Canada's junior squad at last December's selection camp.
He would be the marquee player of the world junior tournament, particularly in Edmonton, should the Oilers return him to the WHL this season.
“My goal is to make the Oilers, but if I do get a chance to play for Canada, it's going to be incredible,” Nugent-Hopkins said Tuesday at Edmonton International Airport. “Both things are a dream come true.”
The six-foot, 175-pound forward is among Canada's best 47 players under the age of 20 congregating in Alberta's capital city for the team's summer camp. Four goaltenders, 17 defencemen and 26 forwards, born in either 19, take to the ice Wednesday at Rexall Place and conclude camp with an intra-squad game Sunday in Fort McMurray, Alta.
Also in the group are seven players who won silver for Canada at the 2011 world junior tournament in Buffalo, N.Y. – goaltender Mark Visentin, defenceman Erik Gudbranson and forwards Brett Connolly, Sean Couturier, Quinton Howden, Ryan Johansen and Jaden Schwartz.
After a run of five straight gold medals from 20, Canada has taken silver the last two years.
The camp alone won't determine which players will get named to the Canadian team. About 35 will be invited to a selection camp in December prior to the tournament.
But this week's gathering is critical, as head coach Don Hay and assistants George Burnett and Ryan Huska get to know the pool of players Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast has chosen.
Prendergast has said the 2012 Canadian junior team will be smaller up front, but quicker and more skilled than the 2011 edition. This year's crop of defencemen stand out as 11 camp invitees are first-round NHL draft picks. Because of his experience, Visentin heads to camp with the inside track on the starting goaltender's job.
Nugent-Hopkins is among several players who may not be available to Hay in December if they make their NHL teams' rosters.
Gudbranson, Howden and Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida), Connolly (Tampa Bay), Johansen and Boone Jenner (Columbus) and Couturier (Philadelphia) are expected to get long looks from their respective NHL clubs.
“There's two or three guys who might not be available to us this year,” Hay said. “The NHL is obviously taking younger players with the salary cap system some teams are under. They're looking to fill those positions with younger players. It's going to be hard to tell until the season gets going.”
All the more reason to get a handle on the dark horses in camp, who can move up Hay's depth chart in the event a player is lost to the NHL.
This summer camp will be the first national team experience of Patrick Holland's life. A seventh-round pick of the Calgary Flames, the Tri-City Americans forward said he was initially shocked to receive an invitation.
“I was really surprised but as it started to sink in, I realized ‘This is something I can do, this is a team I can make. I just have to go and prove myself,’” Holland said. “I'm pretty confident. I feel I'm more of a late bloomer.”
Other players to watch include Saint John Sea Dogs forward Huberdeau, the Memorial Cup and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's playoff MVP last season. Carolina Hurricanes prospect Ryan Murphy of the Kitchener Rangers was named best defenceman at the world under-18 championship earlier this year.
Notes: Offspring of NHL players include Dillon Simpson (Craig), Christian Thomas (Steve) and Sean Couturier (Sylvain). Ottawa 67's defenceman Cody Ceci is the son of former Calgary Stampeder Parri Ceci ... The Phoenix Coyotes have the most draft picks in camp with four (goaltenders Visentin and Louis Domingue, defenceman Brandon Gormley and forward Lucas Lessio)