Regardless how NHL lockout negotiations evolve the next few days or weeks, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins probably won't be playing for the Oklahoma City Barons the next month.
Nugent-Hopkins, who missed 20 games with a separated shoulder his rookie season with the Oilers, is spending this week in Edmonton to have his shoulder re-examined. It's nothing serious, but he will miss OKC's two-game series this weekend in San Antonio.
If the lockout continues Nugent-Hopkins, next week, is expected to join Canada's junior national team that will play in Ufa, Russia, over the Christmas holidays.
Canada's junior world team begins training camp Monday in Calgary. The eight-team Under-20 tournament starts Dec. 26 and continues through the first week of January.
“Expectations are extremely high,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “Canada expects to win the gold medal every year. If they don't, it's considered a failure. It's like the Dream Team for that age group. The silver medal isn't good enough.
“The competition is the highest form of hockey for that age group. And it's intense. This tournament has a lot of future NHLers.”
There were reports Wednesday the NHL lockout might end as early as this weekend. If that happens, Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, defenseman Justin Schultz and a couple of other Barons would leave the American Hockey League team immediately for a makeshift Edmonton Oilers training camp.
But if the lockout continues, Nugent-Hopkins probably would be selected team captain for Canada's junior world team, likely playing on a No. 1 line with Florida Panthers' first-round pick, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Winnipeg Jets first-round pick, Mark Scheifele.
Nugent-Hopkins, 19, has never played in a junior world tournament. He was cut from Canada's national junior team in December 2010. The following year, selected No. 1 overall, he made the Oilers and skipped the world juniors.
“We support him in whatever decision he makes,” Nelson said. “If he decides he wants to play for Team Canada that's fantastic. If he'd rather come back here, that's great, too.”
Nelson said he plans to substitute Mark Arcobello in Nugent-Hopkins' slot on the Barons' No. 1 line alongside Eberle and Hall this weekend in San Antonio.