After getting tired of beating up on the MEN in the American Hockey League, Nugent-Hopkins turns his eye towards the kids he bypassed a year ago and decided he had some unfinished business.
RNH is a wizard, that much is a scientifically proven fact. When he entered Hogwarts at age 13 (He is currently 16) they immediately named him Headmaster. He turned down that honour to play Pro hockey with the Oilers of Edmonton. Truth be told he doesnt belong in Juniour Hockey at any level. RNH has transcended that level of competition. As an 18 year old (in muggle years) he made the world’s best professional penalty killers look like dogmeat. He crushed them with his superb passing and vision. Like most #1 Overall talents he looks like the kind of player teams can only hope for, and that’s at the highest level of hockey.
To take him now, with a year of NHL experience and 10 pounds (or more) added to his frame, and pit him against squads of 18-19 year olds seems like such an unfair competition. There probably isnt going to be anybody in the tournament that has a brighter future than RNH and certainly not anybody that is as good as he is now. Some might suggest that’s a bad thing, a checkmark in the “Con” column on the reasons why Nuge should stay in the AHL this Christmas season. Those who would do that have a point. But maybe we shouldnt look at it in that light.
RNH wants to compete in the WJHC and wear the Maple Leaf like his team mates have done before him. His full-time right winger Jordan Eberle was already a Juniour Championship legend and national hero before he graduated to the Oilers. Taylor Hall is also a Team Canada Alumnus. Isnt it only natural that he wants to take this Right of Passage, put on his Country’s colours, and bring home Championship Gold for Canada?
And what of the lower level of competition? First and foremost, we’re talking about 2 weeks here. This isnt going to ruin him. Would he face more challenges playing in OKC? Sure, shift to shift he would. Bigger players, more experience, better teams in general, certainly better goaltending. But what about game to game? This season in OKC doesnt matter to anybody. It’s the AHL, not the NHL. The NHL and PA could come to an agreement tomorrow and nobody destined for the Oilers will give a shit about what happens on a December Friday in OKC. In the WJC every game matters. Single elimination tournaments are the highest form of pressure in sports. One hot Belarusian Goalie can kill the dreams of a nation. I can guarantee that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins grew up watching this tournament like every other hockey playing child in the Country and knows exactly what this competition means. Does anybody really think that the day to day pressure of playing in the AHL is challenging Nuge? I hope not.
Lastly, RNH will have to live up to expectations like he’s never known. Yeah, he already blew us all out of the water here in Edmonton with his Calder Trophy
Winning nominated performance last season, but he wasnt supposed to. If you listened to the likes of Ryan Rishaug and a host of other Media types then we were all told that Nuge was supposed to still be in Red Deer last season. He wasnt supposed to perform. RNH also had the benefit of playing his rookie season with the likes of Hall and Eberle on his wings, so he wasnt the team’s biggest fish. Now Nuge will be playing as the best player on his team, no question about it. The expectations on him personally will be greater than ever before. It will be HIS team, Win or Lose. He might have felt that kind of pressure in Red Deer, but not on a team that has no excuse for failing to win the Gold. It’s all on him.
I’m all for RNH playing in the WJHC. It’s an experience that probably should have come sooner but hasnt because of circumstance. And if all goes right in Oilerville it might be the last time he has a chance to wear the red maple leaf in a Non-Olympic year.