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Nugent-Hopkins not disappointed in World Cup omission

Oilers center aims to finish strong once back from injury

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

PHILADELPHIA -- Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has no shortage of motivation to return to the lineup.

He wants to get back from the hand injury that has kept him out since Jan. 19 to help the Oilers finish strong. There's also his quest to earn a place on Team North America for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Nugent-Hopkins was a notable omission from the initial roster of 16 players announced Wednesday. Making it more interesting was the fact that Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Todd McLellan hold the same roles for Team North America.

"Just up to me to finish the season hard, have a good end to the season," Nugent-Hopkins said Thursday. "With the injury, it hasn't been my best year so far. Just want to finish up strong and see what happens.

"I don't know if that [not being part of the initial roster] means I'm not on the team. Lot of guys get named later. I'm just going to finish the season hard. No disappointment on my end. Still have an opportunity. Have to play well and it's in my own hands."

Nugent-Hopkins had eight goals and 30 points in 46 games prior to the injury, and hadn't scored a goal in 16 games. That's well off the NHL career-best 24 goals and 56 points he had last season. 

Chiarelli said he talked to Nugent-Hopkins prior to the roster reveal about why he wasn't part of the first 16 but wouldn't detail their discussion. 

"I had him in to talk about his year to date and we had a long discussion about his play," Chiarelli said. "Part of the discussion was he wouldn't be on the first announcement. We talked about a number of different things, basically just his play in general and how I felt about his play. I felt it was a constructive conversation."

McLellan said he also spoke to Nugent-Hopkins, and said holding dual roles with the Oilers and Team North American hasn't created an awkward situation.

"[Nugent-Hopkins] knows exactly what I think of him as an individual and as a player, and how much I believe in him," McLellan said. "He knows the organization is the same way. What he has to do and what we have to do is convince eight or 10 others that sit on that [Team North America management] panel that he's that guy. He'll do that in the back end and we'll help him." 

Nugent-Hopkins worked Thursday long after practice ended on his conditioning and continued to build strength in his hand. 

"Taking little steps at a time," Nugent-Hopkins said. "Definitely starting to feel better. Conditioning is getting back for sure. Most importantly the hand is improving and trying to get it back strong and ready to go. ... Haven't tried any heavy shots yet or slap shots, but as far as my wrist shot and stuff, doesn't hurt or anything; feels pretty good. I think we'll start to move on to harder shots coming up."

McLellan said there's a soft target date of March 12 against the Arizona Coyotes for his return. That would give Nugent-Hopkins 12 regular-season games and potentially a spot with Canada for the 2016 IIHF World Championship to show he should be one of the final seven players picked for the team. 

"I think it'll help me a little bit, give me some extra motivation," he said. "When you come back from a long injury no matter what you come back and you want to play good, play hard to finish the season off. If anything it gives me a little extra boost." 

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