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Nugent-Hopkins sees opportunity in OKC assignment

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton, AB - Jordan Eberle isn't the only one chomping at the Barons bit.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- who was also assigned to Oklahoma along with 24 others Saturday -- isn't at all bothered by this unique circumstance. While he'd much rather stay in Edmonton and start the 2012-13 season with the Oilers, he sees his opportunity with the Barons as the next best thing.

It's still a step in the right direction.

"I don't think it will hinder my development at all," he said, squashing a notion that the AHL would be any less challenging. "It's another year of pro hockey, in a great league no less, and I still have a lot to work on as an individual in this game. This is a good chance to do that."

Most notably during the 2004-05 lockout (which lasted the entire season), Ottawa's Jason Spezza was sent down to the Binghamton Senators. He had a similar rookie season to Nugent-Hopkins a year prior, but another stint in the AHL proved to help launch his NHL career to even greater heights.

Spezza recorded 32 goals and 117 points in 80 games that year. Carolina's Eric Staal was another who had success, putting up 77 points in 77 games. The very next year, he became a 100-point player with the Hurricanes and is still scoring at a lethal pace today.

Nugent-Hopkins, 19, originally bypassed the minors en route to the NHL last year, scoring 18 goals and 52 points in an abbreviated 62-game season. With other young stars such as Adam Henrique, Jeff Skinner, Alexander Burmistrov and his own teammate, Jordan Eberle, also patrolling the A's revamped rosters, RNH expects a similar league to the one he watched as an 11-year-old during the last lockout.

"I don't know exactly what to expect, but I'm going to try and play my game," he said. "It will be another good year of pro experience -- and any experience I can get will help.

"It should be good. They have a good, young team that's great already. I think the guys coming down should only help, so we're looking to bring anything we can to the team."

As Nugent-Hopkins explains, much like Eberle did earlier in the day Saturday, OKC's main appeal is carrying on with current teammates; building on the bond and chemistry that's currently in production and on display in the Oilers locker room at Rexall Place.

Nugent-Hopkins couldn't get that Oilers connection anywhere else.

"For sure," he said. "We've got a good thing going in Edmonton. It's not the whole team coming to play in OKC, but with Ebs, (Justin) Schultz and everyone else, it's a very good thing.

"I talked to a couple guys. They said OKC is a really nice city to play in.

"I'm looking forward to it."

Nugent-Hopkins is entering the second year of his three-year entry-level deal that will pay him an AHL salary of $70,000.

-- Ryan Dittrick, | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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