|Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at Oklahoma City Barons training camp (Photo by Steven Christy / OKC Barons).
With a report surfacing Sunday that his left shoulder wasn't feeling "quite right," Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
' agent, Rick Valette of Octagon Sports, said that rumour isn't quite accurate.
Nugent-Hopkins, 20, was named to Team Canada's National Junior Team Selection Camp list Monday morning, making him eligible to compete in the 2013 World Junior Championship. With a week in between games with the AHL's Barons, the Oklahoma City pivot has traveled back to Edmonton for a quick visit to ensure his shoulder is healed as it should be.
"I don't think we should be concerned at all," Valette said during Sunday's game between the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings and Lethbridge Hurricanes at Rexall Place.
Valette, a representative of more than 50 players in all levels across North America, is the former general manager, CEO and governor of the Prince Albert Raiders.
"Ryan had an AC (acromioclavicular) separation last year, so with the weeklong break in Oklahoma City, it was a good time to come up here and have a check-up to see where he's at and if there's anything going on at all that we should be aware of.
"That's all this is. It's more of a check-up than anything else. But we'll get some more information (Monday). As far as I know Ryan hasn't experienced any pain, so I'm not worried at all."
Assuming everything is on the up-and-up as Valette, Nugent-Hopkins and the Oilers expect it to be, the Burnaby, BC product will get a chance represent his country and compete in a tournament that he once failed to appear in.
Back in 2010-11 and before his No. 1 overall selection six months later, Nugent-Hopkins couldn't survive cut-down day. He wasn't ready, some argued. But after a standout rookie season in which he posted 18 goals and 52 points in 62 NHL games, the same can't be said again.
"It's 100-percent Ryan's decision to make," said Valette. "But I can tell you this: he's extremely excited about it. Anytime you get a chance to represent your country, that's a big deal. Ask any young man growing up in Canada. They all grow up watching the World Juniors at Christmas time -- it's a dream, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the guys that get a chance to participate in it."
While the work stoppage has put Nugent-Hopkins in a place he probably didn't expect to be after last season's success, it certainly hasn't derailed his focus on becoming a better hockey player. On the day of his assignment back in September, RNH insisted that this was a unique opportunity he wouldn't get otherwise in a ‘normal' season:
"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."
"He's obviously backed that up," Valette laughed, noting his client's commitment to improving his game in all areas -- faceoffs, especially. "He's been excellent. Ryan's really looked at the American Hockey League experience as, 'How can I make my game better?' He's really trying to do that every day, to be a better hockey player. When the NHL comes back -- and I hope it does really soon -- he's going to be a better player for the Oilers and for the National Hockey League. That's why he's down there and that's what his goals are."
Nugent-Hopkins has recorded eight goals and 20 points in 18 games with the Barons this season.
While he hasn't had the chance to participate in the WJC, Nugent-Hopkins is no stranger to the pressure of international play. He won gold with Team Canada at the 2010 Ivan Hlinka Tournament and, most recently, picked up six points in seven games at the 2012 World Hockey Championship in Helsinki, Finland.
Then there's the experience of centering the top line of a National Hockey League squad at age 18. No big deal, right?
"He's played in that role many, many times," said Valette. "There's a lot of pressure in a tournament like this where the entire country is watching, but Ryan's never had an issue with it.
"More than anything, these young players really look forward to the opportunity to put on that sweater. To represent your country on a stage like that? It's a big deal -- and it's Ryan's last chance to do it at this level, so I'm sure he's thrilled."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick