West Coast Bias: How Nugent-Hopkins can make Team North America

NHL insider Darren Pang believes Team North America will not only be fun to watch, but thinks they'll be very competitive and even make a deep run at the World Cup of Hockey,

How did Scotty Bowman, the 82-year-old, razor sharp hockey icon, get mixed up with Team North America, the Under-24 team at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey?
 
Well, it all started one day when the team’s two managers, Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli and Chicago GM (and Scotty’s son) Stan Bowman, were chatting.
 
“It was just a conversation that Peter and I had, and I just mentioned I’d talked to my Dad,” begins Stan. “Peter says, ‘What did your Dad think?’ After that conversation he said, ‘Why don’t we just have your Dad be part of these phone calls? Share his thoughts on these guys?’”
 
Chiarelli calls the Blackhawks GM, “The best GM in the game.” Well, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree here, with Scotty Bowman’s Hall of Fame resume speaking for itself.

Scotty is a hockey lifer who I speak to whenever the opportunity arises. You learn something every single time about the game. He truly is a hockey treasure.
 
“He pretty much just sits at home (in Florida) and watches games every night. That’s all he does — is watch players — and when the (Lightning) are in Tampa he goes to the games,” Bowman Jr. said. “We don’t all agree on every player, but when he sees something in a guy — good or bad —  you have to listen, and realize that he’s seen a lot of hockey players in his time.”
 
Scotty spoke up for Philadelphia centre Sean Couturier, who played for U-24 coach Todd McLellan at last year’s World Championships.
 
Said Stan: “He said, ‘If you have a coach who here who likes the player, maybe he’s not the first name who comes to mind, but you’ve got to listen to your coach. And Scotty has watched him play. He’s a good player who can play a role. That helped crystalize things for us.”

 
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To Nuge or not to Nuge
 
The first 16 names announced for the Team North America roster were a pretty easy bet. I had 15 of the players on my Spec roster (get it?), and was surprised only by the selection of New York Rangers forward J.T. Miller.
 
Most people had Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on their team (I did), but while centres such as Couturier, Calgary’s Sean Monahan and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid were named, RNH was conspicuously absent. Among eligible players, Nugent-Hopkins has the most career NHL points (218) and he’s second only to Couturier in NHL games played (304).
 
Nugent-Hopkins had only a so-so season going, then he broke his hand in a game on Jan. 18 and hasn’t played since. He could be in Edmonton’s lineup Saturday night, which would leave him a dozen games — plus likely the World Championships — to reclaim a spot on the team.
 
“For a lot of reasons, I want to get games in at the end of the season,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “Going into the summer, it would really be an extended break, and, to finish off the season would help in September. If I do make that team it will help if I play a few games now.”
 
“I think his season has not been as good as the management group expected, but I’m a big fan of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins,” said Chiarelli. “I told Ryan, ‘Go out, play, and you’ll play your way on (to Team North America) if you play like you’re capable of playing.’”
 
A couple of years ago we’d have seen Nugent-Hopkins as a first-line, offensive centre in a setting like this. But along came McDavid, and Monahan, a strong, talented two-way player. Now Nugent-Hopkins would be asked to play more of a two-way game, because somebody on this all-star team will have to check.
 
“I think if I’m on that team, it’s a role I’ll have to take up for sure,” he said. “I still have big steps to make, but if I do make that team I’ll be relied upon for a two-way game, penalty killing, and when it is the tight moments in the game I’ll be relied upon defensively, but still contribute offensively.”
 
The final seven spots come out in June. That’s after the World Championships, where several players from Canadian teams will get a chance to prove their value.


 
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Big Chuck Rollin’
 
Another player making a charge for this roster? Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk, who has eight goals in his last five games.
 
“He’s a dangerous scorer,” Chiarelli said. “I’ve seen his game progress…and I’d like his overall game to expand a bit. He’s a really good player with a dimensional one-timer, and we don’t have a lot of shooters. There’s a spot for him on this team, we’ll just have to see where it goes.”
 
In speaking with Bowman and Chiarelli, I didn’t get a feeling that Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen or Bo Horvat were on the radar. Not sure about Sam Bennett in Calgary, and Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele are clearly both being debated for the U-24 team from the Winnipeg Jets.


 
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Better than Chara?!?
 
So, just who is this Nikita Tryamkin (pronounced: Tram-kin), the 6-foot-7, 240-pound defenceman drafted 66th overall by Vancouver in 2014? Can he really be the next Zdeno Chara, as many Canucks fans would hope?
 
“I am a little scared about the hype around him,” Canucks captain Henrik Sedin cautioned this week. “He has played in the KHL and has done a good job there, but it is different to play in the NHL. That is why this is the best league in the world, so people shouldn’t hype him too much.
 
“He is going to come over, get some games and we’ll go from there. But he’s not going to be the next Chris Pronger.”
 
Not right away, anyhow. Although the NHL has seen some great Russian D-men over time, of late there have been as many failures. Anton Belov was the KHL’s Defenceman of the Year and couldn’t play in the NHL, while Team Russia at the World Cup only named three defenceman to their 16-man initial roster — Andrei Markov, Dmitry Kulikov and Dmitry Orlov — because there just aren’t many good Russian D-men in the NHL anymore.
 
“He would like to surpass and be better than Zdeno Chara,” interpreter Maxim Vayntraub told the Vancouver media, who had asked Tryamkin who he patterned his game after. “And he would like to not be Zdeno Chara, but would like to be Nikita Tryamkin.”


For his part, Tryamkin is confident he can make it in the NHL after four seasons with his hometown KHL club, Yekaterinburg Automobilist.
 
“I don’t think there is much of a difference (between the NHL and KHL),” he said. “Hockey is hockey.”
 
It would be nice if Tryamkin could make it. The Canucks, who haven’t spent a first round draft pick on a defenceman since the departed Luc Bourdon in 2005 (and before that Bryan Allen in 1988), are light on good young defencemen in their organization.