Nugent-Hopkins named Team Canada captain for World Juniors

Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been named captain of the Canadian team set to compete for gold at the 2013 World Junior tournament in Ufa, Russia.

The announcement wasn’t surprising — Nugent-Hopkins is the most experienced NHLer on the squad — but his selection does make for a unique story.

RNH will captain Team Canada despite having never represented his country at the World Junior level before — he was cut from Canada’s junior team as a 17-year-old in 2011 and wasn’t made available by the Oilers for the 2012 team.

That’s a far cry from what’s transpired for Team Canada at previous tournaments. Last year’s captain, Jaden Schwartz, participated in the 2011 tourney. The 2011 captain, Ryan Ellis, was an alternate in 2010. The 2010 captain, Patrice Cormier, played on the 2009 squad.

You get the picture.

As for the remainder of Team Canada’s roster, Florida Panthers prospect Jonathan Huberdeau and Pittsburgh draftee Scott Harrington were named as alternate captains.

It’s very possible one of the two could ascend to take the “C” should Nugent-Hopkins not make it through the tournament — Canadian coach Steve Spott said there were no guarantees RNH would remain with the team if the NHL lockout is resolved between now and the tournament’s conclusion (Jan. 5).

That said, Spott did pass along word that Edmonton was “fully supportive” of the decision to name Nugent-Hopkins captain.

Related: MacKinnon, Nugent-Hopkins headline Canada’s 2013 World Junior roster

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado