The Edmonton Oilers should have an edge on some Western Conference foes after deploying their cornerstone youngsters in the American Hockey League
Forward Taylor Hall (12 goals, 17 assists in 22 games), Jordan Eberle (20 goals, 23 assists in 30 games) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (eight goals, 12 assists in 10 games) starred at the Oklahoma City Barons, as did defensive prospect Justin Schultz (16 goals, 27 assists in 30 games).
Nugent-Hopkins also took his talents to the World Junior Championships, where he quickly became the tournament’s leading scorer with three goals and eight assists.
“He's just a world-class person,” Team Canada coach Steve Spott told the Ottawa Sun. “We all know what he can do on the ice. It's off the ice. Now that I've had an opportunity to be around him, he's a world-class person," said Spott. "I think he is deserved of being our captain. When we have meetings with him, we know the message that is going back to the room is the right one. He's just been outstanding on and off the ice."
Also at the world juniors was Oilers prospect Nail Yakupov, the first overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. He returned to Russian to play for the KHL’s Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk squad during the lockout.
“Ryan is so poised and so under control with everything he does. Yak is trying to lead by example,” Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini told the National Post. “To see him dive face first to block a shot, doing what he thinks he has to do to contribute to the team’s success. Sometimes it’s an emotional decision; sometimes it’s a hockey decision. We know he is offensively gifted but he’s definitely willing to sacrifice his body if it’s going to help. He wants to score so badly, you can see that, but he’s still trying to contribute.”
Hall used his AHL stint to further his recovery from shoulder surgery.
“I'm feeling really good out there,” he told the Edmonton Sun. “There's always a comfort level that takes some time to get to, whether that be with the Oilers or here with the Barons. I think I'm getting there and things are going really well for me right now.”
Look out for these guys when the NHL resumes play.