Canada’s premiere player at the world junior hockey championship will also be its captain.
Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was given the nod Friday by head coach Steve Spott.
Nugent-Hopkins, or “RNH” as he’s been dubbed, wore the “C” at the Canadian team’s official photo in Calgary.
Nugent-Hopkins made an immediate impact in the NHL as an 18-year-old rookie, with 18 goals and 34 assists in 62 games.
The Burnaby, B.C., native was a finalist for the Calder Trophy, but Gabriel Landeskog of Colorado Avalanche took the award that goes to the league’s top rookie.
Nugent-Hopkins wants to follow the example of Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff, who helped him adapt to the NHL.
“People see what you do and they want to try to be like that,” he said. “The more respect you have, the better the leader you’re going to be.”
Nugent-Hopkins has been playing for the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons during the NHL lockout, scoring eight goals and adding 12 assists in 19 games.
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. So he’ll play in his first world junior hockey championship after already participating in a men’s world championship.
Nugent-Hopkins had four goals and two assists in eight games in Canada’s fifth-place result at this year’s men’s world championship.
“I’ve got a couple of chances now to play international and every time I feel like it makes me a little bit of a better player because it is so different,” he said.
Canada opens the 2013 tournament Dec. 26 against Germany in Ufa, Russia.
Scott Harrington of the OHL’s London Knights and Jonathan Huberdeau of the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs were named alternate captains.
“Those players have played in Memorial Cups and obviously in a world junior championship already,” Spott said. “All three of those guys are not only well-respected, but they’re well liked by their teammates.”
Spott said he considered waiting to name his captains because of uncertainty over when the NHL lockout might end and how it could impact the team.
“We definitely made sure that we spoke with Edmonton and they were part of the process,” Spott said. “They were fully supportive of the decision and excited for Ryan.”
Canada has no guarantees from the Oilers, however, that Nugent-Hopkins will stay with the team until tournament’s end Jan. 5 if the lockout suddenly ends.
Nugent-Hopkins will centre Canada’s top forward line with Huberdeau on his left-wing. The team intends to convert regular centre Mark Scheifele to right wing on that line.
Previous captains include Washington Capitals defenceman Karl Alzner (2008), Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Kris Letang (2007), Los Angeles Kings forward Michael Richards (2005) and Vancouver Canucks forward Manny Malhotra (2000).
Canada has won a medal at 14 straight world junior championships, but no gold since 2009 in Ottawa.
The 23-player team was named Thursday. Their first practice as a team is scheduled for Saturday morning.
Canada departs later in the day for pre-competition camp in Finland.