EDMONTON - Forty-nine hours after his cross-continental journey began, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins landed back home on Canadian soil.
Recapping his hellacious itinerary: Ufa to London, London to Toronto (with a cancellation en route), Toronto to Vancouver, Vancouver to Oil Country. Jetlag? Perhaps, but the 13-hour time shift was all but in the past after spending more than two full days in transit.
"It was quite the trip," laughed Nugent-Hopkins as he addressed the media upon his arrival Friday at Rexall Place.
The 19-year-old returned home without a medal as Team Canada dropped an overtime decision to Nail Yakupov and Team Russia in the bronze medal game. Nugent-Hopkins, 19, led all players in scoring at the World Junior Championship, posting four goals and 15 points in six games.
"I went over there to win gold, so it's obviously tough coming back without a medal," he said. "We really grew as a team throughout the tournament, but things didn't go our way. But it's certainly not something I'll ever forget. It was a great experience and something you only get a do a couple times in your life if you're lucky, so I'm happy I went."
Nugent-Hopkins also got a good look at Yakupov, who collected three goals, eight points and also donned the 'C' as the leader of the Russian squad.
"Great player," Nugent-Hopkins said, as if there was any other answer in his mind. "He's such a dynamic player and fans are definitely going to appreciate that about his game. We're looking forward to him joining the team this year.
"It's been pretty cool. I got to see him at the draft and then got to play against him at [the World Juniors]. It was cool for both of us."
When asked if he ended up hating Yakupov by the end of the tournament, Nugent-Hopkins couldn't deny the way in which the host nation got under the visitors' skin.
"Obviously," he laughed, chalking it up to the competitiveness of the bitter rivalry. "It was a tough couple of games. The Russians had a good team this year."
When the Burnaby, BC product left the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons in early December to participate in Team Canada's National Junior Team Selection Camp in Calgary, he didn't know when (or if) he'd be back.
Since his last game as an Oiler on April 7 in Vancouver, Nugent-Hopkins has done it all, it seems. From playing with the Barons to representing Team Canada on two separate occasions on foreign soil overseas, "it's been a whirlwind of a year so far."
In 19 games with the Barons, RNH collected eight goals, 20 points and a +7 rating while regularly skating on a line with Oilers teammates Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. In addition, Nugent-Hopkins feels as though he's returning to the NHL in better form. The 6'1", 175-pound pivot worked diligently to improve his faceoffs and has already seen a significant spike in his win-loss ratio at the AHL level.
"It's great that we got a chance to keep on playing," Nugent-Hopkins said. "We had some guys playing over in Europe, too. I think it's an advantage that we're all ready to go. The fact that we got to keep playing together in OKC helps with the chemistry -- we're pretty comfortable with each other.
"We've still got such a young team here, so it's going to be a lot of fun this season."
Best of all? Ralph Krueger and the Oilers have yet another weapon at their disposal. After meeting with the media, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov -- fierce competitors of a week ago -- shook hands and had a brief exchange of smiles and laughter.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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