OKLAHOMA CITY - This certainly wasn't how centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins envisioned starting the 2012-'13 hockey season.
But with plenty of uncertainty surrounding the NHL lockout, the sophomore forward is doing what he can to make the best of a bad situation.
Nugent-Hopkins was one of many Oilers youngsters in attendance Sunday at the opening of training camp for the Oklahoma City Barons, Edmonton's American Hockey League affiliate.
“It's good with everything that's going on to still get a chance to play and stay in shape,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “There are some things I want to work on.
"A big thing for me is I want to be a two-way centre. I take a lot of pride in my defence, and that's something I'm definitely going to be focused on.”
Nugent-Hopkins was among the NHL's top rookies last season, registering 52 points (18 goals, 34 assists) in 62 games. The former No. 1 overall selection did so despite missing 20 games with a shoulder injury.
Nugent-Hopkins sees his opportunity in Oklahoma City as a blessing in disguise, just as he does last season’s injury.
“That first year I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could," he said. "It was a great learning experience.
“There were some positives from the injury. Watching the game from upstairs, I was able to see it from a different perspective, and I believe it will help me moving forward.”
Moving forward is also what right-winger Jordan Eberle is concentrating on right now. Eberle hasn’t spent much time in Oklahoma City, arriving Friday night, and he says he can already tell the winning attitude the team and the city have.
Eberle had 76 points (34 goals, 42 assists) last season with Edmonton. Eberle has earned a reputation for being a scorer but doesn't want to be known as a one-dimensional player.
“I've always been known as an offensive guy," he said. "That's not bad or anything, but I want to be known as a complete player.
"I get a chance to work on some things here. I'm going to work on my defence and penalty kill. With the lockout, this is the next best option here in North America. They made it to the conference final last season, and we want to continue that success. The winning attitude is great and something we want to take back with us to Edmonton. I'm going to enjoy this experience.”
While Eberle will work on overall improvement, his new teammates can't wait to see what he can produce offensively.
“He can score goals, no doubt about that,” defenceman Colten Teubert said. “He's going to contribute a lot of points and be exciting to watch. And for somebody his size, he is very strong with the puck.
“With Nuge (Nugent-Hopkins), he's an unbelievable playmaker. He's going to do things here that are going to make the people here in Oklahoma City say, 'Wow.' He is that special of a talent.”
Barons coach Todd Nelson wasted no time getting down to business Sunday. There was no feeling-out process, instead, it was right to work on systems and schemes.
Nelson knew before the start of camp that Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle would be in attendance but realized quickly Sunday he'll have something special for however long the NHL lockout continues.
“Those are some highly skilled guys,” Nelson said. “They've been impact players in the NHL.
"Obviously when they get here what that's going to do is raise the level of play for the rest of the guys. Right now they're out here working hard and having fun. It was a real good first day.”
The Barons will practise all week before playing two exhibition games against the Houston Aeros on Friday and Saturday.