Due to the NHL/CHL agreement, a player Nugent Hopkins's age is not eligible to play in the AHL; he must either be returned to his junior team or stay in the NHL. The Oilers have shown they have no problem with keeping an 18 year old player on the NHL roster, so the idea that Nugent Hopkins won't be returned to junior has surely crossed the minds of Red Deer’s management. Given that information, and assuming the Oilers would ideally like to see Nugent Hopkins playing for the Oil Kings*, I wonder if the Oilers (and Oil Kings) might consider approaching Red Deer management and saying something like:
"We want to control the development of our prospect. We are likely to prefer developing him either at the NHL level, or if we send him back to the WHL, with the Oil Kings as opposed to with the Rebels. That is not us taking a shot at your developmental skills, we just want to do things our way if we can, have more control than we would if he were in Red Deer. So, your can either trade him to the Oil Kings, for something, or take your chances that we'll send him back to Red Deer with the understanding that you are likely to lose him to the NHL for nothing. Your call..."
There is little chance this conversation would be received well by Red Deer, so I would imagine the key to making it work would would be to offer at least a not terrible trade package. This approach might not be terribly popular within the WHL, but since it would be a unique opportunity for the Katz Group to directly control the development of a future Oiler as well as potentially boost their WHL season ticket base, I don’t know why they wouldn’t at least consider it internally.**
One reason the Oilers might consider this tactic would be to more carefully manage the development of their most valuable prospect. Is he better in Red Deer where they are playing him to optimize their chances to win, or Edmonton where they would be playing him to optimize his long term potential? Many reports suggest Ryan Nugent Hopkins didn't kill many penalties last season as Red Deer judged it more important to give him PP minutes. But, if the Oilers/Oil Kings were in charge, they may decide it makes more sense to look to the future and work on his defensive skills, penalty killing, own zone coverage, than Red Deer, a team I'd imagine to be primarily looking at wins. Maybe Red Deer would give Nugent Hopkins 22 minutes of ice per game, 16 at even strength and 6 on the PP, while the Oilers/Oil Kings might be looking at 22 minutes with 15 at ES, 4 on the PP, and 3 on the PK? Additionally, by having Nugent Hopkins in Edmonton, it would be easier for the Edmonton coaching and management staff to watch more of his games and give him feedback on the areas he needs to improve. Depending on NHL and CHL rules, they may even be able to get him on ice with the Oilers from time to time, and see the pace and skill of NHL practices.
A second reason to consider trading for Nugent Hopkins would be the potential spike in tickets sold by the Oil Kings. The Oil Kings are a business, and adding a player like Nugent Hopkins, especially one affiliated with the Oilers, would almost certainly improve attendance, perhaps even sell some season's tickets if you acquire him early enough. The Oil Kings may be of the belief that once they expose fans to the WHL product, they are much more likely to come back for future seasons. So if bringing in Nugent Hopkins can significantly increase their attendance for one season, maybe that one season can be a catalyst to substantially improving their season ticket base going forward, once Nugent-Hopkins is gone?
Interestingly, if the Oilers felt like it, perhaps they could approach Saskatoon, Medicine Hat, Prince George, and Regina to see what they think about moving Hamilton, Pitlick, Marincin, and Davidson, respectively. This maneuver only has the potential to work when the other WHL teams know you have the realistic option of keeping the player at the NHL or AHL level; there is no way to convince the Tigers into trading you Bunz in this fashion, because they know you won’t keep him in the NHL for the 2011/12 season and he isn’t AHL eligible. However, with the four other players mentioned above, Edmonton can send them to the AHL if they desire, leaving them in the same position as with Nugent Hopkins.*** If there is some reason they’d prefer to have those guys in the WHL, but under their control in EDM, maybe that’s an avenue they’d consider pursuing as well?
* It's too early to tell what the Oilers would do with Nugent Hopkins IF they draft him, but I would think they'd be in a better position to know after they see him at the combine and after rookie camp (should they draft him). If he puts on enough weight and looks ready for the NHL level, then they will probably keep him in the NHL, making this idea moot. Even if they are riding the fence on what to do with Nugent Hopkins, I can see why they wouldn't make this deal since there's no point in giving up value for a player only to keep him in the NHL anyways. And if you decide to to send him back to junior in early November after 7 or 8 or 9 games, all the developmental reasons for moving him to Edmonton still apply, but the chance to market around Nugent Hopkins for a couple of months and sell season tickets is gone - although I'm sure it would still help ticket sales to acquire him.
**If this falls directly against WHL rules, then obviously it's a not workable option.
*** Should the Oilers prefer the AHL over the Oil Kings for those four player, it’s a moot point.