Edmonton - September 25, 2014 - While the Edmonton Oilers were complete no-shows during the opening twenty-eight or so minutes of their exhibition tilt with the Winnipeg Jets, they did manage to use a twelve minute flurry to get out of town with a 3-2 win on Wednesday night.
Youngsters Vladimir Tkachev and Bogdan Yakimov led the way on the scoresheet with a two points each but it was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who found a way to get his team on the board midway through the second and carry his team to victory following what was a rather quiet opening period and half.
Outside of their first shift of the game, the trio of Nugent-Hopkins with Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov were completely invisible, forcing Dallas Eakins to swap out the 2013 first overall pick with none other than Curtis Hamilton.
Now some will point to the Yakupov for Hamilton switch as some sort of turning point and they may or may not be true but it clearly grabbed the attention of the guy wearing No. 93 on his back. Over the last number years there has been no question that Taylor Hall has shown to be the only guy on this roster who is capable of pushing the pace on a nightly basis and with No. 4 not in the lineup it looked as though the Oilers would be unable to answer the bell against the Jets.
Be it the swapping of wingers or the fact they were having their show run by the team at the other end of the rink, whatever the reason, RNH came to life in period two and was by far and away the best player on the ice over the final thirty minutes of play. After struggling mightily over each of the past two seasons to find the back of the net, due in large part to shoulder injuries and eventual surgery, the former Red Deer Rebels standout looks to have relocated that little extra on his shot.
Last night’s snipe on Michael Hutchinson was an absolute thing of beauty and gives Nugent-Hopkins pair goals in his first two exhibition outings. He led all skaters with six shots on goalin Winnipeg and has now taken a team leading eight so far during the pre-season. The doubt that seemed to have crept into his game over the last couple of years is nowhere to be found, as the twenty-one year old is looking to pounce on any opportunity to put the puck towards the net.
While it may be too early in the exhibition schedule to read into the success of players like Tkachev and Yakimov, that isn’t the case when it comes to the Nuge. The fact he has already shown the willingness to try and be a game changer cannot be overlooked and with all signs pointing to Eberle and Hall being his regular linemates in 2014-15, expectations should be on him delivering his best season to date. Having said that…it won’t be easy.
According to both the player and organization Nugent-Hopkins is currently sitting somewhere in the neighbourhood of 190-195 pounds, which will serve him well as a top line centre in the Western Conference, but the club’s inability to insulate with support down the middle will make life very difficult on him as the year progresses. Unfortunately, that is the situation he will be faced with but betting against this kid would be a major mistake.