Tag:Edmonton Oilers
Posted on: October 10, 2011 9:48 am
Edited on: October 10, 2011 9:50 am
 

Daily Skate: Bettman on Oilers arena talks

By: Adam Gretz

OilersBETTMAN ON Oilers ARENA Gary Bettman has invited Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel and Oilers owner Daryl Katz to his New York office to discuss the ongoing talks for a new building, mainly because he's a bit concerned with the progress, especially with an Oct. 31 deadline on land purchase. Said Bettman, via the Edmonton Journal, "I invited them in because I'm concerned that the framework for a deal hasn't been agreed upon and isn't there yet. Since time is now of the essence, I want to see if I can be helpful in getting the parties to speak the same language."


PanthersPanthers GET INSPIRATION FROM 12-YEAR-OLD CANCER SURVIVOR
C.J. George, a 12-year-old that is currently in full remission from Lymphoma Blood Cancer, gave the Florida Panthers a pep talk following their Thursday practice. Said George, from Harvey Fialkov of the Sun Sentinel: "I told them to keep their eye on the goal and even if they get frustrated and don't want to go to practice like I didn't want to go to another doctor's appointment you have to push through."

CARLYLE DOESN'T MIND PERRY FIGHTING Most coaches don't want to see their top goal-scorers dropping the gloves. Carolina Panthers coach Paul Maurice, for example, said Jeff Skinner's preseason bout was the last one he wanted to see this year. Randy Carlyle, head coach of the Anaheim Ducks, on the other hand has no issue with Corey Perry, the NHL's leading goal-scorer last season, taking part in the rough stuff after his minor confrontation with New York Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky. Said Carlyle: “I see nothing wrong with two guys at the same level if they chose to drop the gloves.When there’s a mismatch as far as the level of player…Dubinsky’s a pretty good player, and so is Corey Perry. If it’s a different level of player fighting a more skilled player then I look at it differently.”

THE STANLEY CUP MADE A VISIT TO THE PATRIOTS GAME Finally, several members of the Boston Bruins -- as well as the Stanley Cup -- made a visit to Sunday's Patriots-Jets game, which the Patriots won 30-21. Gregory Campbell, Brad Marchand and Adam McQuaid didn't seem to have the best seats.

BruinsPats

Photo: Bruins Twitter

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 10, 2011 12:06 am
Edited on: October 10, 2011 12:15 am
 

Nugent-Hopkins scores first career goal in debut

By Brian Stubits

Remember the only knock that people could find on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins around the draft, that he was too small? Not on Sunday.

The No. 1 overall draft pick this summer to the Edmonton Oilers made his NHL debut last night and also scored his first NHL goal. It was a big one, too. With just about five minutes to go, it broke up Brent Johnson's shutout and eventually helped the Oilers get a shootout win over the Penguins.

The surprising thing about Nugent-Hopkins' goal? There was nothing easy about it. It was a tough, physical goal. Fighting a battle for a rebound in the slot after a tremendous pass from Hall on the end boards, he muscled his way to the free puck and jammed it by Johnson and into the side of the net.

"Going into the game I was really nervous but I tried to use that to my advantage," Nugent-Hopkins said among a media swarm after the game. Job well done.

He was quick all game long. Oilers fans had to be dreaming of fast-forwarding two seasons or so after watching the line of Nugent-Hopkins, 2010 No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall and Ales Hemsky. They were exciting and electrifying all night despite Edmonton's inability to score.

You can see where the future is heading in Edmonton, and the future is good.

Photo: Oilers Twitter account

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 2, 2011 7:26 pm
 

No. 1 pick Nugent-Hopkins survives Oilers cuts

By Brian Stubits

It doesn't come as much of a surprise, but the Edmonton Oilers are going to break camp with No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins still in the fold.

The team made five cuts, putting Gilbert Brule, Josh Green, Ryan Keller and Ryan O'Marra on waivers so they can be reassigned to the AHL while sending Teemu Hartikainen to AHL Oklahoma City outright. That leaves 27 players on the roster, including Nugent-Hopkins. Factor in multiple injuries and it looks as though RNH is going to at least get the first nine games of the season.

Taylor Hall, the No. 1 overall pick last summer played with the Oilers all season, but some wondered if Nugent-Hopkins was physically ready to play in the NHL this season. TPretty much the only concern scouts had about him centered around his size. At just 171 pounds, the question was could he sustain a season. He has since put more weight and will get his shot.

What Nugent-Hopkins brings to the Oilers is a true play-making center who is credited with having some of the best on-ice vision since Wayne Gretzky. Last season with Red Deer in the WHL, Nugent-Hopkins 75 assists (and 31 goals) in 69 games.

Among those the Oilers are sending down, Brule is the biggest name. Before suffering through an injury-plagued season last year, he was third on the Oilers in scoring two seasons ago. But he drew a lot of attention during the playoffs last year when he picked up a hitchhiking Bono from U2, who called Brule his hero.

(Bad joke alert!) Good thing for the Oilers Bono can't put a claim on him, because we know he'd pick Brule up.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 1, 2011 10:34 am
 

Video: Matt Cooke scores from center ice



By: Adam Gretz


The Chicago Blackhawks brought veteran goaltender Ray Emery into the camp this year on a tryout contract to have him compete with Alexander Salak for the backup job to second-year starter Corey Crawford. The early results haven't been promising for Emery, and the worst moment of all came during a 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.

Emery came out of his crease to play a loose puck at the top of the faceoff circle to the right of his net and sent it off the boards into the neutral zone. Unfortunately for Emery and the Blackhawks, that's where Penguins forward Matt Cooke was patiently waiting to fire it from the red line into the open net that Emery abandoned, as you can see in the above video.

The puck not only took an awkward bounce over Emery's stick as he made a desperate attempt to scramble back and stop it, but it also went through the five-hole of Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook as he tried to bail out his goaltender and make the save himself. For the game Emery stopped just 15 of the 18 shots he faced (Pittsburgh's fourth goal was an empty net goal).

It's been a rough preseason for Emery in his quest to make the team.

After giving up four goals in his debut against the Edmonton Oilers back on Sep. 20, he took over halfway through a game in Pittsburgh and gave up four more goals on 19 shots. Over the past two games, both of which have come against the Penguins, he's managed to stop (small sample size alert!) just 30 of the 37 shots he's faced for a save percentage of .810.

By comparison, in Salak's two appearances he's recorded a .926 mark (38 saves on 41 shots).

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: September 30, 2011 10:05 pm
Edited on: September 30, 2011 11:01 pm
 

Taylor Fedun taken off on stretcher



By: Adam Gretz

During the most recent NHL Research and Development camp the league tested different variations of icing, including no-touch icing and a hybrid icing that would be a combination of the touch and no-touch rule.

Over the years there have been somes calls for the NHL to go with the no-touch rule for one primary reason: two players racing to beat an icing call, while exciting, can also be terribly dangerous. Example: Kurtis Foster, formerly of the Minnesota Wild, who broke his leg in a race for the puck back in 2008 (video here).

On Friday night, during the Oilers-Wild game in Minnesota, Edmonton defenseman Taylor Fedun was taken off the ice on a stretcher with what is being described as a leg injury after he became tangled up in a similar race for the puck to negate a potential icing call.

Nystrom was given a five-minute major for boarding and a game-misconduct. Michael Russo of the Star-Tribute Tweeted that Fedun stepped on Nystrom's stick causing him to fall into the boards and that it shouldn't have been a penalty.

Whether it was a legitimate penalty or not, this will no doubt be another example used by those in favor of the league introducing no-touch icing, even though it has received little support from NHL general managers in recent years. The biggest criticism of it, aside from the fact that it would eliminate an exciting play, is that it would potentially hurt the flow of the game by adding more whistles and stoppages.

Take, for example, the words of Coyotes general manager Don Maloney back in August on this very subject, via Dan Rosen of NHL.com:
"I am not for no-touch icing whatsoever," Phoenix GM Don Maloney told NHL.com. "Watching enough other leagues that have the no-touch, what I don't like is when the play stops. The puck is still moving but all the players stop and wait for it to go over the goal line. It's a speed game and you're supposed to play to the whistle. I just don't like that. It just aesthetically looks poor."

Fedun spent the previous four years playing at Princeton where he scored 20 goals throughout his college career.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: September 30, 2011 6:44 pm
Edited on: September 30, 2011 7:02 pm
 

Northwest Division Preview: 'Nucks still own it

NW1

By: Adam Gretz

This was the only division in the NHL last season to produce only one playoff team, and that was the Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks, the team that's won the division three years in a row.

Playoff teams have been difficult to come by in the Northwest in recent years, as Colorado and Calgary are the only teams other than Vancouver to reach the postseason over the past three years; and they only managed to qualify once each. You have to go back to the 2007-08 season to find the last time more than two teams went to the playoffs in the same year out of the Northwest, and it's probably not going to happen this year.

Once you get past Vancouver, the Flames are probably the best bet to reach the playoffs, and even they're not a lock, having failed to qualify two years in a row, and then there's a steady dropoff to a pair of rebuilding teams in Colorado and Edmonton, and a team in Minnesota that seems to be stuck somewhere in the middle between being in contention and in a  rebuilding phase.

The Northwest Division (In predicted order of finish):

CanucksVancouver Canucks: The Vancouver Canucks reached the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in franchise history last season, losing to the Boston Bruins in seven games. After jumping out to a 2-0 series lead, Vancouver went on to lose four of the final five games of the series. And they not only lost, they were absolutely dominated, losing by a combined score of 21-4. Even with that disappointment in the rearview mirror, the Canucks are bringing back a roster that remains loaded from top to bottom, and is one of the top two or three cup contenders in the league.

Strengths: Just about everything is a strength for the Canucks. They're deep down the middle with Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and the underrated Manny Malhotra at center, and even with the loss of Christian Ehrhoff, they have an excellent defense led by Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo. Roberto Luongo is still one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, and Cory Schneider, his young backup, could probably start for quite a few teams as well. They have quality depth up front with wingers like Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows, Mikael Samuelsson, Jannik Hansen and Maxim Lapierre, and they excel on special teams, finishing with the top power play in the league last season and the third best penalty kill.

Weaknesses: It's really difficult to find one. Is there one? An obvious one? The Canucks are as deep as just about any team in the NHL at forward, defense and goaltender and have outstanding special teams. Where is the weakness?

FlamesCalgary Flames: A slow start that resulted in just 11 wins in their first 27 games put the Flames in a hole that was simply too deep to dig out of in the Western Conference, missing the playoffs by just four points. It's actually the exact opposite path they followed the previous season when they opened the with a 17-6-3 mark, only to completely fall apart over the final four months of the season and missed the playoffs by five points.

Strengths: Jarome Iginla is simply fantastic. He hasn't missed a game in four years, has scored at least 32 goals in each of those years, and managed to put in 43 during the 2010-11 season. Rene Bourque, Lee Stempniak, Curtis Glencross and David Moss is a solid group of forwards to put around Iginla, and all have the ability to score somewhere between 20 and 25 goals. A lot of other teams teams can -- and will -- do worse up front.

Weaknesses: How much does Miikka Kiprusoff have left in the tank? He's declined in recent years and his workload might be catching up with him and Henrik Karlsson could (and perhaps should) be getting a bigger role this season. Losing Robyn Regehr could be a significant loss on the blue line, and Jay Bouwmeester's first two years in Alberta have to be considered a tremendous disappointment. In his final three years with Florida he scored 12, 15 and 15 goals. In his two years with the Flames? He's scored seven. Total. And he's taking up over $6.6 million in cap space to be an offensive-defenseman. That's not going to work.

WildMinnesota Wild:  Mike Yeo takes over a team that hasn't made the playoffs in three years, hasn't won a playoff series since it went to the Conference Finals nine years ago, and he's introducing his version of the neutral zone trap (insert your own "it's boring hockey" comment here). Actually, it's pretty similar to the system the Penguins run -- the team Yeo was an assistant with for a number of years -- and is a bit more up-tempo than the Jacques Lemaire trap Minnesota fans witnessed all those years.

Strengths: Yeo is pushing for Mikko Koivu to win the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward, and he's definitely a worthy player to put on your early season watch list. An excellent two-way player that makes an impact in all three zones and all phases of the game. Dany Heatley, acquired from the Sharks over the summer, is coming off a down year (by his standards) in the goal-scoring department but possesses the best natural goal-scoring ability of any player on the roster and is a legitimate 40-goal threat.

Weaknesses: With Brent Burns no longer on the roster Minnesota has a bit of a hole on its blue line when it comes to providing offense. Marek Zidlicky, who was limited to just 46 games a season ago, was the only other defenseman to register at least 20 points. The 13th ranked power play in the league a season ago lost its top-three power play goal scorers (Burns, Antti Miettinen and Andrew Brunnette). Heatley should be able to help in that area, but will he be enough?

How good is Niklas Backstrom? He hasn't approached the numbers he put up the first three years of his career while playing under Lemaire, and his backups have pretty consistently put up similar save percentages in recent years. Was he a product of the system or is he set to play like one of the best goalies in the league again?

FlamesColorado Avalanche: Their decision to trade a first-round draft pick to the Washington Capitals for goaltender Semyon Varlamov was panned over the summer, as most observers are expecting Colorado to once again finish near the bottom of the NHL's standings, meaning that pick could turn out to be a lottery selection. The jury is still out on that trade, obviously, but there's no denying the Avalanche needed a significant upgrade in net after a disappointing season from Craig Anderson helped put the Avs at the bottom of the NHL in save percentage last season.

Strengths: The 1-2 punch of Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny down the middle is the foundation of this team, and they picked up another top young forward prospect back in June when they selected Gabriel Landeskog at the top of the draft.

Weaknesses: The Avalanche bulked up their defense this summer by putting an emphasis on adding size to their blue line, but will it result in a better product? Erik Johnson, acquired in last season's blockbuster trade with the St. Louis Blues, has the most potential of the group and is still only five years removed from being the No. 1 overall pick in the entire draft. Even with the addition of Varlamov, goaltending remains a question mark, especially since he's had problems staying injury free throughout his career.

The Avs had the worst penalty killing unit in the league last season. Can a full season of Jay McClement to go along with Daniel Winnick help improve that area?

OilersEdmonton Oilers: It's another rebuilding year, but they're getting closer, slowly but surely, to making an impact. And they might be the most entertaining -- and exciting -- non-playoff team in the league with an impressive list of young forwards led by last year's top pick, Taylor Hall.

Strengths: Even if No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doesn't spend the entire season in Edmonton, the Oilers still have some outstanding young talent up front. Ales Hemsky is one of the NHL's most creative players with the puck and a tremendous playmaker, typically averaging near a point-per-game. The biggest flaw in his game, unfortunately, is that he tends to miss at least 10 games (or more) per season. Getting him for a full season would be a welcome change. Hall looks to be a star in the making, and players like Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Sam Gagner are loaded with potential and should make the Oilers worth watching every night, even if they don't win a ton of games.

Weaknesses: Defense. Goaltending. Goaltending. Defense. After Ryan Whitney it's a very thin team on the blue line, and additions like Cam Barker aren't likely to help that. Their defense and goaltending, led by Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk, will keep the Oilers at the bottom of the division, as well as the Western Conference, for at least another year.

NHL season preview schedule
Wed., Sept. 21: Step-back players Tues., Sept. 27: Atlantic Division
Thur., Sept. 22: Breakout players Wed., Sept. 28: Central Division
Fri., Sept. 23: Southeast Division Thur. Sept. 29: Northeast Division
Mon., Sept. 26: Pacific Division Fri., Sept. 30: Northwest Division

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: September 30, 2011 6:44 pm
Edited on: September 30, 2011 7:02 pm
 

Northwest Division Preview: 'Nucks still own it

NW1

By: Adam Gretz

This was the only division in the NHL last season to produce only one playoff team, and that was the Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks, the team that's won the division three years in a row.

Playoff teams have been difficult to come by in the Northwest in recent years, as Colorado and Calgary are the only teams other than Vancouver to reach the postseason over the past three years; and they only managed to qualify once each. You have to go back to the 2007-08 season to find the last time more than two teams went to the playoffs in the same year out of the Northwest, and it's probably not going to happen this year.

Once you get past Vancouver, the Flames are probably the best bet to reach the playoffs, and even they're not a lock, having failed to qualify two years in a row, and then there's a steady dropoff to a pair of rebuilding teams in Colorado and Edmonton, and a team in Minnesota that seems to be stuck somewhere in the middle between being in contention and in a  rebuilding phase.

The Northwest Division (In predicted order of finish):

CanucksVancouver Canucks: The Vancouver Canucks reached the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in franchise history last season, losing to the Boston Bruins in seven games. After jumping out to a 2-0 series lead, Vancouver went on to lose four of the final five games of the series. And they not only lost, they were absolutely dominated, losing by a combined score of 21-4. Even with that disappointment in the rearview mirror, the Canucks are bringing back a roster that remains loaded from top to bottom, and is one of the top two or three cup contenders in the league.

Strengths: Just about everything is a strength for the Canucks. They're deep down the middle with Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and the underrated Manny Malhotra at center, and even with the loss of Christian Ehrhoff, they have an excellent defense led by Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo. Roberto Luongo is still one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, and Cory Schneider, his young backup, could probably start for quite a few teams as well. They have quality depth up front with wingers like Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows, Mikael Samuelsson, Jannik Hansen and Maxim Lapierre, and they excel on special teams, finishing with the top power play in the league last season and the third best penalty kill.

Weaknesses: It's really difficult to find one. Is there one? An obvious one? The Canucks are as deep as just about any team in the NHL at forward, defense and goaltender and have outstanding special teams. Where is the weakness?

FlamesCalgary Flames: A slow start that resulted in just 11 wins in their first 27 games put the Flames in a hole that was simply too deep to dig out of in the Western Conference, missing the playoffs by just four points. It's actually the exact opposite path they followed the previous season when they opened the with a 17-6-3 mark, only to completely fall apart over the final four months of the season and missed the playoffs by five points.

Strengths: Jarome Iginla is simply fantastic. He hasn't missed a game in four years, has scored at least 32 goals in each of those years, and managed to put in 43 during the 2010-11 season. Rene Bourque, Lee Stempniak, Curtis Glencross and David Moss is a solid group of forwards to put around Iginla, and all have the ability to score somewhere between 20 and 25 goals. A lot of other teams teams can -- and will -- do worse up front.

Weaknesses: How much does Miikka Kiprusoff have left in the tank? He's declined in recent years and his workload might be catching up with him and Henrik Karlsson could (and perhaps should) be getting a bigger role this season. Losing Robyn Regehr could be a significant loss on the blue line, and Jay Bouwmeester's first two years in Alberta have to be considered a tremendous disappointment. In his final three years with Florida he scored 12, 15 and 15 goals. In his two years with the Flames? He's scored seven. Total. And he's taking up over $6.6 million in cap space to be an offensive-defenseman. That's not going to work.

WildMinnesota Wild:  Mike Yeo takes over a team that hasn't made the playoffs in three years, hasn't won a playoff series since it went to the Conference Finals nine years ago, and he's introducing his version of the neutral zone trap (insert your own "it's boring hockey" comment here). Actually, it's pretty similar to the system the Penguins run -- the team Yeo was an assistant with for a number of years -- and is a bit more up-tempo than the Jacques Lemaire trap Minnesota fans witnessed all those years.

Strengths: Yeo is pushing for Mikko Koivu to win the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward, and he's definitely a worthy player to put on your early season watch list. An excellent two-way player that makes an impact in all three zones and all phases of the game. Dany Heatley, acquired from the Sharks over the summer, is coming off a down year (by his standards) in the goal-scoring department but possesses the best natural goal-scoring ability of any player on the roster and is a legitimate 40-goal threat.

Weaknesses: With Brent Burns no longer on the roster Minnesota has a bit of a hole on its blue line when it comes to providing offense. Marek Zidlicky, who was limited to just 46 games a season ago, was the only other defenseman to register at least 20 points. The 13th ranked power play in the league a season ago lost its top-three power play goal scorers (Burns, Antti Miettinen and Andrew Brunnette). Heatley should be able to help in that area, but will he be enough?

How good is Niklas Backstrom? He hasn't approached the numbers he put up the first three years of his career while playing under Lemaire, and his backups have pretty consistently put up similar save percentages in recent years. Was he a product of the system or is he set to play like one of the best goalies in the league again?

FlamesColorado Avalanche: Their decision to trade a first-round draft pick to the Washington Capitals for goaltender Semyon Varlamov was panned over the summer, as most observers are expecting Colorado to once again finish near the bottom of the NHL's standings, meaning that pick could turn out to be a lottery selection. The jury is still out on that trade, obviously, but there's no denying the Avalanche needed a significant upgrade in net after a disappointing season from Craig Anderson helped put the Avs at the bottom of the NHL in save percentage last season.

Strengths: The 1-2 punch of Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny down the middle is the foundation of this team, and they picked up another top young forward prospect back in June when they selected Gabriel Landeskog at the top of the draft.

Weaknesses: The Avalanche bulked up their defense this summer by putting an emphasis on adding size to their blue line, but will it result in a better product? Erik Johnson, acquired in last season's blockbuster trade with the St. Louis Blues, has the most potential of the group and is still only five years removed from being the No. 1 overall pick in the entire draft. Even with the addition of Varlamov, goaltending remains a question mark, especially since he's had problems staying injury free throughout his career.

The Avs had the worst penalty killing unit in the league last season. Can a full season of Jay McClement to go along with Daniel Winnick help improve that area?

OilersEdmonton Oilers: It's another rebuilding year, but they're getting closer, slowly but surely, to making an impact. And they might be the most entertaining -- and exciting -- non-playoff team in the league with an impressive list of young forwards led by last year's top pick, Taylor Hall.

Strengths: Even if No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doesn't spend the entire season in Edmonton, the Oilers still have some outstanding young talent up front. Ales Hemsky is one of the NHL's most creative players with the puck and a tremendous playmaker, typically averaging near a point-per-game. The biggest flaw in his game, unfortunately, is that he tends to miss at least 10 games (or more) per season. Getting him for a full season would be a welcome change. Hall looks to be a star in the making, and players like Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Sam Gagner are loaded with potential and should make the Oilers worth watching every night, even if they don't win a ton of games.

Weaknesses: Defense. Goaltending. Goaltending. Defense. After Ryan Whitney it's a very thin team on the blue line, and additions like Cam Barker aren't likely to help that. Their defense and goaltending, led by Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk, will keep the Oilers at the bottom of the division, as well as the Western Conference, for at least another year.

NHL season preview schedule
Wed., Sept. 21: Step-back players Tues., Sept. 27: Atlantic Division
Thur., Sept. 22: Breakout players Wed., Sept. 28: Central Division
Fri., Sept. 23: Southeast Division Thur. Sept. 29: Northeast Division
Mon., Sept. 26: Pacific Division Fri., Sept. 30: Northwest Division

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: September 28, 2011 9:20 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2011 9:26 pm
 

Looking at Nugent-Hopkins preseason performance



By: Adam Gretz

It remains to be seen whether or not Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft, will spend the entire season with the Edmonton Oilers or eventually be sent back to the Western Hockey League to play with the Red Deer Rebels.

Based on his preseason performance to this point it's going to be awfully difficult for Edmonton to not give him an opportunity to prove he belongs at the NHL level on a full-time basis.

During Edmonton's 3-2 win over Phoenix on Tuesday night he had a hand in every Oilers goal, scoring his first of the preseason and adding an assist on a pair of Taylor Hall goals, pushing his team-leading (preseason) point total to six in four games.

A few thoughts and observations on his performance to date:

1) In the four games that Nugent-Hopkins has appeared in the Oilers have scored 10 goals as a team -- and he has had a hand in six of them, scoring one and assisting on five. He has also developed what appears to be nice chemistry with Hall, the Oilers' No. 1 overall pick from a season ago, recording an assist on every goal that Hall has scored in the preseason.

No other player on the team has more than three assists, while some of the ones Nugent-Hopkins has been credited with have been rather impressive, including this helper on a goal scored by Jordan Eberle last week against the Vancouver Canucks.

2) You're probably saying those numbers are nice, but it's still just the preseason and preseason numbers can be pretty worthless. And you wouldn't be entirely wrong. After all, a lot of these games feature rosters that are loaded with minor leaguers and pluggers that will be riding the bus in the AHL and ECHL in a couple of weeks. That highlight reel assist to Eberle against the Canucks that is mentioned above, for example, came on a power play with players like Aaron Volpatti and Nolan Baumgartner on the ice against him, with Manny Legace -- since released by the Canucks -- in the crease. Who you play against matters, and he's probably going to be facing a much higher level of competition during the regular season when the games actually mean something in the standings.

That said, his best game of the preseason came on Tuesday night against Phoenix, against a lineup that was pretty close to what the Coyotes will be running out there on a nightly basis. Mike Smith played the entire game in goal, while his points came with players like Shane Doan, Keith Yandle, Derek Morris and Daymond Langkow on the ice against him, so he's just not padding his preseason numbers against guys that won't be in the NHL this season. His best game, offensively, came on the night where he played against what was probably the toughest competition he's seen yet. And that's impressive.  

3) There are still some legitimate questions that need to be asked about whether or not he's ready for a full season of NHL action. His size will be talked about quite a bit (and while he would be one of the smallest players in the NHL, he wouldn't be the smallest), as well as the added responsibilities that come with being a top center in the NHL, including defensive play and having to win faceoffs, which will include some growing pains, but the potential offensive upside might be too much for an Edmonton team that finished 27th in scoring last season to pass up.

As I pointed out last month it would seem be a mild upset if he's not on the Oilers roster this season, at least based on recent forwards that have been taken No. 1 overall. Going back to 1997 the only forward taken in the top spot to not appear in the NHL in his draft year was Alex Ovechkin, and that was because his draft year happened to be the lost season that was the NHL lockout.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com