Sunday, January 20, 2013

Nugent-Hopkins appears ready to make the jump and lead the Oilers in scoring

There were many who felt Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was nowhere near ready for prime time heading into the 2011-2012 campaign. After putting together a fifty-two point rookie season and instantly becoming one of the league's top power play performers, the Edmonton Oilers talented centre had more than silenced his critics. Now the question becomes, what can the Nuge do for an encore?

With Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Nugent-Hopkins set to take over the reigns as the club's go to line, the pressure to produce and carry this team forward starts now.

All three are coming off impressive showings during their time together in the American Hockey League and Nugent-Hopkins having just returned from a dominant performance at the 2013 World Junior Championship, the trio could not have hand picked a better time to take on the larger role that awaits them.

There is much hype surrounding the Oilers and their plethora of high-end talent and the former Red Deer Rebels standout appears more than ready to take on that role in 2013. After watching Shawn Horcoff being force fed far too many minutes throughout '11-'12, RNH well see his time increase five-on-five.

Head coach Ralph Krueger has said, to anyone willing to listen, he intends to have his side play at an uptempo pace this season. All signs pointing towards the likes of Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, not to mention Ales Hemsky and Nail Yakupov, to carry this team moving forward. Add to that, the addition of defenceman Justin Schultz into the mix, on both the power play and even strength, and suddenly Nugent-Hopkins options seem almost limitless.

Despite having played in just sixty-two games during his rookie campaign, the Nuge managed to not only pick up twenty power play assists, good enough for seventh in the NHL, but also morphed the Oilers middling power play into one of the very best in the National Hockey League. Coincidence? I think not and with Schultz set to become a regular fixture on the man advantage, don't be surprised if RNH is sitting atop the league in power play points by the end of the season.

If there are players, currently in the league, that see the ice the way this kid does, you would be using one hand to count them on...and you would not be using many of your fingers to do so. The Nuge is a special talent and the fact the Oilers organization have been able to secure the skill they have, to surround him with, opens all sorts of doors moving forward.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will likely never be considered the best all around player on the Edmonton Oilers roster during his time in the provincial capital but he is as gifted a player this organization has had since Wayne Gretzky. That is not to say he is going to be as good as that guy that wore #99 but it does put into perspective what an extraordinary skill set the nineteen year-old possesses.

At this stage of the game, look for him to take that next step in his development and lead the Oilers in scoring for first time but long term, the sky really is the limit for #93.

2012-2013 Prediction: 15 G, 37 A, 52 Pts

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