The Edmonton Oilers feared that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would miss the first month of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery. Instead, he will return to action Monday against the New Jersey Devils.
With center Sam Gagner sidelined for several more weeks with a broken jaw and Taylor Hall forced to play center in a makeshift line-up, this is very good news for the Men of Oil.
“It was tough seeing Gags get hurt like that, and obviously, it was a big hit to the team, but as far as I was concerned, I had to make sure I was 100 per cent ready — no matter what,” Nugent-Hopkins told the Edmonton Journal. “It’s definitely a bonus I am coming back early.
“Coming into camp, I wasn’t quite sure when I’d be back because I hadn’t talked to the doctors much. And at the start of camp, my strength wasn’t quite there, so I knew I had to work on that. I got it to where it needed to be.”
Right now new Oilers coach Dallas Eakins has Hall centering Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky. Mark Arcobello is playing between David Perron and Nail Yakupov and Boyd Gordon is centering Jordan Eberle and Jesse Joensu.
Last season Nugent-Hopkins scored just four goals and added just 20 assists in 40 games while playing with the bum shoulder. He has point-per-game skill, though, and he figures to land with two highly skilled forwards when Eakins reshuffles his deck.
“I definitely want to make a big jump from last year,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “I made some steps in my defensive game but I definitely thought, offensively, I could have produced more.
“I’m just going to try to get involved physically, get a shot on net . . . I need to get involved in the game right away. I’ve been working on the faceoffs pretty much every day, and it feels strong. That’s a good indicator right there.”