He won’t turn 22-years-old until April 12, but Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers is already showing that he is mature beyond his years. The first overall selection in the 2011 NHL Draft is four years into his NHL career and despite the current dismal atmosphere with the Oilers he’s continuing to evolve (both physically and mentally) into a very solid pro player; he already owns two 50+ point seasons in 3 ½ campaigns.
“You need everyone playing well to win in this league,” said Nugent-Hopkins told reporters after a rare Edmonton road win in regulation. “I thought our D did a great job tonight of jumping into the play, being up on the rush and pinching off pucks at the blue line tonight. It takes a five-man unit to score goals out there in this league for sure. It was nice to see tonight.”
Recently The Hockey Writers had the pleasure of talking to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins after a game in New Jersey to discuss playing in a Canadian city as a Canadian kid, some of the friendships he made at the NHL Draft and his evolution as a player among other things.
The Hockey Writers: The Devils have been struggling to get shots on goal lately, was that part of the game plan coming in here, to keep them in a bad spot and limit their chances?
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: I think every night what we try to do is limit the other teams to as little as possible, obviously. If we can cycle the puck in the O-zone, like we did tonight, put pucks on net and get second and third chances — it’s better for us. Tonight we did a really good job of keeping them to the outside and not giving them too much tonight.
The Edmonton power play cashes in for the game-winning goal in New Jersey:
THW: Was that a set play on the GWG that you guys scored on the power play? It looked like the plan was to get the puck to that right side for a one-timer.
RNH: Well (smiles), it was a really nice pass by Ebs (Jordan Eberle) over to Yak (Nail Yakupov) and I think the off-side d-man lost his stick there so, the guys were yelling out on the bench and we took advantage of it; it was good to get one on the power play there.
THW: You’re now in your fourth year in the NHL, how do you feel your game is coming along? Are you happy with your progress?
RNH: Yeah; obviously I want to keep taking strides and there are aspects of my game I need to keep working on and getting better at, but as far as my all around game I feel like it’s taken a step this season. It’s tough (pauses), we’re all struggling through this together as a team — it’s been better as of late for sure. It comes down to each individual guy just getting better and better every night.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins shows a little skill (and personality) while sniping some fruit…yes fruit:
THW: How important is it to have a veteran like your captain Andrew Ference with so many younger players on this team?
RNH: It’s huge — since he joined us last year he’s played a big role for us here in Edmonton. He definitely is a leader, he leads by example on and off the ice; with a group of young guys like this you need older guys with experience and we added a few more of those guys (Derek Roy, Mark Fayne) to our lineup since then and it has definitely helped.
THW: The year you were drafted did you expect to go first and how many of the guys that were in your draft class do you still keep in contact with?
RNH: I didn’t really know what to expect going into the 2011 NHL Draft honestly; I’m happy where I am though. I still keep in contact with (Jonathan) Huberdeau, who went third in that draft (Florida), and with Mark Scheifele (seventh to Winnipeg). I’ve been friends with them since the World Juniors. It’s always good to see them, to check on how they are doing. I’m sure it’s a little weird for them too, hard to believe we were drafted four years ago; it definitely goes by fast, but that day was a great experience.
THW: Playing in a Canadian city as a Canadian kid, would you not want to have it any other way?
RNH: It’s definitely everything you dream about growing up as a kid (smiles widely from ear-to-ear). Playing in any NHL city if certainly a dream, but playing in a Canadian market, I mean, they’re just crazy about hockey and they love the team. I’m definitely lucky to be on a team like the Oilers and playing for and representing a city like Edmonton. It would surely be different in another city, but every city is different and unique. I think every player likes to play with a little bit of pressure and it definitely makes things a lot more fun when you are out there playing well and you have the whole city behind you. I definitely wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.