It was a line which looked, only moments after it came together, like it could live happily ever after.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made magic with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle as coach Tom Renney decided to go forward to the future and the kid basically served notice he’s not going to be easy to ship back to his past.
Forget about it Red Deer? Play on Rebels? You’ve seen the last of the No. 1 pick in the NHL Entry Draft?
How do you send the kid back to junior after that performance?
He may be slight, but his sleight of hand looked at least a little like another skinny guy about his age way back when as RNH scored his first goal and set up two gorgeous goals by Hall who had one of his Mark Messier nights.
And this morning Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is leading the Edmonton Oilers in preseason scoring with a goal and five assists for six points in four appearances.
How do you tell your leading scorer he’s not ready to play in the big leagues yet?
“All three of us gelled together pretty quick,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “It was a tonne of fun playing with those guys. All I was trying to do was read off them.”
Eberle said it was a blast.
“Any time you’re making plays like that, it’s fun.
“We can’t get too high about how we looked together. It’s only one preseason game but it was good to show how successful we could be.”
Hall was the first star but seemed to enjoy Nugent-Hopkins being the story.
“It’s not for me to decide,” he said of the obvious question about keeping RNH here to try make more magic.
“But when he stands out like that it’s going to be pretty hard to stop him from playing here. He’s such a good passer. He just finds guys.
“They had a lot of their defensive corps in. There was a lot of speed and regular season qualities out there. There was a lot of chipping picks in and lot a lot of open ice.
“Ryan has done a lot of good things, maybe everything that he can do to make this team.
“The manager and coaches will decide that. But as I have said from Day 1 of camp, if he does what he does best, then he’s going to put in a good showing and so far he has.
“Especially with Sam (Gagner) out, he’s made it hard to stop playing and send him back.
“And people don’t talk about his defensive zone play enough. He’s doing that at an NHL level. The coaches know he has that offensive skill and I think they are looking for him to hold guys down low and win battles and win faceoffs and he has done a lot of that,” said Hall.
And leading the team in scoring?
“That’s pretty impressive, especially for an 18-year-old.”
Nugent-Hopkins had played with Eberle for a game and Hall for another. But Renney decided to put the two No. 1 picks together with first-rounder Eberle, who played with Hall most of last year.
When did he make the decision to go with that line?
“Oh, about the end of June,” Renney laughed.
“It was one of those combinations that’s in the back of your mind.
“They were a good line. Ryan is a passer.”
With both the Oilers and the Coyotes dressing a dozen legitimate NHLers it was an opportunity to see what the No. 1 pick in the June draft looked like.
While RNH was taken to school by Shane Doan on a couple of moves early in the first period and went 0-4 in the faceoff circle for openers before ending up 3-9, you could see by the faces on the bench that the kid had impressed the other Oilers.
He had 17:48 of ice time and was a plus two.
But, predictably, Renney wasn’t going to say that this night tipped the scales for this kid like just about everybody else in the building.
“I’m going to sit back and evaluate this with a clear mind. I’m going to find some quiet time, away from training camp and the preseason schedule,” said the coach who plans to play Nugent-Hopkins in the
final preseason game in Vancouver Saturday night.
I don’t know if he’s NHL ready yet. There are some big strong men who have been in this league a long time.
“It all sounds great, but we’ll do the right thing.”
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