Ryan Nugent-Hopkins isnít nervous yet, but he knows itís in the mail.
The Edmonton Oilers rookie made a strong case for himself during the exhibition season, which is why heís still with the club.
Yet everyone, including the first overall pick in last summerís draft, knows the regular season is a different animal.
ďOn Saturday night and Sunday Iíll probably be a little more nervous,Ē Nugent-Hopkins said following practice on Friday. ďThe regular-season would definitely make me more nervous, because itís the real deal. Itís worth two points and itís the actual start of the year. Itíll make me a little bit more nervous, but I have to approach it like every other game, just have fun and try to play my game.Ē
The Oilers are the last team in the NHL to kick off their regular season.
There were questions as to whether Nugent-Hopkins was ready to make the jump from junior to the NHL this season. He finished the preseason as the Oilers leading scorer with a goal and five assists, earning him a spot on the roster for the regular season.
ďHe wouldnít be here if I didnít think he could deal with it,Ē said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. ďHeís a smart enough kid where I think the pace of the game is something I think he can manage on both sides of the puck. I donít think that will be a big issue at all. The big thing will be giving him that chance to play and listening to him, see how he feels, what he sees and what he thinks. Weíll evaluate him at the same time, which is unfortunate, but reality.Ē
Nugent-Hopkins can play up to nine games with the Oilers before being sent back to junior and not having the first year of his NHL contract kick in.
While expectations are high, there is still a level of uncertainty heading into the regular season for the rookie, as was the case going into the exhibition season.
ďI came in not really knowing what to expect,Ē Nugent-Hopkins said. ďI think the exhibition gave me a good taste of what Iím going to see in the regular season. I know itís going to be more intense during the regular season, obviously all the veteran guys will be playing, but I think itíll be a good learning experience for me.Ē
The key for any young player to stick in the NHL is consistency. Thatís what the Oilers will be looking from Nugent-Hopkins this year.
ďI think for the most part, I know junior is a different level, but I felt I was a pretty consistent player there,Ē Nugent-Hopkins said. ďHopefully that will carry on to this level. I know I have to bring it every night and I have to do my best every night.Ē