DENVER - The suspense is over as the Edmonton Oilers confirmed the obvious on Friday.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be staying with club for the remainder of the season and is not going back to his junior team in Red Deer.
The first overall pick in last summer’s NHL Entry draft will play his 10th game of the year Friday night in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche, officially triggering the first-year of his entry-level contract.
“It’s pretty exciting for me,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “There can be some doubt when you don’t get told for a while, but I just tried not to think about it and tried to just go out and play and it all worked out.”
The Oilers had nine games to determine whether Nugent-Hopkins was ready to play in the NHL this season.
Having scored a goal in his regular-season debut, then adding a hat-trick two games later, it seemed there was little doubt the rookie was in the NHL to stay.
Yet according to Oilers head coach Tom Renney, it was not that cut and dry.
“I think we could all draw conclusions along the way at various times that he’s just doing really well and something else would have to happen that was extraordinary to prevent him from being in the lineup,” Renney said. “But honestly, these last couple of games were really important. We were playing a Stanley Cup finalist in Vancouver, a big heavy team, we were playing what could be suggested as the best team in the National Hockey League in Washington.
“We needed to have a look at Ryan through that experience. So as much as we could have drawn conclusions earlier, we needed to see his body of work - and we had suggested that throughout the whole process - to see if what we were seeing was real.”
It would have been very difficult and highly unpopular to send Nugent-Hopkins back to junior considering he’s currently the team’s leading scorer.
The former Red Deer Rebel had five goals and four assists heading into the game against the Avalanche.
“Sometimes I just wanted them to tell me either way,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “It would have been easier on my mind, but it all worked out, and for the most part, I just tried to play my game.”
The Oilers did not head into the process with preconceived notions on whether they felt Nugent-Hopkins would be ready to make the jump from junior. They themselves were curious to see how he would handle it.
“From the onset, when we first drafted Ryan, we talked about putting no pressure on him to play in our lineup right away,” said Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini. “If he was ready, we’d have to make the decision.
“But we wanted him to go through training camp, see what he looked like in rookie camp, exhibition games and then the NHL games. We wanted to let him play the nine games and then we would make the call. Obviously he played very well and his talents speak for themselves.”