December 2, 2011
Nugent-Hopkins a top-five scorer
By ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency
EDMONTON - If you were looking for Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews or either of the Sedins in the NHL scoring race Thursday morning, you could find them somewhere beneath Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Same goes for Steve Stamkos, Joe Thornton, Corey Perry and Martin St. Louis.
In two short months the Edmonton Oilers rookie has gone from just making the team to being a pleasant surprise to establishing himself as a Calder Trophy favourite to serving notice that the Art Ross trophy might not be out of reach.
“It’s pretty cool,” shrugged the 18-year-old centre, a day after his two-point night against Minnesota lifted him to 27 points in 24 games, five points behind league-leading Phil Kessel. “I haven’t actually checked (the scoring race) out yet, people are kind of telling me about it and it’s kind of surreal.”
With 13 points in his last seven games, Nugent-Hopkins is making the NHL look like Junior. It’s not — it just looks that way. He’s 10th in the NHL in shooting percentage (21.2) and leads all other rookies in scoring by 10 points.
“I really didn’t know what to expect coming in, but the team took me in right away and made me feel comfortable, like one of the guys right away,” he said. “I’ve been really lucky that way and really lucky with the guys I’ve been playing with, too.
“I don’t really go out there with the mentality that I’m going to get a couple of points every night, I just go out there and try to do my best. But (the confidence) is getting up there, I’m feeling more comfortable playing here now.”
Wondering if he’d still be in the NHL for his 10th game seems like a long time ago.
“The first nine games I just wanted to get a spot on the team, after that I just wanted to help out any way I could,” he said. “It’s gone really well for me. I’m really happy about that. I hope we can keep it up.”
None of his teammates expected a start like this, but now that it’s happening, they say they’re not surprised.
“You could tell his talent level right from the start,” said Shawn Horcoff. “The first time I skated with him I was, like, ‘This guy does things that are pretty special.’
“And it’s not so much his skill level or his talent, he just thinks the game so much better. You really see the value of having a strong mind for the game. He just knows where to be on the ice, he finds lanes, he knows where everyone is. He keeps the game really simple.
“The flashiest he is, is when he’s in the corners and darting and doing his tight turns. In the neutral zone he plays the game the right way. He does everything right. For a kid at that age to do things like that …”