EDMONTON - The Edmonton Oilers are cautious about anointing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins the next Great One.
But as the season goes along and the rookie continues to dazzle, it's getting harder and harder not to make a comparison.
On Friday, Nugent-Hopkins was outstanding as the Oilers skated to a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. And that was before he picked up a pair of assists on Gretzkyesque passes in the second period.
"He's incredibly impressive. I know for myself being in this league at 18 how tough it was night in and night out being able to produce," said Sam Gagner, outstanding in his own right with a pair of goals and an assist. "I think when he came in here, you didn't know what to expect, but he's got great vision and he's got great skills.
"To produce consistently is hard to do in this league. It's pretty impressive and hopefully we can help him continue to do that and get some wins here."
With the two assists, Nugent-Hopkins increased his team-leading point total to 32 on the season. He also extended his point streak to six games and helped the Oilers snap a two-game losing skid.
Nugent-Hopkins didn't do it all on his own, he had plenty of help from his supporting cast as the Oilers closed out their six-game homestand in style.
"It was a better effort," said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. "And we had more commitment, a bigger commitment to the little things we had to do to manage our way through a game."
Sam Gagner opened the scoring in the first period, out-muscling Avalanche defenceman Shane O'Brien for the puck along the boards and eventually getting it past goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
It was Gagner's second goal in three games after going 19 games without a goal to start the season.
"Sam's been willing to muck it up and put in a second and third effort," said Renney. "I think as a team what we've struggled in the last little while, is that we've been OK with the first effort, but we can't just be a first-effort team. We have to be a second- and third-effort team and Sam's been one of the few guys that's been willing to put in that second or third effort."
Ben Eager put the Oilers up by a pair, scoring from in tight just before the end of the period.
Eager made the most of his increased ice-time moving up to play on the Oilers third line.
After Jay McClement pulled one back for the Avalanche in the second period, Nugent-Hopkins took over.
He had Avalanche defencemen breaking ankles trying to keep up with him and completely undressed Jan Hejda coming out of the corner to set up Gagner for a scoring chance in front.
Nugent-Hopkins was used on both power-play units on the night, staying out while the first unit went to the bench.
The move paid off as Nugent-Hopkins set up Jordan Eberle for the Oilers third goal with a no-look, cross-ice pass that went through the legs of Gagner before getting to it's intended target.
Then with time running out in the frame, Nugent-Hopkins tipped the puck past Matt Duchene at the Oilers blue-line and broke out with Gagner on a two-on-one rush.
Nugent-Hopkins calmly slid the puck across to Gagner who one-timed it past Varlamov to give the Oilers a three-goal cushion heading into the third period.
"It was slow-motion the entire way down, we had a two-on-one right from our own blue-line," Gagner said. "All I was thinking on the backside was just to be ready for a one-timer because it was getting through. He made a great play, I had the whole net to shoot at. It was a nice play."