Nugent-Hopkins 'pretty good player,' says Renney

Edmonton Oilers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins faces off against Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov...

Edmonton Oilers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins faces off against Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov during the second period Friday at Rexall Place. (Amber Bracken, QMI Agency)

Terry Jones, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:42 AM ET

Did Edmonton just watch a significant moment in hockey history?

Was Friday an important night to remember in the young career of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?

In game 29 of his first season, did RNH just force head coach Tom Renney to use him the same on the power play and begin to give him the same kind of ice time as The Player Not To Be Mentioned?

Renney put The Nuge on both the first and second power play units in a 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche.

“I’d like not to have to play him on both units,” said Renney of watching the 18-year-old kid dance and dangle and make magic for 6:37 on the power play and a total of 19:41 of ice time in the game after playing 8:21 in the first period and 6:37 in the second and getting much of the third period off to rest and recover for tonight’s tilt in Calgary.

‘Pretty good player’

“But he’s a pretty good player. I just found that out,” Renney joked. “One thing that we did notice is that it works.”

Early in this home stand the knowledgeable fans of Edmonton were screaming for some sort of explanation from the coach about why he kept insisting on playing pointless, mostly useless Eric Belanger on the point on the power play.

“Left-handed shot,” said Renney, like no other explanation was necessary.

With Renney taking Belanger off the power play entirely Friday night and leaving The Nuge out there to play straight through on both units, the rookie was wonderful to watch even though he “only” managed a couple of assists on a night when linemates Sam Gagner (two goals and an assist) and Jordan Eberle (a goal and an assist) were the big benefactors.

But at the end of the day, Nugent-Hopkins was still the story as he has been all year, just with the contemplating that this could very well be a key moment in the career of the skinny kid who continues to remind of another skinny kid.

There have already been comparisons to Nugent-Hopkins looking here and there a little like that guy who wore No. 99 here. And there also have been some suggestions that Taylor Hall has looked on occasion a bit like the guy who wore No. 11.

But tell me Jordan Eberle isn’t starting to remind you a little bit of the guy who wore No. 17 with the way he one-timed a no-peek pass from The Nuge across the ice between the legs of Gagner to him for his 11th of the year?

Nugent-Hopkins now has 32 points and Eberle 31 as they sit fifth and eighth in the NHL scoring race and Eberle has no problem with the 18-year-old getting most of the notice.

“I love it,” he said.

“He deserves what he’s getting. It’s amazing what he does. A lot of what I’m doing has been created by him.”

And Eberle loved what he watched with Nugent-Hopkins staying out to play on both powerplay units.

“It shows he’s capable of playing high minutes and smart enough to conserve energy.

“When the first unit leaves the ice I’m huffing and puffing and he’s still out there. Most of what makes Nuge is how smart he is.”

It was a second straight one-timer Eberle has scored on a RNH pass between Gagner’s legs .

“You can kind of tell the way he’s looking right through me that’s what he was looking to do,” Gagner marveled.

Excited all day

Nugent-Hopkins said he was excited all day when he found out the plan of playing on both units.

“They told me in the morning,” he said.

“Obviously, I enjoy playing on the power play. It’s a big privilege for me.

“A power play is the kind of thing where you can have extended shifts. It’s not the same as five-on-five. Hopefully we can keep having some success there.”

Wednesday, when Edmonton reeked against Carolina, RNH became the fastest Oiler rookie ever to reach 30 points, and the team was so bad the feat barely drew a mention.

But with 32 points in 29 games he’s got a chance to equal Rick Nash (39), Hall (42) and Steven Stamkos (46) rookie totals before the World Junior is over.

Ilya Kovalchuk (51), John Tavares (54) and Patrick Kane (72) are all well within range. And you wonder how close he might come to Sidney Crosby’s 102 and Alex Ovechkin’s 106.

Scary to even think that. But the numbers keep coming.

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca

Twitter@sunterryjones


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