Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had no idea what it was like to come back off an injury, because prior to this season the Edmonton Oilers rookie had never been hurt.
So in that respect, Saturday proved to be a landmark day for Nugent-Hopkins who was back in the Oilers lineup, having recovered from a shoulder injury suffered in Chicago early in the new year.
“I’m very excited, it’s been a long time,” said Nugent-Hopkins, prior to Saturday’s encounter against the Detroit Red Wings. “I can’t really let my emotions get too high, because it’ll probably take over my game. I’m just going to try and stay even keel and just try to play.”
The Oilers have missed their rising star, who was well ahead in the league rookie scoring race before catching a rut in the ice and falling into the boards in Chicago, separating his shoulder.
Nugent-Hopkins returned Saturday still leading all rookie scorers, but was just one point up on Adam Henrique of the New Jersey Devils and three up on Philadelphia Flyers winger Matt Reed.
Heading into Saturday against the Red Wings, Nugent-Hopkins had 13 goals and 22 assists for 35 points in 38 games.
“You always hope that everything picks up where you left off, but my timing might be a little off at the start, so I have to find a way to get into the game, whether that’s taking a hit or giving a hit or taking a couple of shots on goal,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “The big thing is to kind of get myself right into it, I don’t want to feel my way into it.”
Despite the nature of his injury, Nugent-Hopkins is not worried about hurting his shoulder again.
The Oilers have been cautious with their young star, not rushing him back despite the need to have him in the lineup.
“No, there shouldn’t be any problems,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “I have been taking some hits in practices over the last few days and it feels good.
“This is the first time I’ve been hurt, this is new, but I’m excited to get back there for sure.”
The Oilers went into the game against the Red Wings, having won three of their last four games and coming off Sam Gagner’s impressive eight-point Thursday outing against the Blackhawks.
With the Wings heading in having won nine of their previous 10 games, the Oilers need all hands on deck.
“Ryan is such a big part of this team even at such a young age,” Gagner said. “He’s shown so much poise, he’s just a great player and it’s going to be a huge help to have him back, a huge help for our power play and hopefully it helps us get more wins.”
Not wanting to move Gagner off the top line with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, Nugent-Hopkins started Saturday’s game centring Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky.
He’s expected to help the Oilers attain more balanced scoring.
“I feel like since I’ve been out, all the lines have been going pretty well, especially the last little while we’ve been going pretty well,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “I look forward to playing with Horc and Hemmer, it should be pretty fun.”