Oilers aim for personal milestones
Derek Van Diest, QMI AGENCY
|Ryan Jones says before setting his sights on the 20-goal plateau, he wants to equal last year's goal total of 18, his career best. (AFP)
The Edmonton Oilers have five games left before putting another disappointing season to bed.
And while collectively the year was a bust, individually, there are still milestones within reach for a number of players.
The Oilers have four forwards who are inching towards the 20-goal plateau, generally considered the benchmark of a solid season.
Heading into Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings, Ryan Smyth (19), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (18), Ryan Jones (17) and Sam Gagner (17) are all within reach of the mark.
“It would be nice to get to 20,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “I’m not going to be pushing extremely hard where I’m not passing the puck or anything like that. But it’ll be good if I could reach that. It’s a good goal to get to.”
Along with chasing 20 goals, Nugent-Hopkins is also in the thick of a scoring race, as he, Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog and New Jersey Devils center Adam Henrique are all after the rookie scoring title.
Heading into Thursday’s play around the league, Nugent-Hopkins and Landeskog each had 49 points, while Henrique had 48.
Nugent-Hopkins, however, has played 12 fewer games than Henrique and 22 fewer than Landeskog this season.
“I never really knew what to expect coming into the season, and I think I’ve been lucky with who I’ve gotten a chance to play with this year and I’ve had a lot of opportunity here,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “It’s been great for me and it’s just been a privilege for me to play here.”
Jones, meanwhile, won’t be thinking about 20 goals until he pots a couple more heading down the stretch.
The Oilers winger has already surpassed his point total from last year and is first focusing on surpassing his career-high 18 goals posted last year.
“Last year it was 18 and it would be nice to get there again, just to prove to people that I can do it,” Jones said. “As soon as the season was done last year there was endless amounts of comments saying that I would never do it again. It’s a good number for me, but whatever I can do to help the team win and if it’s scoring 20, so be it.”
Playing on a line with Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle should improve Jones’s chance of matching and perhaps surpassing last year’s totals.
Jones moved up to play with the two budding stars after Taylor Hall went down with a concussion. He has three goals in five games playing with the dynamic duo.
“I’m just trying to contribute to team success and however I can do that, that’s what I want to do,” Jones said. “Whatever the teams needs out of me to win hockey games, that’s what I’m willing to do. I’ve been fortunate enough where pucks have gone in lately.
“I had a streak where I couldn’t put one into an empty net, but those are the ebbs and flows of a hockey season.”
While there is no guarantee Jones will stay with Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins through the rest of the season as the coaching staff experiments with line combinations, so far moving the gritty forward up in the lineup has worked out well.
“He’s a guy for sure that opens up some room,” Eberle said. “He’s good in front of the net when you shoot the puck there and he’s great on the forecheck as far as getting the puck back. He’s been a great addition and he’s been playing well with us.
“If you ask him, he’ll probably tell you, he’s the meat-and-potato guy on the line. He’s got a good shot, great finish and he sees the ice fairly well.”