Oilers stick with Nugent-Hopkins

The Edmonton Oilers have made a couple of no-brainer decisions this year in regard to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

First, they made the center the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 Draft. Then late last week, they announced Nugent-Hopkins would not be returning to his junior team.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “I really didn’t know what to expect coming in, and I’m really happy with the way things have gone.”

Per the league’s collective bargaining agreement, if the Oilers play Nugent-Hopkins in 10 games this season, the first year of his three-year, entry-level contract would count this season.

Edmonton can still send Nugent-Hopkins back to juniors for whatever reason, but general manager Steve Tambellini can’t foresee that happening.

“I’d suspect based on his play, he’s here for the year,” he said.

It was hard for coach Tom Renney not to smile knowing No. 93 will continue to don the blue-andorange sweater.

“It means we have a very good young hockey player in the fold for the rest of the hockey season. Good for the scouts, good for the organization, good for his teammates, really good for the coaches, and great for Ryan,” he said. “I think we can all draw conclusions along the way at various times that he’s just doing really good and something else extraordinary would have to happen to prevent him from being in the lineup. … There wasn’t a whole lot this young fellow was doing wrong.”

Nugent-Hopkins couldn’t have made a much stronger case to stay on a team that sits atop the Northwest Division and the Western Conference after the first month of the season. He had a goal in his first game and a hat trick in his third.

Through 11 games, Nugent-Hopkins leads the team with 11 points. His five goals are tied with Ryan Smyth for the team lead.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Nugent-Hopkins is the first Oilers player to record at least 11 points in his first 11 NHL games since Wayne Gretzky, Blair MacDonald and Brett Callighen did so in 1979.

In addition to being a goal-scoring threat every time he touched the puck, Gretzky wasn’t too shabby in feeding teammates for easy goals. It’s way too early and not fair to compare Nugent-Hopkins to The Great One, but the current player had a sweet feed between three defensemen to Shawn

in the crease for the Oilers’ first goal in Sunday’s 4-2 win over St. Louis.

“Nugent-Hopkins is a great passer of the puck,” NHL Network commentator Bob Errey said. “He’s got that ability and poise, a heads-up to make those kind of plays.”

Nugent-Hopkins and a couple of other players barely old enough to shave — Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall — have been outstanding together thus far. The trio have combined for 11 goals and 19 assists. The rest of the team combined has 13 goals and 26 assists.

“Hallsy’s got a great shot and he can finish, obviously, and I tend to think I have a good shot, too,” Eberle said after Sunday’s win. “We can all move the puck. But I think … when we get the biggest chance at getting some offensive production is when we’re on the forecheck. We did that pretty well and could have had a few more tonight.”

Nugent-Hopkins is far from the only reason Edmonton has won five straight and is 7-2-2 — its best 11-game start since 1985-86.

Horcoff has seven points in his past seven games; Nikolai Khabibulin leads the league with a 1.12 goals-against average and .960 save percentage; Smyth scored twice in Sunday’s win over St. Louis and has five tallies for the season; and Ladislav Smid leads the league in shots blocked.

Northwest Division notes:

Entering Tuesday’s game, Calgary is 3-1-1 in its past five outings. … Calgary C Roman Horak has a goal and an assist in each of his past two games, including his first NHL goal. He has five points in seven games this season. … Calgary C Brendan Morrison played in his 900th career game Friday. … The Flames need to hold onto the puck better; they rank second in the league with 130 giveaways. … Colorado D Kyle Quincey is 1-4-5 during a four-game scoring streak and is the team’s top-scoring defenseman with two goals and six assists. … G Semyon Varlamov had at least 30 saves in each of his eight October starts, going 5-3-0 in the month with a 2.44 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. … Avs coach Joe Sacco juggled three of his lines for Sunday’s 3-2 win over Los Angeles, including moving David Jones to right wing with center Matt Duchene. Jones, who had two assists, fed Duchene for the game-winning goal. It was Duchene’s first goal in seven games. … Edmonton begins a five-game, 12-day road trip Thursday in Los Angeles. … Oilers D Cam Barker did not play Sunday night because of a sore shoulder. He’s listed as day-to-day. … The Wild assigned Brett Bulmer, 19, to his junior team Monday. He had three assists and was a plus-one in nine games with Minnesota. … Minnesota ranks last in the league with 1.90 goals per game, leading coach Mike Yeo to begin tinkering with his top line combinations. Guillaume Latendresse was on the top line Saturday with Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley, while Devin Setoguchi skated on a line with Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Cal Clutterbuck skated with Koivu and Heatley Thursday. … Koivu has no goals in his first 10 games. … Heatley scored the lone goal of the game Saturday, and entering Tuesday’s game in Detroit had registered a point in four straight games. He leads the Wild with seven points. … D Greg Zanon (groin) was placed on injured reserve Saturday, and the Wild called up Nate Prosser to replace him. Zanon, who missed his fourth straight game Tuesday, is considered day-to-day. … Of the Wild’s first 10 games, eight have been one-goal affairs. … Vancouver started a six-game road trip Tuesday in Calgary. … Canucks D Alex Edler scored his first two goals of the season and added an assist in Saturday’s 7-4 win over Washington. … Chris Higgins was moved to third-line left wing Saturday, after spending the season’s first 10 games as a second-line right wing. From his natural position, he responded with two goals. Cody Hodgson replaced Higgins on the second line with Ryan Kesler and David Booth. … Entering Tuesday, D Kevin Bieksa is minus-9 and D Keith Ballard a minus-7 for the Canucks. As a team, Vancouver ranks 23rd in goals-against average (2.91) after leading the league last season.