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Nugent-Hopkins won't squint in spotlight for Oilers

Center out to prove he's worth big contract, ready to support McDavid, offense

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- Unlocking a bigger contribution from center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is important for the Edmonton Oilers on more than one level.

Nugent-Hopkins' two goals were welcomed in Edmonton's come-from-behind 5-4 victory against the Dallas Stars at Rogers Place on Thursday.

Not only did it mark the first time this season the slow-starting Oilers (3-5-1) had scored more than three goals in a game, but it also should boost the confidence of Nugent-Hopkins, under an intensifying spotlight as the Oilers' second- or third-line center.

Much attention has been given to Nugent-Hopkins' seven-year, $42 million contract, with an average annual value of $6 million; he's in the fourth season of the contract, and there has been speculation about how the Oilers might make the numbers work next season, when center Connor McDavid's eight-year, $100 million extension ($12.5 million average annual value) kicks in.

Video: DAL@EDM: Nugent-Hopkins buries a carom off end boards

"Personally, I know there's going to be media, lots of talk, but I really don't pay attention to it or follow it," said Nugent-Hopkins, 24. "I'm just here to help out this team any way I can and I know what I need to do to be productive and help out in my role.

"One of those things is definitely producing a little bit more, and I'm trying to find that this year."

Producing more offense is at the top of the list of what the Oilers have asked from the No. 1 pick of the 2011 NHL Draft, who has five points (four goals, one assist) in nine games this season.

"I asked him to play perhaps with a little more risk in the summer," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. "I don't think he's doing that yet. I haven't seen him cheat at all, and that's fine. I don't want him cheating. But he's got a better nose for the net, to jump in on loose pucks a little quicker around the blue paint.

"Shooting, well. His second goal [Thursday], he got the puck and he released it. It doesn't have to be pretty. He's got a nice little pace going here to get back up to that 20-goal barrier where he should be."

Nugent-Hopkins is well ahead of his pace of last season, when he didn't score his fourth goal until his 26th game.

He had 43 points (18 goals, 25 assists) in 82 games last season and has reached the 20-goal mark once in his NHL career, when he had 24 in 2014-15.

"I want to be able to find that offense a bit more, be a little bit quicker, a little bit more consistent," said Nugent-Hopkins, in his seventh NHL season. "I thought our line on that road trip (the Oilers went 1-1-1 against the Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring four goals in those three games) had lots of chances to score and couldn't really find it, and tonight they went in.

"There's momentum in all aspects of the game, personally and team-wise. So right now we have a little momentum as a team and we just have to keep that going."

Video: WPG@EDM: Nugent-Hopkins flips one past Hellebuyck

Nugent-Hopkins knows the Oilers can't rely on McDavid alone for offense.

"Secondary scoring in this League is massive, from all four lines and [defensemen] in this League, it's key," Nugent-Hopkins said. "Those guys [the first line] will do their thing and we have to find a way to help out and contribute any way we can.

"I definitely want to shoot the puck. I don't necessarily want to force it all the time, but when I do have the chance I have to trust my shot and be able to get it off quick."

Nugent-Hopkins did just that when he tied the game against the Stars 4-4 at 12:16 of the third period Thursday.

He was moving slightly to his right when he took left wing Milan Lucic's pass in the slot, then fired the puck quickly past Stars goalie Ben Bishop and off the left post and in.

It helped the Oilers' breakout night. They were shooting 3.5 percent at 5-on-5 (seven goals, 200 shots) in their seven previous games, but scored on five of their 29 shots at 5-on-5 on Thursday.

Video: DAL@EDM: Nugent-Hopkins rips a wrister past Bishop

"We know we have that in our room, that we're capable of it," Nugent-Hopkins said. "We went through a stretch last year where it was kind of the same thing. We were putting a lot on net but weren't finding those second, third opportunities to score on.

"Getting those two points is big for the morale of this group. There's going to be adversity throughout the season but you need some confidence at some point."

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