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Five Questions: Nugent-Hopkins on maturity, McDavid

by Dan Rosen's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins:

TORONTO -- Four years ago, Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was preparing for his first NHL training camp. He was a lean, 175-pound, 18-year-old with a baby face and a lot of hype as the No. 1 pick of the 2011 NHL Draft.

This week, Nugent-Hopkins is in Edmonton preparing for his fifth NHL training camp. He has played 258 games in four seasons. He has 65 goals and 188 points. He is 22 years old. He still has his baby face, but after adding 20 pounds of muscle, he's up to 195.

The difference Nugent-Hopkins feels as a result of his experience and strength fuels his confidence and has him believing big things are coming for himself and the Oilers.

"I was 175 coming into the League, and 175 is generous to myself," Nugent-Hopkins told during the NHL's Player Media Tour at MasterCard Centre in Toronto last week. "It definitely makes a difference. It's all in the corners, battling with guys. Especially in the Western Conference, every centerman I go up against is huge with lots of skill. No matter how big I get I won't be as big as some of the guys because I'm naturally just not that big, but if I can get stronger and push back as much as I can it definitely helps a lot. I found that last year because last year was really a big jump in size and strength for me. Hopefully it's another big jump this year."

It has to be, for both Nugent-Hopkins and the Oilers, who have selected first in four of the past six NHL drafts, including three straight from 2010-12 (Taylor Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov). This year's No. 1 pick, Connor McDavid, is expected to be the generational player who puts the Oilers over the top and makes them a perennial Stanley Cup Playoff contender.

Nugent-Hopkins talked about those expectations, his growth in size and experience, McDavid and more in the following Q&A.

Here are Five Questions with… Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

You're 22 years old and going into your fifth season in the NHL. Do you think of yourself as a veteran now?

"It's crazy that I'm going into my fifth year. I think about that all the time lately, going into my fifth year in the NHL, it's crazy to think about. Being back in this rink [MasterCard Centre], I remember doing my pro development camp here when I was just 18. It seems like that was just yesterday, and all of a sudden I've got four years in the League. It's kind of crazy to think about. I still think of myself as a young guy. I'm still only 22, but I have some experience now.

"Two things for me is gaining that size and strength has really helped give me confidence going into games against bigger teams and bigger guys. And with my shoulder now, it was always a worry for me and I was never too confident in it, and that's when you go into the corner a little hesitant and that's when it gets hurt. So now with some added strength, size and a healthy shoulder I have no issues with getting in there first and going up against bigger, stronger guys."

Is it time for your experience to lead to higher expectations for yourself and the Oilers?

"As goes for the rest of the guys, we're not that young, inexperienced team anymore. We still have young guys, but we have a lot more experience now. We have to find a way to take a big step this year. We have some key pieces coming into place and that should help us along, obviously, but we have to find a way to make that jump. We can't just always fall back on being that young team and not put those expectations on ourselves and each other. We have to expect ourselves to be at the top of the League, making a push for the playoffs and to be competitive every night."

Just a few names here: Connor McDavid, Peter Chiarelli, Todd McLellan; does it feel different being an Oiler now?

"Yeah, a little bit. The hype right now around the team; I talk to people in Edmonton and everybody is so excited. It's a great feeling. It's a good feeling coming into camp, coming into the season. Everybody says it's a great time to be an Oilers fan, and I think it is. It's a positive time. It's an exciting time. Connor coming in obviously adds more hype and positivity. It's going to be fun. Once we get going in camp, it's going to be really exciting."

Can you use some of the knowledge you've gained in the NHL to help McDavid? Do you even think he'll need it?

"I've just kind of talked to him over the phone actually twice now. I haven't got to meet him yet. I've heard he's a great, down-to-earth, humble kid. It's my fifth year in the League now and it was the same situation with [Sam] Gagner when I came in. He's a centerman, young, but had been around for a while and he really helped me find my game a little bit. To Connor I probably look like an experienced guy, so I think I can help him, whether it's on the ice or off the ice. Obviously we're both centermen so there are little things here and there on the ice that I should be able to help him out as much as I can. For the most part, though, he'll be pretty good by himself, but if I can help him anywhere I definitely will do that."

Is the pressure on in Edmonton now? Do you feel it? Is it real? Do you want it?

"Exactly. This doesn't happen all the time that you get this many first overall draft picks in a span of six years. There are expectations for us to make a jump and with Todd [McLellan] coming in [as coach]. He's an experienced guy, been around the League, and I think that's going to help us a lot, having that experience. Most of us have a few years in the League now too, so I think it'll be a big help to us to have a guy like Todd there now."


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