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Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog put friendship on pause

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER -- Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog became friends with Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins during the weeks leading up to the 2011 NHL Draft, but the relationship won't be the same when the 18-year-old rookies meet on the ice for the first time Friday at the Pepsi Center.

"We went through the whole process of the (NHL Scouting) Combine and the draft and going to the Stanley Cup Final together," Landeskog said after this morning's skate. "We became pretty good friends. Obviously he's in Edmonton and I'm here now, so there's not going to be any friendship out on the ice.


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"At the same time, I really respect him. I think he's a very good player and I'm looking forward to tonight."

Much of the hockey world feels the same way.

Landeskog was selected by the Avalanche with the second pick in June, one spot after Nugent-Hopkins was picked by the Oilers, and the teenage forwards have gotten off to excellent starts, as have their teams. It almost seems fitting that the Oilers are first in the Northwest Division and the Avalanche second, though they are tied with 12 points each.

Landeskog has 4 goals and 2 assists in nine games, and the Avalanche have posted a 6-3-0 record that includes a 6-1-0 mark on the road.

Nugent-Hopkins has 5 goals and 4 assists in nine games, and the Oilers have gone 5-2-2, including 5-1-1 at home.

"It's going to be fun, it's going to be a challenge," said Landeskog, who will skate at left wing on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and Daniel Winnik. "It'll be the first time I played against him. I played with him once before at a summer camp. He scored in his first (NHL) game and then he scored a hat trick two games later, so you can't ask for more than that. It's very impressive and I take my hat off to him."

By playing their 10th NHL games tonight, the players will start the clocks on their entry-level contracts and more than likely remain with their respective teams for the remainder of the season.

"I'm going to be excited to actually watch the game," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "It's going to be fun. There's a lot of good, young talent on the ice and a lot of good speed on the ice. I watched the Oilers play a couple of times now and they're a fast team. There's a lot of youth and a lot of energy in their lineup, similar to ours.

"It should be an exciting matchup -- two teams that like to skate, two teams that like to push the pace -- so it should make for an entertaining game."

The Oilers didn’t skate Friday morning after defeating Washington in Edmonton on Thursday. They didn't arrive at their Denver hotel at 3:30 a.m.

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