Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog set for first NHL meeting
Top pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored a goal in his first game, recorded a hat trick in his third, and currently carries a three-game point streak.
Gabriel Landeskog, who heard his name called immediately after Nugent-Hopkins at the draft in June, waited until his third game to light the lamp and then did it again in his fourth. He had his first two-goal game last Saturday.
Friday night at Pepsi Center, Edmonton's Nugent-Hopkins and Colorado's Landeskog will go head-to-head for the first time in their NHL careers as the Oilers and Avalanche, the top two teams in the Northwest Division, meet for the first of six times this season.
When you hear people talk about a game within the game, this is the type of matchup they mean.
One vs. Two from 2011 for the first of what should be dozens of times.
Let the rivalry begin.
"These are two terrific players," NHL Network analyst Craig Button told NHL.com. "They're grounded and mature beyond their years. For the most part, kids of this age are not anywhere near as advanced as these two are."
Despite the fact that Nugent-Hopkins was the No. 1 pick, Landeskog was considered the better bet to not only make it, but also stay in the NHL as an 18-year-old.
They both measured at 6-foot-1 in training camp, but Landeskog tipped the scales at a burly 204 pounds while Nugent-Hopkins was still a slight 175.
Landeskog's size and ability to play big in small areas gave scouts the indication that he was NHL ready, that he didn't need to go back to Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League because there was simply nothing left for him to learn there.
Conversely, the question of whether Nugent-Hopkins could physically make it in the NHL as an 18-year-old was a valid one. No one doubted his skill, but was it going to be enough for him to get by, or did he need more time to build his body with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League?
"These kids get drafted because you think they can play in the NHL, so until you assess them at the NHL level and see how they hold up, why pre-judge and make up your mind?" said Button, who can be seen on "NHL: On the Fly" through the weekend. "Most of the kids are going to be back in junior. We know that. But you have to go through the process."
Well, the process has been kind to both teenagers.
Landeskog has proven the hype was all worth it, and Nugent-Hopkins has defied the critics because his great skill has, at least for now, cast aside any worries about his size.
Each teenager has averaged 16:51 of ice time over nine games, and neither has looked out of place.
Nugent-Hopkins leads all rookies with 5 goals and 9 points. He's shown the poise and slipperiness of a veteran center, helping the Oilers, who finished last in the NHL last season, to a 5-2-2 start.
"We know what RNH is physically, but you watch the game, he never gets hit," Button said. "Just watch a game of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the next time he gets hit clean, call me right away and let me know. I've been watching for two years and now early in his NHL career, I've seen him 18 or 19 times live, and I haven't seen it yet. He's always moving the puck ahead of time and then he's moving past you because he's so quick."
Landeskog is second among rookies with 4 goals and tied for fifth with 6 points, but he also leads the rookies with 36 shots on goal and is second with 23 hits.
He's been as powerful and impactful as advertised, helping the Avalanche to a 6-3-0 start to the season. Colorado was 29th in the NHL last season because it went 5-25-2 after the All-Star break.
"He doesn't play like an 18-year-old as far as how he does the little things well," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco told NHL.com. "Things you're always working on with players seem to come easier for him. And when you do tell him one time, that's usually all it takes. His minutes and game situations as far as how he's being used speak for itself. He's been very good."
So has the only guy who will ever be able to say he was picked before Landeskog in the 2011 NHL Draft.
Friday night we'll get to see them together in the same NHL game for the first time. Everybody should get used to it.
"They're 1-2 in the draft, and a lot of times the 1-2 guys in the draft are not in the same conference, so they might only play once," Button said. "This is a wonderful thing."