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Oilers, Nugent-Hopkins agree to seven-year extension

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers now have three $6 million men.

The Oilers on Thursday came to terms with center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on a seven-year, $42 million contract extension that kicks in next year and can keep the first player taken in the 2011 NHL Draft in Edmonton through the 2020-21 season.

The Oilers signed Taylor Hall to an identical extension last summer, one week before signing Jordan Eberle to a six-year, $36 million contract. Each player carries an average annual value of $6 million.

Though Nugent-Hopkins was plagued with shoulder problems during his first two NHL seasons, general manager Craig MacTavish said there was no question the Oilers wanted to make a long-term commitment to keep him.

"You can't find anyone in our organization that questions this deal," MacTavish said during a press conference at Rexall Place. "This was a complete no-brainer for us to bring Ryan in. He's been all-in for us since I've arrived here. That very much continues.

"We have a good recent history of taking care of our own players. We've talked a lot about identifying the qualities and characteristics that we hold in high esteem for the Edmonton Oilers and recognizing that and rewarding that. In my mind, this is a further statement along those regards."

Nugent-Hopkins is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and isn't expected to be in the lineup until November. The native of Burnaby, British Columbia, scored four goals and finished with 24 points in 40 games last season before the Oilers shut him down due to the shoulder problems. He has one season remaining on his entry-level contract.

MacTavish said the team had seen more than enough to justify the long contract.

"A few people have asked me, 'Why so quickly? Why wouldn't you wait at some point during the season before you work with [agent] Rick Valette to extend Ryan?' The simple answer is that I've seen enough," MacTavish said. "I've seen enough of Ryan's character and I've seen enough of his game to know that he's a guy that we want to build our future with and I'm super excited to have Ryan commit to us as well."

Nugent-Hopkins has played 102 games during his two seasons. He scored 18 goals and finished with 52 points as a rookie, tying for the scoring lead among first-year players and named a finalist for the Calder Trophy, which was won by Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche.

Along with Hall and Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins represents a building block in the Oilers' plan. Edmonton has not made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since getting to Game 7 of the Final in 2006.

"When we did the contracts with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, at that point we knew we'd be doing a very similar, if not identical, contract with Ryan to what we did with those players," MacTavish said. "This is just a reflection of how highly we hold Ryan within this organization."

Nugent-Hopkins has come a long way since his days as a pee wee when his family could not afford to register him in organized hockey. He missed a year before moving on to Major Junior and starring for the Red Deer Rebels prior to being drafted by the Oilers.

"Obviously things have changed a lot, but for my family this is definitely surreal for all of us," Nugent-Hopkins said. "We're extremely happy about it, but I think the biggest thing is being here for the next eight years. It's an awesome feeling and we couldn't be happier."

The Oilers have structured the contracts of Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins to expire in different seasons. Eberle is signed through 2018-19, and Hall's contract expires after '19-20.

"It's good to have that happening," MacTavish said. "We're hopeful, though, that we'll have the success that will really mandate and encourage these high-end players to continue their association with our organization.

"We're hopeful that, that will happen, but it's nice that they don't expire at the same time."

When Nugent-Hopkins' extension kicks in next season, he, Hall and Eberle will be the highest-paid players on the Oilers. However, with defenseman Justin Schultz in the last year of his entry-level contract, forward Nail Yakupov up next season, and defenseman Darnell Nurse, this year's first-round draft pick, in the pipeline, MacTavish is not ruling out the possibility of someone signing a bigger deal.

"Generally there is always going to be upward pressure on contracts," MacTavish said. "And over six years there's likelihood that somebody will surpass that."

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