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Ryan Nugent-Hopkins becoming two-way player with Oilers

Center continues to evolve heading into Western Conference Second Round against Ducks

by Derek Van Diest / NHL.com Correspondent

EDMONTON -- Center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins acknowledges his role has changed since the Edmonton Oilers made him the No. 1 selection in the 2011 NHL Draft.

Going into Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports), Nugent-Hopkins will be relied on heavily in a checking role. He's expected to line up against Anaheim's No. 1 line, featuring center Ryan Getzlaf.

 

[RELATED: Complete Oilers vs. Ducks series coverage]

 

Initially, Nugent-Hopkins was strictly an offensive player, at times playing on each of the Oilers' two power-play units.

"I think, like with any young kid coming out of junior, your game evolves a little bit. Mine has done so and I'm comfortable with the position that I'm in," Nugent-Hopkins said Tuesday. "I want to be a good two-way player, but that also includes producing offensively. Last series, we had a lot of chances, we had a lot of opportunities and some good O-zone time, but at the same time, we didn't find a way to capitalize.

"In this series we need to find a way to keep doing that and bear down. At the same time, we have to make sure we're not giving up anything defensively."

Though Nugent-Hopkins did not have a point in the Oilers' six-game win against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference First Round, he played an important defensive role. His line, with left wing Milan Lucic and right wing Jordan Eberle, was matched up against San Jose's top offensive players and did an excellent job limiting them. The Sharks scored four goals in their four losses to Edmonton.

"He's been great, honestly," captain Connor McDavid said. "I know people get on him about not being more offensive, but he's still a great offensive player. He's put up good numbers [in the past] and always has that threat of breaking out any time. In terms of his defensive play, he's been so good, he's responsible, he's getting better on his draws, his PK has been very good as well. He's definitely a great asset for us."

Nugent-Hopkins said his game began to evolve in his third season with the Oilers, when he was utilized in more defensive situations.

"Things started to change," he said. "I wasn't penalty-killing in junior [with Red Deer of the Western Hockey League], it was mostly offensive. I wouldn't say my game was an all-around, two-way game yet. But for me to be successful in this league, I know that I need to keep working on that and be a good two-way guy, and that's kind of the role I see myself going towards in the future too. I'm going to keep working on that."

Oilers coach Todd McLellan believes Nugent-Hopkins should not be considered as just a defensive center because of his offensive abilities. He compared Nugent-Hopkins to former Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk, who was awarded the Frank J. Selke Trophy three times (2008, 2009, 2010) as the best defensive forward in the League.

"The other [defensive] side of the story is his ability to kill penalties, check well, be responsible," McLellan said of Nugent-Hopkins. "I think he has a tremendous hockey IQ and brain. He has a skillset that goes with it. He's a very competitive player on loose pucks, he stays over top of them. Those are all qualities of two-way guys."

Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom practiced Tuesday for the first time sitting out the third period of Game 6 against the Sharks on Saturday with the flu.

Klefbom said he has recovered and will be in the lineup for Game 1 against the Ducks.

"I didn't feel good at all, I felt very ill and dizzy," Klefbom said. "The first period was fine, but it came to a point where my body reacted and didn't feel good at all."

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