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Nugent-Hopkins to miss 5-6 weeks for Oilers with cracked ribs

Center leads Edmonton in goals, ranks third in points

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will miss 5-6 weeks with cracked ribs.

"He's a guy that's going to be really missed," Oilers captain Connor McDavid said Friday.

Nugent-Hopkins, who was placed on injured reserve Thursday, leads the Oilers with 16 goals and is third with 31 points in 46 games. He was injured late in the second period of Edmonton's most recent game, a 3-2 overtime win at the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 13 that preceded a six-day break.

The Oilers host the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, NHL.TV).

"You can make an argument who our key go-to guy has been this year," coach Todd McLellan said. "Obviously, Connor is having a pretty good year individually and there are some others, but I would throw [Nugent-Hopkins] right up there. He's been trustworthy in every situation. He's given us valuable minutes. He's improved his game, which isn't easy to do. After you've been in the League for five or six years you kind of get accustomed to doing things. He's improved immensely, I think, and he means a lot to our team."

 

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Nugent-Hopkins' injury was not the best way for his teammates to return from their break.

"That's a big loss for us down the middle," goaltender Cam Talbot said. "He's been a big two-way guy for us. He's been putting up points. He moved to that first power-play unit and he's been clicking with those guys too. It's never easy to lose one of your top players, but it just gives other guys opportunities to step up and play that role. We look forward seeing who is going to step up and take over for us."

Nugent-Hopkins' absence should create an opportunity for Ryan Strome, who will likely get a chance to play regularly at center on the third line and on the top power-play unit.

Strome has been limited to 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 46 games. He was acquired from the New York Islanders on June 22 for right wing Jordan Eberle, who has 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists) in 47 games with the Islanders.

Strome was centering the third line between Jujhar Khaira and Michael Cammalleri in practice Friday. McDavid was skating between Patrick Maroon and Drake Caggiula, and Leon Draisaitl was centering Milan Lucic and Jesse Puljujarvi.

Strome was also on the first power-play unit with McDavid, Draisaitl, Lucic and defenseman Darnell Nurse. Strome has two goals and three points on the power play this season. Edmonton is 27th in the League on the power play at 15.4 percent.

But with Nugent-Hopkins out, McLellan likely won't be able to play McDavid and Draisaitl on the same line as he was able to do with Nugent-Hopkins healthy.

The Oilers scored seven goals in winning their final two games before the break, with McDavid centering and Draisaitl playing right wing on the top line. They scored four goals in their previous four games, going 1-3-0.

"We finally got some offense going with Leon up on the wing again," McLellan said. "We've got to put him back in the middle. We'll see what we get from the rest of the crew."

Nugent-Hopkins, 24, taken by the Oilers with the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, has 296 points (111 goals, 185 assists) in 441 NHL games, all with Edmonton.

The Oilers recalled forward Iiro Pakarainen from Bakersfield of the American Hockey League to take Nugent-Hopkins' place.

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