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BLOG: Kassian, Nugent-Hopkins returns come as big boost

Barring any setbacks, forwards Zack Kassian and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are expected to get the green light to return to the lineup to face the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday

by Jamie Umbach /

EDMONTON, AB - The return of Zack Kassian and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the Oilers lineup looks to be imminent.

By the two players' admissions after Saturday's morning practice at Rogers Place, barring setback and the final approval, they expect to get the green light to return to the lineup for a clash with the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday.

"It's only been three games, but it seems way longer than that," Kassian, who's been omitted from the lineup for three games since November 1 with a back injury, said. "It's not fun to be out. So I'm excited to be back and hopefully I can give the team a boost."

Kassian was reunited on the top line with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl at Saturday's skate - a regular sight for the Oilers since Main Camp and the start of their '19-20 campaign.

"With Kassian coming in, that allows us to put that line back together," Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "So Kass' presence is a big presence for those guys."

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 Nugent-Hopkins' inclusion is central to the top trio's reunion, allowing Draisiatl to return beside the other half of the Dynamic Duo in McDavid with the Burnaby, B.C. product returning to his regular post on the second line.

"Nuge is significant because we need that depth at centre," Tippett said. "He's a guy that plays in all situations and is just smart in all situations. He makes other players around him better, so that allows us to put Draisaitl back with McDavid."

To players like Draisaitl in the Oilers dressing room who've operated for six games without the presence of Nugent-Hopkins, the centre's return is a big boost down the middle and to all the peripheral roles he helps fill on a game-to-game basis.

"It just gives our team so much more depth," Draisaitl said. "Obviously he plays in all situations, he's very good in all situations, he plays offence and defence, and he really does it all. It's just someone that we need and we're all very happy when he's back."

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For Nugent-Hopkins, more work to adjust back to the speed of the game is what he asks for.

"I try to play a role where I can be put into any situation," Nugent-Hopkins said. "Producing offensively, trying to stop them from getting goals, or on the PK or PP."

"I try to make myself versatile, and I think that actually helps you get back into the swing of things. You're in different situations, your legs are always having to go, and you're having to read different situations. It gets your head into it right away."

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