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FEATURE: Nuge deserving of huge honour

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to build off of a career-year in 2018-19 and looks to make his second NHL All-Star Game appearance.

by Tony Brar / EdmontonOilers.com

TORONTO, ON - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been there before.

But the question is will he be there again this season?

The former first-overall pick at the 2011 NHL Draft eyes his second All-Star Game appearance later this month. He is one of eight players in the Pacific Division fans can vote for as part of the 'Last Men In' ballot.

Video: OILERS TODAY | Last Man Nuge 01.05.20

Last season, Oilers (and hockey) fans around the world voted for Leon Draisaitl to join Connor McDavid in San Jose, giving the German his first All-Star Game nod. Nugent-Hopkins represented the Orange and Blue back in 2015, when he was drafted by Team Foligno - the Oilers centre registered two assists in a 17-12 loss to Team Toews.

But everyone knows the final score doesn't define All-Star weekend. It's about being recognized as one of the game's top players and lacing them up with the best of the best.

"It's a great honour to go to an All-Star game," said the Burnaby, BC native. "You go there with the best players from around the league and ones that I looked up to growing up. Meeting everybody and going through that whole experience five years ago was really cool for me."

During the 2015 event, Nugent-Hopkins waited patiently for his name to be called as Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews announced their picks, one by one.

"I actually was the second-last pick," laughed Nugent-Hopkins. "The last pick was supposed to get a car but for whatever reason, they ended up giving the last two picks a car.

"I got a free car out of it which was cool as a young guy."

The 'Last Men In' ballot was announced on Monday, Dec. 30th. If his play on the ice serves as any indication, Nugent-Hopkins may have taken note.

In the two games leading up to Saturday afternoon's contest against the Boston Bruins, 'Nuge' recorded five points - including a four-point night (one goal, three assists) in a 7-5 victory over the Rangers.

But when you ask his peers, the point totals only tell part of the story.

"He does everything for us," said captain Connor McDavid on Sunday. "Penalty kill, power play, five-on-five - he plays lots of minutes. He's definitely a huge part of our team. He pitches in offensively and his game overall is so solid."

Added forward James Neal on the importance of Nugent-Hopkins in the Oilers lineup: "He huge. You talk about depth and him chipping in, he's just solid all over the ice. The way he shoots the puck, the way he gets in scoring areas - he's a threat."

Nugent-Hopkins has recently formed a line with Draitsaitl and Kailer Yamamoto. Following a 4-1 win in Boston on Saturday, Head Coach Dave Tippett stated the line has been "really good" since they were formed as a trio.

While 'RNH' seems to have found a home on the wing with the two skilled forwards, the early success with his new linemates is a testament to his versatility.

"Unless you go through a game with video, as coaches do, you don't appreciate everything he does in a game," said Tippett following practice in Toronto. "I had a little bit of history with him from the World Cup Under-23 team, coached against him for a long time but didn't know him well and I had that same feeling as (an opposing coach).

"There's a lot of things that happen in a game where he cleans up subtle messes and makes a lot of plays that move the game along for you. He's quietly a very good player."

Video: RAW | Nugent-Hopkins

While Nugent-Hopkins has always been a team-first player and a leader on this Edmonton Oilers club, the honour of being named to a second All-Star Game would go a long way.

"Fifteen, 20 years from now, to look back, getting to go to an All-Star Game and hopefully, a couple of All-Star Games, is just a huge honour and definitely something you look back on with fond memories," said Nugent-Hopkins.

Fans can vote 'Nuge' as the 'Last Man In' for the Pacific Division until voting closes on Friday, Jan. 10, at 9:59 p.m. MT.

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