EDMONTON, AB - Looking at him, you wouldn't know or guess that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the longest-serving Edmonton Oiler.
There are no wrinkles on his face and there is certainly no grey in his hair. There's nothing about Nugent-Hopkins that makes you think age.
In fact, to look at him today and to think back to when he was drafted first overall in 2011, there isn't much that has changed when it comes to RNH and the aging process. He almost looks as young as a 24-year-old man as he did as an 18-year-old teenager. No need for the centreman to worry about any of those anti-aging creams. He's aged very well and so has his game.
When he arrived in Edmonton via Red Deer and a junior hockey stint with the Rebels RNH was all about OFF (offence). It's what you expect when picking first overall. 52 points in 62 games. A likely rookie of the year winner if it wasn't for an awkward fall into the boards in Chicago. It banged up his shoulder and his odds of winning the Calder Trophy. In his follow-up seasons that weren't impacted by lockouts, he had back-to-back 56-point campaigns. An indication he had found his offensive way with room to grow.
However, along the way came Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Both players were game changers who seemingly changed Nugent-Hopkins' game.
Last May when RNH exited Rogers Place for the last time, Todd McLellan and Peter Chiarelli, for the first time, made their point abundantly clear. They liked what Nugent-Hopkins had become in transitioning from a one-way star to a two-way centreman.
However, there was more inside the 6-foot, 191-pound frame to be seen. A return to his rookie ways when it came to point totals. A reminder of why he was drafted ahead of every other eligible player in 2011. It was great that the boy from Burnaby was thinking defence but his bosses and his team needed him to think more about offence. A challenge issued and accepted.
It's retro Ryan we have seen through the first month of the 2017-18 season. From opening puck drop on October 4, through his team's most recent game on November 2nd, RNH's OFF (offence) is back.
Eleven games into the season and he already has five goals. He's tied for the team lead with McDavid. Some quick math puts him on pace to score somewhere between 35 to 40 goals. It would far surpass the 18 he scored last campaign. Even if he doesn't keep up his current pace, it's hard to believe there won't be an improvement.
It's been an evolution for RNH. He knew one thing (putting up points) very well and has put the time in to learn other things about the game: the work it takes to learn your craft in the faceoff circle or the nuances of worrying about other team's top centreman with Pittsburgh and Evgeni Malkin as a perfect example.
He has yet to reach his full potential but hasn't stopped working on getting there. It's an exciting position to be in knowing there is more on the way from someone who still looks like a kid but more and more is playing like a man possessed to prove his worth to the Edmonton Oilers.