The Oilers centre sustained a rib injury on Jan. 13, against the Vegas Golden Knights, missing the past 18 games. Prior to being sidelined, Nugent-Hopkins was playing with confidence, tallying 16 goals and 15 assists in 46 games. He still sits third on the team in scoring.
"He was having one of his best offensive seasons in a long time," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "Part of that was because he added a little bit of risk to his game."
Nugent-Hopkins said himself that he was feeling determined before being injured. He's come back from injuries in the past and believes the first game back is easier than the second.
"When you start feeling good like that, it's definitely tough to get an injury and miss as many games as I did," he said.
McLellan isn't expecting Nugent-Hopkins to produce at the same form as he did before his ribs were cracked but would like to see RNH continue taking calculated risks that could lead to offence.
"He's such a responsible player that he always seemed to be on the defensive side," said McLellan. "It felt like he was taking more risk and being more productive with it. We need him to get back to that. To expect him to go out and lead the team right now and be the go-to guy is tough after he's been out."
RNH was between Michael Cammalleri and Pontus Aberg at the morning skate.
"I watched a couple games with Bergy (Aberg) now," said Nugent-Hopkins. "I won't know his game until I get out there and start playing with him. I know he's got a good shot - both those guys actually have a good shot - so I'll be trying to find them both tonight."
Of course, there's always a bit of a boost to the dressing room any time a key player returns from injury. That's the case with Nugent-Hopkins.
"Having a guy like that come back, it's a huge help," said Jujhar Khaira. "He's been a piece that's been missing. Whenever he's playing, it makes it a lot easier for everyone else on the ice."
For young centres on the team - like Khaira - Nugent-Hopkins is a model for playing the pivot position.
"Just his defensive game - everybody knows his offensive game is so strong - but something that gets passed up is his defensive game," Khaira, who is centring the Oilers fourth line tonight, said.
"I watch him play very close when I'm on the bench. He rarely makes mistakes."
Nugent-Hopkins' projected winger Cammalleri shared a similar sentiment.
"He's a player that plays the whole game and provides a lot of stability up the middle for this team," he said. "Everybody's anxious to have him back."
Tonight's game is the second and final meeting between the Oilers and Rangers in the 2017-18 campaign. The two clubs previously met on Nov. 11 in New York.
The Blueshirts doubled up on the Oil, beating the club 4-2. Former Ranger Nash tallied twice for New York, while netminder Henrik Lundqvist posted a 27-save performance. Connor McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi scored for Edmonton.
Oilers team scope:
For the fourth time in the past six games, the Oilers were unable to maintain a two-goal lead Thursday when they hosted the Nashville Predators. Oilers Captain Connor McDavid opened the scoring but the Preds rallied with four unanswered to defeat Edmonton 4-2.
"We need to find ways to win," said defenceman Darnell Nurse of the trend. "That's important, especially over the last week."
Edmonton is on a two-game losing streak and is 4-6-0 in their last 10 games.
Rangers team scope:
The Rangers - now without forwards Rick Nash, J.T Miller, Michael Grabner and defenceman Ryan McDonagh - have welcomed recently acquired skaters Vladislav Namestnikov, Ryan Spooner, defender Rob O'Gara and a plethora of young prospects to the room amid its remodel.
The club is on a western Canada road swing, which started against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday. The Rangers topped Calgary 3-1 on Friday, getting goals from Kevin Hayes and Spooner.
New York defeated the Canucks 6-5 in OT, as John Gilmour sniped the winner off a perfect backhand feed from Spooner.
By the Numbers:
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sits third in goals on the Oilers with 16 in 46 games this season. The forward's 16 tucks have come from 106 shots, with his shooting percentage being second-best on the club at 15.1 percent.
Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins all lead the team in power-play goals with four.
The Oilers are atop the NHL in hits with 1,726.
Spooner has one goal and six assists with New York so far - becoming the first Blueshirt to dish at least six helpers in his first three games with the club. He's also first Ranger to record multi-point outings in each of his opening three games.
The New York Rangers lead the League in giveaways with 836 but are fourth in takeaways with 564.
Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Shattenkirk lead the Rangers in all-time points versus Edmonton with four goals and seven assists apiece.
OILERS - Adam Larsson (personal) is day-to-day; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (ribs) is on IR.
RANGERS - Kevin Shattenkirk (torn meniscus) is on IR; Ondrej Pavelec (sprained MCL) is on IR; Steven Kampfer (fractured hand) is on IR.