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Oilers Nugent-Hopkins skates, return still unclear

by Derek Van Diest / Edmonton Oilers

EDMONTONRyan Nugent-Hopkins skated with the Edmonton Oilers in a non-contact jersey on Thursday.

Just having the third-year center on the ice was good news for the club after undergoing shoulder surgery in April.

"It feels good, it's nice to able to be on the ice skating with the guys right now," Nugent-Hopkins said after the Oilers first on-ice session of training camp. "I'm involved quite a bit, so it's good. There has been a lot of rehab and stuff, but it feels good so far."

Nugent-Hopkins is not expected to be ready by the first game of the regular season. Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish said the first pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, probably would not be available until November.

"I'm not too sure when I'll be ready, I can't say," Nugent-Hopkins said. "I'll know over the next few weeks. I'll definitely get a good feel for it, skating with the guys and talking to doctors and stuff. We'll see. We just have to make sure that it gets back to 100% and I'm ready to go."

Nugent-Hopkins originally injured his left shoulder, stumbling into the boards in Chicago during his rookie season.

He returned to the lineup that season, finished with 18 goals and 52 points in 62 games and was named as a Calder Trophy finalist.

Last season, Nugent-Hopkins started the lockout-shortened year with the Oilers' AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City, and then went to represent Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championships in Russia.

Nugent-Hopkins returned to the Oilers lineup following the lockout, but struggled as pain in his shoulder flared up. The Oilers decided to shut Nugent-Hopkins down for the season and have him undergo surgery once it became apparent the club was not going to qualify for the playoffs. He finished with four goals and 20 assists in 40 games and has spent all of the off-season rehabilitating.

"It wasn't too bad, I could pretty much train my lower body right away, I just had to be careful with the upper body," Nugent-Hopkins said. "I've just been able to work the upper body the last couple of months. Now it's a matter of ramping up the strength and in the last couple of months, it's been really ramping up.

"It feels good and I really don't feel like I've missed too much on training this summer, because I still got to do a lot."

To fill the void Nugent-Hopkins leaves at center, the Oiler will experiment by moving Taylor Hall into the middle. Once Nugent-Hopkins returns, Hall is expected to go back to left wing.

"I think he'll be good, he's a good face-off man to start with, which is huge," Nugent-Hopkins said. "He's a smart player and he'll be able to pick it up right away. If I can help him out a bit with little tips and things like that, I sure will, but think he'll do a good job."

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