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PRINCIPE: Ryan with a 'Nuge' Return

by Gene Principe / Edmonton Oilers
- Photo by Andy Devln | Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club

First game first star. No big deal for Ryan Nugent Hopkins who made his return to the Edmonton lineup on Monday night. He was part of a miraculous comeback and in fact he was the one who started it. If RNH hadn't scored that first goal who knows if there would have been any other goals scored by Edmonton. Hard not to be excited about the two comebacks we witnessed at Rexall Place. One by the team and one by the team's top centreman. I guess you could say both were a little unexpected.

It was a shocker when Dallas Eakins announced on Friday that Ryan Nugent Hopkins would play on Monday. It was weeks ahead of the believed schedule that Nugent-Hopkins wouldn't be back until November 1st. Instead the youngest looking face of the franchise would only miss two games. A measly two games seemed like nothing considering when last season ended RNH was in a sling. His season cut eight games short. The last time he played was April 19th. It was the 23rd when he had his shoulder operated on and October 7th marked his return.

I'll be honest with you as long as RNH didn't get hurt I would have considered his return a success. Remember he had been dealing with shoulder problems since he was 16. It became a bigger issue when in his rookie season he ran into the boards and lost that battle. He hurt himself again that same season and by the end missed 20 games and missed out on the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. The next season was barely underway and one of the Sedins(I still can't tell them apart) brought the centreman down to the ice and the shoulder problem was back or maybe it never left. RNH played 40 games last season. For how many do you think he was near 100%? Not many would be my best guess.

Monday night he looked like the kid they call 'Nuge'. Swift on his skates, slashing with his style, deft at passing, throwing in a goal and a 50% performance in the faceoff circle.. All while not shying away from any kind of contact. He looked comfortable being back on the blades and knowing his shoulder was as good if not better than before. He wasn't exactly eased into his return. It wasn't spot shifting with a little time on the powerplay. By the time RNH's night was done he should have slept like a baby after a 28 minute 12 second performance. He played more than anyone on either team.

If you look at recent Stanley Cup Champions they've all had at least one potentially dominant centreman. Chicago Jonathan Toews, LA Anze Kopitar, Pittsburgh Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin, Detroit Pavel Datsyuk /Henrik Zetterberg. While it was only one night it looks like Edmonton has their top centreman back in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Gene Principe is the host of Oilers broadcasts on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Oilers.

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