THE RIGHT STUFF: R N-H ONE COOL CUSTOMER

Spend a few minutes talking to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins outside the bustle of the daily scrums that have become his routine, and it’s difficult not to come away as impressed with him off the ice as on it.

Given how good Nugent-Hopkins has been at his first training camp with the Edmonton Oilers, and how it looks like he’s on his way to a claiming a season-opening roster spot well before he shaves for the first time in his life, that’s saying a mouthful.

While fans are giddy at what they’ve seen from Nugent-Hopkins this pre-season, the baby-faced 18-year-old pivot from the Red Deer Rebels is a picture of composure and understatement.

Short on bravado and long on aw-shucks is Nugent-Hopkins, who awoke Wednesday morning to rave reviews after scoring a goal and adding two assists on a line with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle in a 3-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes, giving him 1-5-6 in four pre-season games.

Not prone to an inflated cranium, this kid.

KIDS IN THE HALL

Just a couple of examples of what was out there this morning when Nugent-Hopkins and the Oilers filed into Rexall Place for a noon-hour skate. Over at the broadsheet, The Journal’s John Mackinnon wrote:

"They will score, these young Edmonton Oilers. That’s obvious. Not only that, the gifted likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will swash, they will buckle, they’ll sizzle, they’ll dance, they’ll drive the net, they’ll lift the Rexall Place faithful out of their seats early and often this season."

Equally impressed was Terry Jones at The Sun, who chimed in with:

"It was a line which looked, only moments after it came together, like it could live happily ever after. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made magic with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle as coach Tom Renney decided to go forward to the future and the kid basically served notice he’s not going to be easy to ship back to his past.

"Forget about it Red Deer? Play on Rebels? You’ve seen the last of the No. 1 pick in the NHL Entry Draft? How do you send the kid back to junior after that performance?"

How, indeed.

TAKING IT ALL IN

If Nugent-Hopkins is a pumped as he has to be at the prospect of cracking an NHL line-up, he’s doing a masterful job of hiding it publicly. No swagger. None. Not a trace of Rob Schremp in him.

"I came in here and I just wanted to play my game and try to earn a spot on this team," Nugent-Hopkins told me matter-of-factly. "I feel like I’ve definitely played my game as well as I could right now.

"I’m happy with the way things have gone. This week will be the last chance before the regular season to kind of prove myself a little bit more. I’m just going to do everything I can. Just play my game."

Nugent-Hopkins just smiled when asked about what’s been written and said about him.

"The coaches told me that the only thing I have to do is play my game and they’re going to give me a good opportunity here," he said. "I feel like I’ve done that. I just want to keep it going and make it a tough decision on the coaches."

LEVEL-HEADED

Surely Nugent-Hopkins must allow himself a fist-pump here or there behind closed doors, given how well he’s performed with the eyes of an entire organization on him, no? You can tell me, kid . . .

"Obviously, I’m extremely excited about the opportunity I have, but I’m trying to just take it day by day," Nugent-Hopkins said as he peeled off his gear in a near-empty dressing room.

"If I get too high or too low, then things can go bad, so I’m just trying to keep level-headed here and have fun with it."

Nugent-Hopkins is at a stage where he’d rather have fun with it than talk about having fun with it, which is to be expected for a kid yet to play his first regular season NHL game. Better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way around, after all.

The right stuff. The right words.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • @Gongshow

    During the preseason Carlyle has been using Cogs on the wing with Selanne on the other wing and it has been working as their speed has been killing.
    If they keep this line up I see Cogs getting a few points. Trouble with Gagner is he has never gelled with any particular line mates since Cogs and Nillson.
    @ Robin who do you think would compliment Gagner as line mates?

  • smiliegirl15

    Cogliano may have not been someone who makes the players around him better but I think having stronger linemates will make all his hard work pay off.

    I think Cogliano will have the better year.

    • Kodiak

      And Vinny is physical, wins faceoffs and is solid defensively. There is a lot more to the game of hockey than points and the problem with Gagner is he doesn’t possess any of them.

      If Cogs had Gagner’s linemates, icetime and PP time he’d already have outscored Gagner. Cogs played 135 more even strength minutes and 120 less PP minutes than Gagner and only scored 7 pts less than Gagner last year. I don’t even think it will be close this year, mainly because I see Cogs playing a lot more games.

        • melancholyculkin

          Not exactly sure how “playing with actual NHL players” wins faceoffs, and I’d wait until the regular season before jumping on that bandwagon if I were you. My bet is is more of the same in Anaheim – point every 2-3 games, 40% or worse on the dot. Good riddance! We have better things to talk about now.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    The Gagner vs. Cogliano debate will depend on Sam’s ability to stay healthy. Yes, Cogs will get more opportunities than he had here but if Gagner finds himself between combos like Smyth and Hemsky or Hall and Eberle this season then he’s bound to get close to 50 points. Then again, Cogliano could have a 20+ goal season if he is not expected to carry the puck but rather just go to the net and use his speed to get to the right places on the ice.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    Cogliano vs. Gagner is a sucker’s bet… Why the ex-Oiler curse guarantees Cogs is good for 10 goals, 12 assists against the Oil alone this year, doesn’t it??? If Gagner’s going to have any hope of keeping pace with that we’ll have to trade him within the division so he can beat up on us 6 times instead of 4…

  • Little Buttcheeks

    ….great kid and he’s gonna be a great player. has all the tools along with the toolbox…would be VERY disappointed to see him sent back. he doesnt have anything left to accomplish back in the “w”. cant wait to watch him play for the next 10 years!

  • melancholyculkin

    Under the salary cap, the only way to compete is to have players that either provide value for their cap hit, or outperform their cap hit.

    The simplest way to do this is to have talented young players on ELCs.

    From a management perspective, players aren’t players. They are cap hits and contract lengths. Sorry if that seems a little cold, but it’s the reality.

    Sit Hopkins down and explain to him that there is a plan. Explain to him that the goal is to make a deep run in 2013-14 or 21014-15 or whenever.

    Explain to him that Hemsky, Gagner and Omark all need new contracts this summer and are all going to be requiring raises.

    Explain that Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, Petry and Whitney are going to need new contracts in two years time.

    Explain to him that in order to make a run in spring of 2014 they are going to need to keep all those players, or replace them with someone of equal or greater value.

    Explain to him that the CBA expires this season and nobody is quite sure what the landscape will look like in fall of 2012.

    Tell him how great he is, how much they love him, how good the team is going be in a few years, give him his $93 000 signing bonus and send him on his way.

    I’m pretty sure Hopkins’ ego can handle it.

    • melancholyculkin

      How academic of you. Yes, from a “management perspective . . .” What a concise and obviously sensible approach. Agreed, one must plan for the cup run of 2014 because we all know it’s going to work out exactly that way.

      Good grief.

      • melancholyculkin

        The Oilers are rebuilding. That means they are looking to win at a later date. This involves more than simply sucking and drafting high. A proper rebuild should involve managing the cap 3 or 4 years down the road.

        So yes, if the Oilers goal is to make a run in 2014, and then be competitive for the forseeable future after this date, then they should plan accordingly. This means managing the Salary Cap in order to make this feasible.

        Cramming a bunch of talented kids on ELCs, and wasting their value years in the process, and hoping that they become a good team is not good management.

        As far as I can tell this is the Oilers strategy.

    • melancholyculkin

      No matter whether his ego can take it or not, the gist of your explanation is that “we want to pay the others before we play you”.

      If he does everything to make the team and gives no compelling reason to cut him, you want to trot out some of the names on your list and explain why the need to pay them in the future is sending him down to junior? Omark hasn’t even earned a raise yet and Petry may not crack the lineup out of camp himself this year. Any potential components in the AHL right now who’s future contract concerns will take precedence? Be sure to mention those ones to him as well. It will only help him understand.

      If he proves himself NHL ready and you send him to the dub, you’re telling him you don’t want him as a part of the growth and rebuild, but its okay if he jumps on a moving train later and comes along for the ride.

      He may not say it to the media, but he’ll probably take your explanation in the worst possible way. And if he doesn’t, his agent will, and will surely bring it up at some point. That too will be “just business”.

      • melancholyculkin

        Players get held back for contractual reasons all the time. It’s part of the business reality of sports.

        Evan Longoria was held back but still signed a long term deal. Spezza was sent back to junior and has signed multiple contracts with the Sens. Bobby Ryan was sent back to junior twice, and then to the AHL, but still signed.

        Why did all of these guys sign instead of trying to screw the organization that “held them back”? They thought they had a chance to win.

        If sending Hopkins back to junior for another year gives the Oilers a better shot at being in a position to win in a couple years, as I believe it does, then any sort of hurt feelings Hopkins may have will be washed away by the knowledge that he is playing for a good team with a legitimate chance to win.

        Where is the evidence that spending an extra year in junior is going to harm RNH’s development in any way?

    • melancholyculkin

      “I’m pretty sure Hopkins’ ego can handle it.”

      You are “pretty sure” because . . .? You’ve talked to Nugent-Hopkins? You’ve talked to his agent?

      I wonder if there’s room to doubt and dispute the surety of your assumptions here.

      — Give him his $93,000 signing bonus and send him on his way?
      Sounds like great cake for an 18-year-old, but might Nugent-Hopkins have a problem with that knowing he could earn 10 times that in salary alone or more than 40 times that amount this season if he trips all his bonus triggers?

      — Might Nugent-Hopkins and his ego have a problem with your logical approach if he’s proven beyond any doubt he’s ready to play in the NHL (and earn that money) and his GM has put a big-picture plan for 2014 ahead of that? “Sorry, kid. It’s for the greater good. This is a business, you know? You’ll have to deal with it.”

      A detached, all-business, here’s-the-facts bottom-line approach has its place. Accounting departments and business offices are full of analysts and bean-counters who make valuable contributions to their companies and are paid well for doing so.

      There’s also a reason why it’s prudent keep them as far down the hall as possible and away from the reception area and coffee room, thus avoiding that uncomfortable human interaction thing. You know, dealing with anything not found in a database or on a balance sheet. That, after all, can be so perplexing, confounding and convoluted — like, for example, dealing with teenaged hockey players.

      I’m pretty sure that, while you might have a firm grasp of the “management perspective” as it regards the hard, fast bottom line, you don’t have the first clue (or regard) for the other side of the equation — the people you call “assets.”

      • melancholyculkin

        Not to mention the fans, who ultimately pay everyones salary. Do I really have to watch Gilbert Brule instead of RNH for a season because it makes “good business sense” in the long run?

        • melancholyculkin

          Get serious, Doug. The smart people are going to get really pissed off. You want to drag consideration of the players AND the fans into this equation? What are you thinking?

          • melancholyculkin

            You’re right. How foolish of me.I often hear knowledgable hockey people talking about the “business of hockey” yet I am struck by how clueless they are about what they think is being sold and what the customers(ie., the fans) are actually buying. If I want to watch a well run business I’ll drive out to the airport and watch Westjet planes take off and land. But I doubt I’ll do that 42 times in the middle of an Edmonton winter. What gets me out to the rink is something far different, far more difficult to articulate, than an accountant’s bottom line.

      • melancholyculkin

        Hey, I resemble those remarks!
        I may be an analyst/bean-counter, but even I think RNH should play this year. Often the most important assets a balance sheet has are the intangibles.

        I admit I’m the bleakest, most pessimistic Oilers fan these boards may ever see, but I have a heart! Or at least, my doctor likes to listen for one once in a while…

        • melancholyculkin

          True. I should use a *

          *Not all bean-counters and analysts are heartless, soul-less, detached and incapable of social interaction because they got their heads flushed in the toilet too many times during PE class or after band practice in high school and have retreated to the sanctuary offered by the little office at the end of the hall. There is some variance.

  • melancholyculkin

    Are you guys familiar with Arbitrage? It’s the practice of buying one asset for less than it is worth, while selling another asset for more than it is worth.

    Delaying the clock on Hopkins’ contract meets the first part of that definition. Until RNH plays more than 9 NHL games, the Oilers have not “bought him”. As soon as he plays that tenth game his contract kicks in and the Oilers have to begin paying him for his services. Purchasing him, if you will.

    Not only have they bought Hopkins for that season, but for the next 3. At a fixed price of $3.75 million.

    I think it is likely that Hopkins at 23 is going to be better than Hopkins at 21. If, by delaying Hopkins’ start in the NHL, his 23 year old season occurs while he is making $3.75 million then the Oilers have essentially bought him for more than he is worth.

    • melancholyculkin

      If we were waiting for RNH to be perfect for working a deskjob in a cubicle your scenario would be flawless. Otherwise I don’t agree.

      Hockey players don’t exist in a vacuum and they don’t develop in one either. They don’t all appreciate in value if you just leave them on the shelf for long enough. They are influenced by and likewise have an impact on their teammates’ play and development. Where is the evidence to suggest the progress he can make in the WHL is equivalent to the progress he can make in the NHL?

      Comparing 23-year old RNH to 21-year old RNH is pure speculation if the development tracks they’ve taken are different, and how do you determine whether the difference between two future imaginary RNH’s is worth the differential in contract amounts? His second contract amount is also speculation. You’re dealing with a boatload of variables! I suspect you trade options or futures?

      You can manage contracts all you want but sooner or later you have to manage people. If he proves he’s ready, and all we have to send him down is the contract argument, I hope we have some bloody convincing charts to show him.

      As for smoothing things over with a “run at a cup”… There’s no way to project or quantify that the oilers have any more shot at a cup 3 years out from now than at least 15 other teams in the league whether we manage RNH’s ELC or not. If we’re going to use that as a carrot, we better hope we can deliver. We have yet to prove we’re better than 30th.