You only get one chance to make a first impression. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made good and sent the crowd home happy.
Watching Ryan Nugent-Hopkins last night, I came away with a somewhat different view of him as a hockey player. Early on, the passes to and from linemates didn’t connect well but he still found a way to be a useful player. I’d noticed in previous viewings that he had very good puck pursuit on the backcheck, but last night he (and linemate Jaden Schwarz) were demons on the forecheck. That line had the added advantage of human cannonball Devante Smith-Pelly, but the trio was limited offensively save for a couple of impressive rushes from the ANA draft pick (Smith-Pelly).
RNH made up for it by winning faceoffs, playing effectively on the PK (I didn’t see him get any PP time) and the ability to play through what was a pretty filthy bunch of stick work and physical intimidation for an exhibition game. Team White played against some tall trees on team Red (notably Gudbranson, Gormley and Oleksiak) and some of the smaller forwards found the going rough (I didn’t see anyone shy away, though. Some gumption on both sides of the puck).
The two goals RNH scored were the kinds of counters that only very skilled players score. The first was a ridiculous backhand from the scoring zone (slot, just above the blue ice) in which the player threw the puck blindside to an area and found twine (this is exactly the type of thing he-who-cannot-be-named did many times in the same building).
The second goal was more impressive because it showed quickness and a very good shot. RNH–as he often does–stayed on the play and when the first attempt was foiled found a seam (again similar to the type of thing he-who-cannot-be-named did many times in the same building) and ripped a quick shot behind the goalie.
WHERE YOU THERE?
I mentioned yesterday that going to the game would give you a chance to start the "trunks of memories" for the RNH era. Of course, he’s going to share this "era" with Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi and others; last night I got the feeling that it’s going to be hard to send this young man back down Highway 2.
Because all of us want to take charge of a game late when things are on the line. Few of us are gifted enough to follow through and make it happen. That kind of player is very special.
Who does he remind you of?
First, remember that I’m old. Second, I was very impressed with his play away from the puck last night. He wasn’t getting a lot done with the puck but his pursuit on the forecheck, his PK plays, the faceoffs and his overall positioning were top drawer. The kid is exceptional, and I can see why the Pavel Datsyuk comparisons have been made.
Last night–when he scored those two goals–he reminded me of Steve Shutt. The reason? Shutt had a midas touch around the net and had the same kind of quick release we saw on the second goal. Shutt was also an exceptional as a two-way winger. Anyway, our minds fall back to our strongest memories and I’m certain Datsyuk is a more reliable (and more recent) comp. But Steve Shutt is the memory that came rolling in, so thought I’d mention it.