Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was added to Team North America last Friday, and you can expect him to face many tough matchups in the tournament. His 313 NHL games are second most on the team (Sean Couturier has played 350), and RNH is looking forward to the opportunity to battle the best-of-the-best this September.
I caught up with the 2011 first overall pick to discuss the World Cup of Hockey, his frustrating season and his thoughts on what his NHL team needs to do to become competitive next season.
Jason Gregor: Have you ever made a team
that you technically didn’t go to camp and try out for?
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: Um… [laughs] I don’t think so, this was a first. It’s a different setup.
Gregor: Who called you when you made the
Nugent-Hopkins: Peter did. It was good to
get a call from him and it’s obviously nice having a familiar face with the GM
and coaching staff.
Gregor: Were you waiting for the phone
call? What were you thinking heading into the final few days before they
announced it on Friday?
Nugent-Hopkins: Maybe a little bit nervous
or something like that. I mean I knew when the announcement was going to get
made, so like everybody else I was just waiting to see what happened. I was
pretty pumped to get the call.
Gregor: The camp starts a little earlier
than NHL camps, so is it much of a change as far as your off-season routine, and
when you’ll want to peak with your training?
Nugent-Hopkins: I think it will change a
little bit for the timing and stuff. I mean sometimes it’s tough to get games,
or game-like situations in summer, so you come into camp in the best shape that
you can and then you play some inter squad games, and then you start to get
your timing down. I assume it’s kind of going to be the same situation with the
World Cup, but I still think that I’m going to try to get some more game-like
situations in before, and get the timing down before I head in. So I think that
side of things is going to be a little different as far as the training, I
think it will stay the same.
Gregor: You’ve played in World Juniors, so in a short tournament like this, is winning less about the system
and more on the pure ability of players?
Nugent-Hopkins: I think a little bit of
both. I think that the quicker you can mesh as a group, the better chances you
have too. I mean, like you said, it’s a bunch of guys who, some guys play
together, but this whole team has never played together before. So you have to
find a way to mesh right away and I think our team is a pretty talented group,
obviously younger guys, but there’s no shortage of talent, so it will be fun to
be a part of. Hopefully we can surprise some people out there.
Gregor: When this format was announced last
September, pretty much everybody had Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as a lock on the team
and there were a lot of people surprised when you didn’t make the original
sixteen man roster. How disappointed were you at that time and how did the
conversation with Peter go?
Nugent-Hopkins: Well, it’s tough not to be
disappointed when you don’t make a team that you’re hoping to get on. I knew
that with the injury and what not, it changed things a little bit. Maybe it
didn’t, but I just wanted to get back as soon and as healthy as I could and
start playing some games and feeling good about my game. I wasn’t playing to
make the team, but at the same time it’s kind of in the back of your mind a
little bit, so I was happy to get some games at the end of the season.
Gregor: For Oilers fans it was eerily similar how you came in as an eighteen year old rookie, had a lot of
success, fifty two points, but unfortunately got injured. Connor McDavid came
in, had a successful season, unfortunately he got injured in between and then
came back, what kind of advice did you give him about dealing with an injury as
an NHL rookie?
Nugent-Hopkins: Yeah, I mean from
experience, like you said, I know it’s tough. You’re so excited to get into
your first season and everything kind of happens leading up to the draft and
then you get in and unfortunately it happened pretty quickly for him. It’s
tough not to get frustrated, but I know a lot of us tried to help him through
it as much as we could. Obviously he’s got a good head on his shoulders so I
don’t think that he got too down about it, but the best thing that you can do
at that time is rest your body and not get too frustrated about it or it just
makes it tougher.
Gregor: I’m guessing this past year was the
most frustrating for you because the team was hoping to take a step, but didn’t.
You were injured, Connor, [Oscar] Klefbom and [Jordan] Eberle were hurt at different times and the full roster never played one game together. Some guys, because of the injuries or
struggles didn’t have the years that they wanted. Was this a more mentally
taxing season on you than the previous ones?
Nugent-Hopkins: I think so. I think when
you have a long injury like I did, it makes it tough no matter what. But like
you said, we had kind of high hopes coming into the season and things didn’t go
our way. I do think that we played better a lot of times than I’ve seen our
group play in my five years there, so there definitely were those positives,
but at the same time, it’s a lot about consistency and finding a way to play
that game night in and night out. There were a lot of one goal games that could
have gone our way but didn’t.
I think as we get older as a group, get
some more experience, those games will start turning for us, but I mean when
things don’t go well as a team, and individually it wasn‘t going great for me
either, and then I got hurt. It was a tough year in a lot of ways, but you try
to just take the positives out and learn from everything that happened.
Gregor: When you talk experience as a
group, because it’s still a relatively young group, especially the guys who
play a significant amount of minutes, and you’re one of those guys, finding
that consistency looks to be the biggest challenge for your collective group. Do
the players who play the most minutes have to find that consistency next year
and how do you find it?
Nugent-Hopkins: Definitely, I think if I
could name one thing it’s just about consistency for us and I think that we
probably got a little bit better at that, but it still wasn’t where it needed
to be this year obviously. Sometimes we look like such a good team, and we play
with the best teams in the league and other times we kind of have a little,
even its it’s just five to ten minutes, lull in our game. It makes a
difference. You can see in the playoffs right now, every team plays hard and
plays the hard way throughout the sixty minutes, so we have to find a way to be
that consistent and I’m definitely going to put a lot of pressure on myself to
play that way every night.
IMPROVING HIS GAME
Gregor: What needs to happen next year for you to have
the best season for you and ultimately help the team become competitive?
Nugent-Hopkins: I have to find a way to
consistently be that two-way centerman that I know I can be. But I have to find
a way to produce offensively at the same time, and be relied upon to go out
there in tough situations and win faceoffs. I believe for a centreman it does start
in the faceoff circle. As the years have gone on I’ve gotten a little bit
better, but I’m still not where I want to be. I think a lot of confidence with
the way that you play with your game starts there (faceoffs) so I’m going to keep
working on them. I think when it starts to click for all of the young guys who
have been around for a long time it’s going to change for the whole group.
Gregor: How do you plan on improving in
Nugent-Hopkins: I think the best way is
just practice over and over again. I mean the best way to improve is by playing
games and being in an actual game situation, but in the summer I’m going to
work on it for sure. I skate a couple of times a week, so there is plenty of
opportunity so it’s something that I’m really going to take pride on this
summer. I need to be quicker and also strategize a bit more.
Gregor: How much stronger do you think you
are on the ice now compared to when you broke in as a rookie, and how much can that
benefit you in the way you play?
Nugent-Hopkins: I think I definitely noticed
a difference over the past year or two. I’ve gotten a bit heavier, but I
definitely think that my strength on the ice has gone up a bit over the past
few years. And like you said, it just comes with time and it just kind of gives
you a little bit more confidence to go out there and to play against those big
bodies. I’m not going to be as big as a lot of guys around the league, but I
can still stand in there with them and win battles in corners and try to be
shifty out there. Added strength definitely gives you some more confidence to
go into those corners and to come out with the puck.
Gregor: You’re not going to be playing Canada in the round robin at the World Cup but if you make the playoffs, there’s a
good chance you will play Canada. Have you thought about that, is it weird?
Nugent-Hopkins: Yeah, I’ve thought about it
a bit. It definitely will be strange. I mean when you play in an international
competition, you’re representing your home country and for me obviously growing
up in Canada I’ve been a huge fan of every tournament they’ve ever been in so it
would be a little bit different but you have to find a way to put that aside
and try to just take them as another team that is trying to beat you.
Gregor: Who are you picking in the Stanley
Nugent-Hopkins: I think for my buddy [Justin
Schultz] Schultzy I’m going to be rooting for Pittsburgh.
It was interesting hearing him discuss how improving his faceoffs will better his overall game. Of course, they would have more possession, but more importantly I think it would give him a more positive frame of mind. It is difficult for any player to have success when they start the shift feeling negative.
He mentioned you need games to improve faceoffs, and that is true in one sense, since Adam Oates believes it comes down to practice, practice, practice, but Oates mentioned thinking faceoffs is highly underrated.
“Much of it is mental. You have to out think your opponent. Know what he his plan and out smart him. You need strength some times, and great hand-eye in others, but thinking faceoffs is an art that many don’t master,” Oates said.
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