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Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: “It’s nice to have some fresh faces and some positive energy coming in”

On Thursday afternoon, it was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ turn to jump on a conference call with the media to field questions about how he’s spending time in quarantine, finishing the season in the summer, and what it’s been like playing on the wing with Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto.

QUARANTINE LIFE

To kick things off, Nuge’s conference call started in the same way that they all do with a confirmation of where he’s at and how he’s spending the time in house arrest.

“I’m still in Edmonton right now. I have a house here so it’s been easy. Just been kinda locked in the house for a few weeks now so I’m just doing the same as everyone else.

Socially responsible Nuge! But normally you’d be out on the road and getting ready to play so this whole thing has gotta be boring, right? What have you been doing to pass the time?

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“I work out as much as possible but it’s been a lot of Netflix and a lot of movies.”

Have you watched Tiger King, yet? Carole Baskin totally killed her husband allegedly in my opinion, right? And what’s the deal with Jeff Lowe? That guy has lost the plot for sure! Ahhhhhh I guess we won’t spoil anything for those that haven’t had a chance to watch it yet. Aside from Netflix, what’s been filling your days?

“I’ve been cooking a lot more actually, which is something I don’t do a whole lot of – especially during the season.”

Oh yeah? What’s Chef Nuge whipping up? Personally, I’ve been eating beans straight out of the can. It doesn’t taste all that great but I’m keeping my fibre in check, ya know?

I’ve been cooking lunches and dinners, which is a little unusual for me, so that’s something I’ve kind of always wanted to get more into. Right now I have lots of time. So both of us — my wife and I — are trying to come up with some more creative dishes to try out right now.”

Learning to cook is an excellent skill to establish during this lockdown because I think there are going to be half of us that learn how to do it and the other half will claim that eating a sleeve of Oreos counts as dinner. From what I can see, there is no middle ground here. We must all choose a side and I’m glad that you’re looking at the healthier of the two options.

What about staying in shape? That has to be tough when you’re trapped in the house.

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 “I get up, try to get a workout in, walk my dog, Soph. I know she’s the only one that’s probably happy that the whole quarantine thing is going on.”

I’m a dog guy too and my man, Frank, has been loving our afternoon naps and sleep-in sessions.

“I’ve been sleeping later than I would during the regular season for sure.”

Listen, I’ve been drinking Righand Double Double and coffee almost every morning so I wouldn’t go beating yourself up about sleeping in a little bit. Rest is important, ya know? I just read the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker and it taught me that we should all be taking every opportunity to get more sleep. Besides, we all need ways to get through the day. Anything else you’re doing?

“Trying to stay as active as possible by getting the workouts in and taking (the dog) out.”

THE ROOM

One thing I was hoping to get some clarity on is in regards to the success the team was having this year. In Alex Chiasson’s conference call, he mentioned that off-ice stuff can be just as important to a team’s success as what the public sees during the games. How has the vibe changed from this year over last?

“I think the dynamic itself in the room does change with new guys coming in. “

Go on.

“I think having those older voices speaking up in the room goes a long way, and having fresh guys in that have played on winning teams before changes the mentality.”

It’s almost like some of the new guys have brought in a little bit of… *puts sunglasses on* swagger?

“It’s nice to have some fresh faces and some positive energy coming in after a couple of off years.”

Oh, Nuge, you cryptic genius! While I wish you would elaborate on what exactly you mean by this, I know that it was never going to happen on a public conference call like this one, so I’ll switch gears.

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After shuffling to the wing at the end of 2019, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins put up an incredible 15 goals and 26 assists for 41 points in 30 games before the league was forced to shut down, becoming the NHL’s fifth-most productive forward since December 31. When asked about his success on the wing, Nuge talked a little bit about the differences between playing there as opposed to down the middle.

“I think it changes your game a little bit. I did have some experience in the past couple of years going on the wing too, so that helped me kind of adjust. But I think overall, it does open up a little bit more offensively for you.”

If you were to boil it down for us, what’s the biggest difference between the two positions?

“When you’re a centre, you always have to make sure you’re coming back and playing deep in your own zone. You’re kind of catching up to the rush more so coming out of the defensive zone and transitioning to offence, whereas on the wing, you’re usually leading with the puck or at least supporting the guy who’s leading the puck. So as soon as we get it, we have that offensive mindset.”

I’m just happy that people finally got to see you playing at your best on the offensive side of the puck, especially after the slow start to the season that was a result of the hand issues you were working through.

“And I obviously got to play with Leo and Yamo and we got some chemistry going right away. It was definitely a lot of fun, and I think it kind of did open up things more offensively for me.”

I think it goes without saying that this line was one of the best in the NHL and other teams were having a really hard time keep you guys off the board. Speaking of your linemates, we all know what Leon Draisaitl can do, the dude is a warlord that will not be stopped, but what about Kailer Yamamoto? After being recalled, he really seemed to be the straw that stirred the drink for you guys.

“The way that he goes and gets pucks and he’s not afraid to go into the corners with anybody. I mean, he battled with Chara and there’s an obvious size mismatch there. He wants to win the puck battles.”

For being fun-sized, Yamamoto seems like the kind of guy that is always willing to fight above his weight class and it’s been a lot of fun to watch.

“When you play with him for an extended period of time you don’t always know how it’s going to go, but I’ve been so impressed with him.”

As always, I agree with you completely.

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SUMMER HOCKEY

Over the past few weeks, we’ve read all kinds of thoughts and ideas about how the NHL could finish up the season, have playoffs, and award the Stanley Cup, but Nugent-Hopkins was a realist when asked about the rest of the year and how things may play out.

“That’s tough. Obviously, there has been speculation — I’m sure everyone has heard it — about playing late into the summer, but we still don’t know if we’d finish the regular season or some of the regular season or go straight into the playoffs.”

To be honest, Nuge, thinking months down the road feels like a pipe dream seeing as the news can change so drastically on a daily basis, ya know?

“At this point, it’s kinda hard to wrap your head around it because we’re taking it week by week and day by day.”

How dare you take a common sense approach to this issue when all we want is to be filled with hope regardless of how far fetched it may be!? Sorry, I’m having a weird day.

“We want to get back to it, but it’s tough to speculate right now. It’s the start of April and it seems like a long way away right now, but we just gotta take it day by day, I guess.”

All I know is that with each passing day, we’re one day closer to seeing you boys back on the ice and I think that’s a moment we’re all looking forward to.

WATCH THE FULL CONFERENCE CALL

Like the others, Nuge’s full call came in at just under 15 minutes so there was plenty that I didn’t transcribe, including his thoughts on horse racing, exceptional status in the WHL, and a lot more. If you’re looking for a way to kill a few minutes of your day then the RNH call is definitely worth watching. You should also check out the really kind gesture that Nuge did for an 85-year-old fan that really seems to have flown under the radar.

PREVIOUS CONFERENCE CALLS