BLOG: Nugent-Hopkins enjoying the short summer

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EDMONTON, Alta. – It’s not often that a short summer vacation is positive, but for Ryan Nugent Hopkins and the Oilers, it couldn’t be short enough.

“It’s been the shortest summer I’ve had so far and that’s a good thing,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “I know the buzz around the venue is the excitement and we can’t wait to get going.”

There are plenty of reasons to be excited for the people of Oil Country. Last season’s trip to the Western Conference Finals was the deepest Nugent-Hopkins and the Oilers have had in the playoffs in his 11 NHL seasons. The forward has witnessed a myriad of highlights and low lights over the past decade, but excitement and optimism are brimming with such a talented and now playoff-hardened group entering training camp 2022 Oilers.

“If you look through the roster, like you said, I think we’re as deep as any team I’ve ever been on,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “We keep improving and gaining experience. The more we play together, the more we learn from each other and want to keep growing as a group.”

Video: RAW | Ryan Nugent Hopkins 09.12.22

For Nugent-Hopkins, the short summer hasn’t hindered off-season work. The disappointment of the 2017-18 season is still very fresh in the minds of many of the Oilers’ oldest players. Edmonton was full of expectations after narrowly falling to the Anaheim Ducks in emotional fashion in the second round of the 2017 NHL playoffs. Nugent-Hopkins was a member of the young team that was not in able to meet the weight of next season’s expectations, as the Oilers finished with a 36-40-6 record and failed to qualify for the playoffs.

Now the team is a little older, a little wiser, and the anticipation of this year’s goals and the work that goes with it is embraced by the dressing room.

“I think we have experience now. We’ve learned from that,” Nugent-Hopkins said of the difference between this Oilers team and past ones. “The year before last we got swept away (by Winnipeg) and we came back and we wanted more. We want to keep getting better and better.”

“We can’t take anything for granted,” he continued. “It’s a tough league to qualify for the playoffs. It’s going to be month by month here and you need a good start. The buzz right now is positive and exciting and we really want to get back out there. “

Video: [email protected], Gm1: Nugent-Hopkins buries a power play goal

For Nuge, there was a single point of contention close to his heart in his personal game and it was one that had always been considered one of his strengths – his shooting. When he was drafted first overall by the Red Deer Rebels in 2011, the young center was well regarded for his underhanded exit and precise puck placement. The 29-year-old used that shot to rack up 196 goals in 716 NHL games throughout his professional career, averaging 11.5% shooting percentage over that span.

Last season was different. Nugent-Hopkins saw that average drop to 7.1%, the lowest since his sophomore season and only the third time in 11 seasons that his shooting percentage has been below double digits.

“At this point, I’m still trying to complete my game every year. I think the thing you can work on a lot is your shooting,” Nugent-Hopkins said of his off-season goals. “Last year I wasn’t too happy with how I was producing with my shooting percentage, so I worked on that and brought it back to where I’m confident. That’s the main thing on which I focused.”

Now the focus is on training camp and the season ahead. The constant drive to improve should be a theme for an Oilers roster ready to make another run. Last season’s trip to the Western Conference Finals represents both motivation and unfinished business for the 11-year veteran.

“The goal is the Stanley Cup. I think every team you ask will say the same thing,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “After the season, only one team is really happy. You’re happy and you gain some confidence by stepping forward and going into the back four. It was a good step for us and we’re happy we did it, but there’s more to do and that’s obviously the goal.”

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