2011 NHL Entry Draft - Portraits

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins showed promise during Young Stars game on Sunday

Rookie camps and prospect tournaments provide young players with solid first opportunities to further their causes going into regular training camp, the preseason and maybe even the regular season. When the Edmonton Oilers made Ryan Nugent-Hopkins the first pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, many remarked that the undersized center might need at least one more season at the junior level before he’s ready for the big time.

While RNH is already taking steps to add some weight to his frame (one of the concerns scouts expressed about his NHL-readiness), the best way for him to prove that he’s ready for an immediate jump is to impress the Oilers as much as possible. That’s especially true regarding how he fares against direct competition.

Sunday’s Young Stars game against Vancouver Canucks prospects represented Nugent-Hopkins’ first chance to show his stuff. The Oilers crushed the Canucks 7-2, with the playmaker earning a second assist. Swedish prospect Anton Lander stole the show with two power-play goals, but various onlookers seemed to come away pretty impressed with Nugent-Hopkins.

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Going forward, Peter Tessier wrote that Nugent-Hopkins “looks as advertised” while Ryan Classic believes that the rookie showed “incredible passing poise.” Thomas Drance also marveled at his playmaking instincts and said he was “just fun to watch.”

Obviously, one game against mostly non-NHL competition isn’t a proper gauge for Nugent-Hopkins chances of making the team, but it never hurts to show some signs of promise. While Ian Walker’s piece begins with discussion about the fact that Nugent-Hopkins might not look the part, it seems like the Oilers like what they’ve seen so far.

If anything, Nugent-Hopkins is student of the game. His combination of vision, creativity, skating and playmaking ability put him arguably at the top of the class when it comes to the 150 or so other prospects gathered here.

It’s no wonder his potential future Oilers teammates have him penciled in on the second line to start the regular season. “From what I hear from the guys on the team he’s been skating with for the past few weeks, he’s definitely ready to make the jump from junior skill-wise,” said Oilers’ former first overall pick Taylor Hall, who just so happened to use last year’s Young Stars tournament as a springboard to future success. “I haven’t seen him yet, but I guess it’s just amazing with what he can do with the puck. As long as he can handle the expectations, pressure and media, which I have no doubts that he can, he’s going to be fine.”

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“I’ll tell you what I told Ryan, this is not a race,” said Tambellini. “We want training camp to be a learning experience and for him to just be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nothing more, nothing less. If he plays this year great. If he goes back to Red Deer, that’s also great.”

My instinct is usually to lean toward allowing players as much time to mature as possible, especially since dirt-cheap entry-level years can really benefit teams in the salary cap era. Why waste one of those precious bargain years if that player isn’t ready yet? (That being said, it’s pretty tough to argue with the results that Jeff Skinner produced right out of the gate in his Calder Trophy 2010-11 season.)

It should be interesting to watch Nugent-Hopkins’ ups and downs as he tries to make the Oilers roster out of training camp. The adept passer will get his next chance to “Wow” the Oilers’ brass on Tuesday, when Edmonton’s prospects takes on Winnipeg Jets youngsters. We’ll keep you updated about his progress, especially during key moments in training camp and the preseason.

Penguins push Capitals to brink of elimination with OT win

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The Pittsburgh Penguins ended a long run of playoff overtime struggles on Wednesday … and are now one win away from ending the Washington Capitals’ season.

Many expected the Penguins to crater on defense without Kris Letang (they were 2-8-1 in the regular season without him). While there were shaky moments, Pittsburgh emphasized its speed and other strengths in taking a 3-2 overtime thriller against Washington.

With that, the Penguins’ series lead grows to 3-1.

It was a thrilling, sometimes nasty contest, from Sidney Crosby shaking off an Alex Ovechkin slash, to Evgeni Malkin delivering a hit some thought was over the line and plenty of typical playoff skirmishes.

Ultimately, Matt Murray played another strong game and Patric Hornqvist scored the overtime-winner to put the Capitals in a tough spot.

The Penguins lost their previous eight playoff overtime games, so maybe it was just a matter of time before such a game went their way?

Then again, the history between the two teams is a little different:

If the Capitals want to advance beyond the second round for the first time in the Ovechkin era, they’ll need to accomplish quite the feat against arguably the hottest team in the NHL.

Sidney Crosby looks hurt (and furious) after Alex Ovechkin slash

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Sidney Crosby is known to get fiery, but even for his feisty standards, he was furious during the third period of Game 4.

An Alex Ovechkin slash caught Crosby on the hand, leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins star shaking his mitt and pleading for a call.

After that, Crosby left to get his hand looked at … but not before flipping out and destroying his stick.

You can watch it happen in the GIF and the videos above.

Crosby was able to return not that long after that moment, although we can only speculate regarding how his overall game will be affected if his hand isn’t 100 percent.

Dirty or not? Evgeni Malkin’s hit on Daniel Winnik

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Tensions seem to rise with every passing game in the playoffs, particularly in a series with bad blood like the one between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Kris Letang was suspended for his hit in Game 3, and some wonder if Evgeni Malkin should suffer a similar fate for his check on Daniel Winnik on Wednesday.

Winnik left the contest and has not yet returned during the third period.

Take a look at the hit in the video above and decide for yourself.

Blues aim to raise money for victims of Fort McMurray fires

An evacuee puts gas in his car on his way out of Fort McMurray, Alberta, as a wildfire burns in the background Wednesday, May 4, 2016. The raging wildfire emptied Canada's main oil sands city, destroying entire neighborhoods of Fort McMurray, where officials warned Wednesday that all efforts to suppress the fire have failed.  (Jason Franson /The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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Fires devastated the Canadian city of Fort McMurray, and the St. Louis Blues are doing their part to help those who were affected.

Here’s what the team is doing to raise money during Game 4 against the Dallas Stars:

Proceeds raised through the team’s 50/50 raffle and the Blues for Kids silent auction will benefit families who have been misplaced by the fires.

Blues forward Scottie Upshall shared his thoughts with the Associated Press regarding several family members being among those evacuated from the area.

“It’s been a great city, a city that’s survived for many years through some tough times and for me, growing up there doesn’t seem too long ago,” Upshall said. “Places that probably aren’t standing anymore will be really, really tough to take. But as long as everyone’s OK, that’s the main thing.”

Other people from around the hockey world weighed in on the scary scene, including Ottawa Senators defenseman Chris Phillips, who told the Ottawa Citizen that “it hurts a lot.”

People shared some scary sights from the evacuation.