Even before Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was chosen first overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2011, there were questions about his ability to survive, physically, in the NHL.
An “impossibly skinny” kid, many felt Nugent-Hopkins was too delicate, too weak, and that he’d be beset by injuries after the league’s leviathans were through with him.
Well, two years later and Nugent-Hopkins does indeed have a disturbing injury log to go with the 76 points he’s scored in 102 games.
In April, the 20-year-old underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. At last glance, the Oilers were unsure if he’d be ready for the regular season.
Now, it’s unfair to assume Nugent-Hopkins has had shoulder issues only because of his size. But the fact he’s needed surgery at such a young age is, at the very least, cause for concern.
“We had to make a judgement call,” his agent, Rick Valette, told the Edmonton Journal. “We talked about it all season. The general feeling was that it wasn’t necessary for him to miss games. The conclusion was that he just keep playing and doing his rehab and strengthening his shoulder. Just before the world juniors we had it checked out a lot. It was determined that his strength was fine, his mobility was fine and his range of motion was good. Yes, he still had a bit of a problem, but he was fine to play.”
Fine to play, yes. But fine to play well?
“It wasn’t the most productive year of my life,” Nugent-Hopkins said of his 2013 campaign in which he scored just four goals, with 20 assists, in 40 games. “I wanted to be more productive, but I thought I took some steps in other parts of my game, so I’ve just got to keep working on that. Obviously, I want to be an offensive guy and I’ve got to keep working on that.”
For his sake, as well as the Oilers’, here’s to hoping injuries won’t stop his massive potential from being realized.
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