The Edmonton Oilers are counting on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to have a bounce back year and help shoulder the load of being the team’s top line center (no pun intended). After undergoing surgery back in April to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, the timetable for Nugent-Hopkins’ return is still up in the air, but the outlook is promising.
According to Brian Compton, a NHL.com staff writer, number 93 is rehabbing well and with any luck he will resume skating activities in the near future. Will he be ready for the Oilers season opener on October 1 against the Winnipeg Jets? Both the team and Nugent-Hopkins are hopeful, but GM Craig MacTavish is taking a more cautious approach as he told CHED 630 AM.
It’s too soon for that. “But by all accounts he’s doing very, very well. We know that obviously we’re not going to rush him in any way, shape or form. When he first went in for the surgery, the pessimistic date was Nov. 1 and the optimistic date was Oct. 1 when he’d be ready to play. So we’re not in a position now to make much more of a judgment call than that, other than he will get absolutely every bit of time that he needs before he’s back in our lineup.
MacTavish is absolutely right in this case as the team has much more to lose than gain if they were to put Nugent-Hopkins back in the lineup before he was 100% ready. As it stands now the Oilers are thin up the middle with the absence of the Burnaby, BC native. Sam Gagner signed a new deal and will remain with the club for the next few years but after that Boyd Gordon is technically the team’s next top centre.
It’s a difficult situation for Mac-T and company. If Nugent-Hopkins isn’t ready by the beginning of October the club will have to shuffle some lines and provide more playing time for some prospects who can fill in the bottom two lines at center. The Oilers’ schedule in October boasts a lineup of difficult games, at least on paper, a slow start for Edmonton could put them behind the eight ball early on in the season and everyone knows how difficult it is to play catch up.
But rushing back Nugent-Hopkins isn’t the answer either. Not when the risk of losing him for an extended period of time is greater when he’s not completely recovered from the surgery.
Adding a third or fourth line center before the start of the season is an option for the Oilers and by that time the club should have a definite date in mind on when Nugent-Hopkins will be ready to get back into the lineup. Without him, Edmonton’s chances of making the playoffs decrease and for these fans, the idea of an eighth straight season with no postseason would be difficult to accept.