A major storyline heading into the 2013-14 NHL season for the Edmonton Oilers will be the status of star forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. After elimination from the playoffs last season, Nugent-Hopkins was sidelined and underwent successful shoulder surgery on a torn-labrum on April 24th of this year. Since then little has been heard from the first overall selection of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, although what has been released is that there is a timeline for his return.
In a well-publicized interview earlier this month, Oilers GM Craig MacTavish stated that Nugent-Hopkins has an optimistic timeline to be ready for the beginning of the season and a pessimistic timeline for November 1st. It should be noted that Taylor Hall, who had similar work done in the spring of 2012, was not cleared to play at the start of the 2012-13 season, and didn’t join the Oklahoma City Barons until the beginning of November 2012.
Bob Stauffer, a member of the media and team employee with plenty of integrity when it comes to insider information with the Edmonton Oilers, has been advocating an October 1st arrival for Nugent-Hopkins over the last few weeks on his radio show, Oilers Now. While Stauffer isn’t a completely reliable source, his recent track record involving his knowledge of the team movements cannot be ignored.
Taylor Hall, superstar left-winger, said in an interview on Stauffer’s show on August 9th that the team had asked him to prepare to play centre to start the year. Hall mentioned that he was warned he might be playing the position for the first 5-6 games. Now, assuming that the club is staying on the safe side, this should indicate that the Edmonton Oilers expect their first line centre to be in game shape by the first 3-4 games, to allow for some breathing room should Nugent-Hopkins need more time.
Another interesting storyline with the club is the addition of Linus Omark, a gifted offensive player whose NHL career has been marked with controversy. After a two season stint with the Oilers, Omark was left an unsigned Restricted Free Agent, making him unable to be signed by another NHL club and unable to play with the team. He spent the past season in Switzerland putting up impressive numbers, but not gaining any attention from other NHL teams who could trade for Omark’s rights. This past tuesday, Omark was signed to a 1-year deal which has been a headline throughout Edmonton’s sports media.
Although the story has been twisted in every direction by media throughout the capital region, there remains an angle in the Omark story that could be viewed as a sign that Nugent-Hopkins will not be ready to start the season and GM Craig MacTavish saw a need to add depth offense for the big club before the beginning of training camp. Depth has been a major issue for the club since the beginning of a rebuild in February of 2010, something that MacTavish has made clear he is willing to correct.
So although not much has been said on the status of the Oilers number 1 centre, plenty of eventualities have been amended by MacTavish and although the team has historically suffered under the losses of star players, fans have less reason to worry as the team is in a much better position to continue without Nugent-Hopkins should his shoulder keep him out of the lineup.