Oilers avoid potential disaster of playing Game 7 without key top-6 contributor

There was some understandable shock and concern when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins missed the Oilers' final practice, but it apparently turns out it was nothing serious.
2024 Stanley Cup Final - Media Day
2024 Stanley Cup Final - Media Day / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

When you're preparing for a winner-takes-all game seven in the Stanley Cup Final, the last thing you need is to be without one of your regular first liners. However, this is exactly the scenario the Edmonton Oilers faced.

During the last practice prior to Monday night's decider in Florida, the Oilers were absent Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Understandably, this led to a lot of concern within the fan base, wondering why he wasn't out on the ice for the most critical practice of the entire 2023-24 season?

Nugent-Hopkins may not have contributed much in terms of points during the Stanley Cup Final, but his importance to the team is unquestioned. Yes he's only produced two points versus the Florida Panthers, but overall is tied-fourth among all NHL players with 22 points during these playoffs.

As per Bruce McCurdy of the Edmonton Journal, the 31-year-old is the only Oilers skater to play a significant role on both special teams units. He is one of five players averaging four+ minutes on the power play, while also the only forward with more than two minutes per game on the penalty kill.

No stopping Nugent-Hopkins

With all of this in mind, it comes as a great relief to everyone involved, that Nugent-Hopkins will be playing on Monday night. Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch confirmed the player was given a maintenance day, due to being under the weather.

The Burnaby, British Columbia native has been through a lot of ups and downs since he arrived in Edmonton, from no playoffs in his first six seasons, to six appearances in the past eight. As the longest-serving player on the team, it would have been devastating for him to miss out on his first opportunity to win the Stanley Cup.

In fact, the date of Monday's night's game is significant for Nugent-Hopkins, although whether this is an omen in respect of how it will all play out, remains to be seen. Speaking to the media on Sunday, Knoblauch said: "(Ryan's) a player that's been with the organisation for a very long time. In fact 13 years tomorrow. I think a lot of players have a lot of respect for him, just because he's seen it all. ... And now for him being able to have the opportunity to win that last game of the season, I think everyone's very happy for him."

The 2011 first overall draft pick might not have lived up to the label that comes with this per se, but he's still been a consistent producer for the Oilers. Especially when considering the aforementioned struggles of the team during his early years.

Nugent-Hopkins played in the NHL the same year he was drated, and has gone on to average 50+ points per season. This includes the 2022-23 campaign, when he produced career highs with 37 goals, 67 assists and 104 total points.

Next. Oilers just need to play their game to secure Stanley Cup. Oilers just need to play their game to secure Stanley Cup. dark

You could still have some concern about if Nugent-Hopkins will be compromised in any way, depending on if he is still feeleing under the weather on Monday night. However, the likelihood is that he'll be just fine and ready to prove once again how vital he is to the Oilers' success, hopefully resulting in both the player individually and the team overall finally reaching the top of the hill and claiming the holy grail of hockey.

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