EARLY RETURNS: RNH DOMINATES

Robin Brownlee
December 26 2012 07:03AM

While it's probably prudent to curb ones enthusiasm, given Team Canada's opening game at the World Junior Championship in Russia amounted to little more than a controlled scrimmage against an overmatched opponent, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins gave fans plenty to cheer about in a 9-3 waltz over Germany today.

In the first game of his first and only crack at WJC opponents, the Edmonton Oilers centre made his debut a memorable one with a five-point game, a goal and four assists, as Canadian fans were sleeping off their Christmas turkey and liquor before crawling out of the rack and getting ready to line-up outside electronics stores for Boxing Day specials.

As usual, veteran hockey writer Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail summed it up best, describing RNH's performance in the walkover against Germany this way:

"First to applaud is the play of captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who seems, at times, to be the only one on skates out there, moving up and down the ice so effortlessly it appears he is playing in the Russian space station rather than the Ufa Arena."

IMPRESSIVE DEBUT

With a season in the NHL with the Oilers and almost half a pro campaign with Oklahoma City of the AHL on his resume, there will be those prone to point out there is nothing surprising about seeing Nugent-Hopkins dominate at the WJC, as he did against the Germans. And, of course, one game is just one game -- small sample size and all that. True on both counts.

Even allowing for cautious context, RNH's performance between linemates Jonathan Huberdeau and Mark Scheifele stood out. Five points is five points. Then, there's the way RNH dominated the Germans on the dot, which is likely more noteworthy.

Nugent-Hopkins won 11 of 18 face-offs he took in Ufa. If there was a weakness in his game during his rookie NHL season with the Oilers, it came in the face-off circles, where RNH was an underwhelming 37.5 per cent. It's a component of his game RNH has to be better at and one he has already said he is concentrating on.

The early returns are good. Very good. We'll get another look Friday, when Nugent-Hopkins and Team Canada face Slovakia.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

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A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#1 Toro
December 26 2012, 07:39AM
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Nuuuuuuge

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#2 oilabroad
December 26 2012, 07:40AM
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for anyone who watched, how did he looked compared to his linemates? two pretty good prospects there as well...

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#3 OilBlood
December 26 2012, 07:47AM
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oilabroad- Nuge and huberdeau had great chemistry and we're feeding off each other but you could tell Nuge was on another level, I almost forgot how great his vision and soft hands are.

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#4 Matt Henderson
December 26 2012, 07:55AM
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The guy who didnt impress me at all is Subban, but baby Nuge is incredible. Finding out he's your Center would be like finiding out your Prius has been replaced with a Maserati.

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#5 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
December 26 2012, 08:29AM
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Matt Henderson wrote:

The guy who didnt impress me at all is Subban, but baby Nuge is incredible. Finding out he's your Center would be like finiding out your Prius has been replaced with a Maserati.

a Maserati that came with a hot chick waiting in the passenger seat

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#6 Canadian Pride
December 26 2012, 09:03AM
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RNH is "Number 1" for a reason! Taken "Number 1" overall in 2011, plays on the "Number 1" line, RNH is close to 1 point per game in the NHL, is over 1 point per game in the AHL. What more could we expect? Of course he is going to be the "Number 1" guy for Team Canada. It's in his pedigree: "Number 1"

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#7 Johe
December 26 2012, 10:05AM
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@Canadian Pride

Sorry, what number? :)

And as for Subban, give him a chance. More than anything, the D let him down today. True, I may be biased(I just started playing goal last year and it's a tough position) but I think Subban will be just fine.

Regardless, it's great to be watching some hockey again. In my opinion, the WJs have been the most exciting hockey to watch the past few years, outside of maybe the Pitt Wash or Pitt Phi playoff series. Oh, and whenever Vancouver loses. And if the Oilers ever decide to make the playoffs again, I might faint from excitement.

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#8 They're $hittie
December 26 2012, 02:51PM
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Its Nuuuuuge. One U per point

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#9 jonny94
December 26 2012, 03:00PM
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In my opinion there was only 1 goal that Subban had no chance with and that was on the powerplay against Germany. The other 2 goals Subban let in should have been stopped despite Canada's sloppy defence playing a big role on the chances given to Germany. You still need your goalie to step in to make those big saves, if it had been a team like Russia that could have easily been a game changer. After watching Biddington have a great game against Sweden and Subban have a sub-par game against Finland and again against Germany I hope Biddington gets the call. Of course its early to pull Subban out I ultimately still believe Biddington is the better goalie, and based on Canada's WJ history with winning 2 gold medals overseas they were greatly based on solid goaltending.

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#10 BigE91
December 26 2012, 07:50PM
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Matt Henderson wrote:

The guy who didnt impress me at all is Subban, but baby Nuge is incredible. Finding out he's your Center would be like finiding out your Prius has been replaced with a Maserati.

Come on Horcoff is more of a Lada than a Prius!

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#11 Dodd
December 27 2012, 09:45AM
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Subban is starter on pre-tournament merit. He had a bad camp, and his exhibition play was shaky. I was very surprised Binnington didn't get the nod.

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#12 jeremywilhelm
December 27 2012, 09:55AM
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I thought Hopkins coulda played better. That being said, he was the best player on the ice. His hands are incredible.

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#13 Dodd
December 27 2012, 09:58AM
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Here's hoping Canada can get their zone entry timing together before harder opponents show up, or no hope of gold, IMHO.

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#14 RKD
December 27 2012, 11:38AM
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Even though I don't like the Oilers, the Nuge is a beast. His NHL experience is paying off a lot of dividends.

The interesting thing will be to see how Canada fares if the top line isn't going. Who will carry the load? Also, Subban will need to steal a game or get a shutout if the offence dries up.

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#15 Bill
December 27 2012, 12:35PM
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RKD wrote:

Even though I don't like the Oilers, the Nuge is a beast. His NHL experience is paying off a lot of dividends.

The interesting thing will be to see how Canada fares if the top line isn't going. Who will carry the load? Also, Subban will need to steal a game or get a shutout if the offence dries up.

If the offence dries up, the team's in a bit of trouble. I'm not confident in Subban's ability to win a tight game.

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#16 Michael
December 27 2012, 12:41PM
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Not sure why the fans get so excited when Canada beats up on a third rate hockey nation like Germany? Now, if you beat Germany 9-3 at mens soccer.....

Some good signs, they kept the penalties down to 4, and got the lack of scoring monkey of their backs. Three goals against isn't great, Subban was merely ok, d corp wasn't giving him much support.

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#17 Rocknrolla
December 27 2012, 01:12PM
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Wouldn't call 61% dominating on the dot, but good to see improvement. Nice to see the Nuge get off to a great start.

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#18 Rama Lama
December 27 2012, 01:16PM
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The guy is a total class act! What makes this player special, is that he does not think he is special.

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#19 Robin Brownlee
December 27 2012, 10:33PM
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Rocknrolla wrote:

Wouldn't call 61% dominating on the dot, but good to see improvement. Nice to see the Nuge get off to a great start.

Doesn't matter what you'd call it. You're splitting hairs over terminology. None of the leaders among NHL centres averaged more than 60 per cent on face-offs in 2011-12. The top 10 ranged from 59.4 to 56.2.

Let's be clear -- I'm not saying one game against the decidedly mediocre Germans makes RNH a face-off wiz or that he's even destined to be one down the road, but 61 per cent, even in one game, in the context of the player we're talking about qualifies as a dominant performance in my books.

For a player who didn't even average 38 per cent as a rookie, that's noteworthy and it'll be interesting to see if he can jump into the 45-50 per cent range if there's a full season.

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