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Ryan Nugent-Hopkins hoping best still to come for Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) defends against Boston Bruins' David Krejci (46) during the third period on an NHL hockey game in Boston, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer).
Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) defends against Boston Bruins' David Krejci (46) during the third period on an NHL hockey game in Boston, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer). AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

The T-shirts say “Keep Nuge Forever.” The blogs and the talk shows are already talking about his next contract.

There’s no doubt about it: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is beloved in Oil Country.

“I’ve been lucky enough to play in Edmonton. This is my ninth season. We’ve had some tough years. We’ve had moments where the fans haven’t been completely happy but for the most part they’ve been so supportive of us,” said Nugent-Hopkins.

“Every time I talk to fan, they’re so positive.

“They just want to shake your hand and meet you and just say hi and let you know they’re a fan. That excites you to go play for a city like that.”

READ MORE: NHL allowing teams to reopen facilities Monday, players can then take part in voluntary workouts

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Nugent-Hopkins, 27, is skating and working out in Vancouver as the NHL inches toward a restart.

“Basically, I’m back to my normal summer routine, or pretty close to it, as far as my training and skating,” he said.

Phase 2 of the NHL’s Return-to-Play plan starts Monday, meaning Rogers Place will be available to Oilers players for voluntary workouts.

“I’m going to wait and see what the rest of guys are feeling,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “The feeling was if you have things at your home base, skating and training I mean, it’s not a bad idea to stick to that for now.”

Whenever the actual games resume, the Oilers will be matched up with the Chicago Blackhawks in a best-of-five qualifying round series.

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“It’s the best situation out of a bad situation,” Nugent-Hopkins said of the 24-team post-season tournament.

“There were tons of ideas thrown out there. Nothing seemed to work as well as this one does.”

The Oilers earned a record of 37-25-9 with the league’s number one power play and number two penalty kill. Nugent-Hopkins gives a lot of credit to head coach Dave Tippett.

READ MORE: Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett staying prepared for potential season restart

“One of the biggest things with him is you’re going to play structured. Even when we were off our game a little bit, our structure really held us in games,” explained Nugent-Hopkins.

But it wasn’t all coaching that propelled the Oilers into a lock for the playoffs in the second half of the season.

Nugent-Hopkins had 37 points in 29 games since Jan. 1, thriving on a line with Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto.

“Our styles of play kind of complimented each other.

“Yamo just goes and get the puck, knocks guys off the puck, strips guys, then has the mind to make plays after that,” said Nugent-Hopkins.

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“It’s great to see Leon getting the Art Ross. He had such a great year. It’s too bad it got cut short. He still ended up with a lot points, but it would have been fun to see where he could have ended up.”

Now Nugent-Hopkins looks ahead to the post-season. He’s yet to score a playoff goal.

After the 2020/21 season, he’ll be an unrestricted agent. The thought of him in anything other than Oilers’ uniform is horrifying for many fans. Nugent-Hopkins isn’t looking that far ahead. Right now, life as an Oiler is good.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s been such a good part of my life.

“Obviously now, when things go well with the team, it makes it even better.”