As the Edmonton Oilers begin to return from their summer vacations in preparation for the upcoming hockey season, the look and feel of the roster is changing — both on and off the ice.
“I have a baby, so that’s a pretty big change,” Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said with a laugh when asked Monday how his life has changed in recent weeks, noting he’d never changed diaper before. “It’s been a good change.”
Nugent-Hopkins and his wife of four years, Breanne Nugent-Hopkins (née Windle), welcomed their first child three weeks ago.
“It’s been a different summer this year for sure,” the 30-year-old centre said while speaking to reporters at Rogers Place.
Weighing in at seven pounds nine ounces, Lennon Ayla Nugent-Hopkins was born on Aug. 19, according to a post on mom’s Instagram.
“It’s definitely new, definitely different. A lot less sleep. But my wife’s been been handling it so well, making it easier on me for sure.
“Definitely a little different lifestyle.”
The look and feel of the locker room has changed significantly since Nugent-Hopkins, then 18, was selected first overall by the Oilers in the 2011 NHL entry draft.
The team’s culture has matured over the past few years as players have found partners and had families, ‘Nuge’ noted.
“When I first came in, it was a majority of young guys and then some older guys with older kids. Now, it’s a lot of babies and toddlers running around.”
Captain Connor McDavid became engaged this summer to his longtime girlfriend Lauren Kyle, while other team members have also gotten married and had children in recent years.
In fact, there’s been seven new babies born to the team in the past year alone, Nugent-Hopkins said on Monday.
“It’s early for me, I’m only three weeks in,” Nuge said. “But I think, obviously, you’ve got to mature pretty quick when you have a kid.”
Nugent-Hopkins has only been a dad for a few sleepless weeks but expects he’ll get plenty of advice from his fellow players.
“It’s pretty early right now, but I’m sure I’ll hear a lot. There’s some new dads like myself,” he said, making reference to forward Evander Kane and defenceman Darnell Nurse.
“I’m sure I’ll get lots of tips and tricks along the way.”
Nurse and his wife Mikayla, both 28, welcomed their second child last week. Chase Richard Joseph Nurse was born Sept. 6, and the couple also has a toddler named Aiden.
Kane, 31, had his third child earlier this summer. On June 20, he welcomed a baby boy named Hendrix with girlfriend Mara Teigen.
The couple also has another little boy: a toddler named Iverson who celebrated his first birthday back in May.
Kane also has a three-year-old daughter named Kensington from his previous marriage with his ex-wife Anna.
“Definitely a different look,” Nuge said of the team and their personal lives. “A lot of guys late twenties, kind of in the prime of their career right now.
“It’s exciting in the hockey sense and I think adds a little fun with the little ones running too.”
When he was named the new CEO of hockey operations for the Edmonton Oilers earlier this summer, former player agent Jeff Jackson — whose client list included McDavid — also talked about the maturation of the team’s core players.
“The maturity of all those players — whether they have families or they’re getting married or they’ve just been here for a long time – contributes to the team maturity,” Jackson said last month.
The team’s training camp begins next week. The preseason starts when the Oilers face off against the Winnipeg Jets on Sept. 24 and the regular season begins Oct. 11 when the Oil will head to Vancouver to face the Canucks.
This season also includes Edmonton hosting the Heritage Classic against the Calgary Flames on Sunday Oct. 29 at Commonwealth Stadium.