Underrated? Nugent-Hopkins takes it as a compliment

From the race to the Stanley Cup playoffs to racehorses, more on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ leadership with the Edmonton Oilers and being considered underrated.

Underrated? Nugent-Hopkins takes it as a compliment

Feature photo: Getty Images

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can always be counted on to deliver a boost for his teammates or those in need of a helping hand.

Currently the longest tenured member of the Edmonton Oilers, underrated is a term that has continued to be used to describe Nugent-Hopkins over his 13-year NHL career, including by his fellow players.

“Nuge is one of the best teammates and players I’ve played with. He is one of the most underrated players in the league,” offered Oilers teammate, Zach Hyman. “He plays all situations, produces and shuts down the other team’s top players.”

Those in the know understand just how impactful the 30-year-old forward is night in and night out.

“I think of being the best I can be, to play a good two-way game, and contribute in whatever way I can,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who sees regular ice time on the power play, penalty kill, at centre and on the wing.

“If other guys say that [underrated], it’s a positive thing, and I take it as a compliment.”

The first overall pick of the Oilers in 2011 has been a model of consistency since his first NHL campaign in 2011-12.

He has recorded five 20-plus goal seasons, and in 2022-23, set career-best marks for goals (37), assists (67), and points (104).

An alternate captain since 2015-16, Nugent-Hopkins is also a respected leader.

“It is something I take a lot of pride in. I know the responsibility for me is to help lead some of the new guys coming in.

“Usually, I try to lead by the way I play, to set a good, positive example by playing the right way. A lot of guys have questions, and I am happy to listen and offer any advice I can.”

“In the room, we have a group who can stand up and say the right thing when that is needed. There is a great balance there.”     

Lending a helping hand does not begin and end at the rink for Nugent-Hopkins.

A few weeks ago, a Reddit user posted a story about two men who stopped their car to help another vehicle that was stuck in a snowdrift.

“We played an afternoon game on the road, and we were coming home,” recalled Nugent-Hopkins.

“There was a fresh snowfall, which means there are going to be some cars stuck. It was just off a main road from my house. Zach [Hyman] and I saw these three young kids struggling to get their car out, so we helped push them out.”

The good deed certainly was appreciated.

“Their exact words were, ‘hey guys, you need any help?” said Karson Scholtes about the helpful and unexpected encounter he and Jesse Watson had with Nugent-Hopkins and Hyman after his car got stuck.

Nugent-Hopkins’ teammates agree echoed the positive comments about his character.

“Ryan is a great teammate because he genuinely cares for everyone in the dressing room,” said Oilers forward Derek Ryan. “He has a kind of demeanour that makes others feel welcome and appreciated.”

While he helps the Oilers as they chase their first Stanley Cup since 1990, Nugent-Hopkins is also hoping to net a different kind of award off the ice.

The native of Burnaby, British Columbia, is the co-owner of Infinite Patience a Thoroughbred racehorse who is up for a Sovereign Award in the Champion Older Main Track Female category.

In 25 starts, Infinite Patience has 19 wins, one second and a third.

Nugent-Hopkins will not be able to attend the ceremony in Toronto on April 18 due to a road game against the Colorado Avalanche.

“She has been nominated for this award before,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “It would be very cool if she were to win it.

“I remember watching her train when she was two and she was very mature for her age, mentally and physically.

“Eventually, I came on as a co-owner and it’s worked out great. We’re very proud of her.”  

Nugent-Hopkins’ love for the sport is shared in his family, starting with his grandfather was a horse breeder in British Columbia, and his parents, Roger and Deb, who have a long connection with Thoroughbreds.  

He bought his first racehorse about 11 years ago with his first win as an owner coming a few years later on June 13, 2015.

Hockey, however, remains Nugent-Hopkins’ unrivalled No. 1 priority.

“I can’t believe that it’s been 13 years in the league,” he said with a laugh.

“It does go by fast. But I don’t feel old. I feel great.”

Watching teammates, past and present, reach their milestones is always something that catches Nugent-Hopkins’ eye.

“Seeing [former Oilers teammate and current Seattle Kraken forward] Jordan Eberle play in 1,000 games was amazing,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who is closing in on the 700-point plateau for his NHL career.

“Once you start hitting those milestones, you realize it has been a while since your rookie season. It goes by quickly, so you make sure you enjoy it.”

Nugent-Hopkins and his wife, Breanne, are doing the same at home with their seven-month-old daughter, Lennon.

“She’s not a great sleeper, but we’re working on it. We’re so happy to have in her our lives. She makes every day a great one.

Just like her dad.