While growing from rookie to veteran, Nugent-Hopkins has become a key piece in the Oilers machine, a team thought to be Stanley Cup contenders but have gotten off to a slow with just one win in four games — including a 6-1 drubbing by the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night.
“Clearly, it just wasn’t our night tonight,” he told Scott Oake and Louie DeBrusk after the game on After Hours. “As the game went on we had a lot of chances and they just capitalized on theirs. Pretty much, that was the story of the game. It’s one of those nights you kind of have to forget about and move on and it’s a good thing you play 82 games.”
Playing in just his seventh NHL season and still only 24 years old, Nugent-Hopkins has gone through a transformation since entering the league as a skinny 18-year-old. He discussed some of those changes — both physical and technical — with Oake and DeBrusk during their sit-down interview on the segment.
On becoming a two-way centre
“I think early in my career it was kind of obvious [that] if I wanted to be a good player, a key player, in this league I needed to find that two-way game, and it’s something that I’ve been working on a lot over the last few years. I know I can take more strides in that area but I don’t want to sacrifice too much offence as well. That’s something I’m really focusing on this year. It’s two-way so it’s not just pure defence; you gotta find that good in-between.”
On redefining his game
“My game has changed a little bit from when I first came into the league. It’s something that I’m going to keep working on. I want to be a good player in this league for a long time and I think the best way for me is going to be that two-way game.”
On adding muscle
“Growing up I was always kind of the skinny kid. A lot was harped on putting size on, putting muscle on. I kind of knew that I didn’t want to just gain the muscle or gain a lot of weight for no reason. I think naturally when I was about 20 it started to come a little bit more, but definitely there’s a lot that goes into it in the gym and diet-wise that has changed a lot since I was 17 years old.”
On the difference in training over the past off-season
“In the gym we did a little more cardio stuff and then on the ice I focused more on scrimmages and full-ice practice kind of things. In the past couple summers I did a lot of skill work — and we still mix that in — but I thought this year we did a lot more scrimmages and you can feel the game a little bit more, you don’t lose it so much. Most of the game is about that timing and feeling good with the puck and feeling confident with guys coming at you. So, doing that I think definitely helps you at the start of the season.”
Listen to the full interview in the video player at the top of this page.