Oilers' Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out 5-6 weeks with cracked ribs

Oilers' Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out 5-6 weeks with cracked ribs

The Edmonton Oilers were hoping to pick up where they left off before their bye week, but the team has learned they'll have to do it without the help of centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Nugent-Hopkins, who is leading the team with 16 goals, was initially thought to have a bruised sternum after being on the receiving end of a punishing hit by Vegas Golden Knights defenceman Braydon McNabb. 

The hit happened during the second period of the Oilers' 3-2 overtime win Saturday. Nugent-Hopkins left the ice immediately but it was thought his diagnosis wouldn't be too bad. 

"When we spoke after the game in Las Vegas, the initial indication was that he'd be OK," said Oilers coach Todd McLellan.

"We came home and he saw some doctors and had some tests and he'll be out five to six weeks."

For McLellan, not only does it mean he loses his leading goal scorer but a player who was one of his most consistent so far this year. 

"You can make an argument who our go-to, key guy was this year, he said. "Obviously Connor [McDavid] is having a pretty good year this year individually and there's some others, but I would throw Nuge [Nugent-Hopkins] right up there." 

Picking up the slack

Along with his team-leading 16 goals, the 24-year-old forward has 15 assists this season. His 31 points put him third in points for the Oilers behind Leon Draisaitl with 36 points and Connor McDavid with 52.

McDavid and Draisaitl, who have spent the year on and off the same line, will now run the team's top two lines as Draisaitl takes over for Nugent-Hopkins. 

"He's such an important, underrated player for our group," said Draisaitl, who will now have Milan Lucic on his left wing and Jesse Puljujarvi on his right. 
"Not being able to count on him obviously hurts, but this is the time for other guys to step up and make up for his scoring."

'We'll definitely miss him'

McDavid said Nugent-Hopkins's best asset is his versatility, which will be difficult to replace.

"He battles hard every night — penalty killer, power play guy, good on draws — he's reliable all over the ice and we'll definitely miss him," McDavid said.

The injury also means that Ryan Strome will slot into the centre spot on the third line. 

The team has called up forward Iiro Pakarinen from the American Hockey League's Bakersfield Condors.

Pakarinen, 26, has appeared in 18 games with the Oilers this season, posting one assist and four penalty minutes.

Playing 18 games for the Bakersfield Condors, Pakarinen has nine goals and 13 points, along with five power play goals.

Edmonton's re-jigged lineup faces its first test Saturday night at Rogers Place against the Vancouver Canucks.