After a disappointing loss to the Calgary Flames earlier this week, the Colorado Avalanche look to rebound with a home-heavy November schedule. Despite their troubles in Alberta, they are still atop the Northwest Division.
Their opponent, the Edmonton Oilers, surprisingly find themselves tied in that very same position. With their recent poor seasons, the Oilers have stockpiled an excellent group of young talent that has led the team to a surprising hot start. Jordan Aberle and Taylor Hall look to be future stars in the league, but it's the center of that line that has the league talking.
Drafted first overall in 2011, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been sensational in his early season audition. He leads the Oilers with five goals and his nine points is tied for the team league with Eberle. Nugent-Hopkins scored a hat trick in just his third career NHL game, increasing his legend.
Then again, that's the problem. At only 175 pounds, there are serious concerns that Nugent-Hopkins will not be able to stay healthy for an entire NHL season. He obviously has the skill to play in the league right now, but he hasn't finished developing physically and could benefit from another year in the WHL with his junior team. According to NHL rules, young players can be sent down to their junior league teams after a nine-game audition without using a year of their rookie contract. Nugent-Hopkins is skilled, but is it worth using the first year of his entry level contract on a season that he may not be physically ready to face? He has already played in nine NHL games; if he plays against Colorado, he will be up in the league to stay.
The man drafted immediately after him has also shown he belongs in the NHL. Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog has been electric on the ice, showing the advanced hockey intelligence and physical presence that shot him up the draft boards in June. His four goals is second amongst all rookies to Nugent-Hopkins and he has been an integral part in Colorado's consistently best line this season, along with Daniel Winnik and Ryan O`Reilly.
The top two draft picks from 2011 are having incredible starts to their rookie seasons and could meet on the ice for the first time. Or maybe not. We'll just have to wait and find out what the Edmonton front office decides to do.
Puck drops at 7:00 p.m. MDT.
For more coverage, visit our Avalanche blog Mile High Hockey or our Oilers Blog Copper And Blue.