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Nugent-Hopkins' hot start means McDavid and Draisaitl can play together, Woodcroft says


He's the longest-serving Oiler, a fan favourite, and right now the key to Edmonton unleashing its dynamic duo.

At age 29, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is on pace to set career highs in both goals and assists.

He also has nine points in seven games as the second-line centre since superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were paired on the top line Nov. 26 in New York City.

"I don't think you can do that unless Ryan is playing at the level that he's played at," head coach Jay Woodcroft said Friday.

"Certainly playing Connor and Leon together, we do that because Nuge is playing at the level that he's playing at."

McDavid has 17 points in those seven games and Draisaitl has 13.

Woodcroft wouldn't say how long he'll keep them together, but Nugent-Hopkins' ability to drive another line is a major factor in the decision.

"We reserve the right to move our chess pieces around the board, but they've done a lot of really good things and, obviously, when they play together, it is special," the coach said.

McDavid said Nugent-Hopkins always finds a way to contribute, but lately his offensive game has also been elite. Nugent-Hopkins scored twice Wednesday against Arizona.

"He's making great plays and when he's getting those chances, he's burying them. Like those two shots the other night were great shots, all-world shots, so he's playing well and it's good to see," the captain said of his assistant.

Edmonton is looking to break a seven-game losing streak to Minnesota Friday night.

The Oilers have three games in three weeks against Minnesota. The Wild won the first 5-3 last week.

"They're a good team. They're gonna test us and challenge us and we're gonna be ready for them tonight," Woodcroft said.

"It's almost like a small playoff series, because it's about finding ways to adjust."

Edmonton is coming off a 8-2 victory over the Coyotes Wednesday. Woodcroft said the team has done a better job lately of finishing chances and playing defence.

"We definitely owe them a good game," McDavid said of the rematch with the Wild.

The puck drops at Rogers Place shortly after 7 p.m. MT. Top Stories

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