EDMONTON – Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle have opponents on their heels and fans trying to come up with nicknames for them just eight games into the season.
Both are sure signs the young Edmonton Oilers have wasted little time making an impression.
The Lottery Line. The Kid Line. The H2E Line. Call them what you will, the trio of Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle has given fans at Rexall Place plenty to cheer about, combining for 22 points and accounting for eight of the 16 goals the Oilers have scored.
It’s been a remarkably impressive display considering Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall pick at the 2011 Entry Draft, and Hall, taken first in 2010, are teenagers who could be playing junior hockey. Eberle, taken 22nd in 2008, is the senior member of the threesome at 21.
By any name, they’ve been outstanding.
“It’s awesome playing with those two guys,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “I feel like we kind of complement each other, just the way we play. It’s been great so far and I’m really happy with the start we’ve had.”
The trio, with Nugent-Hopkins at centre, Hall on left wing and Eberle on right wing, was the best line on the ice in a 3-2 win over Vancouver on Tuesday. That’s saying something, considering the Canucks can put Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows on the ice.
They fired 11 shots at Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider and combined for five points. Hall had a goal and an assist, giving him two goals and five assists. Eberle scored his first goal of the season, giving him seven points. Nugent-Hopkins had an assist and leads the Oilers and NHL rookies in scoring with five goals and three assists.
“It was a good game for our line, for sure,” Hall said. “We spent a lot of time in their end. We had a lot of shots.
“Our power play was one thing we could have improved on but, overall, we had a great game. If we can duplicate that, especially against defences like Vancouver’s, we’re going to put some points up on the board and, most important, we’re going to be good for our team.”
Hall, 19, and Eberle played together as rookies last season. Both impressed despite being limited by injuries to 65 and 69 games, respectively. Hall had 22 goals and 42 points. Eberle scored 18 times with 25 assists.
The addition of Nugent-Hopkins—a deft playmaker who had 106 points with the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels in 2010-11—has taken their games to another level. Hall’s calling card is bulling to the net at full speed. Eberle’s game is finding open ice. The pieces fit.
“With Nuge, he’s such an easy player to play with,” Eberle said. “He sees the ice so well and he makes plays. It’s just been good so far.
“We’ve competed and we’ve been talking a lot as far as where we want to put the puck when we’re in the offensive zone. It’s been good so far and we want to keep getting better.”
Aside from getting his linemates the puck and impressing with his ability to make plays in traffic, Nugent-Hopkins has shown a knack around the net with his five goals.
“This year, with Ryan coming in, playing the way he has and just showing the wherewithal to deal with his first year in the NHL and be doing as well as he has, it’s been a perfect fit for us,” Hall said.
“As much as Ryan is a passer and me and Ebs are regarded as scorers, I think we’re all doing what we can every shift. You’ve just got to make plays.
“Whether it’s defensively, coming back into the zone, you’ve got to make a play. If you’re on a 2-on-1 and you see a little space to put a puck, you’ve got to put it there. So far, we’ve done that. We’re making plays.”
With the veteran line of Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Jones playing tough minutes against other top lines, coach Tom Renney has made an effort to find favourable match-ups for Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle. Having played six of eight games at home, Renney’s been able to do that with the benefit of having the final line change.
“We’ve had a good start and we want to continue to get better,” Eberle said. “You watch lines, like the Sedin line with Burrows, and how they play and you want to take things and try to build your own thing.
“The best thing, I think, about us so far is we haven’t been scored on when Hallsy is in the line-up. We missed him in Calgary, we got scored on once, but with the exception of that we’ve been very good defensively.”
As poised as Nugent-Hopkins has been in the early going, it’s easy to forget he’s 18—at least until he’s asked about facing Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals Thursday.
“It’s going to be pretty cool playing against Ovechkin,” he said. “I mean, I’ve been watching him for a long time. That team has a lot of skill, other than Ovechkin, too, so it’ll be great going up against them.”
As for fans trying to come up with a nickname for the line, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle admit they haven’t given it much thought. Neither has Renney, although he might have to come up with something if the trio keeps rolling.
“I don’t really have a moniker for them, to tell you the truth,” Renney said. “They’re sure fun to watch, and I think everybody can appreciate that.”