Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is breezing through his NHL audition.
Nugent-Hopkins had a hat trick in just his third NHL game. It wasn’t enough to prevent Edmonton from falling 4-3 to the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, but the rookie sensation’s performance should make it difficult for the Oilers to send him back to his junior team.
Nugent-Hopkins has four goals this season after also scoring in the Oilers’ season opener and has looked strong on a line with fellow rising stars Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
“I definitely didn’t expect to have that kind of a start. I just want to keep it going,” said Nugent-Hopkins.
His goal, he said, has been to crash the net and see what happens.
“The message from the coaches was to go hard into the blue paint and I’ve been trying to do that,” he said.
The Oilers have nine games to decide whether to keep Nugent-Hopkins in the NHL or return him to the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League.
Elsewhere in the NHL it was: Toronto 3 Calgary 2; Washington 2 Ottawa 1; Phoenix 4 Winnipeg 1; Colorado 6 Montreal 5 (SO); Boston 3 Chicago 2 (SO); Los Angeles 3 Philadelphia 2 (OT); Buffalo 3 Pittsburgh 2; New York Islanders 4 New York Rangers 2; Florida 3 Tampa Bay 2 (SO); Detroit 3 Minnesota 2 (OT); Dallas 4 Columbus 2; New Jersey 3 Nashville 2 (SO); and St. Louis 4 San Jose 2.
At Edmonton, Finnish defenceman Sami Salo scored twice for Vancouver while Henrik Sedin and Alexandre Burrows added one goal each.
Vancouver, trying to break out of an early season slump, is now 2-2-1 on the year. The Oilers fell to 1-1-1.
“We find ways to win games,” said Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, who stopped 23 of 26 shots.
“It’s just that comfort level I think the guys have. Going into the third no matter what the score is we feel we can win.”
Salo capitalized on a turnover in the Oilers zone midway through the third period to rip a wrist shot from the high slot that zipped under the stick-side arm of goalie Devan Dubnyk.
That broke a 3-3 tie in a game that saw the Oilers take the play to Vancouver and outshoot them 30-26.
The win also overshadowed a breakout performance from Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 pick overall in last summer’s entry draft.
The 18-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., took charge early.
With the Oilers down 1-0, Nugent-Hopkins took a pass from Jordan Eberle at the side of the crease and got three whacks at the puck on Luongo. He knocked it out of the air on the third try to put it in for his second goal of the season at 13:44.
He gave the Oilers the lead with half a minute to go in the period.
Defenceman Tom Gilbert wristed the puck from the point and Nugent-Hopkins redirected the shot on the backhand from the face off dot past Luongo.
His third goal came on a wrist shot form in close through a jumble of players in front of Luongo on a power play late in the second period.
The replay suggested Hall finally knocked the puck over the goal line, but the referees awarded the goal to Nugent-Hopkins.
When the goal was announced a minute later, the referees were forced to whistle the play dead as delirious fans showered the ice with hats.
After his third goal, the euphoria was short lived.
With just 15 seconds left in the second period, Vancouver forward Daniel Sedin swooped around the back of the net and passed it to Burrows in front for tip-in goal to make it 3-3 and set the stage for the third period winner.
Vancouver opened the scoring at 8:49 of the first period.
With Oiler forward Ryan Smyth in the penalty box for tripping, Salo took advantage of a scramble in front of the Oilers net to tee up the puck in the high slot and hammer it low past the glove of Dubnyk.
The Canucks tied the game early in the second period with two Oilers in the penalty box.
On a scramble in front of Dubnyk, Henrik Sedin whacked the puck out of the air and then hit it just over the goal-line just past Dubnyk’s outstretched left goal pad for the Swede’s second goal of the year.
Maple Leafs 3 Flames 2
At Toronto,Phil Kessel had two goals and an assist as the Maple Leafs overcame an early two-goal deficit, beating Calgary to extend their season-opening winning streak to three games.
Capitals 2 Senators 1
At Washington, Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom scored to lead the Capitals past Ottawa.
Coyotes 4 Jets 1
At Glendale, Ariz., Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored twice and Phoenix won its home opener against winless Winnipeg. The game featured the original Jets, who moved to Phoenix in 1996, against the new Jets, freshly transferred from Atlanta and still looking for their first victory after three games.
Avalanche 6 Canadiens 5 (SO)
At Montreal, Milan Hejduk and Matt Duchene scored on Colorado’s first two shootout attempts and the Avalanche extended their winning streak to four by beating the Canadiens.
Bruins 3 Blackhawks 2 (SO)
At Chicago, Tyler Seguin scored the only goal in a shootout and Boston beat the Blackhawks in the only regular-season matchup between the last two Stanley Cup champions.
Kings 3 Flyers 2 (OT)
At Philadelphia, former Flyers capain Mike Richards assisted on Jack Johnson’s power-play goal at 1:39 of overtime to lift Los Angeles to the win.
Sabres 3 Penguins 2
At Pittsburgh, Nathan Gerbe and Luke Adam each had a goal and an assist as Buffalo beat the Penguins for the first time in almost two years.
Islanders 4 Rangers 2
At Uniondale, N.Y., John Tavares had three goals, including the tiebreaking goal in the third period, and added an assist for the New York Islanders, who beat the Rangers and gave goalie Evgeni Nabokov a win in his return to the NHL.
Panthers 3 Lightning 2 (SO)
At Sunrise, Fla., Marcel Goc scored the lone goal in a shootout and Jose Theodore stopped all three shots he faced during the tiebreaker to lift Florida over Tampa Bay.
Red Wings 3 Wild 2 (OT)
At St. Paul, Minn., Johan Franzen scored a power-play goal with 48.5 seconds left in overtime, rallying Detroit to a victory over the Minnesota.
Stars 4 Blue Jackets 2
At Dallas, Sheldon Souray and Michael Ryder scored third-period goals to help the Stars defeat Columbus.
Devils 3 Predators 2 (SO)
At Nashville, Tenn., Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise each scored in a shootout to lead New Jersey past the Predators.
Blues 4 Sharks 2
At San Jose, Calif., Kent Huskins and Alexander Steen scored in the third period to lift St. Louis over the Sharks.