EDMONTON, Alberta — Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was the first overall NHL draft pick in 2011, six years after the Penguins selected center Sidney Crosby first overall.
Nugent-Hopkins will get his third chance to play against Crosby tonight when the Penguins play the Oilers at Rexall Place, and that still is a thrill for the 20-year-old.
“You can’t say enough about how good of a player he is,” Nugent-Hopkins said Thursday. “On the bench, you sit back and you watch him, and then, when you get on the ice, you’ve got to make sure that you’re being careful. He’ll burn you and he’ll make you look dumb. He’s an awesome player.”
Crosby leads the NHL with 65 points in 45 games.
Nugent-Hopkins has seen Crosby play on television many times, but only through being on the ice against him has he picked up on a lot of nuances in Crosby’s game.
“On TV, it’s kind of hard to see the way he does all the little things right,” he said. “I’ve watched him a few times live and played against him. You can tell that he takes care of his game in the defensive end and in the offensive zone. He does everything right, and he’s always on the right side of the puck.
“You definitely can learn from a guy like that.”
Edmonton forward Sam Gagner has formed his perspective on Crosby partly on some time they spend in the same summer workout group. They share a personal trainer, Andy O’Brien.
“It’s a different level [in the summer], but the thing about him is he competes all the time, no matter if it’s in the middle of July or the middle of the season,” Gagner said.
Bylsma checks out prospect
The Penguins had a day off Wednesday, and coach Dan Bylsma spent his evening at Rexall Place watching the junior Edmonton Oil Kings beat top-ranked Kelowna, 4-2, in a Western Hockey League game.
Before the game, Bylsma visited with Oil Kings goaltender Tristan Jarry, a Penguins second-round draft pick last summer who is still 18.
Then Bylsma watched Jarry make a career-high 43 saves.
“He was very good in the game,” Bylsma said. “He saw a lot of shots, and he was tested with a couple of breakaways early.
“I thought he was really good in the game.”
Jarry is 25-10-0-1. He has a 2.21 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage.
Testing new practice time
Edmonton is far enough north that in the dead of winter it’s dark until well past 8 a.m. So headlights were needed for the Oilers heading to practice Thursday.
Coach Dallas Eakins is trying something new — 8 a.m. practices on non-game days. It’s not punitive.
“He’s not trying to play any mind games or anything like that,” Edmonton defenseman Andrew Ference said. “He’s trying something out.”
Eakins said he doesn’t have to set an alarm clock for the earlier-than-usual workouts because he always is up and headed to the rink early, but he was impressed to see that a few of his players beat him to Rexall Place Thursday.
Eakins pointed out that one bonus is that the players are done for the day by midmorning.
“I think our guys have actually enjoyed it,” he said.
“They don’t know what to do with all their extra time now.”
The Oilers, who, like the Penguins, were off Wednesday, practiced for close to 90 minutes, including some sprints. They still were off of the ice more than two hours before the Penguins practiced at Rexall Place.
Honor for Gibbons
Penguins rookie right winger Brian Gibbons, who has been playing on the top line with Crosby and left winger Chris Kunitz while Pascal Dupuis is out with an injury, was named to the American Hockey League All-Star Classic.
Although his time in the NHL has limited him to 23 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL, Gibbons, 25, leads Wilkes-Barre in assists (18) and points (27).
He should be able to participate in the All-Star festivities in St. John’s, Newfoundland, because they are Feb. 11-12, which falls during the NHL’s Olympic break.
Gibbons has two goals, five points in 11 games with the Penguins.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly.