The Edmonton Oilers got a glimpse into the future Saturday.
First-overall draft picks Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins played together on the same line for the first time and combined on the winning goal with just 1:17 remaining as the Oilers beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 in pre-season play.
With the scored tied 1-1, Nugent-Hopkins' shot hit a Flames defender and ended up on Hall's stick in front. Hall sent his first goal of the pre-season past Calgary goalie Leland Irving.
Both highly-touted forwards said it was a special night getting their first chance to play together, along with Teemu Hartikainen, the game's first star.
“It was a great chance for me,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who has three assists in three exhibition games. “(Hall's) a great player. Getting a chance to be on his line was something special. Hopefully this is the start of something special between the two of us.
“I'd love to play with Taylor. He's got so much speed and vision. To be on a line with him would be great.”
The first overall pick in the 2010 draft, Hall was impressed with the poise shown by Nugent-Hopkins, who went first overall this year.
“It was fun to play with him,” Hall said. “As the game went on we spent less time in our end and way more time in theirs. For a young centreman to win draws like that and get the puck out of our end with no problem, it's a heavy task. He did very well and made it very easy for me and Teemu.”
Oilers head coach Tom Renney also liked what he saw from Hall and Nugent-Hopkins.
“They certainly had some very good moments,” he said. “We were hoping they would do something special and they did.
Ryan Jones also scored for the Oilers, who improved to 2-2-0 in exhibition action.
Rene Bourque scored in response for the Flames, who fell to 1-2-0.
“I thought we had moments where we were fine,” Flames head coach Brent Sutter said. “But I wasn't happy with the way we played the last period and the last part of the second period.
“But again, that's what this for — to get a good evaluation of some of these guys and where they're at. Each game gets a little tougher. A little harder. You see a lot more. So in one sense, it's kind of sorting itself out.”
There was no scoring in a largely uneventful first period. Edmonton had six shots on Irving to five Flames shots on Oilers starter Nikolai Khabibulin.
The veteran Oilers goalie — who allowed three goals on his first seven shots in his first pre-season start — looked a lot better against Calgary. He made a huge kick-save on a 2-on-1 opportunity for Matt Stajan six minutes into the second period.
However, the Flames got one past him to start the scoring just two minutes later as a hard blast from the top of the circle by Bourque beat Khabibulin low to the glove side.
Calgary almost made it a two-goal game with three minutes left in the second period as a shot by Lee Stempniak got past Khabibulin but hit the post.
The Oilers tied the game with just seven seconds remaining in the second as Jones beat Stempniak to a loose puck and scored a short-handed goal on a backhand through Irving's legs.
Of concern for the Oilers in the second was the loss of centre Sam Gagner, who left the game after a hit along the boards by Brendan Mikkelson. The early word was a left ankle injury.
Calgary came close to regaining the lead early in the second as Anton Lander had his pocket picked in front of the Oilers net by Sven Baertschi, forcing Khabibulin to make a huge glove save.
The two teams face each other again on Sunday in Calgary.
Notes: Edmonton forward Ales Hemsky, who has been limited to just 69 games in the last two seasons due to injuries, has been cleared for contact and could play Sunday. ... Making his debut with Edmonton after an off-season trade with Anaheim was hulking defenceman Andy Sutton. ... Maxwell Reinhart made his pre-season debut for the Flames following fighting an illness in the early parts of camp. Reinhart stood out at a rookie tournament earlier this month and had immediate chemistry with Sven Baertschi. ... Absent from the rookie-heavy Flames lineup were the likes of Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay, Jay Bouwmeester and Miikka Kiprusoff. ... Wayne Gretzky, who headlined a banquet in Edmonton on Friday night, took in the morning skate and the game alongside Oilers president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe.