The Edmonton Oilers have taken another step in locking up their young core by signing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to a seven-year contract.
Nugent-Hopkins got $42 million (all currency in U.S.), the same amount the Oilers gave Taylor Hall on his seven-year deal. The $6-million cap hit is also the same as Jordan Eberle's, making for uniformity among Edmonton's top young forwards.
"We felt when we did the contracts with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, that at that point we knew we'd be doing a very similar, if not identical, contract to what we did with those players," Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish told reporters. "This is just a reflection of how highly we hold Ryan within our organization."
Nugent-Hopkins underwent surgery on his left shoulder April 23 to repair a torn labrum. He's currently skating but has been non-commital about being ready in time for the start of the NHL season.
But that doesn't concern MacTavish.
"During the term of this contract I feel very strongly he's going to outperform the number on the contract," he said. "I don't know when that's going to happen but I anticipate it will happen pretty soon during the length of this contract."
Predictably, Nugent-Hopkins is very pleased to have the deal done. His extension starts in the 2014-15 season.
"I definitely want to come back and play my best whenever I am ready to play," he said. "I'm just happy to be here, to be locked up for the next so many years.
"It's going to be great."
Nugent-Hopkins downplayed the significance of his cap hit being the same as Hall's and Eberle's.
"I don't think any of us really worried about it too much," he said. "Once you get on the ice you kind of forget about all that stuff and you just want to go out there and play and perform the best for the team.
"Obviously having all three of us the same is not going to cause any problems even though it wouldn't anyway. It's definitely exciting for all of us."
But Nugent-Hopkins said his first goal is to get to the point physically where he can play.
"Obviously my first priority is getting healthy and making sure that I'm ready to play," he said. "Getting the contract done now is definitely a positive thing.
"It's something I don't have to worry about and something that's not on my mind, not even a little bit. I just want to get back healthy and get back to playing."
MacTavish said he never approached Hall and/or Eberle during his contract talks with Nugent-Hopkins.
Nugent-Hopkins, the first pick in the 2011 draft, has 22 goals and 54 assists in 102 career NHL games. He had four goals and 20 points in 40 games last season.
"I thought last year I definitely didn't put up the points that I wanted to," he said. "I thought I made some steps in my defensive zones.
"I want to put everything together this year and make sure I have a great year."
MacTavish said the organization has no concerns about Nugent-Hopkins' shoulder.
"No, zero," he said. "We've had lots of success with that procedure in the past.
"His surgery is solid and there's a good history to lead us to believe and have every confidence that there won't be a problem going forward."
The Oilers have just over $41-million of salary-cap commitments to 10 players for next season. That does not include a new deal for defenceman Justin Schultz.
But Edmonton's priority during its youth movement has been cultivating young forwards. Nugent-Hopkins was the second of three straight No. 1 picks, sandwiched between Hall in 2010 and Nail Yakupov in 2012.
Yakupov has two seasons left on his entry-level contract.
In addition to Nugent-Hopkins, Hall and Eberle, the Oilers signed centre Sam Gagner to a $14.4-million, three-year contract during the off-season. And they acquired winger David Perron in a trade with the St. Louis Blues to provide some more experience.
MacTavish said Nugent-Hopkins' extension contains a no-trade clause — sort of.
"I've asked Ryan to never ask for a trade through the term of this contract," he said. "That's our no-trade.
"He has promised me that he won't ask for one, that's important for us. I don't anticipate anything happening, obviously. It's our objective as an organization to make this experience so rewarding for everybody that they wouldn't want to leave, much like it was many years ago where Edmonton really was where everybody wanted to play."