EDMONTON - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins isn't quite ready to step back on the ice, but the prognosis is good when it comes to the status of his surgically repaired left shoulder.
It's been a little more than six weeks since he went under the knife to mend a torn labrum.
Billed as a four- to six-month recovery process, Nugent-Hopkins is optimistic he could be ready start the 2013-14 season as planned and on schedule.
"It's going really well right now," Nugent-Hopkins said Saturday morning at the annual Oilers Locker Room Sale. "The first couple weeks are pretty slow and you can't move it too much, so the first part is getting your range of motion back. I'm starting to strengthen it a bit now and it feels good. It feels better every day, so we're definitely taking some steps and I want to be ready as soon as possible.
"There are a couple checkpoints I need to check off before I can get back on the ice, but hopefully I can shoot pretty soon -- in maybe about a month or so."
Revealed as a reoccurring issue ("It's been something that's been nagging at me for a couple years," he said in late April), Nugent-Hopkins wanted a clean bill of health heading into the new season.
"We're not going to try and push it too much, but things are going really well and it's looking good right now. There are still a lot of things I can do in the gym. I obviously can't do too much with my arms, but as far as training goes, I can do most things but I need to be conscious of my shoulder."
Before suiting up for Team Canada at the World Junior Championship in Russia this past December, Nugent-Hopkins left his post with the Oklahoma City Barons, missing a handful of games while returning home to Edmonton for a check-up with the Oilers' medical staff.
His wonky left wing was healthy enough to participate in the tournament, but his condition worsened over the course of the season.
"The staff here is awesome and they're always willing to help me out in whatever way I need," Nugent-Hopkins said. "The surgeon is always great to talk to as well, so (the recovery process) has been a good experience so far."
Nugent-Hopkins has spent the better part of the off-season right here in Edmonton, but will soon be heading home to Burnaby for the summer. Keeping busy in the absence of Oilers hockey at Rexall Place, the 20-year-old has been closely monitoring the success of his former team.
"It was awesome to see how well they did," Nugent-Hopkins said of the Barons' deep post-season run. "It would have been nice to see them go further, but I thought they had a great season. It goes to show how tight knit of a group it was and we could really tell when we were down there earlier in the year.
"Like we have here in Edmonton, they had a younger team down there. They were so dedicated to every part of the team. They worked as hard as they possibly could every single night and that brings a team together off the ice as well. All the young guys really bonded well together and it worked out well for them."
Before being shuttled back up to Edmonton after the new CBA was agreed to, Nugent-Hopkins posted four goals and 20 points in 19 games with the Barons.
OKC lost to the Grand Rapids Griffins in Game 7 of the AHL Western Conference Final last week.
Up in the NHL, with a new head coach more on the way, Nugent-Hopkins is understandably eager to experience a similar run with the Oilers.
"I'm excited to get the get the season started," he said. "We didn't end as strong as we would have liked to (19-22-7 overall), but I thought we took some good steps this year and we want to keep building on it."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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