It's uncertain how long Edmonton's young, talented No. 1 line will play in Oklahoma City. But Barons fans have witnessed why Oilers fans feel good about the franchise's future.
Playing in the American Hockey League for OKC during the NHL lockout, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Justin Schultz once again put on a show Saturday night in a 5-2 Barons win over Milwaukee at the Cox Convention Center.
“The original plan was not to play them together, but they do have chemistry,” said coach Todd Nelson. “What people are seeing here is a top line in the National Hockey League. Remember, early in the season they weren't producing like everybody thought they would.”
They're producing now.
Schultz and Eberle are 1-2 in the American Hockey League in scoring. Nugent-Hopkins is in the top five.
It's rare in a 30-team league to have three of the top five scorers on one team.
“I think the big reason for that is the power play,” Eberle said. “We played together last year, so we've done it at the NHL level. When we came down here, we just wanted to contribute as much as we could. I think the power play is going to be a big key to our team this year.”
NHL owners and the NHL Players Association plan to resume negotiations on Monday. If a new deal is reached the next three weeks, Edmonton's young stars could be gone before the Barons' next home game.
Oklahoma City begins a seven-game road trip later this week. If the young Edmonton stars are still on the roster when the Barons return home Dec. 11, they might be here the entire season.
“You never know (what might happen),” said Nugent-Hopkins. “It's been a great experience so far. The fact we've been able to keep playing, building chemistry is huge for us.”
Joining the No. 1 line has been Schultz, a standout rookie defenseman who played at Wisconsin. Schultz scored his eighth goal of the season to tie Saturday's game 1-1 and continues to lead the AHL in scoring (21 points).
Eberle, who had three assists, is second in the AHL with 19 points.
Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, scored his sixth and seventh goals and added an assist to raise his point total to 17.
“They have so much chemistry if you give them a chance they're very, very good offensively,” said forward Magnus Paajarvi. “It's an awesome line, a first line in the NHL.”
Milwaukee scored less than five minutes into the game, but the Barons scored the next three goals to lead 3-1 after two periods.
After Schultz's goal, Nugent-Hopkins scored his sixth goal of the season with just 47.2 seconds left in the first period, deflecting in Hall's shot.
Defenseman Taylor Fedun scored his first pro goal Friday night and scored his second early in the second period Saturday off a nice pass from Paajarvi.
After the Admirals clawed to within 3-2, Oklahoma City countered with a short-handed goal, Curtis Hamilton slamming in a rebound off Dane Byers' shot.
Nugent-Hopkins closed out the scoring with an empty netter with 52 seconds left.
The Barons' seven-game road trip will impact the standings. The trip includes a two-game series against division-leading Charlotte and two-game series against South Division rivals Houston and San Antonio.
“Road trips really bring a team together, off the ice especially,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “You get to bond and spend a lot of time together. It will be a good time.”