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Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall pave way for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' $42 million deal

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Injury-plagued, underachieving Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was the first-overall pick in 2011. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

By Allan Muir

There was a good case to be made if the Edmonton Oilers had chosen to play short-term contract hardball with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

His first two seasons have been marked by their share of blemishes. He's had trouble finishing -- just four goals last year -- and he's suffered through a career's worth of injuries, missing 20 games his rookie year, followed by a shoulder problem that cut last season short and will keep him out of Edmonton's lineup until November.

It's the sort of track record that affords a flinty general manager plenty of leeway over an already unleveraged RFA.

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But Nugent-Hopkins is also the sort of breathtaking talent whose immense promise demands to be considered on its own terms. His pedigree -- he was the first-overall pick in 2011 -- and his spectacularly appointed tool box project him as an elite, first-line center. Greatness has eluded him these first two years, but it won't for much longer.

So it makes perfect sense for the Oilers to get him tied down, not to the most cost-effective deal, but to the right one.

Over the past two years, the Oilers have signed two other core players, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, to long-term deals averaging $6 million per year. With those contracts setting an unavoidable standard, this seven-year, $42 million pact practically wrote itself.

It made sense that it mirrors the one given to Hall last summer. Both players averaged .75 points per game over their first two seasons, and both dealt with shoulder issues that cost them significant time.

There's risk any time a young player has that kind of history, but in a league where top stars can reap $10 million, these deals could turn out to be bargains. Hall's is already shaping up that way after he recovered to finish ninth in NHL scoring last season with 50 points in 45 games.

Having all three of their young star forwards under contract for an identical $6 million is a coup for Edmonton GM Craig MacTavish. It not only heads off potential ego problems in the room, it also sets a nice, low ceiling that will keep future deals for players like Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz in check.