Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been getting plenty of on-the-job training since joining the Edmonton Oilers.

One of his best instructors is San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton, who has schooled the young Oilers rising star in the past.

Thornton is one of the league’s premier centres. Nugent-Hopkins wants to get there.

“It’s always a challenge going up against him, he’s one of the best centres in the league,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “I definitely try to enjoy it and play him hard. You can definitely learn a lot from a guy like that. He’s hard to play defensively, it makes me want to be hard against him, too.”

Jumbo Joe is not the most physical player in the game, but he does make the most of his six-foot-four, 220-pound frame.

The Sharks captain is also one of the NHL’s premier passers and went into Wednesday’s game with a league-high 47 assists.

“With his size, he protects the puck so well and he’s so smart,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “He see plays happening before they do. He knows where everybody is and he always makes the right play.

“Defensively he’s good, too. The big thing with him is that his stick is always in a really good position. You don’t always realize it, but he’s very good at taking away the passing lane. You have to watch out for that. It’s a challenge, but you have to enjoy it.”

With the Sharks now in the Oilers’ division, Nugent-Hopkins can look forward to many more meetings with Thornton. Particularly since the Sharks captain recently signed a three-year extension with his club.