October 24 2011 06:19PM
If being the Edmonton Oilers best forward through seven games this season isn't enough to keep Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the NHL beyond his next two games, I'm not sure what is.
So why, then, hasn't coach Tom Renney given Nugent-Hopkins the tap on the shoulder and told him to find a place in Edmonton? What, exactly, am I missing? While I cannot and do not claim to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, I don't get it. Do you?
I remain perplexed even after listening to Renney answer questions today about the status of Nugent-Hopkins, who leads the Oilers in scoring with 5-2-7 after a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win over the New York Rangers Saturday at Rexall Place.
While Renney has other decisions to make with his forward lines and is trying to fit all the pieces together, I can't for the life of me comprehend why any of the questions moving forward should involve Nugent-Hopkins, based on what the kid has shown.
MULLING IT OVER
First, we had GM Steve Tambellini stressing from almost the moment the Oilers selected him first overall last June that it shouldn't be construed as a failure if Nugent-Hopkins didn't play the season with the Oilers. How many times did you hear Tambellini say it?
Now, we've got Renney saying all the right things about what he's seen from Nugent-Hopkins, yet he's obviously not convinced enough to tell the kid to find himself a place in town.
"I don't think that we've really identified an internal time-line," Renney told reporters today. "We talk about all our players every day and he's certainly one of the ones we talk about a lot.
"I can tell you that's it's all favourable, you know? The kid's doing a good job. At the end of the day, and I've said many, many times, it'll be the body of work we'll look at.
"There are other players who are involved in this process, too, that we have to make decisions, so it's not just about him. It's about a number of other players we have to pay attention to in terms of whether or not they're part of the line-up."
What other players? Linus Omark? Sam Gagner? Who? What do they have to do with the buzz Nugent-Hopkins and linemates Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have created as a line?
And as far as the "body of work" Renney refers to, what does he mean by that? Considering Renney and Oilers management had seen enough of Hall's body of work last season to tell him he wasn't going anywhere after four games -- Hall had one assist at the time -- that doesn't wash.
I haven't had the chance to ask anybody in management, Tambellini or president of hockey operations Kevin Lowe, in recent days if they're sold on keeping Nugent-Hopkins yet.
If they aren't, I'd certainly be interested in hearing what more they need to see. If they are convinced that The Nuge is a keeper and should never darken the door of the Red Deer Rebels again, I'd like to know how they are taking Renney's reluctance to commit.
Is there a disconnect with the coach?
WHAT ABOUT POTTER?
Cam Barker got most of the ink when it came to free agent signings Tambellini made to bolster his blue line. Through seven games, Corey Potter and his bargain-basement $525,000 deal has provided most of the results.
Potter, 27, selected 122nd overall by the Rangers in 2003, was an afterthought when he signed with the Oilers this summer. He isn't one any more. So, is Potter a classic case of a late-bloomer the Oilers should be looking at as a fixture on a the blue line for the next year or two or is he a flash in the pan?
After asking around this summer, I had an inkling Potter might turn out to be a dark horse in the blue line sweepstakes a couple of weeks after he signed with the Oilers. On July 17, I wrote:
"One wildcard will be former Michigan State product and free agent Corey Potter, who signed a one-year, two-way deal July 1. Renney knows Potter, 27, from his days with the New York Rangers. He likes him a lot."
That said, I wasn't sure Potter could or would do enough as an outsider to displace Jeff Petry or Taylor Chorney. He's obviously managed that, so the question remains: have the Oilers seen enough early to offer Potter a one-year deal at, say, $700,000 or two years at $1.6 million or so?
I'm guessing stats guys will it's too early to know, but Potter strikes me as a guy who has found the right circumstances and looks poised to make the most of it this season. If he does, he'll cost more than $700,000 a season in a new contract next summer.
While it doesn't hurt that the Oilers could save some money if they move on Potter now, that's not a good enough reason to do it. That Potter looks like he might be the kind of defenseman they hoped Barker was -- a guy who can play top-4 minutes and get something done on the power play -- is good enough reason. It's worth considering.
AND . . .
-- Those who scoff Nikolai Khabibulin's .969 saves-percentage through his first four games isn't sustainable are selling him short. Of course it isn't sustainable. So what?
While I count myself among those who doubted Khabibulin could rebound from a 2010-11 campaign in which he had a pitiful .890 saves percentage, he has so far SIUTBOHC. He has been outstanding with the minutes he's been given and deserves credit.
Will it last? Not like this. Again, so what? If he comes in at something around .910 when this season is in the books, that would represent a pretty decent comeback season, no?
-- Tom Gilbert is the poster boy for an Edmonton blue line that was much-maligned (deservedly so) going into the season. He's been much better than I expected. Now, if Barker would get something done.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.