Play Him Until He Drops

Jonathan Willis
December 10 2011 12:30PM

Last night, Tom Renney did something with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins that he seems to have been reluctant to do up until now.

Bruce McCurdy points it out in his summary of the Oilers’ 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche:

[Renney] [f]inally figured out that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins shoots just as left as Eric Belanger does, and began double-shifting the phenom on the powerplay. RNH’s 6:37 PP TOI was 50% more than any other Oiler, and judging by the results (2 powerplay goal in 5 opportunities), so far so good. We’ll see if Renney sticks to that, but if it means a little time of RNH playing with Hemsky and Smyth, I’m all for it.

Nugent-Hopkins is, with as much certainty as we can have just 29 games into his NHL career, the best power play option at the Oilers’ disposal. His on-ice vision, his passing game (on display last night, and also in pretty much every other game the Oilers have played) are strengths that nobody else on the team – not even Ales Hemsky – can match on the man advantage. He leads the Oilers with an average of 3:41 on the power play, but there’s a caveat there: Renney has been pretty even-handed in handing out power play assignments; nine other Oilers are within a minute of Nugent-Hopkins’ ice-time average on the power play, and that doesn’t even include Ryan Whitney or Ales Hemsky.

Over the last three games, though, we’ve seen Nugent-Hopkins get more power play time, and last night the coach decided to use him on both units. Here is Nugent-Hopkins’ power play time-on-ice for the last three 10 games, along with the Oilers’ leader in power play ice-time:

Game Nugent-Hopkins Team Lead
Dec. 9 6:37 6:37 (Nugent-Hopkins)
Dec. 7 5:50 5:50 (Nugent-Hopkins)
Dec. 3 7:26 7:40 (Gagner)
Dec. 2 0:59 1:14 (Gagner/Horcoff)
Nov. 30 3:41 3:49 (Smyth)
Nov. 28 2:24 3:17 (Smyth)
Nov. 26 2:32 3:22 (Gagner)
Nov. 25 4:04 4:33 (Eberle)
Nov. 22 2:11 2:11 (Four tied)
Nov. 21 6:57 7:33 (Gilbert)

Just the time-on-ice totals don’t give a total picture, as the number of power play opportunities available fluctuates with each game. However, up until last night, one of two things happened: either Renney played both power play units roughly equally, or Renney gave the Nugent-Hopkins unit a lot of ice-time. Last night was the first time in the last 10 contests that Nugent-Hopkins was double-shifted.

As long as the 18-year old is up to the task, Renney should use him as often as he possibly can on the power play. It’s what Dallas did with Brad Richards last season – he played nearly a full minute and a half more than Mike Ribeiro, the team’s second most-used forward, and it’s also what the Penguins did last year with Crosby/Malkin.

Nugent-Hopkins is an elite power play option at 18 years of age. Given the Oilers’ chronic power play woes, I say play him until he drops.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Greenlingj
December 10 2011, 12:32PM
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FIST!!!!

First post and its a FIST,

I say RNH is the next great one, is it truly to early to say that? how did he get that pass through gagner to ebs last night? how did he see that, check that kids vision as he can see through players. it is insane.

GO NUGE!

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#2 Klowe
December 10 2011, 12:50PM
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I agree double shift him every power play. Essentially soft minutes so fatigue should not be a factor. Also anything to keep Belanger off the power play.

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#3 David S
December 10 2011, 12:51PM
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Greenlingj wrote:

FIST!!!!

First post and its a FIST,

I say RNH is the next great one, is it truly to early to say that? how did he get that pass through gagner to ebs last night? how did he see that, check that kids vision as he can see through players. it is insane.

GO NUGE!

It's a set play. Mario Lemieux used to do the same thing. Deadly when all three participants connect. Gagner, RNH and Eberle have worked that pass-through a couple of times this year. They showed it last night on the after-game analysis.

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#4 Rama Lama
December 10 2011, 12:52PM
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THE NUGE IS HUGE! THE NUGE IS HUGE!

I'm starting to think I'm back in the eighties watching a new dynasty coming into form. Did I say dynasty?.........please forgive me for my exuberance.

If anyone knows Tuebert's height and weight please post it..........the official stats claim that he is 195 lbs at 6' 4"........this does not seem right? He plays a lot bigger than that, needs to develop further, but is coming along.

Rama has spoken.

Tonight's prediction.........Oilers will be flat, tired, and we will all rip them tomorrow. I hate back to back games.

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#5 MAC962
December 10 2011, 01:02PM
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Agreed, with conditions. You play him until he drops on the PP Unless the game is out of reach either way. And i am sure even Renney is smart enough to figure that out.

The kid is not use to the grind of an 82 Game schedule and i expect we will see a drop off at some point. You use him as much as possible when needed, not to pad stats. I hope the nutritionists are pumping Nuge full of good stuff, he is gonna need it. Hope he doesnt have a girlfriend either for a while !!

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#6 Greenlingj
December 10 2011, 01:08PM
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I just look at his point production and think once Hall is back in the line up, and we have Gagner Ebs Paajarvi and Hall, all vying for Nuges golden passes....

we are gonna see some 6+ goal games.

Paajarvi would benefit on the point in a PP situation. IMHO.

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#8 MAC962
December 10 2011, 01:31PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I completely agree on the conditions - this shouldn't be done to pad RNH's stats, but rather to win hockey games.

On the grind, I do wonder how much of an impact it will have - Nugent-Hopkins is used to a 70-game schedule, so one imagines it shouldn't be a huge leap for him that way.

JW

And those 70 games were against Boys not men. I am sure they will use him correctly, There was another kid WG That we thought would wilt , Boy were we wrong.

Can You imagine WG and Nuge togeather ? Perhaps they are too much of the same type of Player to be effective but wow.

Ryan has much to learn yet but the Possibilities are endless for this kid. I would suspect he is our all-star nomination. I want to see this kid play in a no contact game with a bunch of other superstars. Wow-that could be scary. I dont usually watch the no-hitter allstar game , but i just may this year for some strange reason. We have a gem...if not a few. T.H. and EBS will have a thing or 2 to say yet, and they are already wicked. Taylor with a little more beef for the way he plays.... scary. Very Messier Like. Just needs to snap once or twice.

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#9 Rondo
December 10 2011, 01:41PM
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Why push him that hard, Oilers are probably not a playoff team this year. For the Oilers to compete they need a power forward and and number 1 D-man. There is no reason to push RNH in a non-playoff year.

2012 Draft is rumoured to be the best draft ever in the 1st round for D-men.

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#10 DrDave
December 10 2011, 01:46PM
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If Gagner on the top line got him going maybe it's worth a shot putting MPS up there for a game or 2 to see if fires up his offense.

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#11 A-Mc
December 10 2011, 01:46PM
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@MAC962

I think he has a GF. He brought a woman to Ryan smyths house for thanks giving.

I don't see nuge as much of a partier, so as long as he goes to bed on time and stays well fed, he will be ok through the 82 IMO.

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#12 Rondo
December 10 2011, 01:47PM
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The only reason to push him is not for him but for Tom Renney and the management. They need to protect their jobs.

If Edmonton would have pushed harder last year and made some trades, we probably would not have RNH on the team.

This year the leash is shorter, so management needs to produce.

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#13 nofool6110
December 10 2011, 01:59PM
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A-Mc wrote:

I think he has a GF. He brought a woman to Ryan smyths house for thanks giving.

I don't see nuge as much of a partier, so as long as he goes to bed on time and stays well fed, he will be ok through the 82 IMO.

A-Mc -- crushing the dreams of squeeing children everywhere.

What's next? Reveal Eberle is actually married and thus destroy Wanye?

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#14 David S
December 10 2011, 02:27PM
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nofool6110 wrote:

A-Mc -- crushing the dreams of squeeing children everywhere.

What's next? Reveal Eberle is actually married and thus destroy Wanye?

I'm not entirely uncertain Eberle and Wanye aren't already engaged. When I ran into Wanye at the Pint downtown a couple of weeks ago he sure had a jump in his step, if you know what I mean (and I think you do)*.

*Although it could have been the booze talkin' too.

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#17 They're $hittie
December 10 2011, 02:44PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I completely agree on the conditions - this shouldn't be done to pad RNH's stats, but rather to win hockey games.

On the grind, I do wonder how much of an impact it will have - Nugent-Hopkins is used to a 70-game schedule, so one imagines it shouldn't be a huge leap for him that way.

Maybe he is use to a 70 game schedule and I am not 100 percent educated on the WHL travel arrangements. Does anyone know how often they take the bus or fly? But those extra 12 games against much better and more or less a lot bigger players at a higher pace will have a larger toll on him. Also take into account the time difference in time zone changes and distance of travel. I think despite his talent he is still probably taking more physical abuse in the nhl.

Its a big jump and that is why not a lot of 18 year olds make it. But this one is something special.

Belanger off powerplay, MPS in. Horcoff off first powerplay Hall in.

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#18 FastOil
December 10 2011, 02:47PM
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DrDave wrote:

If Gagner on the top line got him going maybe it's worth a shot putting MPS up there for a game or 2 to see if fires up his offense.

I think Gagner is playing better, but would say what got him going was 2 good linemates and acres of room and hours of time.

I also think MPS needs a boost. But the problem as I see it, and saw last night is that he's playing far too safe and conservatively. One shift when the Oilers had the puck in deep he circled all the way to the O blue line, went behind the D and was in no hurry to get back into the play.

He has a good handle on defensive awareness. I would put him with Horc and Smyth and tell him to go berserk (a good viking word he should know) trying to score and to attack at every opportunity. He can work the D back into his game, but he needs to amp up his desire to score, get hungry. He needs a taste of blood. It's like he's playing worried.

And speaking of that, Petry looked like he was in the midst of an anxiety attack whenver the camera got him in closeup. Maybe Renney is pushing them a bit too much. This is not the year, I think getting the young guys comfortable on the ice and focusing on trying to score and win battles is enough. The pressure to win on the team level needs to wait until they win on the battle level consistently and work the nerves out. Baby steps, we've come a long way, longer way to go.

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#19 Romulus' Apotheosis
December 10 2011, 02:47PM
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He only really looked gassed once last night and Renney used his TO to rest up the line. It wasn't on the PP either.

@Willis

how common is it for players to get double shifted on the PP? is this such an anomaly? perhaps, his age and experience make the move stand out more than the simple fact of double shifts?

@everyone...

is Kent taking a long time to compose his GDB (Gloat Day Bitches!) post or what?

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#20 KenMcC
December 10 2011, 03:03PM
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I think the benefit to "player development" realized by finishing 9th or 8th will exceed the future benefit of a #5 to #10 draft pick.

Does anyone really believe we could fall below Tampa in the Dive for Five? Even if RNH and Nikky H get injured for the year?.

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#21 MAC962
December 10 2011, 03:04PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ MAC692:

Nugent-Hopkins is going to be held back by not being on the official all-star ballot. At this point, Nikolai Khabibulin has the most votes of any Oiler - he's ranked 8th among goalies.

Really ? Nick is having a good year no doubt about that. But i am surprised somewhat. Again, i dont follow the All-Star stuff much as in any league, it is for the kids more than anything i would say.

I think Ryan- Taylor and Jordan will have their fair share of All-Star appearances over their careers.

That all aside, do you feel tonights gam is almost a must win for the team ? I kind of have that feeling. If they win this it may carry them for a few more wins and they will be that much closer to Getting Taylor Back.

None the less, Go Oilers.

Is Hordy Playing ? Or do they not break up a winning Line up. I just know Calgary usually needs a equalizer in the line up, and i really hope Eager catches that twirp Glencross with his head down. Play bIg again Big Ben !!

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#22 They're $hittie
December 10 2011, 03:12PM
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MAC962 wrote:

Really ? Nick is having a good year no doubt about that. But i am surprised somewhat. Again, i dont follow the All-Star stuff much as in any league, it is for the kids more than anything i would say.

I think Ryan- Taylor and Jordan will have their fair share of All-Star appearances over their careers.

That all aside, do you feel tonights gam is almost a must win for the team ? I kind of have that feeling. If they win this it may carry them for a few more wins and they will be that much closer to Getting Taylor Back.

None the less, Go Oilers.

Is Hordy Playing ? Or do they not break up a winning Line up. I just know Calgary usually needs a equalizer in the line up, and i really hope Eager catches that twirp Glencross with his head down. Play bIg again Big Ben !!

Regardless of Votes Nuge will be there.

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#23 They're $hittie
December 10 2011, 03:12PM
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MAC962 wrote:

Really ? Nick is having a good year no doubt about that. But i am surprised somewhat. Again, i dont follow the All-Star stuff much as in any league, it is for the kids more than anything i would say.

I think Ryan- Taylor and Jordan will have their fair share of All-Star appearances over their careers.

That all aside, do you feel tonights gam is almost a must win for the team ? I kind of have that feeling. If they win this it may carry them for a few more wins and they will be that much closer to Getting Taylor Back.

None the less, Go Oilers.

Is Hordy Playing ? Or do they not break up a winning Line up. I just know Calgary usually needs a equalizer in the line up, and i really hope Eager catches that twirp Glencross with his head down. Play bIg again Big Ben !!

Regardless of Votes Nuge will be there.

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#26 Romulus' Apotheosis
December 10 2011, 03:15PM
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@MAC962

and @Willis

I thought rookies were summarily excluded from the All Star Games... Can they play or what?

I don't know who's playing tonight, but I'd bet Renney plays the same guys in the same formation as last night... he even talked this morning about maybe playing Khabbie again... if he did that it would be a huge signal that he's in it to win it.

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#27 Romulus' Apotheosis
December 10 2011, 03:19PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

It's not terribly common - only a handful of teams do it each year, and only in special circumstances.

I'd argue that Edmonton qualifies, simply because RNH has been an elite-level talent on the PP and the team has struggled forever with the man advantage.

Thanks for the reply. I thought it was odd... but then I was sure I'd seen it before on other teams and had no marker for its prevalence.

My suspicion is it's more common in the Playoffs.

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#28 MAC962
December 10 2011, 03:24PM
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Romulus' Apotheosis wrote:

and @Willis

I thought rookies were summarily excluded from the All Star Games... Can they play or what?

I don't know who's playing tonight, but I'd bet Renney plays the same guys in the same formation as last night... he even talked this morning about maybe playing Khabbie again... if he did that it would be a huge signal that he's in it to win it.

I dont know about you guys, but i am clock watching already. I want this game REAL bad. Habby better be starting. I just dont have faith [yet] in Dub.

Sure wish Taylor and Sutton were available for this one.

4 hrs 37 minutes.

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#29 sizedoesmatter
December 10 2011, 03:28PM
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I wish they would go back to the old system of selecting players for the all star game RNH might be in the top five in goal scoring and not be voted in same as Eberle.Also RNH is not being hit much, I think he will be fine with the extra minutes on the PP

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#30 The 'Real' Ron Burgundy
December 10 2011, 03:35PM
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@David S

Not sure if you saw the intermission on TSN, but they showed that play and how it developed...

Gagner actually first went in front of the Avs goalie, which was where Horcov was, so he pushed him back out top in between the circles, just in time for the pass to go through his legs and onto Ebs' stick.

So it was a "set play"; its just Gags forgot and needed Horc's stick to remind him....

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#31 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
December 10 2011, 03:40PM
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To heck with Dubnyk, play the wheels off of Khabibulin as well. The two points are the only thing that matters on a nightly basis. Keep the .935 guy in there not the .899 guy.

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#32 MAC962
December 10 2011, 03:52PM
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Is it just me having a beer already waiting for this rematch ?

Hellooooo is anyone out there ?

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#33 Walter Sobchak
December 10 2011, 04:07PM
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Imagine what RNH point totals would be if we had a legit threat at the point, leading the league? How many more points would a guy like Souray be worth to RNH?

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#35 David S
December 10 2011, 04:19PM
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The 'Real' Ron Burgundy wrote:

Not sure if you saw the intermission on TSN, but they showed that play and how it developed...

Gagner actually first went in front of the Avs goalie, which was where Horcov was, so he pushed him back out top in between the circles, just in time for the pass to go through his legs and onto Ebs' stick.

So it was a "set play"; its just Gags forgot and needed Horc's stick to remind him....

Yeah. I saw that.

TSN's game recap showed a couple of other times that play was executed, both resulting in Eberle rockets finding twine. Looks like a nifty play they've been working on in practice.

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#36 David S
December 10 2011, 04:22PM
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Next up, is Connor McJesus. wrote:

To heck with Dubnyk, play the wheels off of Khabibulin as well. The two points are the only thing that matters on a nightly basis. Keep the .935 guy in there not the .899 guy.

Which is what a smart coach won't do unless he has no other option. We "played the wheels" off Khabby last year and got the shining SvP we saw.

I think the key to winning on our back end would be prudent management of our athletes. Too bad Dubnyk seems to be breaking down. I (along with most of us I suppose) thought he'd be better.

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#37 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
December 10 2011, 04:40PM
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David S wrote:

Which is what a smart coach won't do unless he has no other option. We "played the wheels" off Khabby last year and got the shining SvP we saw.

I think the key to winning on our back end would be prudent management of our athletes. Too bad Dubnyk seems to be breaking down. I (along with most of us I suppose) thought he'd be better.

Smart is a much over rated aspect of coaching. It's all about winning, starting the best players who give you the best chance to win every night.

Victories get you into the Hall of Fame, not furthering kids careers whom may or may not ever pan out.

Huge difference between this and last season. The Oilers have added a brand new V12 motor in Hopkins. Even with the same blueman crew working on the backend , we appear to be making progress with 93 and a much better 35 in goal. Dubnyk surrendered the crease with barely a whimper so far this season.

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#38 Simpsonite
December 10 2011, 08:19PM
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Pp unit one will be glorious when hall returns because gagner can run the second unit. OR nuge on both and gagner scores on unit 2. Conclusion. See ya hemsky.

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