Size Up The Middle: Can Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner Co-Exist?

Jonathan Willis
April 20 2012 01:00PM

The Edmonton Oilers are blessed with two young centres who are bona fide NHL players in the here and now, and who are only likely to get better with the passing of time. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall pick in 2011, and Sam Gagner, the sixth overall pick in 2007, are both excellent NHL talents and both fit nicely into the age group of the young forward corps the Oilers have assembled.

Unfortunately, neither stands 6’4” and weighs north of 200 pounds. Do the Oilers need to dump one of the two in exchange for an upgrade in size down the middle?

To answer that question, I decided to go back through all the teams to play in the Stanley Cup Finals since the NHL lockout, and check the size of their top three centres. These centres were then ranked by total ice-time and designated first, second or third line. Here’s the list:

Team Season First Line Height Weight Second Line Height Weight Third Line Height Weight Avg. Height Avg. Weight
Boston 2010-11 David Krejci 72 188 Patrice Bergeron 74 194 Chris Kelly 72 198 73 193
Vancouver 2010-11 Ryan Kesler 74 202 Henrik Sedin 74 188 Maxim Lapierre 74 207 74 199
Chicago 2009-10 Jonathan Toews 74 208 Dave Bolland 72 184 Patrick Sharp 73 199 73 197
Philadelphia 2009-10 Mike Richards 71 199 Claude Giroux 71 172 Jeff Carter 76 199 73 190
Pittsburgh 2008-09 Evgeni Malkin 75 195 Sidney Crosby 71 200 Jordan Staal 76 220 74 205
Detroit 2008-09 Henrik Zetterberg 71 197 Pavel Datsyuk 71 198 Valtteri Filppula 72 195 71 197
Detroit 2007-08 Henrik Zetterberg 71 197 Pavel Datsyuk 71 198 Valtteri Filppula 72 195 71 197
Pittsburgh 2007-08 Evgeni Malkin 75 195 Sidney Crosby 71 200 Jordan Staal 76 220 74 205
Anaheim 2006-07 Ryan Getzlaf 76 221 Samuel Pahlsson 72 202 Andy McDonald 71 185 73 203
Ottawa 2006-07 Jason Spezza 75 216 Mike Fisher 73 208 Antoine Vermette 73 198 74 207
Carolina 2005-06 Rod Brind'Amour 73 205 Eric Staal 76 205 Doug Weight 71 202 73 204
Edmonton 2005-06 Shawn Horcoff 73 207 Mike Peca 71 183 Jarret Stoll 73 213 72 201
Average 2005-11 First Line 6'1" 203 Second Line 6'1" 194 Third Line 6'1" 203 6'1" 200

One point of interest before I get into the size numbers is how ice-time arranges these players. In many cases, the guy centering a team’s second scoring line finishes third in total ice-time – Mike Peca in 2006, Samuel Pahlsson in 2007 and Dave Bolland in 2010 are a few of the unlikely “second” line guys.

Getting back to the main point, the average top-nine centre on a Stanley Cup finalist over the last six seasons isn’t especially big by NHL standards: 6’1”, 200lbs. Pittsburgh’s trio is the biggest on the record here, coming in at a combined average of 6’2” and 205lbs; their opponents in Detroit are the smallest of the group at an average of 5’11”, 197lbs.

The Oilers top three centres today – Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner and Shawn Horcoff – come in at an average of 6’, 192lbs, just slightly shorter and lighter than average. Horcoff and Gagner, listed at 207 and 195 pounds respectively, are both right around the league average; the still-developing Nugent-Hopkins is definitely on the slight side, listed at just 175 pounds. He’ll put on more weight as he gets older, and the Oilers should be right around the average of our group of finalists when he does so.

Looking at the list above, I don’t see a lot of reason why the Oilers couldn’t contend down the road with both Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner on the roster. A slightly older Gagner in his prime might be a solid match for a player like Doug Weight, Andy McDonald, or Valtteri Filppula – he’d be a reasonably good fit as the centre of the secondary scoring line. If Nugent-Hopkins keeps developing as hoped, he might be able to fill the role of a Krecji or a Datsyuk/Zetterberg.

Leaving aside Detroit and Boston – teams that didn’t really have much snarl up the middle when they went to the finals – most of these teams had a hard-nosed guy to complement the two scorers. It’s the role Mike Peca in 2006, Mike Fisher in 2007, Jordan Staal in 2008 and 2009, and Dave Bolland in 2010 all played for their teams. If the Oilers hang on to both Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner, that’s the sort of player they might want to tag to replace Shawn Horcoff when the Oilers captain eventually moves down the line.

Of course, other changes may be needed. Detroit has some beefy wingers, and Boston was famous for the grit (personified by Milan Lucic) and, umm, personality (personified by Brad Marchand) on their wings last season. I’ll be doing this same comparison between Edmonton and Stanley Cup Finalists, only focused on the other forward positions, in the near future.

But for right now, I think there’s an obvious conclusion: the Oilers shouldn’t be in a rush to move Sam Gagner down the line because they’re too small up the middle. Stanley Cup history shows plainly that teams can win with two centres – and in Detroit’s case even three – of below-average NHL size.

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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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#51 DieHard
April 20 2012, 06:35PM
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kinnickkinnick wrote:

No, I mean 1st overall (Yakupov) + Gagner for 2nd overall (Murray) + Johansen + something more. Who do you think CBJ would have to throw in to make this work for the Oilers?

For some reason I'm getting the feeling Murray is a little overrated. 2 jacks for king is not worth it.

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#53 Oilers89
April 20 2012, 06:52PM
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What would it take to get Jordan Staal? He has been nuts in the playoffs so far. Starting with Gagner+ what would it take? Gagner + our first next year ect? Would that do it?

Edit: I think that Gagner is a good player and I would keep him, but if Staal was an option I would take it. I know I am basing this off of one playoff series but wow does he look good!

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#54 kinnickkinnick
April 20 2012, 06:54PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I think it really depends on Columbus' comfort level with taking Yakupov first overall. Even before the lottery, people were talking about the likelihood of CBJ moving the first overall pick because they weren't in love with the idea of drafting Yakupov.

My guess - and it's just a guess - is that Columbus doesn't have a lot of interest into moving into the first overall slot.

Yeah fair enough, good point. I guess I would just much rather see a guy like Johansen in that 2nd line spot, then we could stop trying to justify that our centers are not undersized.

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#55 Quicksilver ballet
April 20 2012, 07:05PM
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Jonathan, i studied 80 Oiler games this year, charting Edmonton players advancing the puck into the neutral/opposition zone success rates.

A) Successfully entered/advanced the puck through the neutral zone. Turning the puck over in the neutral zone. (after having uncontested possession of the puck)

B) Players whom turn the puck over in the opposition and defensive zones.(after having uncontested possession of the puck)

Is there someone already doing statistical analysis on these areas?

Example: 83 had uncontested possession entering the neutral zone 489 times this past season. He had a success rate of .613 bringing/passing the puck through the neutral zone into the opposition zone. He had a fail/success rate of .489/.511 when the Oilers had possession of the puck in the opposition zone, meaning the play ended while on his stick almost 49% of the time.

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Is there an ON awards night coming up that I don't know about. This Rondo guy seems to be making a late push to try and take DSF's title.

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#57 DieHard
April 20 2012, 07:11PM
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kinnickkinnick wrote:

Yeah fair enough, good point. I guess I would just much rather see a guy like Johansen in that 2nd line spot, then we could stop trying to justify that our centers are not undersized.

Parise and Gagner are approx same height and weight. There is nothing wrong with Gagner.

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Thanks for this article JW. I think it shows that since the salary cap was put in place, there is more parity in the league. No repeat champs since. All this talk about, big centers, this and that to win the cup is great but all I can get out of that list is that there is no magic formula to win the cup. I really think now more than ever, every team that makes it to the playoffs has a legitimate chance to win the cup.

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#59 kinnickkinnick
April 20 2012, 07:22PM
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DieHard wrote:

Parise and Gagner are approx same height and weight. There is nothing wrong with Gagner.

There are probably a few more nhl players that are the same height and weight as Gagner that aren't named Parise. Probably a few more that aren't in the nhl as well. Doesn't conclude anything.

With that said I agree there is nothing wrong with Gagner, but just suggesting that there is a lot of time spent deciding whether or not the current center line up is up to the challenges of the playoffs, and I guess only time will tell.

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#60 Rondo
April 20 2012, 07:26PM
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I'll take Brandon and you will take Gagner. Just opinions.

http://www.coppernblue.com/2012/4/14/2948313/nhl-tough-minutes-forwards

Interesting read.

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#61 Spydyr
April 20 2012, 07:28PM
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Gagner is a small player who plays small.Does he ever win a puck battle?

He gets knocked off the puck by a strong wind.Every second shift he cleaning the snow off the ice with his body.

Some small guys play bigger than their size. Gagner plays smaller.

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#62 DieHard
April 20 2012, 07:32PM
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kinnickkinnick wrote:

There are probably a few more nhl players that are the same height and weight as Gagner that aren't named Parise. Probably a few more that aren't in the nhl as well. Doesn't conclude anything.

With that said I agree there is nothing wrong with Gagner, but just suggesting that there is a lot of time spent deciding whether or not the current center line up is up to the challenges of the playoffs, and I guess only time will tell.

I guess what I'm saying is our top 2 centers are doable. The bottom 2 are not, however.

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#63 Clyde Frog
April 20 2012, 07:47PM
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@Rondo

In Junior Sutter never set a ppg pace, nor did he even put up 60 pts..

He has only posted 40 pts once in his career and for the last 2 years not even close to that.

Do you have any clue what that means?

He is a great 3rd line player, but a point producer no? He would be crucified here, hell Gagner is for not popping 60 every season even though he is in the mid 40's for NHL Centre production. (Making him a lock for 2nd line centre production)

Sure Sutter is 6'3", but that doesn't mean he will produce all of a sudden.

Your second line is a scoring line, this idea that 2nd line centres need to be big 2-way checkers is wierd and seems to have permeated up recently, someone must have written an article somewhere.

You understand that the 3rd line is your shutdown line and as such the 3rd line forward tends to log more icetime than the 2nd? So if you want to compare Sutter to someone on our team its Horcoff...

What you want is to trade a decent 2nd line centre who can produce and play the position. For a really good young 3rd line centre that will post mediocre production if he is bumped to the 2nd line... I think its harder to find legit top 6 centres over good 3rd liners, I may be out to lunch here, but thats my opinion.

I'm not hating on Sutter I think he is good for his position, but nothing in his history says 2nd line material on a contender. (Production is what your second line is for!)

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#64 DSF
April 20 2012, 07:56PM
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Gagner IS Kyle Wellwood.

Nothing less...nothing more.

Championship teams don't have Kyle Wellwood as their second line centre.

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#65 DSF
April 20 2012, 07:57PM
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The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33 wrote:

Is there an ON awards night coming up that I don't know about. This Rondo guy seems to be making a late push to try and take DSF's title.

Many have tried...all have failed.

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DSF wrote:

Many have tried...all have failed.

Awesome!

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#67 DSF
April 20 2012, 08:01PM
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DieHard wrote:

Parise and Gagner are approx same height and weight. There is nothing wrong with Gagner.

You mean other than Parise scoring 31 goals and 62 points in his second NHL season and followed it up with 65 and 94 point seasons?

Yeah, Gagner is just the most.

Jeebus.

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#68 Oilers89
April 20 2012, 08:07PM
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DSF wrote:

You mean other than Parise scoring 31 goals and 62 points in his second NHL season and followed it up with 65 and 94 point seasons?

Yeah, Gagner is just the most.

Jeebus.

You are right. Height and weight are measured in points.

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#69 Rondo
April 20 2012, 08:10PM
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Brandon has potential to be a #2 center or a great 3rd line center.

Gagner has potential to be a#2 center and nothing else. And with one small center already the chances of him being effective as a second line center is slim.

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#70 Archaeologuy
April 20 2012, 08:13PM
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@DSF

How many 8 point games did Wellwood have last season?*

*TrumpCard

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#71 Oilers89
April 20 2012, 08:15PM
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Rondo wrote:

Brandon has potential to be a #2 center or a great 3rd line center.

Gagner has potential to be a#2 center and nothing else. And with one small center already the chances of him being effective as a second line center is slim.

Gagner is a #2 center with potential to be a 1st line center. Gagner and Sutter are the same age, so what makes Sutter capable of developing further and into a role higher than he is currently in if Gagner can't possibly get better?

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#72 DieHard
April 20 2012, 08:15PM
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DSF wrote:

You mean other than Parise scoring 31 goals and 62 points in his second NHL season and followed it up with 65 and 94 point seasons?

Yeah, Gagner is just the most.

Jeebus.

Was talking size. Was not comparing the players - jeebus, that's nuts. If we had Parise and NJ has our beloved Gagner, would anyone complain about Parise's size?

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#73 JohnS
April 20 2012, 08:19PM
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Edmonton is a very weak team, I could play second line center for Edmonton

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#74 Rondo
April 20 2012, 08:24PM
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"Gagner is a #2 center with potential to be a 1st line center."

Edmonton would have traded him if they could have gotten for him.

You and a few people may believe your quote but not the NHL.

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#75 Oilers89
April 20 2012, 08:28PM
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Rondo wrote:

"Gagner is a #2 center with potential to be a 1st line center."

Edmonton would have traded him if they could have gotten for him.

You and a few people may believe your quote but not the NHL.

I was mostly just stating some random made up fact just to show you how ridiculous it sounds when you say that Sutter can be a second line center that is better than Gagner, and then completely dismissing the fact that Gagner is the same age. What makes Sutter's ceiling so much higher?

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#76 Spydyr
April 20 2012, 08:28PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

How many 8 point games did Wellwood have last season?*

*TrumpCard

About as many games as Wellwood played between Hall and Ebs.

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#77 Rondo
April 20 2012, 08:29PM
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Most teams brought their B game when they played Edmonton. Hard to get up for a 29th or 30th place team.

Imagine how Gagner as a potential #1 center would fare if the brought their A game

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#78 Clyde Frog
April 20 2012, 08:29PM
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@Rondo

The fact that Sutter couldn't even produce half as much as Gagner in Junior and has not once equalled his production level in the NHL = He won't magically flip a switch and become a 60 pt player.

Simple as that, you are not talking about a kid with second line production abilities... You are talking about a 3rd line centre, end of story.

Also provably false, the Oilers games were not worth less points than others.

Sorry... KkthxwtfBBQ!plzdrvonthru!

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#79 Oilers89
April 20 2012, 08:32PM
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Rondo wrote:

Most teams brought their B game when they played Edmonton. Hard to get up for a 29th or 30th place team.

Imagine how Gagner as a potential #1 center would fare if the brought their A game

Yea you are right. Everybody got up for the Hurricanes seeing as they are scary good.

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#80 Rondo
April 20 2012, 08:36PM
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@Clyde Frog

Using your logic Messier shouldn't have scored 50 goals, nothing suggested he would be a #2 center of Left Winger

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#81 Oilers89
April 20 2012, 08:37PM
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Also Gagner never has to be our 1st line center. Gagner can simply be a really good second line center.

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#82 DSF
April 20 2012, 08:39PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

How many 8 point games did Wellwood have last season?*

*TrumpCard

Gagner - 18G 27A 47P

Wellwood - 18G 27A 47P

Eerie.

Who knew?

* Being consistent rather than scoring close to 20 percent of your season total in a one game blowout has it's value.

** Trump card.

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#83 Rondo
April 20 2012, 08:39PM
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Any team with Eric Staal there is respect from other teams . Also they are a big nasty team.

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#84 DSF
April 20 2012, 08:39PM
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Oilers89 wrote:

Also Gagner never has to be our 1st line center. Gagner can simply be a really good second line center.

Well, except for that "really good" part.

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#85 TigerUnderGlass
April 20 2012, 08:40PM
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@Rondo

You mean besides his junior seasons of:

16 years old 66 points in 57 games

17 - 74 points in 54, and

18 - 33 points in 17 games.

This is Sutter's 22 year old season. When Messier was 22 he had 106 points.

These two are definitely the same.

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#86 Clyde Frog
April 20 2012, 08:41PM
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@Rondo

Nope Mark Messier put up 33 then 63, then 88 pts in his first 3 NHL seasons. He also vastly outperformed Sutter's Junior point totals, not sure how that point is valid at all?

What leads you to think Sutter will ever break the 40 point barrier again? Blind hope? Man love? Trolling?

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#87 TigerUnderGlass
April 20 2012, 08:42PM
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@DSF

Being 22 instead of 28 also has its value.

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#88 Clyde Frog
April 20 2012, 08:45PM
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@DSF Except for the fact that he was the 45th best in Centre production last season?

Oh wait he was 39th best this season you say? So he was in the top 9 for second line centre production, hrmm... Yah throw him away your right, who wants that... Also he is 22, so there is no room for him to improve on that either, right?

/sigh

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#89 Rondo
April 20 2012, 08:46PM
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I'm not comparing players, one of the greateest ever please, but you do see potential you see numbers.

s/o

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#90 TigerUnderGlass
April 20 2012, 08:48PM
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Rondo wrote:

I'm not comparing players, one of the greateest ever please, but you do see potential you see numbers.

s/o

What?

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#91 Archaeologuy
April 20 2012, 08:50PM
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Spydyr wrote:

About as many games as Wellwood played between Hall and Ebs.

Gagner played most with Hemsky.

Hall and Ebs played most with Nuge.

Source: Behindthenet.ca

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#92 Clyde Frog
April 20 2012, 08:53PM
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@Tigerunderglass

I think his brain finally gave out, that or he had a stroke mid-post...

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#93 DSF
April 20 2012, 08:58PM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

Being 22 instead of 28 also has its value.

Wellwood scored .88 PPG as a 22 year old.

Gagner just scored .63 PPG.

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#94 DSF
April 20 2012, 09:00PM
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Clyde Frog wrote:

@DSF Except for the fact that he was the 45th best in Centre production last season?

Oh wait he was 39th best this season you say? So he was in the top 9 for second line centre production, hrmm... Yah throw him away your right, who wants that... Also he is 22, so there is no room for him to improve on that either, right?

/sigh

Why would you think he will improve?

He's been treading water for 5 years.

#6 coming right up.

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#95 Clyde Frog
April 20 2012, 09:00PM
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@DSF

Scoring is down, as evinced by the fact Gagner's 47 points was good for 39th in overall scoring for centres.

But nice try... You can't get around his scoring in relation to every other centre in the league. This year he posted excellent production for a 2nd liner.

He went from the ~50th to 47th to 45th to 39th ranked centre for production, if that isn't improvement, what is?

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#96 Archaeologuy
April 20 2012, 09:05PM
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DSF wrote:

Wellwood scored .88 PPG as a 22 year old.

Gagner just scored .63 PPG.

Wellwood scored 0.88 PPG when he was 24. He was in the AHL at 22.

Nice try though.

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#97 TigerUnderGlass
April 20 2012, 09:17PM
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DSF wrote:

Wellwood scored .88 PPG as a 22 year old.

Gagner just scored .63 PPG.

I'm no mathematician, but I don't think 45 points in 81 games comes to .88 PPG.

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#98 TigerUnderGlass
April 20 2012, 09:18PM
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@Archaeologuy

He was an NHL rookie in his 22 year old season, but he was nowhere near .88 PPG.

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#99 DSF
April 20 2012, 09:28PM
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42P in 48GP in 06/07

He's also +11 for his career.

Gagner is -42.

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#100 Clyde Frog
April 20 2012, 09:35PM
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Oh DSF, he then went on to produce 21,27,25 and 13 pts...

Should we ignore that? Gagner has already been a more consistent performer, is younger and the 39th best producer in the league.

Cry and complain all you want, nothing will change how good he is or what centre production numbers currently are.

Sure if you could flip him for a 60+ pt good on you, but hating on him for what he is doing is just plain sour troll grapes.

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