The Face of the Franchise?

Jonathan Willis
December 17 2013 08:44AM

This summer, the clear consensus in Edmonton seemed to be that Taylor Hall was the most important part of the team’s long-term core. The year before, Jordan Eberle’s 34-goal, 76-point season likely would have won him that honour.

But if we held a poll today I’m guessing that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be the name on the lips of most.

My View

I wasn’t a fan of drafting Nugent-Hopkins first overall. In a year where the top-four seemed closely bunched, Nugent-Hopkins offence seemed too dependent on the power play. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the player, but defenceman Adam Larsson – projected as a two-way workhorse and a guy I’d seen play very well at the World Juniors – felt like a safer choice and a better fit for team need.

But while the Oilers certainly wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a defenceman like Larsson, and while blueliners tend to take longer to round into form than forwards, the results so far are one-sided and not in my favour.

Nugent-Hopkins has certainly been the power play witch his junior numbers suggested he was, but he’s been far more than that. He plays an intelligent two-way game at the age of 20, and suddenly all those junior comparisons to Pavel Datsyuk don’t seem so off, because if Nugent-Hopkins can handle all of this at the age of 20 than what will he be able to do at 25?

Nugent-Hopkins plays a defensive game that far exceeds that of men much his senior. Less than 150 games into his professional career, he’s got things figured out that Sam Gagner still struggles with 300 games later. Maybe that isn’t a fair comparison to Gagner, but where would the Oilers be if they had two centres that played defence that way? Well we’re at it, where would the team be if Eberle and Hall had the same commitment to a 200-foot game that Nugent-Hopkins does?

(And, for the comments section: don’t come back at me with “minus-nine.” There’s a sweet spot of ignorance between really watching the games and really understanding the numbers, and “minus-nine” is right in the middle of it. By eye, there’s no question as to Nugent-Hopkins’ defensive commitment, and by number that goal differential is easily traceable back to Nugent-Hopkins 0.881 on-ice save percentage – and before you ask, no that’s not his fault.)

I’ve been tracking scoring chances all year and have 34 of the 35 games marked. With Nugent-Hopkins on the ice at even-strength the Oilers out-chance the opposition 164-145 (53.1% of all chances are Oilers chances). With Nugent-Hopkins off the ice, the Oilers are out-chanced 257-308 (45.5% of all chances are Oilers chances). That isn’t all him, naturally; Nugent-Hopkins has played with good players all season. On the other hand, so has Sam Gagner and in easier circumstances and he’s lagging back at just under 50 percent. (Note: I've corrected the scoring chance numbers above after making a simple subtraction error in the initial post.)

In other words, my view has come a long way from the summer of 2011. I don’t think there’s a player more vital to the Oilers than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

A Side Point

The progression in the first paragraph – from Eberle to Hall to Nugent-Hopkins – isn’t exactly random, is it? Eberle, drafted in 2008, had his breakthrough campaign at the age of 21. Hall, drafted in 2010, did the same. Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t turn 21 until April, while Nail Yakupov doesn’t hit that threshold until next October.

It takes a while for even the best junior-age players to find their stride in the NHL. And it’s a nice reminder for a guy like Yakupov, who is having a miserable year (though his five-on-five on-ice percentages – 6.49 shooting, 0.869 save – aren’t helping), that it can pay to be patient.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, 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 They're $hittie
December 17 2013, 09:41AM
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Who is your choice for face of the franchise?

Props for Hall

Trash for Nuge

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#2 Kenta
December 17 2013, 10:59AM
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I've never understood why Oiler fans fall in love with the wrong players - Hemsky, Gagner and now RNH.

RNH is not someone you can build a team around but is a solid complementary player. Of the 3 number 1 overall picks you have, I'd trade him before the other 2.

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#3 Kenta
December 17 2013, 11:20AM
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Zarny wrote:

It's laughable you put RNH in the same sentence as Gagner and Hemsky.

With your logic Datsyuk isn't a player you can build a team around...except Det has done it.

Yeah - RNH is the second coming of Pavel Datsyuk. LOL

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#4 David S
December 17 2013, 12:27PM
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Boy are all you guys gonna feel like poo heads when Gagner gets his act togther and hits for 60 points next year.

In Montreal.

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#5 Zamboni Driver
December 17 2013, 11:12AM
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Stats-nerd argument goes like this:

a) Plus minus is meaningless because it's not always the player's fault.

b) Save percentage (!!!!!!??????) while the player is on the ice. Now that is a meaningful stat.

Save percentage.

By the goalie.

Good one.

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#6 David Staples
December 17 2013, 09:02AM
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Are those scoring chances numbers for all games played?

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#7 John Kirsch
December 17 2013, 11:56AM
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Sad that Hopkins is the face of the franchise. He is a good player not an elite talent, honestly are we all watching the player. I realize he is young but believe he will be lucky to score 20 goals in any given year(unless he plays for Pitt). And if we ever make it to the playoffs I am not confident that he could compete with from a physical perspective. Hall is frustrating he could be a 50 goal man but he is all over the place too many turnovers blatant defensive lapses.

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#8 bwar
December 17 2013, 10:33AM
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So basically we have two forward piece already in place for our next rebuild: Perron and RNH.

I'm a big fan of the Nuge and moving forward I would like to see MacT build around RNH, even if that means trading away Hall, Eberle and Yakupov.

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#9 Oiler Al
December 17 2013, 09:20AM
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Everyone is yapping ... trade this guy, trade that guy etc... and what and from where are you going to get something BETTER than Hall, and Eberle? Yes they aren't 200 ft. players but they have the other side... Why can;t they be coached to play both sides of the puck, bring some toughness and grit to there game.?

What will happen you trade these guys, and then some other coach turns them into complete players and Oilers get some more 2 nd rate players in return. Cycle of rebuild never stops.

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#10 Smokey
December 17 2013, 08:50AM
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Nuge and Hall are the face of the franchise. Nuge is going to be scary good. Lets get him some beef on the right wing. (not saying trade Eberle)

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#11 Spydyr
December 17 2013, 09:59AM
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To me he is the only untouchable player on the team.

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#12 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 01:30PM
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They're $hittie wrote:

Who is your choice for face of the franchise?

Props for Hall

Trash for Nuge

It's the Gretzky Messier question....... albeit on a lesser talent scale.

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#13 Taylor Gang
December 17 2013, 09:02AM
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Nugent-Hopkins and Hall are the only two players I would never trade. So, I guess that would make them the faces of the franchise.

In reality, it really doesn't matter who the "face" is. It's a matter of who is most likely is going to win the Oilers some hockey games.

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#14 mlcselli
December 17 2013, 09:13AM
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Agree with you JW and with the previous posters re: Nuge and Hall. Faces of the franchise and should never be considered in a trade. As far as Gagner is concerned, he doesn't even belong n the same sentence as Nuge or Hall. It's not for his lack of effort, it's just that he's overplayed and underwhelming.

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#15 Puck JammeR!
December 17 2013, 09:34AM
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Oiler Al wrote:

Everyone is yapping ... trade this guy, trade that guy etc... and what and from where are you going to get something BETTER than Hall, and Eberle? Yes they aren't 200 ft. players but they have the other side... Why can;t they be coached to play both sides of the puck, bring some toughness and grit to there game.?

What will happen you trade these guys, and then some other coach turns them into complete players and Oilers get some more 2 nd rate players in return. Cycle of rebuild never stops.

So what's the alternative? Bashing your head against the wall over and over again with the same group of players? Or are you one of those "Petry, Omark & Marincin for elite NHL talent" guys?

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#16 Zamboni Driver
December 17 2013, 11:18AM
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redhot1 wrote:

Next home game there better be a "Fire Lowe" chant going

Okay so I'm compelled to comment on this.

Don't get me wrong, I think Lowe has run this ship straight into the ground ('Hey Fernando, want $4 million?!').

I also think Tambellini was a moronic puppet who probably can't look himself in the mirror anymore.

I'm a guy who uses quote marks when I speak of "The Braintrust". I talk about "Six Cups"....

At this point however, I really don't fully understand what people calling for the firing of Lowe is actually going to achieve. Sure he deserves it, but he deserved it YEARS ago. I actually think MacTavish is in charge now...and if he's NOT...then shouldn't we say "Fire Lowe AND MacT'? But no one is saying that.

Don't get it.

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#17 Zamboni Driver
December 17 2013, 11:34AM
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Dan the Man wrote:

If the save percentage is lower or higher than normal while a player is on the ice then chances are it will at some point revert back to normal values over an extended period of time.

Totally agree.

Provided the player in question is, in fact, the Goalie.

Other than that - nonsense.

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#18 Zarny
December 17 2013, 12:25PM
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oilerjed wrote:

Careful Zarny. A team like that could very well turn into the CanSucks 2.0. Good to very good defense but not enough goals to put them over the edge. Imagine if Van didnt have Lou(or Scnieds), their GA would be up 10% and with their low goal totals you could probably take away 10-15 wins a year.

I hate to break it to you but the Canucks are light years better than anything the Oilers current roster will ever become.

Hall, Nuge, Eberle and Yakupov are not going to score 140 pts a season and win every game 7-6.

Scoring goals isn't the problem. A core of Hall, Nuge, Yak or Eberle and Perron can score all the goals you need from small, skilled forwards.

What the Oilers lack is a D who can play against skilled forwards.

They also lack a top 6 F that can score the types of goals Hall, Nuge, Eberle, Yak or Perron can't.

They also need a G as good as Luongo or Schneider.

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#19 Zarny
December 17 2013, 12:42PM
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David S wrote:

Boy are all you guys gonna feel like poo heads when Gagner gets his act togther and hits for 60 points next year.

In Montreal.

Not likely.

Because he'll have the same holes in his defensive game and RNH will likely get close to 80 pts.

So what does Gagner bring that RNH doesn't?

The answer is nothing. Gagner is the exact same type of player as RNH except he's not as good offensively and has more defensive liabilities. Both are garbage at FO.

One of the most successful lines in Oiler history is Smyth-Weight-Guerin. That line is better than 3 Smyths, 3 Weights or 3 Guerin's because they complimented each other. None of the top 6 F compliment each other.

You also leave out the fact that if Gagner ended up in Mtl next year another player comes back to Edm in return and in all likelyhood that player would fill a role Gagner could never hope to fill.

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#20 Tikkanese
December 17 2013, 01:04PM
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The face has been since he was drafted and still is, Taylor Hall.

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#21 Velo
December 17 2013, 08:54AM
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After reading the title on Twitter, I thought you would be writing about David Perron!

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#22 redhot1
December 17 2013, 11:04AM
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Next home game there better be a "Fire Lowe" chant going

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#23 rob
December 17 2013, 01:47PM
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Hall is the franchise!the teams goes with him

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#24 mayorblaine
December 17 2013, 08:51AM
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well said JW.

couldn't agree more. the Wizard is a heck of a special player, not the kind you'd trade.

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#25 Coppperhead
December 17 2013, 09:12AM
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Minus 9!!!!

I kid I kid. I agree that to my eye Nuge is a fantastic 200 foot player. He does a lot of the little things - stick lifts on the backcheck, subtly getting in another player's path, finding the open man quickly.

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#26 Alsker
December 17 2013, 09:53AM
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Well, honestly considering our shameful franchise, I believe kBlowe should our face. Why hang these problems on one of the kids? Front and center Mr.Lowes mug with the caption:"What a true loser looks like". Of course once/if we're a decent team again than I'd have to choose RNH.

EDIT: Of course it also read "what knowing nothing about winning looks like" as well.

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#27 Zarny
December 17 2013, 11:01AM
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None of the Oilers are named Crosby, Ovechkin or Stamkos so I don't see 1 face of the franchise.

In Anh it's Getzlaf and Perry. In Chi is Toews and Kane.

In Edm, I believe it'll be Nuge and Hall. They have the most upside.

That doesn't mean Eberle or Yakupov are bad players. They are indeed very good players; but they expendable.

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#28 merfer
December 17 2013, 11:03AM
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If we trade away Eberle, Yak, and Gagner does it mean we will be a worse team. We are already the 28th team (and may soon be 29th) in the NHL so really what difference will it make. We have got to try something.

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#29 He Who Knows
December 17 2013, 11:06AM
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Nugent-Hopkins is a cerebral player and those are the franchise guys. You need brains over brawns to anchor the ship. Taylor Hall is more like a Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell movie), a north south player who needs the puck on the fly. Mac would be wise to flip Eberle and package out a few others. Mac-T will be judged on his moves at the deadline, draft day and free agency. If this team does not compete at a high level next season, there could be dire consequences. The fans are also impatient now. Occupy Oilers headquarters otherwise. SHTF.

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#30 Zarny
December 17 2013, 12:15PM
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Kenta wrote:

Yeah - RNH is the second coming of Pavel Datsyuk. LOL

Yeah, actually Datsyuk is a very good comparison for RNH.

They play virtually the same style of game both offensively and defensively.

Your comment is one of complete ignorance.

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#31 Craig1981
December 17 2013, 09:19AM
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Agreed +/- is overused by stats guys (trolls) WAY too much. The Oilers' goaltenders have let many goals in that have counted against skaters +/- that isn't at all fair. Plus the defense have also made painful mistakes that cost everyone on the ice a "minus". Quality of competition is another thing.

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#32 Chainsawz
December 17 2013, 09:47AM
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Oiler Al wrote:

Everyone is yapping ... trade this guy, trade that guy etc... and what and from where are you going to get something BETTER than Hall, and Eberle? Yes they aren't 200 ft. players but they have the other side... Why can;t they be coached to play both sides of the puck, bring some toughness and grit to there game.?

What will happen you trade these guys, and then some other coach turns them into complete players and Oilers get some more 2 nd rate players in return. Cycle of rebuild never stops.

If the players aren't working here, then who cares if they work somewhere else.

What if they never get coached into 200 ft players and the return that was turned down would have been elements of a championship team??? A guy can play what if all day long, doesn't make a point.

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#33 oilerjed
December 17 2013, 11:20AM
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Zarny wrote:

You miss the point.

The Oilers don't need better than Hall or Eberle or Nuge or Yakupov.

They need different and no matter who they trade they still have 3 others with basically the exact same skill set.

Who cares what Eberle or Yakupov becomes somewhere else if Ryan McDonagh comes to Edm? The Oilers need a shutdown D more than they need a 4th small, skilled forward.

Careful Zarny. A team like that could very well turn into the CanSucks 2.0. Good to very good defense but not enough goals to put them over the edge. Imagine if Van didnt have Lou(or Scnieds), their GA would be up 10% and with their low goal totals you could probably take away 10-15 wins a year.

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#34 joe
December 17 2013, 12:36PM
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Sccooduuu Dubby is my franchise softy player....

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#35 Lochenzo
December 17 2013, 01:19PM
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One thing I do have to say about Sam Gagner. Whenever he's been in a slump in the past, he'd get into a fight and then put together a good string of games. That option is off the table for him this year.

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#36 Zamboni Driver
December 17 2013, 01:23PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

That sound you hear is an airplane.

Yeah.

I am going to suggest 'freezing the picture and counting stuff' is more suited for you than 'witty repartee'..

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#37 john
December 18 2013, 01:26AM
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Another shut out lost tonight, that's 5 shut out lost games this year. I don't remember Oilers ever got shut out that many times in a season let alone 36 games in. It's time to fire Eakins, how can a team be worst than previous years this year? He promised swarming defense, they are dead last goals against in the NHL. No offense either, power plays allowed too many shorthanded goals, penalty kill is bad also. This is not a rebuilding year? We are supposed to make run for playoffs this year. Yakupov is dead last with -24 (like Edmonton temperature outside) that's is unacceptable, he played him in the wrong situations in the game. Nail is losing his confidence and not happy, we don't need tough love in developing these young guns any more. It's time to turn them lose and let them have fun out there. Too many coaching changes last 4 years, players have to learn and adapt too often. I m a fan living in Ontario, it's hard over here. I can't even see high light reel when the team scored nothing. It's depressing!

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#39 Spaceman Spiff
December 17 2013, 10:10AM
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I think if there’s thing as “untouchable” on the Oilers roster right now, it comes down to two players – Hall and Nuge.

Hall, for obvious reasons – he’s got the look of a thoroughbred already and he’s not even hit his peak yet.

As for Nuge, well … his skills and abilities translate into a pretty decent No. 1 centre or, a dandy No. 2 centre and every team needs that. He does so many of the little things well that go beyond scoring. It’ll be scary when he gets stronger and craftier.

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#40 vetinari
December 17 2013, 10:11AM
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A year ago, I would have said that it was Hall, Eberle, Nuge, Yak and J. Schultz that were the faces of the franchise, and while that may be true, only Nuge has been able to sustain consistent development with the change in coaches and the infusion of new players on the roster.

If I had to make a "no trade" list of Oilers as of today, I would only have Nuge, Hall, Perron and Nurse on it... I would also likely keep one of either Eberle or Yak but all others would be up for grabs if (and only if) I could get a return that fixed a problem at another position.

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#41 Space Dad
December 17 2013, 10:30AM
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Knowing just how good Hall and Nugent-Hopkins are now, the utter failure of the organization to surround them with strong veteran players is even more glaring. Consider Monahan in Calgary, Smith in Boston, and Nichushkin in Dallas. They're learning the complete game from their coaches, lessons that have been reinforced by the play and intensity of their linemates. In Edmonton, Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov, AND Gagner have had to learn on their own - it should come as no surprise that the rebuilding phase of this organization has lasted far longer and has been far more painful a process than should have been necessary. Blame Tambellini, blame Lowe, blame Katz if you want. Right now its up to MacTavish and Eakins to clean up this mess, and I would say that so far (despite the team's record) they've done a pretty good job.

As JW pointed out, a veteran 2C in the same mould as Nugent-Hopkins would go a long way in that regard (sorry Samwise).

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#42 S cottV
December 17 2013, 11:16AM
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Yes - RNH will be a top end 1C by age 25. Able to command the middle vs most opposition 1C's, pushing play mostly to the preferred end of the rink and able to handle himself in his own end as required.

While RNH is way better than Gagner in his own end, Gagner is (sorry to say but the truth) really bad, so - RNH at present, still needs to improve, but all indications are that its just a matter of some reasonable time.

RNH has similar characteristics as Gretzky (not to suggest an unfair direct comparison to the great one), so - as Gretzky was the face of the franchise, RNH could quickly evolve into this identity, representing similar things. Intelligence, highly skilled, playmaker, game breaker, modest but charismatic, quiet but effective leader, etc.

While RNH is evolving, one could argue that Hall at present, carries this label. While an excellent player who will get better, there seems to be something missing and I think its tied to leadership. Few players are exceptional born leaders and you dont really see leadership exude from Hall, in the way he plays or carries himself and this is something the "Face of the Franchise" needs to have. That being said - he is certainly a keeper and will benefit from RNH's full development into a top 1C, as when this happens - we may just see some greatness from Hall.

While RNH and Hall may be 1a and 1b, as the present face of the franchise, the team is missing another "heart and soul" warrior impact player, in 2c or 1d or in a dream world - both positions. Gretzky the 1C face had Messier the 2C warrior coming out next.

Not sure how we are going to get one or both of a warrior 2c and legit 1d, but - would be worth giving up a lot to do so.

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#43 Dan the Man
December 17 2013, 11:33AM
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Zamboni Driver wrote:

Stats-nerd argument goes like this:

a) Plus minus is meaningless because it's not always the player's fault.

b) Save percentage (!!!!!!??????) while the player is on the ice. Now that is a meaningful stat.

Save percentage.

By the goalie.

Good one.

If the save percentage is lower or higher than normal while a player is on the ice then chances are it will at some point revert back to normal values over an extended period of time.

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#44 Zamboni Driver
December 17 2013, 12:05PM
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Dan the Man wrote:

When Dubnyk lets in a fluttering shot from the blue line it's not really the fault of the players on the ice but yet they still take a minus for it.

And the player's "Save percentage" (because that's a thing, apparently) is also affected.

My point is if you say one is meaningless, you gotta say both are. "Advanced Stats" people don't.

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#45 Ducey
December 17 2013, 12:13PM
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The more the Oilers lose, the more the negative Nellies feel emboldened to comment, and the more the the IQ around here goes down.

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#46 Smokey
December 17 2013, 12:24PM
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Zarny wrote:

Yeah, actually Datsyuk is a very good comparison for RNH.

They play virtually the same style of game both offensively and defensively.

Your comment is one of complete ignorance.

The two comparisons were Joe Sakic and Pavel Datsyk. Hitch was the one who stated the Datsyk comparison, he's a pretty smart guy.

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#47 HardBoiledOil
December 17 2013, 12:34PM
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.....

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#48 Dan the Man
December 17 2013, 01:07PM
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Zarny wrote:

Not really.

Your assumption is that the G is seeing the same type of shots regardless of who is on the ice.

Completely false.

When defensively responsible players are on the ice the G sees easier shots to save.

That's why G have higher SV% when guys like Datsyuk, Toews, Richards, Staal, Kesler etc are on the ice.

And that's why it's a relevant stat.

Toews on ice save percentage is .893 and Andrew Shaw's is .935. I guess that means that Toews is worse defensively than Shaw.

Datsyuk's on ice save percentage is .909 and Justin Abdelkader's is .933. I guess that means that Datsyuk is worse defensively than Abdelkader.

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#49 reaperfunkss (2nd tier fan)
December 17 2013, 02:28PM
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Zarny wrote:

Yeah, actually Datsyuk is a very good comparison for RNH.

They play virtually the same style of game both offensively and defensively.

Your comment is one of complete ignorance.

I agree if you change comparable to "Potentionable" meaning to have similar skill set but has not developed there yet

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#50 2004Z06
December 17 2013, 03:02PM
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nunyour wrote:

Totally agree,i feel the young guys have been thrown out to the wolves with no veteran help in the top six.

So two years ago everybody bitched that the veterans still lead the team and the youth was not being given their opportunities to take the reins under Renney. We shed all the veterans and now the bitching because the youth has been thrown to the wolves with no veteran help?

Huh?

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