The Edmonton Oilers had themselves a game against the woeful
Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday. Not only did the team score six goals, but
three prominent players who hadn’t been scoring much had strong nights
Were strong nights from Milan Lucic, Jordan Eberle and Ryan
Nugent-Hopkins a sign of things to come?
- Scored his first goal in nine games
- Recorded his first even-strength point in eight games
- Put up a season-high three assists and four points
- Now on-pace for a 55-point season, matching last year’s
I was starting to wonder if something was legitimately wrong
with Lucic. Entering the season, a lot of optimists were projecting a return to
the 30-goal/60-point level he last reached back in 2010-11. I didn’t think that
was going to happen, but the early slump this season while riding shotgun for
Connor McDavid came in well below my expectations, too.
In 5-on-5 situations, Lucic has topped 2.0 points/hour in
five of his last six NHL seasons, which is really healthy offensive production.
Entering last night, he was below 1.0 points/hour, which is basically the
scoring rate of your average 13th forward or a good defenceman.
He’s not back to where he was in past years at 5-on-5, but
last night was a great start. If he continues in this vein it will go a long
way toward keeping the Oilers consistently dangerous offensively.
- Hadn’t scored a goal in 16 of his 17 previous games
- Picked up his first goal in seven games
- Tallied his first power play goal in 19 games
- Now scoring at a higher points/game rate than last year, and
on pace to top 60 points
Eberle has actually been one of the Oilers most productive
five-on-five players this season. The trouble with him was on the power play,
where he’d been expected to be *the* right-shooting finisher of all those sweet
That hasn’t happened, but Eberle has been a strong power
play scorer pretty much since the moment he stepped into the NHL. He’s going to
figure strongly into the success or failure of the unit the rest of the way.
- Scored his first even-strength goal of the season
- Ended a seven-game goal-scoring drought
- Has three even-strength points in four games, after putting
up just five in his previous 17 contests
- Now on-pace for a 39-point season, which would be his lowest
point total ever in a healthy year
I’ll admit that I find Nugent-Hopkins maddening, and I’m not
even a fan of the team.
All down the line I’ve been reflexively against the idea
that the Oilers had to trade Nugent-Hopkins because they had McDavid/Leon
Draisaitl, but I really haven’t given enough attention to the way
Nugent-Hopkins generates his points.
The box above shows Nugent-Hopkins’ ice-time and points/hour
production at evens and on the power play, and then shows where those figures
rank among regular Oilers forwards that year.
Nugent-Hopkins has never been an especially dynamic
even-strength scorer. Lucic, mentioned above, breaks the 2.0 points/hour
barrier as a matter of routine; RNH hasn’t managed to do it even once. If we
include this year, in three of six seasons he’s scored like a top-six forward in
Edmonton but he’s scored like a bottom-six forward in three of six seasons.
He gets away with it because he’s a power play producer. In
four of six seasons he’s been an excellent first unit power play guy for the
Oilers, and in two of those years has been undeniably the team’s most effective
player. But we see his ice-time plummeting over the last two years because even
though he’s a first unit power play playmaker, Edmonton also has Connor McDavid
who is *the* first-unit power play
Last year, RNH got away with it because McDavid missed half
the season. But with McDavid healthy, the coaching staff has relegated him to
the second power play, and he just won’t get the same opportunity to score
there that he has in previous seasons. That’s a big problem for him, because
his track record at evens isn’t great, and his overall point totals are likely
to fall below the level expected of a $6.0 million man.
I really like the player. He’s smart, he’s far more
competitive than he gets credit for—I always laugh when I hear the “soft skill”
label applied to him and wonder what games the guy saying it has been watching—and
he’s useful in all three disciplines. Todd McLellan compared
him to Joe Pavelski at about this point last season (when the same
criticism we’re seeing now was starting to crop up, largely because he wasn’t
getting power play points) and he’s incredibly valuable as an all-purpose
two-way forward who can slot in wherever he’s needed at 5v5 or special teams.
There is, however, a very real danger that Nugent-Hopkins
ends up in the Shawn Horcoff role in Edmonton: As a useful player with value well
beyond his scoring numbers, but scoring numbers that don’t match up to his
contract. If the coaches can’t find a way to shoehorn him in on the first power
play (and I really don’t see a fit there) he may not have a long-term future
with the Oilers.