It’s fair to say that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has caught a few people by surprise with his phenomenal start to the season. It would also be fair to say that I’m one of those people.
Both Tyler Dellow and David Staples had strong posts up on Nugent-Hopkins this morning. Staples spends some time trying to separate Nugent-Hopkins’ offense from his defense, and finds that while the former is phenomenal the latter needs some work. I think the take is fair and realistic – the player’s 18, after all. He’ll grow into the role.
Dellow’s post is the one I really want to focus on, though. After spending some time leafing through Nugent-Hopkins work at even-strength (the news is good, but not otherworldly – Nugent-Hopkins has had a lot going his way, and while his totals are good they aren’t way beyond what we would expect, given his draft position) Dellow keys in on power play performance. I’ll quote a single sentence from the article:
Having looked at the numbers here, I’ve come to a conclusion: he is a witch.
Which, I suppose, casts Tyler in the role of Sir Bedevere:
Essentially, Nugent-Hopkins’ performance this season marks him as the best power play option the league has seen in ages. He’s a dynamo. His overall point total – as projected by Tyler – is good, but when considered in the context of the number of power play minutes Nugent-Hopkins has received, it’s truly extraordinary.
This also gives me the answer to a question I’ve been asking since before draft day: Given that Nugent-Hopkins’ junior success was based to a large degree on power play points (his even-strength number was good but not mind-blowing, his power-play number was amazing), should we be concerned that he’s going to struggle at the NHL level? The answer, it seems, is clear: Nugent-Hopkins wasn’t just padding his numbers with power play time – he was driving the power play. Does that translate to the NHL? Not always, as we’ve seen with other Oilers prospects – Rob Schremp comes to mind – but in Nugent-Hopkins’ case it has.
Nugent-Hopkins’ game in other areas – defensively, offensively at even-strength – is good for his age but not superlatively so for a first overall pick. But, on the power play, Nugent-Hopkins is a legitimately elite NHL player at the age of 18. That’s a rarity indeed, and it seems as though the prescription for the Oilers’ chronic power play woes has finally arrived.