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:
|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.