One Year Later: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

A year ago at this time, we were debating how good Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be. Although he was the consensus first overall pick, there were fears (some of them were mine) that he didn’t produce enough at even-strength as a junior player, and that consequently he might disappoint offensively at the NHL level.

Nugent-Hopkins didn’t fail to meet expectations. He blew expectations out of the water.

In what turned out to be his final year with the Red Deer Rebels, Nugent-Hopkins played 69 games, scoring 31 times and finishing with 106 points on the season. Those were impressive numbers, but not especially so for a first overall pick.

The best guide we have to projecting junior offense to the NHL is Gabriel Desjardins’ work with league equivalencies. Basically, Desjardins went back and looked at all the players jumping from junior to the NHL, and calculated on average how well they produced relative to their junior numbers.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ended up playing 62 games as a rookie. Using his junior numbers, had we known his games played total we should have expected him to score eight goals and 20 assists. In reality, he scored 18 times and added 34 assists.

More than that, Nugent-Hopkins’ per-game production compares well with some very high-end players over the last decade and a bit – his end of season offense was a match for Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews’ rookie production, and ahead of Steven Stamkos and John Tavares on a per-game basis. Looking at that back in April, I then turned to some of the all-time greats:

Even without adjusting for era effects, Nugent-Hopkins is within a whisper of Joe Sakic’s offense as a rookie – the great centre for the Avs and Nordiques scored at a 73-point pace in his 1988-89 rookie season. Adjust for era effects, and we can start talking about Denis Savard and Steve Yzerman and Ron Francis. Naturally, it’s unfair to compare him to those players, who followed up their rookie seasons with hundreds and hundreds of quality games, but still: 51 points in 60 games in this day and age is a rare feat and likely the harbinger of a special career.

To be sure, a lot broke right for Nugent-Hopkins. His 13.4 shooting percentage was likely a bit on the high side – I’d expect him to come in closer to the 9.3% he shot post All-Star game than the 16.3% he shot before it. The coaching staff protected him early in the year, something they won’t continue to do indefinitely

Even so, there’s no question that in a year’s time Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has gone from a promising first overall pick to a centerpiece of the Oilers’ rebuild. A year from now, if all goes as hoped, the same will be true of Nail Yakupov.

This week by Jonathan Willis

  • Where's Your Towel

    The extent to which RNH exceeded what was reasonable to expect cannot be overstated.

    It’s almost scary to think what this team will be like, especially on the PP with trigger-men like Yak, Ebs, and STY.

    The shiny new toys keep arriving, but a few moments thought is all it takes to be re-awed at how well our first two #1’s have performed.

    Now if we could see an injury-free year or two…

  • RexLibris

    I seem to recall Lowetide posting an image of Joe Sakic’s scouting report from junior when he began to get on the Nugent-Hopkins wagon prior to the draft.

    From my own observations I would say that the first two center positions on this team are settled, for the time being. As I see it that leaves some question marks about the LW position long-term, but with such strength on the right side and with Hall perhaps becoming that LW/C player who can switch between the two as the occasion dictates, then perhaps having a small talent gap on the 2nd line LW isn’t that much of an achilles heel.

    With Pitlick, Hamilton, Rieder, Pelss, Hartikainen, Martindale and many of the other forward prospects having a buffer between them and the NHL by way of Yakupov, Hall, Eberle, Hemsky, Paajarvi, Gagner and so on, the future of the organization no longer rides on their needing to overachieve. I think this was often the case in the past. As well, they can develop at their own pace and in the position for which they are best suited.

    Defense is set, in terms of prospect depth, as far as I’m concerned. Of course if the hockey gods want to bless the Oilers with a surprise draft pick in Seth Jones next June I wouldn’t be offended.

    The goaltending would appear to be steady for the immediate future in Dubnyk and whom I believe is the backup for the next few seasons in Danis. As well, this leaves space for two good prospects to develop at their own pace in Bunz and Roy.

    Nobody has to be rushed. Nobody is being asked to play out of their position or become the next Zetterberg (draft position/NHL achievement). And in the next two years it is likely that Stu MacGregor can go back to doing his job with slightly less fanfare than the past three years.

    Maybe its the sunshine. Maybe its the summertime optimism. Maybe its the A/C. Things don’t feel so bad anymore.

  • RexLibris

    Yes the stats are supportive of RNH being an elite athlete, but what is hard to predict is how big he will be, as this has an impact on the style of play.

    Right now RNH is playing a very Gretzky like game ( cerebral not overly physical) but this may change as he adds weight and incorporates a more physical style of play. I’m not suggesting he will become a banger, just be able to hold his ground a little better, adding some real confidence to his game.

    Either way we win!

    • Where's Your Towel

      Time slows down then RNH has the puck as it is. I haven’t seen an Oiler get the kind of time he gets for a long long time. One has to suspect it’s because defenders are intimidated by his skill and don’t want to be made to look foolish.

      If he starts intimidating physically as well, I just hope someone is around to stop Gabriel Landeskog from committing Seppuku with his Calder.

  • You hear people say, “Trade Eberle for defence, his value will never be higher than it is now.”
    You hear people say, “Trade Hall for defence, he’s injury prone and we’ve got a backup and possibly better producer in Yakupov.”
    You hear people say, “Trade Yakupov for defence, he’s the newest to the cluster and the Oilers have too many wingers.”

    I have not heard one person say to trade RNH.

    • Brownlee loves the word meow

      I have never heard anyone say trade any of those guys…

      But I agree with Putting Nuuuge on top of the Pyramid. The guy is… (I challenge people to make up a new word to insert here because currently there is none in the English language that can accurately describe his brilliance)

      • Some of the guys over at Copper and Blue advocate trading Eberle; Lowetide has briefly mentioned trading Hall; many commenters all over have talked about pumping up Yakupov’s value and then trading him in a couple years.

        Of course, ALL of this is said in light of trading one of the big 4 for help on D.

        But no-one has mentioned RNH’s name once. He truly seems like the one untouchable on the team amongst the fanbase.

        • I should clarify: I think that Lowetide said something more along the lines of “Maybe we should think of RNH being the guy who they build the rebuild around and not Hall anymore”, and this was said immediately following Hall’s second season-ending injury in his two NHL seasons, so it was understandable. So it was more of an implication that he could be someone who could be dealt for D if needed.

      • MessyEH!

        The word your looking for is forbidden, it comes from olden days. But you sometimes here it whispered in the sports bars and alleyways. ..
        That word is…. Gretztricial.

  • I was in absolute awe of RNH last year, and his wizardry on the PP was impossible to comprehend. Within days of being an NHL player he was the quarterback of the NHL’s 3rd deadliest Powerplay. He was making experienced NHL penalty killers do exactly what he wanted. Seams would open up to players like Hall or Eberle, players that should NEVER have a clear line of sight to the puck.

  • Brownlee loves the word meow

    Nuge makes painful games worth watching. All the kids do really… but Nuge is Nuuuuuggge. The guy came in and was like.. Ohhh, this inst so hard, I don’t know what all the fuss is about, hat-trick… Don’t mind if I doooo. Is it out of reach that the top line on the Oilers this year has a couple 100 point guys on it?

  • RNH had a great year! If he had not been hurt awarding the Caldler was a mere formality.

    I think his shooting percentages will come down a little but I think his assists will trend upward. I think he will lead our #1 PP for years to come and I think putting on 10-15 pounds to get him close to the 200 lbs mark will add a little more strength and confidence to his game.

    Eberle and RNH had great chemistry all year but they spent a lot of the year without a legit top 6 left winger. I think having Hall driving the net for them gives them another options and opens space for them. I also think with that added forecheck and battling in the corners there would be more turnovers and chances for this line.

    I understand the benefit of spreading the talent and having Hall on the second line. If you were to do this then my preference would be to have Paajarvi as the 1LW. His speed down the left side would keep Dmen honest. The strech pass to him would draw a tonne of penalties and having him streak down the left side with the puck carrier stops Dmen and goalies from cheating over on the shooters side.

    I expect all of the young guys to have better point totals this year with the exception of Eberle and I don’t think he will have a huge drop off.

  • TeddyTurnbuckle

    The Nuge was injured very early in each game that he had to leave with shoulder issues. First shift in the Chicago game when he toe picked into the boards so its almost fair to say he accomplished 52 points in 60 games. I didn’t like the fact that he was taken off the first line powerplay either when he came back from injury. I don’t know what Renney was thinking and I think it was another nail in Renny’s coffin.

  • RexLibris


    That isn’t entirely true.

    I believe there have been several Flames and Canuck fans who have advocated trading Nugent-Hopkins for one of their b-level prospects.

    Not sure if they’re motives were entirely sincere there, though.


  • justDOit

    Nail will win the Calder. We’ve had three chances at it now, and because of weird injuries, our first over all picks have missed out. Nail will prevail. As for the Nuge, all I can say is it’s great to have an incredibly skilled center on the team. There aren’t many of these guys in the league, and few teams can win a cup without one.

  • Wax Man Riley

    We will only have a Calder winner when we have a rookie that plays a full season. Legitimate team toughness must be addressed. Kruger must alow the muscle to do its job!! No point handcuffing the guys that can take care of business

  • vetinari

    We’re loaded on the wings and have a kick@ss centre in the Nuge… the only thing that these kids are missing is experience… they will be scary once they each log 300+ NHL games under their belts.

    I only hope that our defence and goal depth matures and develops as the forwards develop or else we’ll be wasting years in “near playoff” territory or “one-round-and-done” territory.

  • The Soup Fascist

    RNH is a perfect foil for Eberle’s finishing ability on the ice. He also meshes well with Hall’s “A” personality. While RNH is obviously confident, he does not seem to have the “bravado” that Hall and presumably Yakupov do. He will only get bigger, better and stronger. He will never be huge, but he knows how to handle himself. Would not mind a couple of extra high sticking penalties when guys do try to run him. As mentioned above, he has it in him (ask Morrow).

  • RexLibris

    Watching the WCs I saw Nugent-Hopkins get a late goal and the opposition defenceman (can’t remember which country, but it wasn’t U.S. or Russia I don’t think) gave him a cross-check in the ribs as he was celebrating.

    As soon as he took the shot he forgot about the goal and gave it right back to the player. He was angry and one could tell that size was not going to be an issue here. He wanted to take a pound of flesh out of that defenceman.

    That kind of fire and a willingness to give as well as one gets are what will likely see him play a long time. He may need to copy Daniel Briere once in awhile and take a suspension for a little on-ice dentistry, but if it keeps his head attached to his shoulders then I’m all for it.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination to Follow

    Mainly because of RNH… this article fails to mention how brilliant RNH is at taking the puck away from opposing players – he was only a -2 in his rookie season.

    The Nuge defensively reminds me of Datsyk – looking forward to him winning a Selke and Hart in the same year.

  • SurfacetoAirMissile

    The Nuge suprised me almost every game he played last year. His vision on the ice, coupled with his abilitly to actually make the passes he sees was exceptional. Gagner is good but the Nuge is great. I would suggest most fans (including myself) forgot what elite talent actually looks like in an Oiler Uniform.

    The most suprising attribute, even above his elite vision and offensive skills was his tenacity without the puck. If he lost the puck he would go right after the player to get it back (a nice change from the Hemsky wide turn to the bench). Not to mention his ability to back check without taking a penalty and repeatedly strip the puck from oponents all season long.

    If I were a betting man….. and I am, I would put money on the Nuge being the first Oiler since Dougy Weight to score 100 points.

  • SurfacetoAirMissile

    Big believer in poscession time in Off zone biggest factor. (zone start is a reflection of that).

    Looking at player who all face the same level of competition.

    Say 1st Comp.
    Players who have recieved less than 40% zone start have produced 0.90EVP/60 with 14Min of even play that is a 18EVP season.

    Players facing 1st level comp with a greater than 65% zone start generate 2.55EVP/60 a 50 point season.

    32 points diffence facing the same players but diffrent zone situations.

    RNH and Eberle played against Lower 2nd Comp in a 60-65% zone start. Players averaged 2.35 EVP/60

    RNH had 1.98 EVP/60 below the standard expected production.

    Eberle was 3.08 EVP/60 destroyed the situation.

    tell me Bolland and horcoff wouldn’t like to get the extra 32 points pace Toews got with the 65% zone start.

    64 points for horc last year would look great to the uneducted fan.

    It is nice to hear krueger state he is going to limit Horcoffs in these difficult situations and subject the kids to it.
    he did say they got to see what they can do.

    Krueger undrstands! Fans do not!
    Why don’t the kids get more minutes?

    Cause there are only so many offensive zone starts on a team that gets out shot. Right MR. Gregor?