I’m guessing the Edmonton Oilers could have finished 29th last season and lurched into 20-something-place in this lockout-shortened season handily without using two years of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ entry level contract, but RNH will play his 100th NHL game Saturday against the Calgary Flames.
Given potential cap issues and free agency rules, there’s reasonable arguments to be made that RNH, who just celebrated his 20th birthday April 12, should have spent last season and this one tearing it up in the WHL with the Red Deer Rebels instead of playing at the back of the Western Conference pack with the Oilers – I beg to differ – but this isn’t about that.
This is about how time and 100 games has zipped by and how it looks from where I sit like the Oilers got it absolutely right with the first pick of the 2011 Entry Draft, despite having some other excellent options, as the Flames come calling to take another beating of monumental proportions at Rexall Place.
Wonky shoulder and all, RNH has been the class of the Class of 2011 – not bad for an under-sized centre who had some pundits questioning whether he was worthy of the No. 1 pick and whether chief scout Stu MacGregor and the Oilers should use it to select him.
BY THE NUMBERS
With 99 NHL games on his resume, RNH faces the Flames with 21-53-74, easily out-stripping his fellow 2011 grads by the boxcars. Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog, who claimed the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie last year, is next with 30-35-65 in 110 games.
Jonathan Huberdeau, who went third overall to the Florida Panthers and spent last season in junior, is having an excellent rookie campaign this season with 13-14-27 in 40 games. Defenseman Adam Larsson, taken fourth by the New Jersey Devils, has had a difficult sophomore campaign and sits with 2-21-23 through 94 NHL games.
Big pivot Sean Couturier out of Drummondville, deemed by some a good fit for the Oilers but who ended up dropping all the way to eighth and being taken by the Philadelphia Flyers, has recorded 16-23-39 in 115 games.
Boxcars – goals, assists and points — don’t nearly tell the whole story in providing a complete picture of progress by prospects, especially when it comes to defensemen like Larsson or Dougie Hamilton, taken ninth by the Boston Bruins. Still, in the case of a player like Nugent-Hopkins, whose calling card is producing points, it’s difficult to dismiss his dominance.
HERE AND NOW
After tallying 18-34-52 in just 62 games with the Oilers last season (.84 PPG), Nugent-Hopkins has dropped off this season 3-19-22 in 37 games (.59 PPG) despite increased overall ice time – 18:55 this season to 17:36 in 2011-12.
Nugent-Hopkins has also had stretches, many of them, where he didn’t look quite right, playing too much of a tentative game on the perimeter. That’s led people to speculate about the shoulder he injured as a rookie. I suspect we’ll hear more about that when the season is done.
Despite the dip in overall production, RNH has looked more comfortable and has certainly been more effective and dynamic in the stretches when he’s been reunited with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
From a development point of view, I’d certainly rather see RNH struggling at times and having to adjust his game against NHL opponents than toying with WHL opposition for fun. There is something to be said, at least the way I see it, for developing alongside Hall and Eberle and Nail Yakupov, even in these lean times for the team. We’ve seen that work out fine before, no?
So, 100 games it is. Time flies.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.