The young center pursued the puck carrier and disrupted the breakout, as the Flames power play clock ticked down. One sortie after another was disrupted, as Baby Nuge singlehandedly impacted tonight’s game in a positive way. As I was watching 93 on the penalty-kill, I was reminded of the great Dave Keon, who 40 years earlier played the same game—tireless puck pursuit and using speed to upset timing—and at 20, he possesses something the other kids cannot claim—a natural ability to think the defensive game.
BACK AT THE BEGINNING
Leading up to the 2011 Entry draft, many respected hockey people discussed the Nuge as a hockey player. My favorite—and the one thing that rings most true today—comes from Ken Hitchcock.
- “My opinion on Nugent-Hopkins has changed … last summer I thought he reminded me of Joe Sakic, but it’s Pavel Datsyuk now. He strips people of the puck, he’s crafty in high-traffic areas, he dishes well, he’s got great patience with the puck. But, if you’re close to either one of those two guys (in ability), that’s a pretty good thing.”
Nuge, at 20, is doing good work for the Edmonton Oilers. Here’s a rundown of his game tonight:
- Corsi For % 5×5: 54.2%, led the team
- DZone start: 28.6%, Gordon toughest among C’s
- Percentage of team EV ice-time: 30.9%, a close second to Gagner
- Percentage of team PP ice-time: 48.9%, again a close second to Gagner
- Percentage of team PK ice-time: 53.8%, second to Gordon
There’s some interesting stuff in here. First, his shot differential was outstanding—this is a road game and the numbers didn’t favor the Oilers overall (44-34 Calgary 5×5 on the night). He was playing on the 1line, but he was also doing some double time on the PK, which meant his regular wingers (Hall and Perron) were getting some 5×5 prime with (to my eye) Sam Gagner. (all numbers via extra skater).
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
ALL of the gifted kids can play offense, but Nuge can do that AND play some defense. As coach Dallas Eakins continues to experiment with this roster and find a sweet spot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins role is becoming more Datsyukian—at age 20!
Tonight, when Dallas Eakins needed a partner for Boyd Gordon because Ryan Smyth is too old to do double-time, he looked down the roster and chose the youngest option available. And that young man killed penalties with aplomb, at the expense of his PP and EV playing time (which was passed along to Sam Gagner).
A small point of interest: Pavel Datsyuk arrived in the NHL at 23, so we began to form an opinion of him as a player FIVE years after we began doing the same thing with Nugent-Hopkins. He’s just getting started.
This kid is so far ahead of the curve it’s frightening. A lot of the Oiler kids are pissing in the wind without the puck, but baby Nuge—the man who may never shave—is bona fide and taking on more responsibility by the month.