There was a time when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins—despite his enormous skill—would look awkward or unable. He certainly could not push the river ala Taylor Hall, and many nights looked overwhelmed. Our ‘baby Nuge’ is all grown up folks, and he’s real and spectacular.
The Edmonton Oilers chose Ryan Nugent-Hopkins No. 1 overall in the
summer of 2011. In the three seasons we’ve seen “The Nuge”, it’s very
obvious he’s a special player. His range of skills is terrific, and he’s
a wonder on the power play. We’ve seen enough of him now—even with the
injuries and lockout—to make some claims about Nugent-Hopkins and what
he’ll be as an NHL player.
It’s good, very good. The range of skills is what I find so compelling. He’s outstanding on the power play, is a wizard on the penalty kill and continues to emerge as an EV demon.
Last night, Dallas Eakins went power v power against the Stamkos line, and the Nuge won the possession battle while his line was scoring opportunities. He topped it all off with a late, redemption song goal that sent Oilers fans home happy for the first time since spring.
What a night!
THERE’S MORE TO COME!
Darryl Sutter: “The big thing in today’s game
is you have to be able forecheck and backcheck, and you have to have the
puck. You can’t give the puck up. We don’t play in our zone, so there’s
not much defending. I’ve coached in three decades now and this stuff
where they said Marian had to play in Jacques’s system is a bunch of
bull-crap. The game’s changed. They think there’s defending in today’s
game. Nah, it’s how much you have the puck.
Teams that play around in their own zone think they’re defending but
they’re generally getting scored on or taking face-offs and they need a
goalie to stand on his head if that’s the way they play.”
If you read that quote and then think about RNH’s game, he’s such a valuable player for the Edmonton Oilers rolling out over the rest of this decade and beyond. He can:
- Play with elite skill, and has posted breathtaking numbers on the PP (when healthy)
- Play in all three disciplines (EV, PP, PK) with aplomb
- Complement players with more skill than he possesses, like Taylor Hall
- Mark his man with authority
- Aggressively forecheck and backcheck
- Vulture the puck with his stealth work ala Datsyuk
- Pass with the best
What can’t he do? Well, shoot the damn puck accurately, battle the big centermen in the western conference successfully (yet!) and win enough faceoffs for it to be considered a strength.
Last night we saw the Nuge grab the game when it was still in the balance, and fire the winning goal all by his lonesome. A tremendous young talent maturing, as Dallas Eakins said postgame an ‘old soul’ who is finding his rightful place among the best two-way centers in the game.
Baby Nuge is all grown up. Music!