What a difference a full off-season of working out can do for a player, especially a young one. The Nuge has evolved this season into a much different player. Most of the change has come through his physical development.

I was at training camp day one. As I was walking in the first guy I ran into was Nuge. I could not believe how different he looked. No longer was he a teenager with no bumps on his chest, arms or shoulders. Standing in front of me was a young man that looked like he was ready to physically compete in the NHL. 

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I firmly believe hockey players need to have mass on their frames. Both upper and lower body muscles. It is obvious why strong legs are needed. They produce the power needed to get up to speed and they give the player a strong base to battle in front of the net and in the corners.

Mass on the upper body is almost as important. It helps with a harder and quicker shot. It gives a player the strength to keep their stick on the ice or lift an opponent’s up in a puck battle. It’s also armour to withstand the abuse given and taken over the course of an NHL season. 82 games is a lot of games. Bone and skin do not offer much protection from the game of hockey; some muscle mass does.

I see three areas that Nuge struggled with in the previous seasons that are now not such a big deal.


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In his first couple of seasons he was fine if he had space and time while carrying the puck. He did not have the strength in stride to push off of or fight off a checker. Here we see him push Rinaldo off in stride. Impressive. Rinaldo is a fairly strong guy. This is a big change for Nuge. The ability to work in traffic is a must in today’s NHL.



In the past Nuge was often in the correct position to make a play offensively or defensively in the front of the net. He would simply get outmuscled. He would not score a goal or he would eat a minus. Now he is winning those puck battles.

It has showed up in his draws as well. He isn’t getting tossed around in the circle. I am a firm believer in a center’s ability to win draws. I liked being on the ice with centers who you figured had a better then 50/50 chance of winning that draw. Starting with the puck was a lot more fun no matter the zone we were in. I also felt it could set the tone for the shift. The whole group was on their toes.



This could be the most important. He looks like a more confident player and person. He is walking taller. Every guy knows that when your shirts are fitting a little tighter on the arms and across the chest the confidence goes up.

The perfect example is his fight with Canucks D man Hamhuis. We had seen Nuge turn the cheek in the past when he was getting taken advantage of. At some point during the season a player is responsible for standing up for himself, creating his own space on the ice. This is how you get respect. it doesn’t have to be a fight, sometimes just a slash or a push back will do. 

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It takes time to get to the point where a players feels confident enough physically and emotionally to confront an opposing player. I felt you could always tell a players willingness to really battle by looking into his eyes. If you gave them a slash and they wouldn’t look at you then you had them. They didn’t want to really battle.

This is especially true for younger players. As you watch the games check out their eyes. The truth is in the eyes.

  • llong33

    If this team is going to take a step forward it’s going to have to be Hall and Nuge leading the way. Hall has already proven he can raise his compete level, it’s nice to see Nuge take matters into his own hands.

  • He might be growing up before our eyes but we can still treat him like the little kid we’ve all come to love. Therefore my response is:


  • Spoils

    Nuge had 15pts in 6 world junior games.

    Look at Bergeron right now at 29. Nuge strikes me as a late bloomer.

    I feel like we are barely scratching the surface of what he can be in 5 years.

    Many people feel it is a forgone conclusion that this is Hall’s team and that he should be captain.

    RNH at 27 years old is going to be a crazy dominant player.

    looking forward to watching this play out.

  • That was an incredibly balanced well structured but rounded article,Mr. Strudwick you have outdone yourself with this one.

    Not only did you accurately illustrate and explain an important area of Nuges game which has impacted his season but at the same time on a professional/ProFan level you recognised Nuge for his extra efforts during the off-season when he had a difficult personal decision to make in choosing to revover his body over playing more ,he has shown us he made the right decision ,but then you took it a step further and gave all the young Fans who play hockey and Dads supporting them some real hands on ways of improving themselves and their own games by providing them with some tangible things to do endorsed by you personally ,you didnt just talk about the topic ,you did something about it.

    You are absolutely dialed in on every level and your dynamic explanations of the hows and whys were spot-on and educational Jason,well done.Impressive.

    • PlayDirty

      This was in jest.

      Struds, it’s good to get another article from you; seems like it’s been awhile. I always appreciate your take as a physical player who’s been there.

      Nuge has an air about him that hasn’t been there before. It looks like he is pushing the play much more than he was able to before; like Hall has been able to. As a few more of our skilled guys gain this confidence, we are going to see better results as a team. Some of the other vets have it (Hendricks, Gordon, Pouliot) but it needs to come from our core. Ebs… you’re next.

      *There was that picture a few weeks ago of St. Louis’ legs, those were friggin pillars. I don’t think height matters if you have a frame to pack the meat on.

  • Newj

    RNH’s body is beginning to close the gap with his brain & hockey IQ.

    I marvel at his ability to see the ice and anticipate.

    If he can escape injury I believe he will put up numbers that will match his pedigree of being a 1st overall pick at both the junior and professional levels.

    A joy to watch this young man play hockey.

  • Newj

    Hope Ebs sees the results and puts on 10 lbs of muscle next summer.

    He’s is already a dynamo, in traffic, imagine if he could shrug people off when they try and take the body.

    I think that might be the key for Ebs to become a dominant winger in this league, as opposed to just being very good.

  • Guy Lafleur

    As everyone of you know i am the biggest NUGE blaster but i gotta tell ya Baby NUGE has changed my opinion , first the fight not that i wnt him fighting but that h showed up making a statement and now the domination ..i am converted i LOVE BABY NUGE!!!!!!

  • The Soup Fascist

    The biggest difference with Nuge is the confidence. As you say Jason that is likely the result of being bigger, faster and healthier this year. But that is what I see. A player who wants the puck and is confident he can blow by one or two guys and create some space and allow his teammates to get open.

    The last couple of years RNH seemed to hesitate in those situations and he would get knocked off the puck or try to throw some cross ice pass that would inevitably get picked off. Now, there is a calmness I haven’t seen before.

    He is not ever going to be a bull in a china shop, huge, dominating center – and let’s be honest – the west has an abundance of guys like that – Getzlaf, Kopitar, Backes, Thornton, Toews (not huge but great), Kesler, etc that he will have to go against night after night. It won’t be easy. There will be nights that he struggles.

    But he is smart, fast and skilled and getting better every day. And a little “old man strength” will go a long way. In a couple of years when the Oilers don’t have to shelter Leon and he is capable of more that just O zone starts, the Oilers will have something down the middle.

    Imagine if Nuge had a big, capable and experienced centre with some skill playing behind him this year? Pity.

  • Guy Lafleur

    With Hall’s injury, Nuge has taken on the “on ice” leadership role. It would appear that he can carry the puck up ice as well as Hall.

    Would be interesting to see the outcome if the two were separated on 5X5.

    PS: Nuge please pass on the Gym phone number to Eberle.

  • bazmagoo

    So many people gave Nuge such a hard time about his size, I always knew it was only a matter of time before he filled out. He’s going to be the next Pavel Datsyuk imo, their style of play is very similar.

    Now if only we could do something about Eberle.

    • The Soup Fascist

      Easy does it on the Eberle blasting please. The kid is one hell of a hockey player and he produces season over season on a consistent basis. Not only reliable points wise, he often contributes and steps up when it’s do or die(WJC goal). He’s not a physical force out there, but in the correct line-up this won’t matter. Patrick Kane isn’t out there running over guys either. Not that I’m comparing him to Kane, but their approach is similar. He’ll get better defensively as he goes, and he will also fill out into his man size soon and will have that much better control of his positioning and puck strength. Remember, he was taken at number 22 overall in that draft… So expectations shouldn’t have him with the elite number one first overalls right??
      Personally I rather like the idea of Pouliot, Nuge, and Ebs. Be interesting to see if Lloyd Braun keeps them intact and put Hall and Perron together. Sure would be nice to see a truly dangerous two lines rolling out!
      Love watching Leon and his smart and simple backhand passes that look so effortless on the kid. Amazing brain and soft hands on him.