Even though Elliotte Friedman takes the summer off from his 30 thoughts segment, we keep the deep thoughts* rolling at Nation HQ. We’re still over a month away from the Young Stars Tournament, even longer away from the preseason, and just under 69 (#nice) days away from the season opener, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about the Oilers.
One of the most interesting things going into this season is who will Connor McDavid be playing with to start the year. We can argue all summer long (and we will) about how many points he’ll get (if he breaks 67 I’ll be thrilled — anything above that is gravy) but a lot of that will depend on who he’s playing with and how many minutes he gets. We’ll save the argument about how many he’ll get for another day… uhhh… or at least continue it another day. Today, I’m thinking about who McDavid will have as his wingers.
To me, the idea that Connor McDavid is the de facto number one centre is almost as crazy as expecting him to lead the league in points in his rookie season (yes some people think that will happen). Will he finish the season as the number one centre on the depth chart? Possibly. Regardless of where he finishes the year I think he will start the season behind Nugey on the depth chart. Sheltering McDavid’s minutes while he gets his feet wet is the best idea for both the team and player. Having two veteran wingers on either side of him will be just as important as letting him learn the paces of the NHL. Which wingers would be best? I’ll tell you.
If we can agree that McDavid will start the season on the second line (just humour me here) I think the options for his wingers are more limited than some people think. To me, the best options to play with Connor McDavid will be a guys that can produce some offence and also cover any defensive shortcomings he may have. Benoit Pouliot (he has some touch, but can also play a two-way game) and Jordan Eberle (same reasons as Pouliot) are the best options available to fill that role. Pouliot and Eberle both have the skill sets that will be needed to play with McDavid, and cover any shortcomings he may have in his first few weeks in the league.
It’s important that McDavid be surrounded by veterans (can you believe Eberle will be going into his sixth season already?) and have them do some of the lifting at both ends of the rink. Playing McDavid with Pouberle® will allow him to produce points as people expect him to do, but also be the net needed to catch him if he falters. I know that these line combinations more than likely won’t stick that way through the entire season, but for me those are the best two options for him to start the season with.
I’m not going to go into a big thing about the captain needing to be the best player on the team, because that’s just not the case. From where I blog, the captain needs to be the guy that is comfortable playing big/important minutes, excelling at their role, getting in front of the cameras on the worst nights and keeping an even temperament. The captain needs to be a guy that can perform on the ice, and not get rattled when times get tough. To me, the next captain of the Edmonton Oilers should be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins… more on that later.
A week ago Matt Henderson wrote about the need to change the captaincy. I don’t disagree with Matt that change is needed, but I also don’t think it’s as crucial to strip Ference of the “C” immediately as some people seem to think. Andrew Ference is a veteran NHLer that feels comfortable in his own skin and the role placed upon him. Ference is a leader in the community, an excellent communicator, and he’s also able to step forward and speak when times have been tough. It’s a role that was needed while the first round of kids (read: first overall picks) were maturing, and a role that they will soon take over. Rather than strip him of the captaincy, wouldn’t it be more gracious of the organization to let him pass it along just like Milan Hejduk did with Gabriel Landeskog in Colorado? I have nothing to base this on, but I would guess that this day is coming soon than later.
Back to Nugey…
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the world’s greatest 13-year old. This kid is dedicated to getting better as a hockey player, performing his job at a high level, and he has all the tools to make that happen. Puck skills aside, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has spent much of his time in the league working hard at getting better as a two-way centre. No Oiler forward played more minutes than Nuge last season, and he was second in the entire NHL to only John Tavares. Is he the best player on the team? We can debate that, but there’s no doubt that he is in the mix. Is he a skilled player, and a big contributor to this team? Absolutely. Most importantly, Nugent-Hopkins has the temperament needed to lead this team out of darkness and into the brightness for the next decade. I love Taylor Hall, but he also has issues controlling his temper on the ice – Nuge barely knows how to frown. He is the calming force this team needs.
Don’t take Nuge’s even keeled demeanour as having a lack of fire in his belly. Remember when Nuge went to battle with Dan Hamhuis last year? Ragin’ Nugent-Hopkins was born on that fateful night. That fight showed me that this kid is ready to battle and earn his space on the ice if need be. That fight showed a competitiveness that we may not necessarily have expected from the otherwise quiet Nugey. When you combine his willingness to battle and his dedication to get better, with his natural skill it makes Ryan Nugent-Hopkins an obvious contender to have the “C” sewn on his jersey. He is the kind of player that this team needs to lead them.
WE NEED YOUR HELP
We all know the summer is a slow time for all things Oiler related, and hockey in general. Going forward Jeanshorts and I will be creating content based on the input of you, the fine citizens of The Nation. The first round of this user content will be going up tomorrow based on the question posed in the graphic above. From there we gather your answers and compile a top five video showing who made the cut. Only five goals will make the video so this should cause a debate of hilarious proportions.
To submit your vote follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to say your piece. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain. Actually… that’s not true at all. I would expect you to complain and encourage it!
Disagree with any of my thoughts here? Sound off in the comments section and let us know what you think!