Let’s file this one under “bad ideas we had when we got too
excited”: Trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins because Leon Draisaitl has emerged.
On Saturday I wrote this article about the emergence of Leon
Draisaitl and his incredible point production over the first 10 games of the
season. Coles Notes: ZOMG GERMAN GRETZKY IS AMAZING.
By the end of that article I was thinking about depth at the centre position.
I was musing about three lines consisting of duos that complement each other
and that could provide wave after wave of offensive pressure. While
dreaming up a scenario where Edmonton had high-end depth that could be the envy
of the NHL, others were dreaming up trade scenarios.
I like trade talk – it’s fun. Trying to think about different
options that could work for Team X and also Team Y is a great way to get some
creative juices flowing and if done right is a great excuse to get to know
other teams better than you might currently.
However, if the first reaction to the Oilers getting depth
down the middle for the first time since the Glory Years is to trade one of
those centres away, then we need to slow down. Let’s all take a deep breath and
The thing with depth is that it’s not really a thing if it’s
only on paper. It has to actually exist before teams can reap the benefits from
it. Edmonton has only had all of Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and McDavid in the
lineup at the same time for three games. Well, actually, two-and-a-half games
because McDavid’s clavicle was broken part of the way through the would-be
In addition to being limited to just three games with those
players in the lineup together, the Oilers have actually played zero (zilch,
nada) games with those three all playing centre. It has never happened.
Draisaitl started the season playing on the wing.
So Edmonton has actually not yet played a game at it’s full
potential yet this year even though we are 20 games into the season. This is
something, perhaps, that should be remedied before we get ahead of ourselves
and dream up trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
The Nuge is still Edmonton’s most utilized forward,
averaging 21:15 per game. That’s more than a minute ahead of Taylor Hall on a
per game basis. He can be trusted at even strength, the power play, and on the
penalty kill. He plays against the top defenses of the opposition and the most
dangerous forwards. Despite this he does an admirable job offensively and territorially.
RNH has 15 points in 19 games this year, a 65 point pace
over 82 games, and yet he hasn’t looked like he’s been quite unlocked
offensively. There are going to be more opportunities open up for him when
teams have to choose between either his, Draisaitl, or McDavid’s line to focus
their attention on.
But what if the Oilers don’t want three scoring lines? Wouldn’t
the Oilers have TOO MANY centers?
There is absolutely no team in the NHL that has “too many”
quality centers. It’s just not a thing that ever happens because if it doesn’t make
sense to play one of RNH/McDavid/Draisaitl on a third line then one of
those players will switch to the wing. We know Draisaitl can play the wing very
effectively. We don’t really know how well RNH could do it, but I’m not exactly
worried about it.
It will always be more beneficial to slide a center to the
wing than trade him away and keep someone who is strictly a winger. Injuries
happen and wingers are significantly more abundant than competent centers.
Trade speculation these days is (justifiably) centred
around Travis Hamonic and quality defenders coming back to the Oilers. If the
logic behind trading RNH is that he is very valuable so he could net the club
more, rest your mind at ease. Jordan Eberle is also highly regarded around the
league. The upgrade from Eberle to Nuge is not so much that the Oilers would go
from Hamonic to Subban. It simply doesn’t make sense to move 93 ahead of other
similarly priced, similarly regarded wingers they also have available.
This young man is in his fifth NHL season, he’s
just 22 years old, and he’s signed long term. Nuge is only now starting to look
like a man (as opposed to a kid). He skates with speed and grace. He plays in
every situation. He plays more minutes than every other forward for a reason.
He is not the player the Oilers should be thinking of trading just because they
have two other centers who are also very good. Let’s just take this opportunity
to count to ten and come up with better ideas.