Todd McLellan on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: “I believe in him 100%”

Todd McLellan3

Todd McLellan had a superb pre-game press conference on Wednesday morning. In it, he was nuanced and thoughtful. He explained the difference between patience and acceptance and he ran through how the coaching staff helps an offensive player rediscover his offence.

Oh, and he defended Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. To the hilt.

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Defending Nuge


McLellan started by noting that his post-game commentary after Monday’s loss to Toronto had created some of the storm around players like Nugent-Hopkins. Then he launched into a staunch defence of the player.

When I look at Nuge, I think he’s a really valuable player to our team. When you go to the 2011 Draft, he’s played the second-most games out of anybody there. Him and Landeskog are heads and tails above anybody else when it comes to scoring.

Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog leads the 2011 Draft class with 213 points in 304 games. Nugent-Hopkins is eight points back, but has played in 22 fewer contests than Landeskog. Nobody else from the draft is within even 50 points of Nugent-Hopkins.

It’s not Nuge’s fault he’s 5’10”, he can’t change that. He uses what he has, night-in and night-out.

That would seem to be the coach’s way of saying that drive and competitiveness aren’t issues with Nugent-Hopkins. “Soft skill” isn’t a phrase one is likely to hear from McLellan’s lips.

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He had a tough trip. The sun came up today for all of us; I expect that to change over time.

McLellan obviously isn’t blind to the struggles of Nugent-Hopkins’ line over the last five games, and he expects better. But this is a relatively small segment for a player who has been a consistent producer on a bad team. And there are other factors worth noting.

Nuge is also the guy who has been moved around; they had a line that was going really strong, we lose Connor, Nuge has to come to the rescue, occupy a spot on a different line. So he’s lost his linemates, he’s been moved around to different power plays.

This is telling. When Connor McDavid got hurt, it wasn’t Leon Draisaitl who got bumped away from Taylor Hall to create secondary scoring; Draisaitl isn’t at a point in his career where it’s fair to expect that of him. It was Nugent-Hopkins that the coach leaned on. It hasn’t worked out, but it’s also not like he’s still riding shotgun for Hall.

Am I defending Nuge? Absolutely I am, because I believe in him 100 percent.

There’s not a lot of room for misinterpretation here. This is a player the coach believes in. He reinforced that when asked who Nugent-Hopkins reminds him of.

Joe Pavelski. Because he’s small, he’s competitive, he understands the game. You’ve got remember that Joe Pavelski played four years at Wisconsin before he even got to the league. I think Joe didn’t develop at Waterloo of the USHL until he was 19; Nuge had already put in 132 games in the NHL at that point. Nuge is 22 years old, you guys. He’s 22.

That’s high praise. Pavelski was McLellan’s spackle in San Jose, the player he could move around here, there and everywhere whenever a hole appeared. Pavelski could centre on any of the top three lines, and he could play the wing, too. He was also adept at transitioning from offensive roles to more defensive roles, and was used on both special teams.

Again, this is telling. When one looks at the Oilers’ key players, there’s an awful lot of talent there but as of right now not a lot of all-purpose players. That’s what Nugent-Hopkins brings to the table in a way that no other individual currently on the roster does. He can play on the power play, the penalty kill, centre a hard minutes line and generate offence at five-on-five. He has a richly varied skillset on a team with too many one-dimensional players.

There’s been a lot of focus lately on size and brawn, with many looking at the team through the lens of size/strength and not-size/strength players. It’s probably more useful to look at the team in terms of offence/defence, with Nugent-Hopkins being one of the few forwards who occupies both spheres.

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I think he has the brain and the will to do it. Has he had a tough stretch? Absolutely he has. Is it all on his 5’10” shoulders? Some of it is, but not all of it.


  • smith


    That’s some pretty good players. I would not say Nugent-Hopkins is a first pick looking back, but the Oilers did need a centre and at the time he was a fairly clear cut number 1 pick. Like Hall – good pick but maybe not the best pick if you could look 5 years in future.

  • smith

    Thanks God this is being said! Nuge is by far the most valuable player on the team. He doesn’t hit the highlight reel often, but that’s because for him it’s all about doing the right things.

    Best two way player we have had in years!

  • BlazingSaitls

    Don’t bother trying to trade RNH. He makes 6m and does not have a very good start to the season.

    It would have to be a massive giveaway for a 22 year old.

  • Spoils

    Nuge had 15pt in 6 games where the next closest scorer for Canada had 9. he is going to be dangerous when he develops man strength.

    That said, I think the Pou-Nuge-Ebs line might need to be shuffled. They’ve got nothing out there.

  • Spiel

    What a bunch of pissy little skirts posting on this thread today.

    Nuge is a bonafide top 1/2 C in the NHL and has been since he was drafted. He is only 22 years old and has out performed every other player in his draft year.

    He has played on the worst team in the history of the NHL (10 years no playoffs, 4 #1OV draft picks) and you still can’t give him credit for what he has accomplished.

    You don’t deserve good players!

  • Spiel

    Do we honestly think that TMac on his own went and looked up points from that 2011 draft? Reeks of a scripted statement, probably handed to down to him from on high.

    Heads and tails above everybody else when it comes to scoring? Yes for their career. They also made it to the NHL earlier than most from that draft.

    For example, Gaudreau was drafted in the 4th round that year and had more points than both of them last year and he was in his first NHL season.
    Kucherov and Palat were over 60 points each last year too which is more than Nuge and Landeskog.

  • bobinyvr

    Major damage control by the coach.

    Clearly he was prepared (or prepped) with loads of stats, verbal, etc.

    RNH and Ebs are not the reason this team is in last place .. again.

    Both were smaller, skilled players when drafted. Ebs has also out-performed his draft class by a wide margin.

    The blame lies at the feet of Lowe, Tambo, MacT, Howson and drafting/development. If management wanted 6ft4, 220 lbs centers, defensemen and goalies … then they should have DRAFTED (and developed) them and not blame 5ft10 guys for being too small.

    AND blame the Five coaches in five years.

    Could much of the core compete better? Sure. Absolutely.

    But could Ebs score more if a defensemen could get him the puck? or a centerman win a draw? Sure. Absolutely.

    This team is flawed .. absolutely. Some D please. And sadly I believe Ebs will be traded (sacrificed) for a D-man.

    Should the Jackass who fired a coach (one with the best winning %) via Skype outlast Ebs or RNH with this organization? NO!!!

    But Ebs is not the problem here. RNH is not the problem either .. although potentially paying 6 million/year for a 3rd line center(behind CMD and Drai) may not be sustainable.

    Both provide better value for sure than Nikitin, Scrivens and Ference.

  • Spiel

    So just for fun armchair GM here are a couple things I would try if I was gm in the offseason.

    Oil: Gazdic 5th pick
    Chi: Mashinter – tough as nails and throws down for teammates, decent hands for 4th liner too.

    Oil: Hall, Eberle, 2016 1st (top 5)
    Nash: Jones, Forsberg

    Sign Jones & Forsberg to 7 year 4 mill

    Sign Ladd to 4 yr – 5.5 mill Trade for at deadline if have to.

    Sign Jagr 1 yr 4 mil

    In season this year
    Oil: Yak, Klef, 2016 2nd, 2017 2nd
    NYI: Okposo, Hamonic

    Sign Okposo 4 yr 5 mill

    Ladd RNH Okposo
    Drai McD Forsberg
    Korp/Pou Hendy Jagr
    Mashinter/Land Yakimov Pak

    Sek Ham
    Nur Jones
    Dav/Rein Gryba

    I think there all over pays by oil but that’s what it’ll take to get better these deals wouldn’t hamper us cap wise I don’t think.

    Totally change the makeup of our roster have to give to get but that’d be a different makeup adding RH D and centers to roster.

  • Jay (not J)

    You know things are tough when one of your best players shrinks by two inches. As this rate Nuge will be five foot six by season’s end and untradeable. Move him now. Seriously, the Oilers would be nuts to move RNH, Hall, McDavid, Draisital or Nurse. Anything else is possible.

  • camdog

    The coach said that he 100% believes in RnH and he remind him a lot or Joe Paveski. If I am not mistaken Joe came into the league a centre, however plays a majority of his minutes on the wing a transition that Todd was instrumental in implementing.

  • camdog

    Mindless rationalization.
    Where was he in Toronto, Carolina, Detroit?
    At $6 million per yesr, consistency isn’t just hoped it’s expected.
    Trading him for grit and consistency is way over due.

  • bobinyvr

    Just for clarification. I have followed Nuge career from age 15. He was officially 6.05 and at 194 lbs this past summer. Todd is speaking off the top of his head and doesn’t really care about the height.

    Anyone else saying different would be saying NUGE is lying. Those were the officially words out of his mouth in a couple interviews when asked those questions on size and weight.

    I may be wrong but i think he is showing discouragement and that has affected his game. It’s tough losing and great players can lose and make it tough on a losing team year after year. He will come around, his game was much better tonight again with useless line mates as well.

    Would be curious since Hall and Leon seemed to have slowed down what a Hall/RNH/Eberle 1st line would look like with Leon entering whats left on a 2nd line for 1 game. Leon looks to be the driver IMO not Hall anyway on that line.