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.


  • For Pete's Sake!

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Nuge has been dragged down by the very poor play of his linemates, Pouliot and Eberle. They’re both the worst plus/minus players on the team.

    Those are the two that need their asses kicked to jumpstart that line. Nuge is not the problem.

  • 99CupsofCoffey

    This says it all:

    “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.”

    • Chainsawz

      All that says that it wasn’t a very good draft class.

      This is like saying out of all the players with hyphenated last names, Nuge leads them in 5v5 scoring in the second period in the month of January in odd years since 2010. What a valuable player!

      Love Nuge, but that says nothing to the quality of player.

  • brian_d

    So much respect for McLellan. This is what a real “player’s coach” does. He defended Nuge, and, even more, provided rock-solid legitimate justification (not excuses) for his struggles. He knows what’s going on out there. The message–I know he’s struggling, and I expect more, but I believe in him–is exactly what Nuge needs to hear in this instance.

    Curious–I didn’t hear the presser. Did McLellan comment on Eberle at all?

    • A-Mc

      Someone asked about how you get a goal scorer going (Eberle) and McLellan responded by saying they show video of what was working, what has worked, what hasn’t worked. Then they look at his linemates to see if they can figure out how Jordan can be used, and how he can perform differently, in order to get results.

    • I’ll go a step further. I think McLellan mentioned Nuge’s height, repeated it to emphasize it and indicate he’s not making a mistake, to adjust expectations.

      Not of Nuge’s potential, but expectations of Nuge’s timeline before he can deal with the top centres in the West. Datsyuk, Pavelski – comparables to Nuge in size and style – they didn’t hit their stride until age 23/24.

  • A-Mc

    Lots of praise for Nuge in that presser today. It’s a good one.

    One thing that stood out to me though: He’s 5’10”?

    Why the hell does the NHL have to fudge their numbers by listing him as 6′, and why the hell doesn’t the team correct the heights that we all KNOW are recorded at the start of each season?

    If Nuge is listed at 6′, but is realistically 5’10”, is Eberle 5’9 because he’s listed as 5’11? Are the NHL measurements WITH skates on?

    Is Taylor Hall actually 6′ tall? or is he 5’10” as well? If all these guys who play the most minutes are actually 5’10” or shorter, its no wonder we get worked around so much. Ignoring body weight, there’s only so much you can do when you’re literally 4″ shorter than the legitimate 6’2″ players that control play.

    • A-Mc

      Yeah 4″ height advantage means you auto-win.

      If guys like Patches can do well with a 5-10″ height difference, do you really think a guy like RNH is gonna get worked over because another player is 2-4″ taller?

      • A-Mc

        If you take the discussion and isolate it to 1 guy, then you’re absolutely right. Smaller guys succeed all the time. Specifically in that presser, Pavelski was named as being a great and he’s one of my favorite players! (also small).

        Small guys can succeed, FOR SURE. BUT, if the guys who play the majority of your minutes are ALL small, the team is at a disadvantage.

        Smaller guys need to work harder to achieve the same results. This is harder on their bodies and its harder to sustain success.

        There’s a big difference between 1 small guy with 2 bigger line mates, and all 3 line mates being small.

  • Nuge has had a tough stretch but his linemates aren’t exactly helping him out. Eberle has been incredibly disappointing since returning from injury. We need Pouliot to make a difference. He is one of the few big forwards we have who can play on an offensive line. Other than taking stupid and lazy offensive zone penalties, what has he done lately?

  • 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!

  • 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.

      • Soiled Trousers

        Actually I’m pretty sure Katz would love to see the media preaching patience and continued support of the 58th version of the rebuild. This team has been crap for ten years yet the same message keeps getting sent, “Have patience, give it time, go to games, buy merchandise”. If pointing out the facts makes me a tinfoil hat loser then so be it.

        The fact is we both know that the MSM, yourself included, doesn’t have the stones to lay down the truth about this franchise. Namely, Katz is a crooked scumbag who has bilked the taxpayers and fans out of their money for his entire life. He is the worst owner in franchise history and that includes Pocklington. The boys bus are the worst group on mangers in the history of this team and they should be fired on principle alone. There is something wrong with the core group of players and someone needs to be traded, again on principle alone.

        I know you will never admit this because Katz would have you blackballed faster than he would steal a nickel from his owe mother. But whatever, just because no one will write it doesn’t mean it’s not true.

        • Jay (not J)

          Time to adjust the meds, dude. Comparing Daryl Katz to Peter Pocklington just looks like a really awkward attempt at insulting the owner by a guy who doesn’t know his team’s history. I didn’t get any reason at all from Willis’ previous article why I should pay any attention to what this team does for the next 6 months and it certainly didn’t give me a ‘gotta go get an orange ball cap’ feeling. I really don’t understand the point of coming on here and just insulting the authors. Maybe they’ll be stricken by your brilliance and beg you to become a paid contributor? Good luck.

        • Soiled Trousers

          What on Earth are you talking about? If Katz blackballed every journalist who said negative things about the Oilers there would be no one left covering the team.

          If you wanna rag on Stauffer for being an Oilers-stooge, that’s one thing. But Willis doesn’t draw a paycheque from the Katz Group, so what is he supposed to be afraid of exactly?

          As for patience, what choice do we have? You can’t snap your finger and have Shea Weber on your team. Chia will make a trade when he uncovers the right deal, until then all we can do is hope Ebs and Nuge get out of their slumps.

        • AJ88

          Well thanks for the “truth” “tinfoil hat loser”. We can all go to bed tonight knowing Katz is a crooked scumbag. You better look more thoroughly on how the CoE is doing on future property taxes from the ice district…

          • Soiled Trousers

            “no matter what variables are used, articles published in peer-reviewed economics journals contain almost no evidence that professional sports franchises and facilities have a measurable economic impact on the economy.”

            Hmmmm, it seems you may not be correct. But that can’t be true, I mean, politicians and billionaires wouldn’t fudge the truth for their own gain would they?

        • AJ88

          Buy more Oilers merchandise and keep watching the games on TV and in person.

          The more you buy, the better the team will do.

          You want to help the team do better don’t you?