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.


      • 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.

        • 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?

        • 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?

        • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Chainsawz

    I like that McLellan stood up for Nuge.

    They say it takes five years after a draft to really know how good a draft pick is. If you go back and look at re-drafts of the 2011 draft, Nuge drops to third behind Landeskog and Saad. He has been one of the best players from that draft.

    He is what he is. A quality centre who can move around the line-up and play multiple roles, which you need on good teams. He’s not great at face-offs.

    He’s not an elite scorer. Maybe with McDavid’s return he can start scoring again, when he doesn’t have to play against an opposing team’s best defencemen. People didn’t like it, but Kelly Hrudey was pretty on-point: he’s not really a #1C, but he is a pretty darn good #2/3C as needed. Too bad he’s over-paid.

    • The Goalie 1976

      ‘If you go back and look at re-drafts of the 2011 draft, Nuge drops to third behind Landeskog and Saad.’

      I’m not so sure about that. Those 3 are pretty even in my opinion. I would say Landeskog might be the least valuable, as he’s a winger, and I’d rather have a 2-way consistent 50 point center than him.

      But I see your point, that all 3 are pretty equal, all things considered, a person could make a case for any of them #1.

      Quite the flip side from the Yak draft. Between him, Murray, Griffin Reinhart and even Galchenyk, I would say none of them even look like top 10 picks now. Yikes, that was a really weak draft year.

  • S cottV

    Makes no sense to completely pound Nuge into the ground.

    So – I wouldn’t read too much into the press conference, relating to McClellans comments about him.

    I don’t think its the kiss of death, like MacT’s press conference where he completely supported Eakins.

    McClellan gave Nuge a shot after the Leaf game, now he’s picking him up a bit.

    Doesn’t change the fact – that Nuge is one of the logical guys to go – IF – the return is right, and I doubt that happens till summer, if at all.

    Telling that McClellan made mention – he’s only 5 ft 10.

    I know nobody seems to like it, but – why not try playing Nuge on the wing – when McD returns.

    As much as McD has shown to be the logical 1C, Drai has shown to be the logical 2C and really – Drai’s impact, isn’t that far off of what we have seen from McD. Different style of player, but if you aren’t just about as excited about Drai’s play – as you are McD’s, then I’m not sure you know what to look for.

    Have been saying ever since PC decided (another poor decision) to send Drai to the AHL – that we shouldn’t be under estimating or under appreciating a big man in the middle – who is elite and can play. Don’t be fooled – he is for real. You can see it in the way he plays – regardless of the points generated.

    So – get over it, Nuge is gonna get bumped. If – he can play on the wing, maybe – there might be some magic there worth keeping. It keeps Nuge at 5 ft 10 – 180, out of the low d zone. Let McD or Drai grind it out low and get him the puck with time and space – what’s wrong with that? Also – gives backup centre depth in case of injury.

  • 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.