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.

      • 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

          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?

        • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • JimmyVan

    I agree with the articles and comments here about Nuge’s value and I think he should be part of the “untouchable” list along with Hall, McDavid, Nurse, Leon and maybe Klefbom. I also agree that the Oilers have long been too soft, too small, and with not enough compete. But I think it’s unfair to pin that on RNH; I think trading him would come back to bite the team in the long run, and I think they have plenty other assets they can move out to bring help in.

    BTW I don’t live in Edmonton so I don’t know how the vibe is there but for me as a long-time Oilers fan living in Toronto, I’m very optimistic despite the bad start because unlike in years past, they now have an excellent GM, an excellent coach, and a well respected CEO in Bob Nicholson. It was the poor decision making by Kevin Lowe (whose only job with OEG should be selling concessions at the games), along with Tambellini and to a degree MacT that brought this core in. Chiarelli has no emotional attachment to these guys as the previous regime did and so if there’s a deal to be made to better the team, he’s gonna make the deal. Next season they’re battling for a playoff spot, book it.

  • 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.

  • Zarny

    I still think the make up if this team is still wrong, and “soft skill” is a fairly accurate description of the forwards that have skill, but not the ability to compete hard to win battles.

  • Jay (not J)

    Great answers from McLellan. What I wonder though is were those words of support for the Edmonton fan base or for the other 29 GMs to hear? I am all for not trading Nuge. At the same time it makes me physically sick to contemplate waiting another 10 months for relevant hockey to return. I understand all of the “Holy sh!t you idiots, we’re not thinking about this are we!?!” articles and posts that we’ve seen on the issue of an RNH trade recently, but if the alternative is just sit back and enjoy smoking this turd until next summer’s draft party, then I think every option must be explored.

  • Jay (not J)

    5’10” ??
    He’s been in the league for 5 years and this is the first time I’ve heard 5’10″… 5’11’ maybe but I always thought he was 6 feet…

    Someone out there must have stood by him before? Is it true?

    • A-Mc

      I’ve been comparing all the images i can find on the internet of Oilers players on their draft day and i use McGreg. or Howson as the yardsticks.

      In order of Tallest to shortest it looks like: Nurse, Draisaitl, Hall, Nuge, Ebs. Nothing new here of course.

      By Eye it looks like the difference in heights listed on are accurate but the actual height is inaccurate. For example: Nurse is listed as 6’4″ and he looks a solid 3″ taller than Taylor hall, who is listed at 6’1″. But Hall looks only maybe 1″ taller than Nuge, who is listed as 6′. If the coach says nuge is 5’10” tall then that means we’re looking at guesstimate heights as:

      Nurse: 6’2″
      Hall: 5’11”
      Nuge: 5’10”
      Eberle: 5’9″

      Draisaitl is listed as 6’1″ but he looks slightly taller than Hall so he may actually be a full 6′ tall on the adjusted heights listing above.

      None of this is exact science and its all guesstimation based on images from different angles and a coach claiming that nuge is 5’10” tall. Basically i’m just bored so take this for what it is.

    • billythebullet

      My son was a scotcia bank kid once last season. Watched some of the players doing their pre game warm ups. So no skates or equipment. No way RNH is 5-10, I’m 5-10 and he was at least 5-11 in my opinion. But Eberle is a shrimp! The thing that stood out to me about RNH is he is a bean pole. Very scrawny kid fer sure.

  • fran huckzky

    Apparently Eberle is going to be playing with Hall and Drai. If he doesn’t start producing on this line,Peter should find him a new home. I have been an Eberle fan for a long time and forgive the soft play only if he is producing offense.

    • Chainsawz

      I hope that’s not true.

      Toronto just sent Bernier to the AHL for a 10 day conditioning stint. That’s what Eberle needs, not a promotion to the top line.

  • 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.

  • The Goalie 1976

    Honestly, the Oilers need to keep Nuge for the next 3 years. That will allow him to take the hard matchups away from Leon and Connor, while they develop. Who knows, maybe Leon becomes the swing guy who plays wing and center, but it’s waaaaay to early to run 2 kids up the middle with no protection behind them. Almost as crazy as running 5 rookies on D, even though our4 or 5 of our best D are pretty much rookies. And how is that working out??

  • Soiled Trousers

    Evidently someone with a key to the executive washroom didn’t like McLellan’s honest emotion that spilled over into his post-Leaf-debacle avail. I don’t want to see RNH traded but this team has been a disappointment. There is a strong likelihood that RNH could easily end up a 3rd line centre on this team behind McD and Draisaitl in the next year or two. If Oiler fans were in McLellan’s shoes you would be just as frustrated and dare I say pissed off.

    It’s too bad the coach was probably pressured into painting lipstick on this pig. Oiler fans aren’t reacting to a rough 25 game season start. They are reacting to 25 years of losing and being also-rans.

    It is stunning the number of commenters who want no changes. I’m just thankful Nicholson and Chiarelli don’t agree. There must be lots of people who like the basement lifestyle.

    I just want to see changes made that are not rushed or impulsive. I want to see daylight. I want to see a stronger, heavier team that plays with structure and compete. I want to see a team that can win in the west. I’m sick of the loser mentality both on the team and in the stands.