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.


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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??

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.