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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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)

    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??

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.