During almost every nationally televised Oiler broadcast we
are confronted with the same question over and over as if it’s a particularly
difficult problem to solve. Where does Ryan Nugent-Hopkins fit on the Oilers?
How can the team have room for three centers in their top six?
Turns out, it’s really not that difficult.
Despite what Nick Kypreos and the Sportsnet panel might
suggest, there’s actually a solution for what the Oilers do with the 22 year
old who had been their top pivot for the four years prior to the McDavid lottery.
The top of the Oilers’ roster looks like this today:
Hall Draisaitl Purcell
Pouliot McDavid Eberle
This makes sense to a lot of people. Two left wingers, two
right wingers, two centers. It satisfies our desire for symmetry and order.
Before Draisaitl was called up, RNH was in the top spot. After McDavid was hurt,
RNH was in his spot. Before McDavid returned RNH blew up his hand blocking a
Because of injury and Draisiatl’s AHL stint, the Oilers haven’t
really had to deal with the problem of finding all three ice-time. They have
all been in the lineup together for a grand total of two and a half games. For
almost a whole week between October 29th and November 3rd
the Oilers had the three of them in the lineup, and that’s it.
Of course, the success of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid
have also put into question what the Oilers should be doing with RNH. There’s
no discussion about which direction the Oilers should be going if Draisaitl and
McDavid are having any kind of difficulty. Connor McDavid has lived up to the
considerable hype that preceded his entrance to the NHL — he’s an offensive
dynamo. Leon Draisaitl has transitioned successfully from his rookie
disappointment and eventual return to the WHL to be one of the top 5v5
performers in the NHL.
Despite their obvious offensive abilities, neither player
has been forced to play without the safety net of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins until
just recently. The two young centers, who are unquestionably part of the
solution moving forward, have a combined 104 career NHL games. Maybe it’s just
all a coincidence that since Nuge’s injury Draisaitl’s scoring has slumped, he’s
looked more exposed defensively, and had his ice-time reduced.
Then again…maybe not. Nugent-Hopkins is, by my eye,
Edmonton’s top two-way player. He’s a takeaway machine, never cheats for offense,
and has been facing top opposition for several years already.
But once everyone is healthy that leaves the Oilers with
three centers and only two center spots to fill in the top six. While Kipper and
the Rogers crew struggle to solve that Rubik’s cube, the answer – I believe –
lies at right wing.
Here is what I propose the Oilers do with RNH: Keep him in
the top six where he belongs.
The Purcell Move
Teddy Purcell is an unrestricted free agent this summer and,
barring Chiarelli doing something incredibly dense, he’s going to be moved at
the deadline. The Oilers are near the bottom of the standings and are not in a
position to worry about their record down the stretch. Purcell has had a very
effective season offensively, is a veteran, and can play special teams. The club
should be able to pry a halfway decent pick for Purcell from someone looking
for a rental.
Purcell is on pace for 45 points (or thereabouts). He should
be able to step into the top nine of any team and provide some depth scoring. This
is also the best he’s looked in an Oilers uniform. He shouldn’t be
difficult to move and if the Oilers retain salary that makes him even more
attractive. I’m not sure what he can fetch but I’d like to think it’s at least
a second rounder.
There’s one spot open.
The Eberle Move
Edmonton can also (or alternatively) opt to trade Jordan
Eberle in the offseason. The fact that Eberle is performing so well with Connor
McDavid only adds to his value. He looks fantastic with McDavid. Just a few
short weeks ago the media talking heads were calling Eberle soft. Now that he
has a generational center, he’s indispensable. Sure.
The reality is that Eberle has been good for a long time,
and it’s unlikely that he’ll looks any better than while he’s playing with
McDavid. By the end of the season he should have more value than any other
Oilers winger outside of Taylor Hall. I would hesitate to move any center
capable of playing on the top two lines before I move a winger. This year
should have hammered home the notion that teams need as much center depth as humanly
If part of this solution about what to do with RNH should also
address the defense then the Oilers have no greater expendable asset than
Jordan Eberle. The Oilers should consider moving him for help on the back end.
Whether it be Travis Hamonic or someone else, Edmonton can
acquire a pretty big upgrade to their blueline in exchange for a player like
There’s another spot open.
If the Oilers opt to make BOTH moves then Edmonton could
very easily open the next season with a top six that looks like this:
Hall RNH Draisaitl
Pouliot McDavid Yakupov
Swapping in Yakupov for Eberle is definitely a downgrade.
Even tried and true Yakupov supporters like myself have to admit as much.
However, the gamble is that he can produce effectively enough while paired with
a talent like McDavid (as he already has) AND the defenseman the Oilers get in
return for Eberle can make a big enough difference to the D corps that Eberle’s
loss is offset.
Between the Eberle move and the Purcell move, the Oilers
have two options to open a spot for RNH that keeps him in the top six. They don’t
have to do both but they can better address their even bigger problems if that’s
the route they choose.
It seems a foregone conclusion that the Oilers make the
Purcell move. That means this made up problem about what to do with Ryan
Nugent-Hopkins is likely going to take care of itself in two weeks. There’s
going to be a spot open on the wing and, given McLellan’s history of converting
centers to wingers, I think there has been altogether too much made about this “problem”.
Most teams would be thrilled to have three players who are
capable of playing down the middle of the ice as effectively as the trio of
McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins, and Draisaitl. Suggesting this is a problem instead of
a positive has been one of the most bizarre things we’ve seen this year.