Yeoman’s Work

 Embed from Getty Images

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was Edmonton’s top centre from the time he was drafted right up until the day Connor McDavid joined the team. He was destined to be no higher than number two from that moment on. However, before McDavid was drafted the Oilers also added Leon Draisaitl, thinking that he would be a top-six mainstay. Leon is developing into a quality centre in his own right, but the Nuge is still doing a lot of the heavy lifting out there.

From my perspective, the Oilers depth chart down the middle still looks like McDavid->RNH->Draisaitl->Letestu. That’s not universal, though, some have Draisaitl ahead of Nugent-Hopkins already. This creates the worry in some people that the Oilers are paying too much money to the third line centre. Surely, $6,000,000 is a lot to pay someone outside of the top 6. Well, at least I agree that would appear to be a misuse of cap dollars.

With regards to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins thus far into the 2016-2017 season, those concerns are unfounded. The Oilers run their centres in this order: Connor McDavid 21:13 per night, RNH 17:22 per night, Draisaitl 15:58 per night, and Letestu 13:14 per night. NHL coaches are loathed to tell reporters which lines they consider their “First”, “Second”, or “Third”, but the time on ice doesn’t lie.

Now, the Oilers continued success appears to be tied (right now) to the construction of three lines that can be a threat to score. It was a slow start to the year, but recently the duo of Nugent-Hopkins and Pouliot have appeared much more dangerous in the attacking zone. All of Nuge and Pouliot’s points have come 5v5 this year, so hopefully once that PP gets going there will be even more offense on the way.

Just as important as Nuge’s scoring is to that “Three Scoring Line” construct is, he has been playing an integral role defensively. Recently, he’s been hard-matched against the very best forwards of the opposition teams. It’s been his job to keep those players off the scoresheet while also adding offense himself. This also allows McDavid and Draisaitl to play against forward lines which are less likely to dominate possession of the puck.

Thus, indirectly, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been an important player to the attack on all three of Edmonton’s scoring lines.

Looking at who the Nuge has been playing against 5v5 over the last four games during Edmonton’s biggest tests of the season better reveals the role he’s been filling for the club.

Against Vancouver he played 11:52 vs Henrik Sedin while 5v5. Considering the Canucks had last change as the home team, this took significant effort from the Oiler coaching staff. Scoring Chances (recorded by NaturalStatTrick) were 4-2 for the Oilers in that time.

Against Washington he played 9:39 vs Alex Ovechkin while 5v5. Scoring Chances were 4-7.

Against Winnipeg he played 6:22 vs Patrik Laine (and close to the same vs Scheifele) 5v5. Scoring Chances were 4-2 for Edmonton.

Against St Louis he played 8:45 vs Vlad Tarasenko while 5v5. Scoring Chances were 5-2 for Edmonton.

The Edmonton Oilers are running three talented centres right now. McDavid leads the charge and will for the next decade at least. That’s a virtual guarantee. Draisaitl is developing into an important figure in Edmonton’s offense. He’s the highest scoring Oiler not playing with McDavid full-time. That secondary scoring is going to depend on his continued input. Not to be underestimated in all of this is the role Nugent-Hopkins plays for the club. Hard-matched against the best the other team has to offer and for the most part keeping the scoring chances on the right side of the ledger.

In the story of this fabulous October for the Oilers, a lot of things have gone right. One thing we can hopefully continue to count on will be the coaching staff loading Nugent-Hopkins up with the toughest possible opposition. So far, it has been a recipe for team success.

    • I went to the game last night and Nuge looked great. Stripping pucks controlling the puck creating a few scoring chances. Hopefully the team will stay relatively healthy and can build off this early success. Nice to see Leon come back and stop that break away. Looks like a team buying into Todd’s game plan.

    • Dan 1919

      And that as of today, RNH still is the 2nd best centre on the team. There’s no guarantee that Draisaitl will surpass him, but at this point it would be tough to bet against Draisaitl.

    • ricardo2000

      I remember BOB GAINEY, the great Canadians LW, who drove the Soviets crazy with his two-way play. I’m hoping that this happens for Nuge, but with more points than Gainey’s roughly 0.43 pts per game, and a 13.7 plus/minus (omitting first season). Gainey still leads the list of Selke award winners for best defensive play.

      If Nuge could stifle the other teams best, it will open ice up for everyone else, and drive other teams COCO BANANAS with frustration.

    • Gravis82

      You are actually wrong, sorry. He is a second line centre actually based on his time on ice. You must not have read the article fully I guess. Third paragraph, second sentence. There is says that Hopkins has played the second most of all centres on the team. Just wanted to correct that moving forward. Thank you.

      • Powdered milk

        Leon is and will be a better 2nd line centre then Nuge. 6 million is to much for a 3rd line centre.

        Henderson also hated the hall trade, looking pretty good to me, so keep reading his crap like he knows hockey

        • not so daily doug

          Since it has been well documented that TMac’s plan was to use Caggulia as his third line center with Drai playing wing on Nuges line, I think Nuge can, for now, be considered the 2nd line center. And his face-off % is slowly improving. I am hoping he can get it above that 50% mark as that will also improve the lines offensive chances.

          • Powdered milk

            Where besides some bloggers random thoughts has it been “well documented” that drai will play on the wing with Nuge? Him and mcdavid are the top 2 centre for the next 5 years min. The Ebs and Nuge 6 million contracts are 2 of the worst on the team

          • not so daily doug

            McLellan keeps talking about the No. 3 centre. That could be Draisaitl, for sure. But McLellan will undoubtedly try Draisaitl on the wing at some time when he returns from the World Cup.

            “I’ve put lots of thought into where we’re going to put Leon when he comes back, but no answers yet,” said McLellan.

            “We still have to decide if we’re going with three with Connor, Nuge and Leon or moving somebody to the wing. When Leon gets back, we’ll give him a little bit of time (to rest) and we’ll put our lines together.”

            From Jim Matheson, (HHOF writer, not some blogger). SEPT 30/16

            Why do you think he put Caggulia at center? He was a winger in college. TMac has always liked to use centres at 2nd line winger. Pavelski and Marleau recently even.

          • camdog

            Matheson is no longer relevant and no longer connected. Putting Caggulia at third line centre reminds me of when they tried to put Schultz into a top 4 role before he was ready or had earned anything. Time to stop Shultzing players into the line up.

          • not so daily doug

            Jim Matheson is still an Oilers beat reporter for the Edmonton Journal. I think he is a little more connected than me (or you). And maybe we should trust that the coaching staff and GM of this team have a clue about what they are doing.

          • camdog

            Matheson is no longer a reliable source for information. It’s great that he’s still out there, but the day he started throwing out rumours like the Penguins are going to trade Malkin here and there for nothing were the days I stopped reading him. I know people love him like their grand parents, but he is no longer relevant. The only time I read Matheson now is when another reporter quotes him and throws one of his crazy rumours into their blogs. Just got to laugh at the stuff he comes up with.

            And I do trust that the coaching staff and GM aren’t going to run with one quote that you have jumped on and run the team like that. When the College kid gets healthy I expect the Oilers to send him down to the minors to get his feet wet and earn his way onto this team, quite possible as a winger. I can’t understand why so many people want to mess with a forward group that has been playing some pretty good 4 line hockey.

        • madjam

          Is Leon , Nuge , Letestue accomplishing as much as Lander so far ? Lander leads centers at +- = + 4 , above them all except McDavid . He plays most penalty minutes and top personnel like the others basically , and best at faceoffs . If Drake comes in I bet it will be as a winger , not as a center . Lots of flexibility in lineup . When and if Leon is better than Nuge perhaps roles will change , but he currently is not as well rounded as Ryan .

        • pkam

          Nuge plays against the toughest opposition and is +1. Leon plays against much weaker opposition and is -1.

          Nuge forced a turnover against the Flames which resulted in a PP goal by JP but Nuge didn’t get an assist. He also forced a turnover against the Blues which resulted in an EN goal by McDavid but again Nuge didn’t get any point. Those effort in forcing turnovers is as productive as an assist but does not show on the stat sheet. If those two turnovers get him 2 points, he will tie Leon in points but plays against much tougher oppositions.

      • RJ

        Matt & other members of Team Nuge:

        Looking at TOI isn’t really a useful indicator of 1/2/3, and here’s why:

        If you have Nuge playing against Ovechkin’s line, we all know that Ovie is going to be among the Capitals leaders for TOI because he’s always a threat to score.
        That means the line checking Ovie’s line is going to be out pretty often (unless McLellan wanted to play top line vs. top line).

        For as long as I’ve watched hockey, the top two scoring lines your first and second lines and the line that gets the toughest opposing match-ups is the checking line, which is identified as the THIRD line.

        But Team Nuge fans can’t handle his line being identified as the 3rd line, since as Matt points out, it doesn’t make sense long-term to tie up that much salary for a third-line centre. Replacing his two-way play for a more reasonable cap hit makes sense.

        For those who are scared that means Nuge could get traded: relax. If another team was going to trade for a top-2 centre that earns $6m AAV, they’d want one with more offensive upside (like with Seth Jones). Nuge is not a terrible scorer, but he’s also not an elite level scorer either. If they did trade him, then they’d probably have to accept less or take a brutal contract back.

        Too bad MacT saddled the Oilers with brutal contracts for Nuge and Eberle. If they were anywhere near actual value then the team could have the flexibility to move them.

        The Oilers should be stuck with him/get to keep him.

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    RNH’s solid two play reminds me of great centres past: Bob Bourne–it’s been argued that had Bourne not been injured in the 1984 finals the Isles would have beaten the Oilers; and then there’s Jacques Lemaire: Bowman’s yeoman. He could score 35 goals and shut down the Esposito line.

  • O.C.

    Three different types of centres. Options for situations faced. Difficult for opposition to create singular game plan / style in going head to head with the Oil.

    1) Generational Talent w Speed is the obvious First Line Centre.

    There are 2 Second Line Centres, each with different roles.

    2) Heavy w Offensive Corner Control
    2) Datsyuk-like Two Way Player.

    Its these options that allow the Oil to adapt their game to Vancouver vs Chicago vs LA Kings. Especially with the last change.

    You can never have too many centres. You can have too few.

    Detroit had 9 centres in their top 12 one year.

  • Oprah sucks

    I’ve been waiting two yrs for this article and was blown away by the rumours of trading him starting back to last yrs Hall/Draisaitl combo. Specially after watching how his coaches over the yrs use him and rely on him. Eventually one center will have to go unless Draisaitl converts to a winger, but for now Rnh is one of the more important parts to this team.

    • Randaman

      I know this will be met with lots of trashes but if Drake comes back and shows he can handle the third line Center role, either Nuge or Drai will have to be traded due to cap restrictions.

      Don’t forget, Connor needs a new deal soon as does Drai & Nurse. Will they want to resign Russell, Kassian, etc.

      Only so much money to go around so be prepared. Remember, nobody thought they would trade Hall.

      Just sayin

  • Dan 1919

    The Oilers are in a fortunate position right now with RNH, Drai, McDavid & Nurse on entry level deals.

    Next year however, Draisaitl will need a contract and Kassian will need a new one as well. That likely means the Oilers are a Ceiling team, eating up their current $4.9mill in cap space.

    The following year Fayne’s contract is up and will free up $3.6mill, except that’s the same time McDavid and Nurse will need contracts… uhoh(Likely Pouliot is shipped off at this point too)

    Minus his lack of offensive production, RNH is undoubtedly a great NHL centerman. Unfortunately however, when Reaper Pete has no choice but to start looking for cap savings in the near future, a $6mill 3rd line centre would likely be a prime target.

    There could be unknown factors that effect the cap such as increases to it, or maybe not re-signing guys like Russell if the depth allows it… But the reality of the situation is there’s likely going to be tough roster choices made in the future simply to stay under the cap. A lot can happen in 2-3 years, and hopefully we get lucky with big cap increases, but the bottom line is it’s very tough to sustain a 3rd line centre making $6mill in a cap world.

    One more fun fact… a year after McDavid signs, Puljujarvi will need a contract… this team will have turnover of great players just like Chi, we’re not going to be magically immune to it unless guys like Drai, McDavid, and Puljujarvi all start signing for $2mill each.

    • Dan 1919

      Or maybe Draisaitl and Puljujarvi end up being the top two right wingers on the team in a few years, and cap space can be freed up by getting rid of the #3RW, cough, Eberle, cough.

  • Chunkylover69@google.ca

    If you have watched every oiler game this year and truly believe there is something wrong with RNH then you do not know hockey. I have been super impressed with his 2 way play and the threat he has posed in the oppositions zone. The points will come. He is taking a step forward. A boy becomes a man!

  • camdog

    Oilers right now have 3 centres that can play on the top 2 lines – that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. It doesn’t really matter if RnH or LD are better than each other, all that matters is that the team wins.

  • Chunkylover69@google.ca

    Leon is a fantastic winger and developing into a fantastic centre. His best attribute is that he can do either with great success. So why pigeon hole him into the 2nd line centre role? He can move to fill team needs as injuries eventually happen. Keep RNH. The 50-55pts he will get the team in the role he is playing is worth every cent.

  • CMG30

    RNH is a legit 1st line center in the NHL and still getting better. It’s just unbelievable good fortune that McDavid is here.

    LD may one day eclipse RNH, but that day is not here yet. In order for that to happen he has to become as proficient as RNH on the defensive side of the puck.

    • Oil Can

      You think that RNH is a 1st line centre. Now that is really funny stuff. RNH has NO goals after eight games and very limited offence. He gets a lot of PP time and the whole second PP unit has been pathetic. RNH is looking more and more like a third line shut down centre. He really has never been able to produce enough offence to be a real 1st line centre, and when the Oilers were playing him as a 1st line centre, they were pretty much the worst team in the league. I like RNH and want to see him as an Oiler, but keep it real, and watch some games.

  • D

    Wasn’t it only a few years back when Will Acton and Mark Arcobello were the centre depth on the Oil? I’d rather the team be in the position it’s at right now.

  • Just facts

    RNH is just outside the top 30 in points and points per game for centres since his first year, which means at worst purely on a scoring basis he’s a second line centre but that doesn’t include the value that comes from his skills playing against top opposition. Not to mention the fact that rather than complaining because because others get more favourable match-ups to score points he relishes the role of taking on the other teams toughest.

  • Explicit

    Good lord it’s embarrassing to read some of these comments and realize these people watch and cheer for the same team as me. Absolute Neanderthals. First on LT’s article now on Henderson’s. These guys take the time to write article’s which are free to read. They supply you facts, stats, analysis and sprinkle in a bit of their opinion. If you don’t like it please don’t read them, and certainly don’t comment if you can’t partake in a half civilized debate when you’re confronted with a differing opinion than yours. You just make all us oiler fans look like knuckle dragging monkeys

    • Powdered milk

      By “take the time” you mean get paid too right? Most things are “free to read” online. No one would pay to read half the garbage put up on this site. Henderson… Willis… bagged milk…

  • oilerjed

    A great point about this debate is that we can bridge Leon for another contract and ride this out for hopefully two more years.

    Let Leon prove he is worth real cash, until then he gets a modest bump but nothing over 4 mil. By that time Ebs will be a upcoming UFA and we can flip him and keep Nuge.

  • BobbyCanuck

    I may be the only person here that thinks so…but here goes anyways, at the risk of you’ll finding out my home address and setting it on fire.

    All of you are so worried about paying him the moon, you are willing to gut the team to do it

    I think he COULD be the next best player ever, or he broke his hand one year, the next year her broke his collar bone…if he can stay healthy, the season is 8 games old, lets see if he can play more than 40 games a year ok?

    wah wah wah, we need to make sure there is money for Connors next contract wah wah wah, ya? Well if he wants 12Mil/yr over 7 years…just trade him, ok?

    Stanley Cups are won by well balanced teams with bench strength, and dept on the farm for callups

    Recall how many Cups the greatest hockey player (that would be Wayne Gretzky) to ever play the game won after he got traded? Hello? I cannot hear you

    I am not a troll, I am just telling you what I think

    • OilCan2

      We would like to see a full healthy season for Connor. Let’s see what happens in the spring before we get too many years down the ‘ what if salary cap road’.

    • Oilcan

      Ah, Jealousy is a ugly emotion, but it lines up quite nicely with the Canucks chances this year which are terrible. Hopefully one day the Canucks will find a leader they can rally around and possibly win a championship. And until that happens, I hope the TV cameras can stay away from all the empty seats.

    • Ah, Jealousy is a ugly emotion, but it lines up quite nicely with the Canucks chances this year which are terrible. Hopefully one day the Canucks will find a leader they can rally around and possibly win a championship. And until that happens, I hope the TV cameras can stay away from all the empty seats.

  • OilCan2

    the Nuge has grown into a legit NHL two way center. Him, Connor & Leon ALL have their best years in the headlights. Letestu & Lander are both very good as specialists so we are set down the middle. When you throw JJ into the conversation it only gets better.

  • T Ambrosini

    I have to think that the CMD > RNH > Drai (or CMD > Drai > RNH)line positioning is a good problem for a GM and/or coach to have. One is a generational talent and the other two high-quality pivots with different skill sets.

    I really think the line combinations are going to sort themselves out, particularly in November. If the Oil gets through November with a record over .500 and the injury bug doesn’t bite, I’m going to be one giddy SOB.

  • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

    A smart GM once said you build from the middle down and then out with the wingers being last piece.

    We watched for a decade as the Oilers completely ignored this.

    Finally, after some very successful sucking and pure sh&t ass luck, the Oilers have depth down the middle (and a good one in the AHL) now people want to trade that centre depth?

    That’s crazy talk.

    Realizing that the cap should go up, bad contracts coming to an end and free agents that want to come here, hanging onto the centre depth while changing overpriced wingers out is the way to go.

      • Oilerchild77

        Agreed. He’s a 6 milllion dollar winger that is undersized and can’t take draws. And they’re going to be putting Draisaitl on the right side and are grooming Puljijarvi to take the other top-6 spot. So, it’s only a matter of time now.

        P.S. I’m not saying this to be negative or pile on Eberle. It’s just factual logic, nothing more.

        • JBear

          You can’t really criticize Eberle for not taking draws. Also, I don’t think the Oilers have anyone who replicates his skill set on the RW, ie. Scoring goals, making space and having soft hands. That being said, the Oilers have some tough choices and it’s either going to be Eberle or RNH who will have to be traded away. That’s going to leave a big hole somewhere. A #1 winger or a #2 center.

  • camdog

    Sure Jim, Pittsburgh well never win another cup with Malkin tying up all that money, stupidest thing I have read and multiple stories on it too for years.

  • Mitch92

    Nuge will be fine as long as the Oilers keep winning. The pressure to produce has not been there yet as the team has prospered without Nuge having to fill the net. Nuge is getting the Kadri treatment in that his primary responsibilities have shifted from producing offense to shutting down the oppositions top point producers. As long as he is succeeding in that role and the team is winning then we should be satisfied with his performance regardless of the appearance of him being overpaid for his production.

  • .Puck Luck Paradox

    I’m sure there are moves we can make to fit under the cap without breaking up the core. Although we are not currently pressed to be under the cap, I agree that when we need to pay McD 8mil more than he is currently making we may have to be more careful. I don’t think ditching our second most productive player in Eberle would be the winning model to make cap room IMO

    Start with ditching Fayne’s 3.6 mil hit