It wasn’t all that long ago that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was
regarded in many quarters as the Oilers’ most important building block, the
first-line centre the team’s rebuild would hinge on. With the arrival of Connor
McDavid and the emergence of Leon Draisaitl, however, the idea of trading RNH
has a certain currency among segments of the fan base.
In this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday, we want to get
your view on the player. If you were Edmonton’s general manager, would Nugent-Hopkins
be in your long-term plans?
There are a lot of good reasons to keep Nugent-Hopkins on
One which should be obvious to any fan of the Oilers in
recent years is the difficulty in finding good centres in trade or via free
agency. This is a team which prior to RNH leaned on players like Shawn Horcoff
and Mike Comrie and even (for one glorious season) Todd Marchant in primary
roles down the middle. As recently as the back half of 2014-15, Derek Roy was
the best non-Nugent-Hopkins pivot on the roster.
The nature of Nugent-Hopkins’ game is another point in his
favour. He isn’t like Sam Gagner, his predecessor as Edmonton’s centre of the
future. Gagner scored early on, but always had an underdeveloped two-way game,
and seems to have settled in as an offensive specialist in the NHL.
Nugent-Hopkins is instead a dedicated 200-foot player, one with real value in a
defensive role and one who is far grittier than his critics allow.
Then there’s the fact that centres can be stashed on the
wing. Oilers coach Todd McLellan clearly likes sticking Draisaitl on the right
side, and Draisaitl has had a lot of success in the past playing on the same
line as Nugent-Hopkins. That gives the coach a second faceoff man on the line,
and allows him flexibility in-game in the event of slump or injury.
Nugent-Hopkins is also only 23 years old. It’s easy to
forget when looking at younger players like McDavid and Draisaitl that Nugent-Hopkins
is still years away from what should be the prime of his career.
There isn’t much debate that Nugent-Hopkins is a good and
valuable player. In at least one way, that’s kind of the point.
Edmonton has other needs. There’s an obvious spot on the
back end for a right-shooting offensive defenceman. At some point the power play
will need a real quarterback and the top-four will need an upgrade who can both
play the right side and move the puck out of the defensive zone. These players
don’t grow on trees, and RNH is a guy who could plausibly be shopped a la Ryan
Speaking of the team’s needs, what about cap space?
Draisaitl is a restricted free agent this summer. McDavid, Drake Caggiula and
Darnell Nurse will be the year after that. A season later, Jesse Puljujarvi’s
entry-level deal ends, too. Nugent-Hopkins is packing a $6.0 million cap hit until 2021.
There’s a further argument, though, one that goes beyond
Nugent-Hopkins being expendable in pursuit of other needs. It comes down to
opportunity. For his whole NHL career, RNH has been a top unit power play
quarterback. He’s done a good job, but McDavid has taken that role and it’s
reasonable to think that Nugent-Hopkins is going to have problems putting up
points as a second unit guy. That’s a pretty big part of his NHL skillset, and
so he’s always going to have more value to a team looking for a top unit playmaker
than he will to the Oilers.
Which side of the fence do you, the reader, fall on? Would
you keep Nugent-Hopkins, valuing having that extra centre and his particular skillset?
Or would you trade the player, banking that he can be used to address other
areas which will do more to help the team win? Let us know in the comments.