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Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

McLellan Talks Nugent-Hopkins

Yesterday, Todd McLellan joined Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now to speak about a few different things ranging from the playoffs to the anger that’s surrounding Jordan Eberle to the progression of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

We’ve gotten to the point between the season ending and the NHL draft where it seems like all of the talk surrounding the Edmonton Oilers is about what went wrong as opposed to what went right. Yesterday, I looked at Jordan Eberle’s practice habits being called into question, and today I wanted to follow that up by breaking down what Todd McLellan had to say about the up and down season for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

“Nuge and Jordan were a big part of (getting to the playoffs). I don’t believe we get there unless they perform at a fairly high level and produce.”

Hang on a minute? Those two actually did GOOD things? Get the hell out of here. You’re a madman, Todd. a madman. *rimshot* Moving on…

“Is there more in them? Absolutely. That’s why I still think we’re a growth team.”

Wait a minute… growth? Did he say growth? That sounds like more of that patience thing we’ve been hearing about for the last ten years. I don’t like waiting. I don’t even like thinking about waiting. I don’t like growth. I want things now and don’t you dare talk to me about being patient, Todd Andrew McLellan. You hear me?

Ahhhh, you’re alright.

Since we’re talking about growth and patience and all of that other witchcraft, I wanted to hear what Todd had to say about my beloved Nugey. Personally, I think there’s more to this player than what we’ve seen so far. I think he still has the potential to be a fantastic two-way centreman.

On RNH developing into a complete Pavelski-like player, McLellan said:

“I think he’s a tremendous player. I think that the DNA that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has right now is Ryan’s DNA. He can acquire some of the instincts that Joe Pavelski has, he can play the game a certain way, but his best measuring tool is himself.”

The best measuring tool is himself? Oooh. I like that. That’s some Karate Kid shit right there. “First learn stand, then learn fly.” Wax on, wax off. All of that stuff. Give me more of that sweet wisdom, silver-fox McDaddy.

“I think, and I told Nuge this at the end of the year, I think that there’s more in his game, especially offensively.”

Hell yes, there’s more offensive upside to Nuge’s game. HELL. YES. We’ve seen that this kid can put up points and we’ve seen that he can be a 20-goal scorer, but he hasn’t been able to do it consistently over the last two seasons. It almost seems like he’s cursed with Horcoff’s hands around the net. Why Todd? Why does this happen to children?

“He’s become such a responsible player that, at times, he doesn’t take the risk necessary to score.”

Listen, Nugey’s idea of risk is standing up on the kitchen counter to grab his favourite juice cup, so getting him to take risks on the ice could take some convincing. Normally, I use gummy bears.

“It’s okay to be a risky player sometimes. You have teammates that have to cover for you. You can’t always be the safe guy.”

I think that’s easier said than done, Coach Todd. Let’s just say that some of the linemates that Nuge has had over the past year and change haven’t exactly been defensive dynamos, capeesh? You wouldn’t call off the fire department when your house is on fire just because your neighbour had a cup full of water, would you? You get it.

“He’s convinced that he’s going to be a well-rounded player and I respect him for that. He puts every ounce of effort into doing it both ways. I think we can see that his defensive skills have really increased and he’s played against some very tough opponents. With that said, though, we need him to be a little more productive.”

I’m happy that McLellan acknowledged the improvement in Nuge’s defensive play because that’s not always something that shows up on the scoresheet. The quick backchecks, the steals, the always generally being in the right spot at mostly the right time — that’s all good stuff. Now, if he can get some of that rookie offence going again? *whistles* Marone.

“We’re going to encourage him to take a little more risk to try to be a little more productive offensively, but not at the cost of losing a game. Mistakes are going to happen and you have teammates that are going to cover for you sometimes.”

One thing I found interesting was how both Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan spoke about patience and being careful when evaluating players after a tough stretch. Again, I get that they’re not going to go and cut up their own guys in the media, but, maybe I’m still getting used to having a coach and manager that don’t show their cards rather than being all cavalier about bold moves. The McQuote that wrapped it up the most, for me, was:

“You have to take the whole picture into consideration and you have to look at the player as a whole.”

WHAT IT ALL MEANS…

May 7, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) is stopped by Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonathan Bernier (1) during the third period in game six of the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Just like he did with Jordan Eberle, Todd McLellan specifically defended Nugent-Hopkins and his importance to the team. Now, it’s obvious that the coach would defend his guys and not publicly depreciate an asset, but it seemed like his praise of RNH was more than just playing lip service. This seems like a player he legitimately believes in. Maybe that’s just me being hopeful as the resident Nugent-Hopkins fanboy around here, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think that Nuge is going to be around longer than people expect, and I think it’s going to be because of McLellan’s affinity for playing centremen on the wing.

If we’re assuming that Nugey is coming back next year, I think the biggest story going forward will be about how he is used. Are the Oilers going to run with Connor, Leon and Nuge as the three centres with RNH being assigned the checking duties? Will Leon be back riding shotgun as McDavid’s right winger? Maybe Nuge spends some time at right wing with Leon or Connor? These are guesses we’ll be making all summer, but, for now, it seems like the last first overall pick left over from Rebuild 2 could be getting another crack at proving himself with the Oilers next season. From what my eyes tell me, there’s still some magic to get unlocked with this kid and I hope we get to see it here.

      • Slipknot 8

        I initially wanted to cheers this comment for the most part you’re correct in that the toughest thing to do is score goals in the NHL.
        However, Eberle’s playoffs & what he didn’t do is a much bigger concern, if Eberle takes a hit to make the play along the boards the Oilers are playing Nashville for the WCF….
        He disappears at the worst of times, his goal scoring is being replaced with goals against.
        I do think he has more value then what Oiler fans think, I thinks got great value and can make us stronger in another area.

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    As a centreman, Nuge is valuable, so I don’t think the Oil will be quick to pull the trigger on trading him unless the offer is too good to pass up. He played well defensively this year, but if he could have found a way to score even 1 goal in the Ducks series, the Oil might still be playing right now.

  • Kr55

    Good interview. It’s nice to hear from McLellan that Nuge has indeed been playing too risk averse, which has taken away from his offensive game. I think many fans have seen this, but none of us knows what is happening in Nuge’s head. The gifted offensive player is still in there, he has just been too worried about making mistakes. Not a terrible thing for a young guy to want to improve his defensive play, but he needs to find that better balance of risk/reward, and hopefully he can start to do that next season.

  • Drew should become a regular on Blobs show. He is a content generating machine, much like his “colour” commentary, its not good content but it fuels the engine.
    Papers need to be drawn up to deport Drew from Sasky, he is faltering on the work ethic required to have an opinion.

  • Oil Can

    Let’s keep it real. RNH is not good enough offencesivly for a second line centre, and he is waaaay over paid and to soft for a third line centre. It would be nice to see him moved to the wing on a top two line. But to keep saying the same thing every year that RNH and Ebs had a down year and they will be better next year, or that they will develop into these much better players, is getting really old. Both of these players have been in the league long enough to be what they are. To expect more, is just sticking your head in the sand.

  • madjam

    Let us not forget Pouliot did little to help the offensive numbers of Hopkins or Eberle in regular season or playoffs . Blame should fall more on Pouliot than the other two . Despite everything , Oilers produced enough forward progression all season to almost make it to 3rd round of playoffs and perhaps beyond . Draisaitl was able to help offense enough to compensate for the Hall loss of points , but who could do the same next year if Oilers unloaded Eberle – certainly no one in system currently even close ? Hopkins , as yet , has not proven he can do as well as Eberle scoring wise despite being a center . Keep them both , and hopefully find a winger better than Pouliot at least , to compliment them for next season . They are assets , not sure Pouliot is much anymore .

    • McRaj

      Madjam, you are absolutely correct in saying that Eberle and Nugent – Hopkins are assets. However, sometimes assets have a book value which is greater than their market value. When these assets are disposed or sold off, you have to realize a net loss on the asset. That is currently the situation with Eberle and Nuge. Their cap hits hurt both of them and the perceived value is greater than the market value for both these players.

  • Bills Bills

    So I guess everyone forgot that the Oilers were top 10 in scoring and in goals against this year. That Eberle was the 3rd best point producer behind Connor and Leon and that Nuge played the top shut down roll all season. Lessons were learned this season ans tweaks need to be made. But as the Oilers are NOT against the cap next year, the idea of selling assets at pennies on the dollar or by giving them away in the expansion draft is just plain stupid.

  • DWalsh7

    Personally, I have been an Oilers fan since 2011 and these guys (Ebs & Nuge) are the only reason I kept watching they are elite talents. Nuge guarantees nearly 50 points and Eberle always gets 20 goals. They did not perform in the playoffs but the pressure on these 2… can you blame them? Every second of playoff ice-time these two had was held under a microscope and HEAVILY scrutinized. These guys have been a rock in the Capital of Alberta for 6+ years and people are saying they suck after one bad season. They’ve worked they’re asses of to get this team into the playoffs and both deserve to be here for when this happens.