For a brief period during Rebuild 2.0, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was widely seen as the most valuable member of the Edmonton Oilers, the team’s finest centre since Doug Weight. Now he’s been eclipsed by both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and is at risk of becoming a salary cap casualty like long-time running mate Jordan Eberle.
In this week’s edition of What Would You Do Wednesday, we ask where you’d like to see Nugent-Hopkins start at training camp next season.
The McDavid option. Draisaitl had his most successful season as the right wing on McDavid’s line, and the idea of giving Nugent-Hopkins a shot there has some prominent backers, including Bob Stauffer and David Staples.
It’s easy to come up with reasons this might be a good idea.
The obvious one is as a way to reignite Nugent-Hopkins’ faltering offence. The 24-year-old has had successful offensive seasons but the last two years have been decidedly disappointing. Playing with McDavid might reignite that spark, either making him a long-term fit in that position or at the very least raising his value if the Oilers decide to trade his contract next summer.
There’s also Nugent-Hopkins’ two-way play to consider. Even when he isn’t scoring, he has added value to Edmonton’s lineup on the defensive side of the puck, and given the opponents McDavid’s line will see there’s value in playing him there.
Second line centre. This more or less assumes that Draisaitl will be returning to the first line right wing role, leaving the second slot open to Nugent-Hopkins, where he would likely be playing with Milan Lucic and one of the Oilers’ young wingers.
This is what coach Todd McLellan opted for during most of last season, though at least last season the team also had the option of sticking Jordan Eberle on the right side. This line had success down the stretch but famously struggled to score in the postseason.
Third line centre. Remember the three scoring lines on the 2006 Oilers? That diversified attack was a significant part of their postseason success that year (having Chris Pronger helped, too) and that’s probably the last time Edmonton sustained three strong attacking lines for any length of time.
It’s just possible that they might be able to do it again, running McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins in the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 slots down the middle. My preferred wingers to start on the third line (regardless of centre arrangement) are Jussi Jokinen and Jesse Puljujarvi because it’s the situation I think likely to bring out the best in both of those players. Playing weaker opponents with two skilled wingers might also bring out the best in Nugent-Hopkins.
With another team. This is pretty unlikely in mid-July, but there are always teams out there that could use a centre and there are a few unresolved issues around the NHL. If he’s going to slot in on the wing anyway, it’s at least defensible to try and move him for a cheaper winger.
What would you do?