Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW: Where does Ryan Nugent-Hopkins fit in?

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.

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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.

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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?

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  • Pugnasty

    Move him for a cheaper winger. 6 million is too much to pay for what he brings. Now if he was 2 million you keep him. One Steve Austin left, so much for value contracts hey MacTidiot?

  • I really like RNH… but I feel the Oilers need a RD that plays the power play more than they need a plethora or centers. So I would trade him and package him with whatever it takes to get a stud RD. In other words, I don’t see how he fits in to the future.

    • Rock11

      They don’t have room for the stud RD that everybody keeps talking about. When Sekera returns you then have 7D not counting Gryba for 6 spots. Yes depth is good but which of Russell, Benning, or Nurse is going to sit every game. You can’t sit the 2 kids as it would stall their development and judging by the contract KR isnt going to the press box. If you trade Nuge for a D then IMO a D has to go with him in the package. The player coming back better be damn good to make that worthwhile. This by the way is reason 2487 to hate the KR deal.

      • NoBuBlackOPS

        If it came to trading RNH for a RHD. We could of always send nurse or Benning down to the minors as both are on ELC. I’m not a fan of that option but it can be done.

  • Hemmercules

    Keep him this season, try him on the wing with McD for at least a couple weeks. Shop him for a winger or a cheaper centre after the playoffs when he’s too expensive to keep.

  • Ryan Jones Is Still My Hero

    Either play him with McDavid, or ship him out for a RD like Justin Faulk. I love Nuge and I think he can be effective, but 6 mil is too much for a 3rd line center. If the Toddfather and Chiarelli can’t fit him into the top 6 they should move him to improve the team overall.

    • Reg Dunlop

      If the return for Nuge was something like Falk the trade would have happened already. I think that a defensively responsible, undersized 3rd line centre making 6 mil might not have a lot of value. Just like a one dimensional left wing brought back a trade return that disappointed some here.

      • Ryan Jones Is Still My Hero

        I don’t think that Nuge is a defensively responsible, undersized 3C, he’s just being forced into that role here because of the two centers in front of him. He would be a 2C on most other teams. If he gets a chance to play on either McDavid’s or Leon’s wing then I think it will work out fine. You’re right about the value of the trade up to this point, but I think Chiarelli is going to wait and see before he makes a move anyway. If Nuge is playing 3C all year then I think he trades him midseason or next offseason, there’s no pressure to do it until McDavid’s contract kicks in anyway.

  • toprightcorner

    I think it is safe to say that this is likely Nuges last season with the Oilers. You cant pay a 3C $6 mill a year and the Oilers can’t add $6 mill on the wings and expect to have the depth required to succeed in the playoffs.

    I firmly believe that Draisaitl should be 2C driving his own line and causing more fits for the opposition coach. That puts Nuge at 3C or on the wing. I don’t see himhaving the skills a winger needs. He doesn’t have great board work and his strength is creativity, not finishing. However, playing with McDavid may respark the offensive skills he used to show.

    What I would do with Nuge:

    – Play him mostly 3C with Jokinen and Puljujarvi (Jokinen can take a bunch of faceoffs)
    – Double shift him on RW in the top 6, mostly 2nd line for Sleppy, to get his minutes up to 18 -19 min a night – this should help boost numbers.
    – Give Strome every opportunity to put up points on the wing with McDavid and then switch to 2C if Draisaitl move up with McDavid
    – Nuge is not the guy I want covering 2C for Draisailt.
    – Nuge will eventually get traded and the Oilers need to see what Strome can do and what they will need after Nuge is gone.

    I culd see Chairelli trying to trade Nuge mid season or at the trade deadline in a hockey trade, that gets back someone close to the same age and filling the spot of 3C or middle 6 RW at a salary of $4.5 mill or less. I don’t see Nuge traded for a dman with out top 4 signed long term, unless they plan to trade Russel and Nuge in a package.

    I love Nuge, have his autographed jersey on my wall, I just don’t see him fitting on this team with a $6 mill salary. If he was making $4.75, he would be here for ever. Cap room relies on making tough decisions.

    • Rusty

      fair points. i do see nuge on this team and dont see an immediate need to move him for cap room. i do see the toolst o be an effective winger. he has wicked accurate shot on a fast release that is under utilized, mostly because of the defensive position he is put in from useage. I dont know why you think his board work is weak, i see him regularly win puck battles but sometimes i only see what i want to see. i think he could flourish as 1st or second line winger and at least want to see it before i say he cant do it. And at 6 mill if hes producing nobody will have much of a problem with it. The other thing that concerns me about trading nuge is injuries. the oilers were uncharacteristically healthy last year. if mcdavid, or drai goes down its nice to have the depth to slot in Nugey-baby and keep rolling as much as possible.

      I do agree they will have to decide on nuge eventually but i dont see it for another few years, and at that point it might be more prudent to be shopping Lucic than nuge…

    • Gravis82

      All players play on the boards. Just because one is a winger doesn’t mean they need to also be a finisher. You are creating a narrative around the version of reality you want to be true. Truth is, you will probably get more points out of Nuge on McDavids wing than at 3C. Since we have other players who probably max out as a 3c, and no other options for top line wingers, I don’t see how there is any other option than playing him on the top line wing.

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    I like Nuge. Quality guy. I’m really pulling for him to have a bounce back year next season. It would be a shame if he has to be dealt. That would be three failed #1 picks after Hall and Yak. Although Hall was our best player until McDavey showed up. I think Nuge has focused so hard on his defensive play that he has forgotten that he is a good offensive talent. Put him on McDavey’s wing. Give Strome the #3 Centre slot. Drai #2. Stanley Cup 2018.

  • D

    Nuge was clutch during the Anaheim series and consistently shut down the Ducks. Find a way to keep him. The Oilers with McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins down the middle is one of the strongest teams at centre. That is a refreshing change compared to just a few years back when the Oilers were one of the weakest at that position.

  • Cowboy Bill

    But there are so many interchangeable parts it’s incredibly unique . There are 7 players that have played center , two LW , two RW and one guy that plays either wing . Slot them in any way you want , the lineup has so much versatility it just doesn’t matter .

  • ScottV

    It’s hard to understand why McL has not given Nuge a good look at 1 or 2 rw. Have been asking this question forever.

    Sorry – but Nuge is not the 2c, when you got the likes of Drai in the fold. Why cant people see that we have an elite world class – elegant – big man in the middle c man that needs to gain some experience, so we got no problem with guys like Getzlaf in playoffs games to come.

    McD doesn’t need Drai and Drai don’t need McD. Sure the odd shift together and work the number 1 pp, but some of our other pretty good players (Maroon, Lucic, Nuge, Puljujarvi – etc) need to play with an elite world class c man – and we got two of them. Lucic and Drai are a natural, because Drai can speed it up and slow it down, to utilize Lucic in support, wheras McD only knows one speed – lightning fast and way beyond Lucic’s range.

    If – Nuge can play effective top 6 rw and back up top 2c, then maybe you got something. Take a look McL – for crying out loud. If it don’t work after a decent look by staying away from the premature blender button – then, you know what you gotta do.

  • camdog

    The organisation believes that RnH will bring more offence if they put him on the wing. The coach made the comment some time back in respect to the Paveski comment. The theory hasn’t been tested, but I’m sure it’s on the radar for this season. I’d be shocked if he starts this season at centre.

  • Kepler62c

    I don’t care where you play him, Chiarelli should be doing everything possible with the salary cap to make sure Nuge plays out his contract here.

    Injuries happen. Players go on slumps (Drai would be a candidate being young still). Having 3 C’s who can play against top line competition is a luxury most teams don’t have.

    Personally, I’d like to see him on Drai or McD’s wing for a bit and let Strome handle the 3rd line. I think when Nuge isn’t expected to be “the guy” on his line we might see him find some more offence.

  • Bills Bills

    It blows me away at how short Oilers fans memories are. 3 years ago our weakness was at a lack of depth at center and defense. We finally solve the center issue and are almost cured on the back end and you want to strip one away for another? Why wasn’t RNH tried on the wing this past season? Because he has been their best defensive center. Who’s going to pick up that slack? McDavid can’t play the whole game at every position. If RNH gets traded, it is strictly for the cap implications. This team still needs him and as Leon matures and gets better at both ends of the ice, I see RNH moving to the wing. As for where he fits in, anywhere. RNH is versatile, coachable and smart as they come. He can play and I see no appetite or reason to move him.

  • Consultant

    This is the beauty of a centre like Nuge – flexibility.
    In my mind he is underrated for his play on the boards, he wins tons of puck battles. I think he’d make a fine winger, Nuge and Drai can bounce back and forth between Connor’s wing and 2nd line centre. And let him QB PP2 from the right side boards.

  • freelancer

    Tough to say at this point, we should have a better idea in 6 months. It depends on where Draisaitl ends up (wing or centre) it depends on what Nuge’s production ends up being, it depends on whether Strome emerges as a top wing option or a decent centre and whether Puljujarvi emerges as a top 6 option.

    Until some of these questions are figured out it is impossible to make a decision on RNH’s future.

  • fracl

    Trade him for a cheaper guy.. simple. stop trying with this guy. he’s never gonna be good in Edmonton. he needs a change. but mostly.. we need to get rid of him and his salary big time.

  • TKB2677

    I am from Red Deer so I am a fan of Nuge because I watched him in junior but I unfortunately think that Nuge because of his salary is on borrowed time with the Oilers. He just makes WAY too much money. Realistically, he is probably a 4.5 mill player and I am not so sure he is a center. I know there is a growing movement that faceoffs aren’t that important but if you can win faceoff, it sure doesn’t hurt anything. The fact that Nuge has not shown any improvement at faceoffs for as long as he has been in the league is a major concern to me and a red flag that maybe he isn’t a good center. If you look up the job description of an NHL center one of the things listed would be “take faceoffs”. He still can’t do that.

      • TKB2677

        McDavid is 20 yrs old and has played 127 NHL games. He doesn’t even has his man strength yet and has 1.5 season of experience. He was 43.2% this past season. Plus McDavid scored 100 pts.

        Nuge is 24 yrs old, should have his man strength, has 395 games of experience and was 43.8% this season while scoring 43 pts. Sorry man, doesn’t cut it. With as much experience that Nuge has had, there is no excuse for him not to be better. That is 100% on him not doing what it takes to get better.

  • madjam

    What is Hopkins worth ? Sportrax has the figures and players at all levels and positions . I feel Hopkins is perhaps overpaid by .5 M -1M for his play now , even allowing for special team play . That is not an awful lot considering , and the dropoff after 5M is substantial in most players overall contribution – be it Center , LW or RW . It is not like Hopkins is alone in being an underachieving 6M forward , but he is still young , and could improve more to make that 6M contract more viable/attractive . Trading Hopkins for a 4M player or less , will not make the team better – it will have a negative effect .

    • DannyGallivan

      You and Dan1919 are both right. He has talent, he hasn’t shown it at the $6M level. 1) We are under the cap, 2) have made a number of moves and 3) have a number of people gaining experience and confidence so lots of moving parts already. Lets see what we have.

      Trading him now will not get you much and IF he has a bounce back year then as 3C or 1 or 2 W it could make an enormous difference. Give him a year to bounce back or bounce out.

  • Dirtbag Daddy

    The best spot for Nuge is with the New York Rangers. That would place all with New Jersey, Eberle with NYI and the Nuge with the NY Rangers. That way they can play with each other regularly and be able to hang out on weekends.

  • Dan 1919

    Put up or get traded season for Nuge. He can either up his effort and start driving the net like he did in his first couple years and easily live up to a relatively modest cap hit of $6mill, or continue to avoid tough areas/”work on his D game” and get traded. The decision is really Nuge’s, Chiarelli will act according to what Nuge decides.

  • Oprah sucks

    The answer to where nuge should play is easy, everyone’s right! He will play where ever he is needed. His value to some fans might not be high but his value to the team is very high. Players that make the coaches job easier are valued high and he is one of them. Entering the league as an under-sized skilled c and depended on to fill top c roles, he has done a good job holding his own and rounded out a solid two way game given the circumstances. Didn’t excel or decline, just steady improvement all around to become a reliable player. One of the attributes he was labeled with as a prospect was great hockey IQ and that stands true today.
    But imo, for this yr, if Rnh ends up playing on the wing then there is more of a need to trade him than keep him. There’s a reason why Rnh is still an oiler and it has nothing to do with his contract. That contract has been moved twice already now. The reason is oilers have had zero org depth up the middle. They can’t/couldn’t move him without replacing him. Once the oilers are deep enough up the middle then unfortunately Rnh’ days could be numbered as an oiler. I believe this yr will tell them if they are deep enough up the middle by how roster plays out with new players.

  • Been there

    I think RNH stays 2nd or 3rd line centre until Draistl and Strome prove themselves as consistent centermen, after that trade him. I for one would like to see Kassian given a chance at the wind position with McDavid and Maroon.