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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Countdown to Season: Question #2 and RNH

What is the best role for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins this season?

He is a natural centre, and I would play him there. The decision will be: does he play on your second line and face the other team’s top two lines or does he play on the third line against easier competition?

I’d play him on the third line, mainly because I want Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid playing centre. I fully expect we will see Draisaitl play some games with McDavid, similar to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin early in their career, but I don’t see the soon-to-be $21 million duo playing together as much this season as they did last year. Draisaitl’s size and strength will allow him to battle with the bigger, stronger centres in the Pacific division.

RNH has proven he is willing to take on the tough minutes, but I’m not sold he is big enough to battle Ryan Getzlaf, Anze Kopitar, Joe Thornton or other big, skilled centres. It is extremely difficult to play against the best centres when they are 20-25 pounds heavier and stronger. I applaud Nugent-Hopkins for wanting to become a better defensive player. Many skilled centres shy away from it, and RNH hasn’t the past few seasons. But this year I’d rather see him start on the third line with some skilled wingers and focus more on being creative offensively.

Of course he will still be reliable defensively, but Nugent-Hopkins best asset is his offence. I believe he is still more of a threat in the offensive zone than in the defensive zone.

Todd McLellan challenged and encouraged Nugent-Hopkins to rediscover his offensive ability.

“He wants to win and he was willing to sacrifice offence, which is great, but now we need him to remain responsible defensively, but add some offence. I think me telling him it is okay to take a few chances and risks will help him. Often a player just needs to hear it,” said McLellan.

It is easier to take chances against the opposition’s bottom six, because if RNH doesn’t make the play the odds the opposition scores are lower.

The ideal scenario for RNH is to start with “easier” minutes (I don’t think any minutes in the NHL are easy, but the quality of competition can definitely be different), and as he regains his offensive confidence then you could slot him back in against the top-six if McLellan wants to reunite McDavid and Draisaitl for a few games.

It is difficult to score and create offence, but I believe Nugent-Hopkins has more offence in him than we’ve seen the past two seasons.

In 2015 he had 56 points, but only 14 came on the PP, when he was on the first PP unit. The past two seasons he’s been on the second unit, and had 11 PPP in 2016 in 55 games, and 11 last season in 82 games. In 2015 he scored 41 EV points, and he was playing against the toughest competition most nights. This year I see no reason why he can’t produce 35-40 EV points against lesser competition, and chip in 11-17 on the PP. It is unlikely he can match his career-high of 56 points due to McDavid and Draisaitl, but RNH has more offence, and more importantly, more ability to produce chances than we’ve seen the past few years.

He needs to rediscover his confidence and take a few risks as McLellan suggested. He could become a vital complementary player for the Oilers.

CONTRACT FACTORS

April 4, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) scores a goal against Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (32) during the first period at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The other factor in re-igniting Nugent-Hopkins’ offence is the potential for a future trade. I’m very aware of all the off-ice factors involved in a trade. It can be a very trying time for a player and his family to suddenly be moved to another city, so I don’t bring it up lightly. However, the salary cap combined with McDavid and Draisaitl costing $21 million for the 2018/2019 season makes it impossible to ignore the trade possibility.

With a $6 million cap hit, it is difficult to play RNH regularly on your third line. It isn’t impossible, but simply more difficult to fit in all the other pieces under the salary cap.

The Oilers want to win this year, and they need Nugent-Hopkins to contribute more than he did last year. Starting him on the third line with Drake Caggiula and Jussi Jokinen or Jesse Puljujarvi would put him in a good position to produce and help the team, and if he plays well and produces it would show opposing GMs he can still be a productive scorer.

This is a big year for Nugent-Hopkins. He needs to re-establish to himself and the league he can be an offensive threat. He doesn’t need to be a 60-point player to be a threat, but he has enough ability to score 50.

The best situation for him would be to start the season playing centre. He’s has not played the wing, never mind playing his off-wing (RW), and I’m not sure it would be ideal to ask a player to regain his offensive aggressiveness at the same time asking him to learn a new position. He is a centre, and he should play centre to start, ideally on the third line where he can be more aggressive with less concern of a mistake ending up in the back of his net.

What role/position do you think is best for RNH?

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Mc🙏

    I think him playing 3C whenever the tun Draisaitl 2C is ideal for 2 reasons. Sees what Draisaitl can do, and gives Nuge a bit of a break from the tough minutes to get his offense going. He is in a tough spot A) because of his cap hit B) because of Mcdavid and Leon. But on 15 to 20 other teams he is a legit 2C.

      • Mc🙏

        Agreed his faceoff % is low, but not that far off from all 3C’s on the stanley cup winning Penguins ( faceoff % is so highly overrated its unreal ) not saying he is anywhere near as good as those 2. He did Put up pretty nice underlying numbers considering the % of his ice time playing against elites. Also playing with Ebs ( who had a career low shooting % ) and Lucic ( who had a career low 5x5pts ). I also said 15-20 NHL teams. Not all. There are really not that many 2C’s that play toughest minutes who pit up more than 45-50pts

      • russ99a

        I expect McLellan to play him in a third line center role, hopefully he can mesh with Jokinen and be better on both sides of the ice.

        It sucks that it takes some guys to change teams to get with the program and play a complete game rather than overrelying on the rush and floating on offense and a lack of toughness and effort in the tougher area of the ice, and being physical on defense. Nuge has so much going for his game but until he turns the corner and uses his size and increases toughness, we can’t expect much improvement on a team shooting for a cup.

        We’ll probably trade him and he’ll be a much better player 2-3 years down the road.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    The reality is due to the Size of the salary VS the amount of points produced we would get very little back from a trade at this point IMO. I wold far rather see what he can do with a couple of young skilled players on the cheap as a third line. He can mentor young skilled guys on “D” coverage and yet be the center who is responsible. It allows the movement of Draisaitl up and down the line up. For me I keep him slotted in at 3rd line and slot him in with rookie contracts as an Education line.

  • fracl

    I can’t wait for the Oilers to get rid of RNH. he’s a weak little man that doesn’t deserve half the 6M he is getting. he’s part of the problem. not the solution.!

    • Oilerchild77

      Wow. You sound like I did when we were talking about trading Eberle. I would have agteed with your assessment if you were talking about Eberle, but I don’t agree with your assessment of Nuge. He’s a good player that was forced into the NHL too soon by a bad organization. He just neefs to be put into the tight situation. Unfortunately that won’t hsppen in Edmonton. He will do much better on an eastern conference team where he won’t have to deal with the elephant sized centermen of the Pacific division.

      • fasteddy

        I know it’s popular to say “a bad organization that didn’t handle him properly”, but that’s fluff talk; RNH was more effective in his first year before getting injured than he has been since. He was a wizard offensively that season.

    • Oilerchild77

      Hete is the corrected version of my post:

      Wow. You sound like I did when we were talking about trading Eberle. I would have agreed with your assessment if you were talking about Eberle, but I don’t agree with your assessment of Nuge. He’s a good player that was forced into the NHL too soon by a bad organization. He just needs to be put into the right situation. Unfortunately that won’t happen in Edmonton. He will do much better on an eastern conference team where he won’t have to deal with the elephant-sized centermen of the Pacific division.

  • Natejax97

    Great article. I think it is spot on. And I also think that a 6 million dollar 3rd line Center when you have 21 committed may spell the end of RNH here…that not only concerns me about depth moving forward, but it makes me start to understand how bad this team used to be when the top 3 players prior to 2015/2016 have been traded for Larrsen, Strome and probably a prospect and a first / second round pick. Yeeesh. Even worse, look at the returns for Yak (1st Overall) and Shultz (our #1 D-man in 2014)…Nuge is still my favorite, and I hope he wins a cup in Edmonton this year, and I hope the cap jumps 8 million next year so we can keep him!!!!

    • BobbyCanuck

      We all want to see him succeed, the last straw for me was his woeful play-off performance, put him on the 3rd line, and lets hope he regains some of his skills

      • Mc🙏

        Woeful as in tasked to shutdown SJ’s top line….. and succeeded? I agree the cap is a bit high for him, but all this junk player bust theory is a bit overworked. He is exactly on average with almost every 2C in the entire NHL outside of a few.

  • madjam

    Going into his 7th season as an Oilers , although only 24 , one has to wonder if Hopkins has peaked/levelled off already , and is trending more to a player of 3rd and 4th line status rather than a top 6 on a good team . Still a good player , swiss army (multiple positions) type , just not maybe a top 6 on Oilers or a top club . They had hoped he would turn into a viable 6M+ player , but not sold he will reach those lofty heights now . Optimism starting to turn into some pessimism after his last season results . What does one do with a good player that is over paid if this continues ?

    • HOCKEY83

      I think RNH would be considered a 1st or 2nd line player on almost all other teams and would be far more successful with more ice time and better quality line mates.

        • madjam

          Blame also has to be present in Hopkins as well , as he regressed along with Eberle and Pouliot . Had he had a banner year , or even a progressive one then his line mates figures would have subsequently increased . Hopkins also had Lucic , but seem to do him no favors point wise either . Being as Hopkins main cog on second line it was his responsibility to perform more progressively , instead he helped drag the line down in retrospect .

          • Oilerchild77

            Uhhh…. Nope. Can’t agree. Eberle had a career low shot percentage last season and Pouliot (who he got stuck with alot) was the new Belanger triangle. Give Nuge a winger that isn’t a bonehead (Pouliot) and one that isn’t scared of being touched (Eberle) and then we can judge him more fairly.

  • ricardo2000

    I hope to see RNH as Bob Gainey, only with much better offensive abilities. Hopefully, he put on some more man muscle, foot speed, passing and shooting accuracy, over the summer training season. The ability to play RNH against opponents’ top six could allow McD and Drai to go wild on lower ranked opposition. If the RNH line can play take-away offence against top six opponents his salary is justified, even if the line’s scoring isn’t top six, because of his line’s contribution adds productivity to McD and Drai. It could make the defensive schemes of other teams hard to implement. Then McLellan could swap he and Strom in and out of the top six right wing when need, or performance, dictates.

    • OldBalls99

      Foot speed? Nuge is top 10% skater in the league. His edges are impeccable! He and Duchene are similar in that regard. I think his issues are 100% confidence related. Once that come back in a 3rd line, lower qual comp role, he will be deadly. 55 to 65 points for Nuge this year. Unfortunately he will be traded in the summer.

  • shaner

    Nuge has been a huge disappointment. It just seems like the kid has no fire. How many years in a row have we been talking about how soft he is and how brutal his face-offs are…..At what point does someone get motivated bulk up and work on the draw all summer long until you can come back to camp look your fellow teammates in the eyes and know that you have done everything you can to be the best player you can be…

    admittedly I don’t know his training regime and I am an average working class Joe/Shmoe calling out a high level athlete, but its just frustrating when you see a guy with all the tools but only half the heart to make a difference.

    • shaner

      I wouldn’t even trade a Todd Marchant for Nuge right now, atlleast Marchant is Taylor made for a 3rd line centre roll and would be a bigger help for the current oilers………..kind of sad when you consider lil Nugey was a first overall and were hoping he can succeed on the third line.

    • OldBalls99

      This is a ridiculous comment! Production aside, did you even watch the playoffs? Nuge played gritty and with edge against much bigger men. I wish is little line mate would have joined him. I would never question Nuge’s heart.

    • I am Batman

      No fire? In the playoffs he was a beast, he was continuously shutting down the opposition and cleaning up for lazy Ebs mess.
      I was at game 5 vs the sharks and we won that game because of how Nuge played his butt off.
      No scoring , sure, but no fire…..

    • Big Nuggets

      Why does everyone act like faceoffs are the only thing that matters for a centerman? Faceoffs are a minor part of the responsiblities of a center. Nuge plays hard. It doesnt look as obvious for players that arent physical.
      The importance of physicality also gets blown out of proportion. You can see it on the ice so it look like it makes a big difference, you dont necessarily notice sound positional play, proper defensive reads, good possessional play. I love watching a physical display of dominance on the ice like Kassian occasionally does, or like Iginla used to do. But it is not the end all be all. Most important is being good at hockey. Back when Detroit was good their team was far less physical than the average team. They won by playing hockey. Nuge plays hockey.
      The funny thing is that, comparing salaries accross the league he is not even really overpaid by much. Maybe overpaid by a million. Draisaitl is maybe overpaid by a million also. Lucic is overpaid by 2 mil? If Nuge is playing the most time against elite competition then his role on the team is obviously important. overpaying an importnt part of the team is not the end of the world.
      I think people can’t recalibrate their expectations because he is a ‘1st overall’ His draft position is irrelevant now. Also some associate Nuge with the dacade of darkness and have this belief that we can’t win until all those players are traded. Also irrelevant.

  • madjam

    To lighten the day I will propose a trade to ponder , seeing as Colorado could use Hopkins and they desperately require defence . To Oilers – N.MacKinnon and their 2nd round pick next year , for Hopkins , Benning and our first round pick . We can still retain a 6M contract next year , but i’d rather see a player that matches the level of that contract better in MacKinnon . Now see how that C/RW would fit into our young lineup – pretty impressively .

    • madjam

      Compared to Flames offence , yes the Oilers are , and Oilers also hold a decided edge in goaltending . Flames so called claim to fame is a staunch defence .

      • BringtheFire 2.0

        Or defence is unproven. It has potential, but it’s not a claim to fame yet.

        As for the forward core, the best 3C option we have is Bennett, and he has to prove it, too.

        I agree with both the claims in your post, but you guys don’t have a line as good as the 3M line. That’s might not be enough to save us, but it’s true.

        • madjam

          What is with FN writers and banning BOA talk , etc.? Censorship power hungry writers that want to prevent ON from questioning their bloggers . Maybe you can come back to ON open site of more mature writers , and we can openly discuss the up coming Penticton Tourney .

          • BringtheFire 2.0

            I don’t know if you’re going to read this but it’s not censorship, per se.

            It was the elimination of viscous, uneducated, childish trolls that prompted what you call; “banning” .

  • My vote would be to try him on the wing and see what happens.
    Our wings are our most shallow area.
    Nuge has excellent passing ability.
    Freeing up some defensive responsiblity will allow him to take more chances and use his best assets a little better.
    Is he commited to defense? Yes. But I agree with Jason in that he has higher offensive upside than defensive.
    He does not win faceoffs (some people think this stat to be over rated but 06 Oilers always had puck and somehow scored their way to game 7)
    His size and inability to win faceoffs plus his high end skill makes it almost a given to try it.
    At center he is b- and i think on wing he could top out as an a level player.
    People wanna fly drai around when he can anchor a line himself while this option is so rarely talked about. We have so many hybrid winger centers it should be no problem to mix things up just a little differntly.

  • tkfisher

    Call me crazy, but the Oilers once had a guy named Cogliano who was undersized for Center and was terrible in the draw. A smart team moved him to the Wong and his career flourished. I feel the same way about RNH. Try him on the wing. He’s far more gifted than Cogs and given our one and two C positions, I’d like to see him playing with either Connor or Leon.

  • belair

    Play McDavid and Draisaitl together until it stops paying dividends. They were the best tandem forwards in the league last year. Why wouldn’t you stick with that?

    I also think giving Ryan Strome those soft minutes on the third line would help him get his feet under him instead of throwing him straight into the “does he work with McDavid?” fire.

    Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a talented forward and if he can’t get his offensive bearings playing next to a guy like Milan Lucic again next season, there is some cause for worry. But as it stands, he was still somewhat successful in that role last season and the team benefited from it. Keep him at 2C.

  • Tom Z

    Your article does make perfect sense only potential downside is are we deep enough at the wing positon. Time for Caggula or Slepsh to step. That would also make us strong in a position where we were notoriously week

  • Johnnyo

    I’d like to see RNH on McDavid’s wing for a 20 game stretch at least. With Connor’s puck carrying ability and Patty mucking it up in front of the goal and in the corners, I’m unconcerned about whether Nuge plays R or L side. He’s used to playing the half wall on his off wing and in the slot on the PP. He’ll be fine. Give the kid a chance, he may score 25 and pick up another 30 assists.

    I see Strome playing 3C just fine too.

  • TKB2677

    I have always been a fan of Nuge. I got to watch him play junior in Red Deer but I am not convinced anymore that he is a center. How can you be a remotely effective center and be that bad on faceoffs still after 6 seasons? It’s not like it’s a new thing. Taking faceoffs is in the job description of a center and has been a weak spot in his game since his first day in the league and he hasn’t improved what so ever. Every good player usually focuses on something with their game in the offseason each year and faceoffs hasn’t made the list yet for Nuge? Yes he’s played against tough competition a lot but as Gregor mentioned, at his size it’s pretty tough to go up against bigger centers. So if when you step on the ice and you lose the faceoff most times, you are automatically giving up possession of the puck. So he spends a good chunk of his shifts chasing the puck because he’s not going to out muscle anyone. Then you factor in that he has been passed by McDavid and Leon on the depth chart especially on the #1 pp unit because both players are flat out better. So no wonder he doesn’t produce much offense anymore. He gets squat for PP time and spends most of his shift chasing the puck because he can’t get possession.

    So if he plays 3rd line center and goes up against “weaker” competition, what will change if he still can’t win a faceoff? So what if he isn’t up against Getzlaf anymore, if as an example he goes up against Vermette and loses the draw, he’s still chasing the puck. So how are you going to produce offense without the puck.

  • Spydyr

    If you don’t think Draisaitl and McDavid will be playing together in the third period when the team is down a goal or two…..you just don’t understand hockey.