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Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Countdown to the Season, Question 8: Can RNH return to 50 points?

Without question, the most debated player on the Oilers is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. If there was no salary cap, the discussion would be very different, however, in a salary cap world when your cap hit is $6 million management, coaches and fans expect a certain level of production.

There is a lot to like about Nugent-Hopkins’ game, but he also has some areas he needs to improve, and this season head coach Todd McLellan is hoping Nugent-Hopkins can become more of an offensive threat.

Can RNH become an offensive threat again? The Oilers and their fans are hoping so.

In his first 258 games, Nugent-Hopkins had 188 points (.73 points per game). In his past 137 games (last two seasons) he has 77 points. (0.56 PPG). It isn’t ideal for an offensive player to have their production dip while they are 22 and 23 years old, but Nugent-Hopkins turned 24 in April and he still has ample time to rediscover his offensive capabilities.

He has not created as much offence recently.

It is difficult to knock him for creating less offensively because he did so by trying to become more responsible defensively. However, if you want to be a very good two-way player then you need to find the correct balance between playing sound defence and also being a threat offensively. RNH needs to be more aggressive 5×5, and be willing to take a chance now and then.

“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,” McLellan said this summer. “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,” continued McLellan.

Will it be that simple? Probably not, but when a coach tells an offensive player to take more chances it should have a positive effect.

CRUNCHING NUMBERS

Feb 3, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) skates with the puck past Carolina Hurricanes forward Teuvo Teravainen (86) during the fist period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Digging into RNH’s numbers produced some interesting stats.

His rookie season was his most productive, with 52 points in 62 games. He had 22 points on the PP, including 19 assists. He never matched those numbers again, so we could look at them as somewhat of an outlier. That said, he isn’t on the first unit PP anymore with the arrival of McDavid and Draisaitl, but his PP production last year was quite good compared to his previous seasons.

In 2014 and 2015 he finished the season with 56 points.  He had 19 PP points in 2014 and 12 PP points in 2015. His 5×5 scoring produced 31 points in 2014 and 37 in 2015.

His 12 PP points in 2015 is significant because he produced 10 PP points this past year and he only had 150 PP minutes compared to 198 minutes in 2015.

I, along with many others have wondered, if RNH can produce 50 points not playing on the first unit PP. It is a valid question, but he had really good PP success (points to minutes) last year on the second unit compared to his previous seasons. Despite being on the second PP unit, his PP production was better overall than in 2015.

His 5×5 scoring is the challenge, and that’s where McLellan’s statement comes in. McLellan wants RNH to be more aggressive and he will give him every opportunity to do so this season. RNH will start the season on the third line and should get some favourable matchups. Under the current makeup, it makes the most sense. I wrote all summer starting him there makes the most sense, especially if you want him to become more assertive offensively.

It would be very difficult to ask Nugent-Hopkins to rediscover his offence, but also play him regularly against the other team’s top lines. His instincts when playing against Ryan Getzlaf, Anze Kopitar, Joe Paveski and the other top lines in the Western Conference is to be sound defensively. But I don’t expect McLellan to use him in that role to start the season.

Unless an injury forces a major change, McLellan plans to start the season with Nugent-Hopkins on the third line with Jesse Puljujarvi and Jussi Jokinen. Drake Caggiula could also slot in there depending how players look in the preseason, but right now it looks like Nugent-Hopkins will run the second unit PP, play easier competition on the third line and start the season with Finnish wingers.

CAN HE PRODUCE AT 5X5?

Jan 16, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) celebrates his first period goal with teammates against the Arizona Coyotes during the first period at Rogers Place.Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

If he is going to finish with 50 or more points he’ll need to be more productive 5×5. Here is why.

In 2014 RNH had 11-20-31 in 1168 minutes. He had 115 shots (9.5 SH%) and he drew 12 penalties.

In 2015 he had 19-18-37 in 1174 minutes. He had 136 shots (13.9 SH%) and the opposition took 18 penalties against him.

In 2017 he 10-17-27 in 1079 minutes. He had 146 shots (6.8 SH%), but he drew only five penalties.

Last season at 5×5 he had more shots than he had in his most productive seasons, all while playing tough competition, but he couldn’t finish. He and former teammate, Jordan Eberle, both struggled to finish at 5×5 last year and both had their lowest sh% by a significant margin.

RNH’s numbers match McLellan’s assessment of attacking and being more aggressive, especially in the offensive zone.

I think RNH can produce more even though he likely plays fewer 5×5 minutes than last season. I could see him down to 1000 minutes, if everyone stays healthy. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. RNH playing a bit less means he’ll be fresher, and he’ll also be playing against easier competition. I also don’t see him taking 1268 faceoffs, which was 300 more than Draisaitl and 460 more than McDavid. RNH won’t have to start in his defensive zone as much this season, so even if he plays a bit fewer 5×5 minutes, I think he can score more.

He has a better shot than he showed last year. Had he just matched his 2014 9.5sh% last year on 146 shots he’d have scored four more goals. He doesn’t have to be too great to be more productive this season.

His linemates will be equally motivated to produce more offence.

Jokinen had the second worst season of his NHL career last year scoring only 28 points. He had 27 points in 2009, but in his other nine 82-game seasons he produced 42+ points every year. He had his second most productive season, 60 points, in 2016. Jokinen has been a very consistent point-producer. He thinks the game very well, has good offensive instincts and is reliable defensively. He’ll want to make a good impression with his teammates and he has proven he can play and produce with offensive players.

Puljujarvi is one year older, he is stronger, quicker and more prepared to deal with life in North America. Starting him with RNH in a third line role, not against top defenders puts him in a much better position to succeed.

Nugent-Hopkins has a lot to prove and with his coach’s blessing, he will attack more offensively.

When his offensive confidence returns, I could see McLellan moving him up to the 2nd line centre and sliding Draisaitl onto McDavid’s right wing if he wants one dominant line later in the season.

The Oilers need Nugent-Hopkins to become more of an impact player. He needs to be assertive, he needs to attack and use his quick snap shot from better shooting areas.

I see him scoring 20 goals for the second time in his career, and he finishes the season with 21-31-52. His 5×5 SH% will be between 9.5-10%.

Do you think RNH will produce 50 points? Why or why not.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Oil Is My Blood

    I don’t think he will get more than 40 points. Jussi Will be looking for more offence so he can get another contract; Jesse Will be looking for more offence so that he can stay in the show; and his line will have mostly third parent defencemen. Thus he will “cheat” back to defence

    • madjam

      Hopkins lost Hall and Eberle as wingers over last couple of years , and an under performing Pouliot to deal with . I do not think Jokinen and Puljujarvi are that caliber of players to help Hopkins catapult back up to a 50 point player . If he played on wing with McDavid and or Draisaitl I believe he would easily surpass the 50 point plateau . Hopkins has been dropped from first line offence with top pair defence , to second line last year with basically second pair defence , and this year to third line with bottom pair defence basically . Thus , I do not hold much optimism he can put up 50 points under those circumstances – that’s asking to much of him .

  • Mitch92

    Strome and Puljujarvi are the two best RW options heading into the season. Pakarinen has done little to show that he deserves top six consideration. Personally I would like to see Puljujarvi start the season with Lucic and Drai. What a huge dominant line they could be playing behind Maroon, CMD and Strome. Eventually I think Pulujarvi will switch places with Strome.

  • CMG30

    I really don’t see RNH getting back to 50 pts without 1st unit PP time. But that’s fine for me. There is incredible value in having a player who can match up with the best the league has to offer and not give anything up. His value would increase further if he was a bigger threat to score when facing second tier players…

  • AJ88

    Not surprised that Gregor again asks questions about RNH. Maybe a more important question, how many points will the 8.5M Drai get and what would make him worth the 8.5. Tired of Gregor and Lowtide continually questioning RNH’s play when McD and Drai should be the focus points.

  • TKB2677

    I recently saw the potential lines that had Jokinen – Nuge – JP as a “3rd line”. I personally like that line a lot. On paper it should be a good 3rd line. But when it comes to Nuge and 50 pts, I just don’t know if he will. He’s not going to get a ton of PP time being on the second unit and I wonder if there is going to be enough 5 on 5 time left over for Nuge. Taking PP time out, McDavid and Leon will play a ton. So he will need to be extremely productive when he is on the ice because it’s going to be limited.

    I also think another issue with Nuge and I know some stats guys down play the importance is how lousy he is at faceoffs. Nuge over the years has been playing against good centers, many of whom are good at faceoffs. So what happens as a team when you lose the draw? You are chasing the puck trying to get it back. In the case of Nuge, he’s been so bad at faceoffs, he’s ALWAYS in chase mode. When he loses the draw, due to his smaller size, can’t use his size to muscle guys off the puck like say a Getzlaf can when he loses a draw. So I believe it takes Nuge longer to get the puck back. So on a lot of shifts, he spends the majority of his time trying to get the puck back. So in a 45-50 sec shift, if you lose the draw and spend the next 30+ seconds skating around, battling bigger centers for the puck, when you finally get it, how much gas is left in the tank to attack? Not much. So if he is going to have a chance at 50 pts, he better have improved big time faceoffs wise. Maybe Jokinen can help him. But if Nuge is his usual 43%, he won’t hit 50.

    • AJ88

      If Nuge plays 3rd line do you not see his % improving, will not be up against the the number one centre man. The guy I see slipping on face offs may be Drai, there is going to be more attention directed his way, I also see his production falling off from last year unless he gets a lot of pp points. I am actually hoping they keep Drai and McD together to start the year, we need a good start and I am not sure how well it will go if those two are on separate lines. Maroon, Strome, Lucic had better be rolling if Drai and McD are indeed separated.

      • TKB2677

        I don’t see Drai’s faceoffs taking a plunge. He’s been on the first or second line since he came into the league. He took a lot of draws when he was with McDavid who was up against top end centers. Drai was 49% last year.

        • AJ88

          If Drai is actually running the second unit he will up against top centres on a more regular basis than RNH. I would be happy if he stays in 50% range, I peg him in the 46, 47 range this year and I see Nuge in the 50 range if he is truly up against 3rd liners. What will bring Nuge down, how much PK time will he be getting, meaning he still will be up against the top centres.

    • OldBalls99

      Winning face-offs and gaining possession has lots to do with the wingers commitment to battle/block out opposition. Not the strong suit of Nuge’s former linemate. Nuge’s line will be better at faceoffs this year. Also Jussi will take a bunch of draws…and he is good at it. Aaaaaand, he will be playing weaker competition so that when they do lose a draw, it will not be Getzlaf or Kopitar they will be chasing around. Your post is appreciated but flawed.

    • TKB2677

      What bothers me about Nuge and his faceoffs the most is he has 6 NHL seasons and 395 NHL games of experience under his belt and he hasn’t improved one bit. Part of a centers job description is faceoffs. One of the weak parts of his game when he came into the leagues was faceoffs. So for 6 years, he needed to work on his faceoffs and it hasn’t improved one bit. Given how buys these players are in the season, there isn’t a ton of practice time. There isn’t a ton of time to work on your strength. A lot of the work to improve has to come in the offseason. So the fact that he hasn’t improved much on a weak part of his game in 6 years, screams to me that he isn’t putting an emphasis on it and doesn’t see it as important.

        • TKB2677

          McDavid has 127 NHL games. Nuge has 395 NHL games. So over 3 times as many games as McDavid. Nuge has way, way more years of season training and strengthening than 20 yr old McDavid. The fact that McDavid is almost as good at faceoffs with 3 times few games than Nuge, in my opinion, makes how bad Nuge is look even worse.

      • Spydyr

        I believe faceoffs stats are way over rated. The difference between 45% and 51% is a few faceoffs lost in a game. Defensive and offensive zone faceoffs carry more weight then neutral zone ones. Is there stats available for faceoffs broken down per zone?

        I’m looking more at Nuge’s defensive zone coverage down low allowing McDavid to play high in the defensive zone for quick breaks. There is no defenceman in the NHL that will not be backing out of the zone if Connor is flying past him looking for a pass.

    • pkam

      I don’t agree with you very often but I do this time. I really wonder how many points RNH can score replacing Drisaitl role, that is McDavid’s RW and 1st pp time. If he can score 65 pts, isn’t his 6M contract better value than Drisaitl 8.5M scoring 75 pts?

  • shaner

    However many points it takes so we can trade him. sounds harsh but “mike fisher’s” who can’t win a draw aren’t worth 6m a year. For me they traded the wrong player this summer, but whats done is done, hopefully his “give a sh!# meter” goes a little higher this year. Im betting he’s in the 40 point range again and at the end of the year were still talking about him getting “bounced around” and needing to be better in the dot. But I was also the guy who thought ” we should draft yak” and I was pissed when we got Larson for Hall…………so what the hell do I know…

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    Nuge is so puzzling to me. I honestly think Dallas Eakins did some hard damage to the young guns during his time here. Yak, Eberle, Hall, Nuge. I hope it’s not irreparable for RNH.

  • TalbotsJock

    I think Nuge is 60-65 player.
    As shown in his initial PPG average. To my observation he had some bad puck luck last year and with his best line mate Ebs struggling, it hurts a pass first player like Nuge. 50 points should be easy for him its 60-65 i think is where his potential lies. Not being first line or first PP may hinder that. I remember seeing some great offensive instincts in first several years here, if he can find those with how well he play defensively we have a winner.

  • Abagofpucks

    say what ever you want speculate disect hum and hah but i think nuge will improve this year but no matter what hes probably getting traded just because of his contract

  • Johnnyo

    How many 3rd line centres score 50 points in the NHL. I seem to recall reading on ON that 50 points is a fairly high water mark for many 2Cs in the NHL.

    So given that be fact, RNH getting 50+ pts playing 3C with 2PP unit icetime seems statistically unlikely. Should he do so, great. Should he fail to hit the mark though, it seems to me that it would be horrendous player/cap management. Pete would handcuff himself into moving $6M off the books to make room for the new contract of whichever winger gets the McDavid boost next season.

    Why not replace Strome’s name and numbers in Jason’s post and make the same argument? At then end of that day, you’d have Strome gaining his confidence back, making signing him next year a) wise and b) affordable while getting better value for RNH on this team at $6M or in a trade playing wing beside McDavid.

    If Nugey can’t hit 55-60 points playing either wing with Connor, trade the “bum” *RunsAndHides

  • OriginalPouzar

    What should help materially this year is not having to play 42% of his ES minutes against elites. I think that will go down a bit and Leon/Connor will be relied on a bit more. With that said, Nuge is clearly trusted by the coach in that role and will get plenty of tough minutes.

    Assuming health, I do expect a bounce-back offensively and a bit of spike in his ES play – he’s got more offensive to give even without giving up his 2-way play – his shooting percentage should go up a bit but he’s got to find a way to take higher percentage shots.

    Jokinen is a solid 200 foot player and should help with the defensive responsibilities potentially opening Nuge us to take a few more risks offensively.

  • BingBong

    I’m guessing between 30-40 points. I’ll predict 12 G, 20 A for 32 points.
    He’ll be getting 3rd line minutes for the most part, and he doesn’t drive a line. Limited PP time, still can’t win possession of the puck off the draw. Never had a great shot or finish, and that skill set has been declining since he joined the league.
    He’ll be traded in the off-season anyway, but it’d sure be nice if he could raise his value a bit. But I don’t see it happening.