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Photo Credit: © Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Strome is a better fit at C than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins started his first game on Connor McDavid’s left wing on Saturday, and if the Oilers are wise it will the first of many. The Oilers need to replace Patrick Maroon on the left wing, and instead of overpaying in free agency, the best decision will be to slot Nugent-Hopkins in the left wing spot.

They need his skill in the top six, but they also have a better third line centre on the team now in Ryan Strome.

Strome isn’t a better overall centre than Nugent-Hopkins, but he is a better fit as a third line centre.

I’m still a bit surprised how many people still want the Oilers to run three centres. It is people I often agree with on many things, but not on this one. Dustin Nielson, Black Dog Pat, Woodguy and many others have often suggested these three should be down the middle. I completely understand the theory behind it, but take a moment to look at some numbers and see if running McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins down the middle will ultimately help the Oilers.

Strome has 24 EV points this season, and 21 of them are at 5×5. He has put up pretty good numbers at EV, especially when you realize he’s had numerous different linemates, and not ones who are big point producers. Strome has played 814 5×5 minutes and here are his most common linemates.

Jujhar Khaira: 255 minutes. He has scored 9-6-15 at 5×5 this year. (On ice together for eleven goals)
Draisaitl: 187 minutes. He has 11-27-28 at 5×5. (On ice together for nine goals)
Drake Caggiula: 174 minutes. Caggiula has scored 6-5-11 (On ice for four goals).
Mike Cammalleri: 160 minutes. He has 2-16-18 (On ice for three goals).
Jesse Puljujarvi: 136 minutes. He scored 9-6-15 (On ice for eight goals).
Anton Slepyshev: 103 minutes. He has scored 5-5-10 at 5×5. (On ice together for two goals).
Patrick Maroon: 102 minutes. He has 13-12-25 at 5×5 (On ice for five goals).
He’s played only 50 minutes with McDavid. He played more with 12 other forwards including Jussi Jokinen. So you can’t say Strome has inflated his EV points totals by playing with McDavid.

Strome currently has a $2.5 Million cap hit and he made $3 million this season. He is an RFA this summer and likely will have a new contract between $2.5-$3 million for next season.

RNH DOWN THE MIDDLE

Nov 28, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) scores a goal against Arizona Coyotes goalie Scott Wedgewood (31) in overtime at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

Here are three seasons of RNH where he played a similar amount of games as Strome this year. I am presuming Strome finishes the season and will play close to 82 games and similar EV minutes as RNH in these three seasons. I didn’t use years where he missed a lot of time, only because prorating numbers isn’t exact numbers, only projections.

2013/2014: Nugent-Hopkins played 1,162 5×5 minutes, he scored 31 points and had a 44.92 CF%. He had 36 at EV. His most common linemates:

Jordan Eberle: 757 minutes. Eberle scored 17-21-38 at 5×5 (They were on the ice together for 35 goals).
Taylor Hall: 665 minutes. Hall scored 16-37-53 (On for 29 goals together).
David Perron: 268 minutes: 17-20-37 (On ice for 13 goals).
Nail Yakupov: 218 minutes: 7-11-18 (On for eight goals).
Ales Hemsky: 115 minutes: 7-8-15. He was traded to Ottawa at deadline. (On for four goals together).

2014/2015: Nugent-Hopkins played 1,139 5×5 minutes, he scored 37 points and had a 49. 86CF%. He had 34 at EV. His most common linemates:

Eberle: 894 minutes. Eberle scored 18-23-41 at 5×5 that season. (They were on ice for 45 goals).
Hall: 500 minutes. Hall scored 7-19-26. He was injured and missed 30 games. (On ice for 21 goals).
Benoit Pouliot: 366 minutes. 13-11-24 (On ice for 20 goals).
Teddy Purcell: 221 minutes. 6-14-20 (On ice for seven goals).
Yakupov: 62 minutes: 9-12-21 (on ice for one goal).

2016/2017: RNH played 1,079 minutes at 5×5, scored 27 points and had a 49.29 CF%. He had 32 EV points and his most common linemates:

Eberle: 636 minutes. Eberle scored 14-19-33 at 5×5 that season. (They were on for 22 goals together)
Milan Lucic: 434 minutes. 10-13-23 (14 goals together)
Pouliot: 331 minutes. 8-6-14 (10 goals together)
Zack Kassian: 217 minutes. 7-17-24 (seven goals together)
Patrick Maroon: 213 minutes. 24-11-35 (on for nine goals together).

COMPARISONS

Nov 3, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) skates with the puck against the New Jersey Devils during the first period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Keep in mind RNH played tougher minutes in 2014 and 2015. He was the first line centre, and while he played mainly with offensively gifted linemates, Eberle and Hall, he also faced better players on average.

But look at last season. RNH scored 27 points at 5×5 in 1,079 minutes. Strome has 21 in 814 minutes so far this season. Strome has also not had the luxury of even one consistent linemate. I don’t expect trios to stick together very often in today’s game, but usually we see a duo. Building continuity and chemistry can help, but Strome has proven it isn’t necessary to be a competent point producer.

Strome has looked much more effective since he started playing centre regularly. I wasn’t sure he could be this effective early in the season, but he’s proved me wrong. Right now, he is a solid third line centre.

The other factor we need to consider is salary.

If you run McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins down the middle, that is $27 million. You don’t have a lot of cap space to go out and find competent wingers for all three lines. If Strome can produce 25 points at 5×5 and cost $3 million, he is a great fit for the team. Why play RNH at centre on a third line, pay him $6 million, when he hasn’t shown he will outscore Strome at EV by a significant enough margin to make it cost effective?

I’d rather have RNH on the wing in the top-six, where he still can rotate defensive responsibilities with McDavid and is likely to produce more points than we’ve seen from him as a centre.

Playing RNH on the wing in the top-six gives him a better opportunity to produce the points you’d expect from a $6 million player, and having Strome as the third line centre isn’t much of a drop off offensively. And with McDavid and Draisaitl running as 1C and 2C, Strome won’t have to face elite competition very often. He should be able to produce similar to what he has this season, and I’m not worried about his defensive play.

From a skill standpoint and a production-to-cap-space ratio, it makes the most sense to play RNH on the wing and Strome as the third line centre.

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  • Five points between Nuge and McDavid in one game together. Keep the good times rolling, Todd. They can make magic together! Also, Strome has been better since being moved back to C. Makes sense all the way around.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      The only depressing part of all this, and quite frankly is contributing to my lack of confidence in the coaching staff. Is why the heck didn’t they try the McD, Nuge combination earlier? It, to me, was the most obvious combination shortly after McDavid came aboard. To top it off, McLellan has used the most outrageous line combinations over the last couple of years. But that one.
      I think every possible combination? Except maybe Talbot with McD & Drai, and Nuge with McD…
      It’s almost like he was being stubborn & not wanting to do it, because maybe the fans would want it?
      Anyway, I love it, however upset I am that it took this long for the coaches to figure out. That worries me?

    • Oiler Al

      Nuge….. 1 assist and an empty netter.Nugey didnt exactly blow the lights out Mcdees line, but it was only one game[about time McT].. give it another few games,to see if there is a fit Better a $6 mil winger, than $8.5mil/

    • hammer313

      Damn right, keep him there, please. Just picked him up in our hockey pool and I’m in the champion round against a team that has McDavid! I have Drai and he will be affected greatly in points if he is saddled with, waste of ice time, Lucic!

  • TruthHurts98

    Fire PC before he trades Nuge for nothing! Nuge and Connor, maybe Yammer or JP next year and that’s a great first line! I like Leon as a centre and would rather see Nuge playing the wing with Connor. Strome as 3C on a value contract is fine. Nice to see Khaira playing well too as the 4C. If there are injuries to any centre men it’s great to have players that can fill back into their natural spots. #keeptheNugeforever!

  • CMG30

    I agree that a better spot for RNH is beside McDavid. Gives Todd options. Can move LD up for a different look or it keeps RNH around if either McDavid or LD are injured. Playing him 3C is a waste of talent and cap space unless you can find a ton of value contracts to make 3 legit scoring lines.

    • russ99a

      Not a waste if he’s used to shutdown the opposition. Look at the Jets third line, there’s no reason we can’t do that here, and that helps the cap situation where we’re looking for 2 skill wingers, not 4.

      Nuge’s defensive game is as much or more of a strength than his offensive game, this is a player who’s career high is 56 points, he’s not in the same offensive class as McDavid or Draisaitl.

        • russ99a

          The Oilers are 14th in 5×5 goals scored. I’d think a much bigger reason for this year’s decline is the large increase in goals allowed than needing a lot more goals, which should be alleviated by an expected addition or one or two NHL shooters at wing this summer. Nuge isn’t a shooter, he’s a passer.

          Talbot’s bad year a part of that, but worse team defense (forwards too) tends to eat at a goalie’s confidence, so team defense or lack thereof is a bigger factor than Talbot.

          Right now we’ve allowed 9 more goals than all of last season with 14 more games to go.

          • Randaman

            You must be a Guy Boucher coaching philosophy fan! Coach all the creativity out of the player and play a trap smothering style of hockey. That’s why Ottawa fails in attendance. BORING!

  • Soccer Steve

    Eberle: 68 gp, 24-24-48 points, $6 million, non-playoff team
    Strome: 68 gp, 12-19-31 points, $2.5 million, non-playoff team

    Injuries, points, money, playoffs: the only stats that actually matter.

    We won that trade.

      • Soccer Steve

        Looking at it player vs. player, yes I absolutely believe we did. Is losing Eberle the reason we dropped all those places? No, it isn’t, because if it was true he would’ve pushed the NYI into the playoffs. Nearly the whole Oilers team regressed. And pulling this thread: if we had kept Eberle and all else was equal, he would have suffered greatly in a team-wide regression and his value would have been less than Strome. At a point when we would have HAD to trade him (McD & Drai’s contracts kick in).

        We offloaded a weak-willed individual (just look at his playoff performance, when the game is amped up 5 levels, for proof on that) for a cheaper, less offensive, Centre.

        Now that we have hindsight, yes, that’s a win.

        • SylarHRG

          Although I have always felt we AT LEAST deserved a draft pick along with Strome, your two posts have made me feel better about the trade then I ever have. Sometimes it’s hard to find arguments FOR when there are so many arguments AGAINST floating around.

      • ed from edmonton

        Now you are being silly, the Oil demise is not that simple. The trade was really Ebs for Strome plus cap space. Had PC used the cap space this would have been much better for the Oil. A good chance that Strome plus some 3M player would have helped the OIl more than Ebs. Unused cap space might be PC’s worst move (or non move) this year.

        • Soccer Steve

          Another tough guy with a big mouth behind a keyboard.

          But how am I being silly? I merely compared the player against the player in the trade. All else beyond that has nothing to do with it. Chiarelli was being silly, not me.

          And the unused cap space argument is silly. You don’t know all the angles. For all we fans know, Katz told Pete: “we have a cup contender (says all MSM). No more money out.” The chance of this is high, in my opinion.

    • hammer313

      There has been a lot of talk on how Edmonton got burned on this trade. I don’t know if anyone knows that the line of Eberle and Barzal is one of the worst in the NHL defensively. That was one of the reasons Eberle was drummed out of this town, he was useless in the defensive zone. I agree, we won the trade and I think Strome has more upside!

      • Jason Gregor

        @hammer313. Your comment is completely false Worst in the defensive zone? Eberle has been on ice for 53 GF and 43 against at 5×5. Barzal and Eberle when they are together have been on for 41 goals for and allowed 28. When on the ice together they have CF of 53.7%. Their Fenwick For is the same 53%. They are not getting killed defensively, far from it in fact.

    • A-Mc

      There’s also the angle that we moved a winger for a center, and centers are more valuable. If PC rationalizes this trade in a similar manner that you have, hopefully he does not apply this same logic to Nuge because we’ll be on the losing end of the positional transaction (Moving a C for a W).

  • Rebuild3.0

    “Playing RNH on the wing in the top-six gives him a better opportunity to produce the points you’d expect from a $6 million player”

    so when will you be writing about lucic not producing close to what we expect from a $6 mil player? why take unnecessary shots at nuge?

    • Mitchvar9412

      Lucic was never signed as a point guy… He was signed as an insurance policy with some potential to put up decent numbers. He’s gone on his worst stretch of his career, ya we get it, but the guy has never been an 80 point guy. His career ppg is 0.6. Which over an 82 game schedule is 49 pts. He’s at 32, so yes his production has dropped a bit from his prime years in Boston but I have no problem with him being third in the league in hits and putting up just under his career average in an obvious down season. Further, this isnt a knock on Nuge article. It is saying that to utilize our cap space better we should be using out six million dollar 24 year old to score more goals because hes a better overall player than strome and not a player you put in the shade of the third line.

      • Rebuild3.0

        lucic wasnt signed for points so that gives him a pass for being dead weight and the reason a better player (klefbom/rnh) will have to be moved? great.

        • Mitchvar9412

          Alright then. Let me compare him to Rick Nash, Jonathan Drouin, Cam Atkinson, etc. Nash also has 32 points in his 68 games this season and is being paid 1.5 million dollars more… Nash doesn’t bring much of a physical game and is -4 in his 8 games with Boston. Drouin is being paid 5.5 mil. to score one more point than Lucic. Atkinson has 29. Tell me again how Lucic is dead weight when he makes the hits of the week every week and puts up comparable numbers to his entire career. I agree, he may not be the best option at 6 million, I’m not defending the contract. But for you to say that he is basically a useless hockey player is just your blind arm chair gm anger with a team that is under achieving. Price you pay for free agents at anytime. We resent his contract yet the leafs signed clarkson to a massive one, the bruins with beleski. I dont know about you but id rather have lucic over both of those players.

          • Slipknot 8

            Both you and Rebuild 3.0 are a little off……
            A 50 to 55 point player in the NHL is a producer, not to mention Lucic WAS brought in for his 5×5 production & leadership which was considerable when you look at his body of work over time, Lucic never played much PP in Bos and some in L.A.
            So his 5×5 contribution was actually substantial given it was largely 5×5 production.
            Having said that Lucic has hit a wall and his production is likely going to plummet like an anvil and his contract will be a death grip on the Oilers Cap management

        • Mitchvar9412

          how can you say he’s dead weight when hes playing basically the identical brand of hockey he has for the last ten years. you cant just sign a guy to a contract and expect him to go from matt martin to jamie benn

        • Fred Nation

          Lucic signing was just plain stupid. Watched him closely in his last playoff game in LA, knowing he was a UFA. Concluded that although he brought grit, he was not good in his own zone, and more importantly, was slow responding and reacting, despite having decent straight line speed. After Chia signed him, I was worried about years 3+, and now we are seeing things looking bleak in year 2. Lucic is not the real problem, the contract and term that Chia signed him to are what makes Lucic a problem. Oilers are going to have to move better players because they have a player under contract for 5 more years that is so over-paid and has a buy-out proof contract, so he is un-tradeable. I don’t even see him as a fit for 3rd line because he does not show good D-zone hockey sense, struggles to get pucks out of the zone off the boards, and is well beyond getting better because of age. If he was signed for less $ and shorter term, then he would be useful going from 3rd line to 1st or 2nd when called upon. As it stands, contract is a dud.

          • wiseguy

            At the time it was between Lucic and Okposo and some wanted Okposo because he is not as slow. Okposo has 38 points but is -29 this year. UFA’s are always overpaid but given that they are both paid the same $6 million, Lucic doesn’t seem so bad especially since we needed the intimidation factor desperately 2 years ago.

    • Jason Gregor

      Rebuild 3.0. Your disdain for Lucic seems to make you think every article is about him. It wasn’t.

      The line, “Playing RNH on the wing in the top-six gives him a better opportunity to produce the points you’d expect from a $6 million player.” Was not a shot at him, it was pointing out how if you pay him a lot put him in the top-six where he has better chance to produce to his salary rather than play him on the 3rd line where he won’t produce many points.

      Newsflash. We all know Lucic is struggling. Not every article has to be about it. Also, guess what, Lucic is paid a lot and team plays him in top six, which is exactly what I said they should do to RNH. Unsure how you perceived that as a shot at RNH. It wasn’t. You were mistaken.

    • crabman

      @Rebuild, the story was about maximizing Nuge not Nuge needs to be better at $6M. But with the contracts that have been handed out, like the Lucic contract, and the teams need for a top line winger it would seem a waste having a highly skilled, highly paid player centering the 3rd line when someone half his salary could do a simular job.
      This is a Nuge article, that’s why Gregor isn’t writing about Lucic. There is plenty written and talked about in the Lucic contract department.

  • A-Mc

    If Nuge gets moved out for a low cost winger (Eberle for Strome type deal), i’ll be really upset with Oiler Management. Diluting team skill for the sake of Cap management, while overpaying others is not a winning recipe.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      You my friend are 100% right. However Katz, I’m sure likes the diluted team as it gives him a draw, while spending less.
      I want to see Katz own a team that has won something? He seems to be quite passionate & I think the winning passion will be so that he won’t want that feeling to leave? I hope I am right. But, from what I see this will be an amazing moment for the team looking forward after a cup. He is going to enjoy that feeling he’s never experienced as the owner of the Oilers. That’s my theory. He is satisfied now with mediocrity & money, & “Six-Rings” & the Boys. I hope that changes? I believe it will & he’ll see the light.