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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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  • 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

          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

        • 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

        • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  • The Immortal

    Problem is Strome isn’t a very good 3C either. He’s small, slow, and plays like he’s scared. I can’t even remember the last time I saw him take a hit to make a play, or hit someone for that matter. And since he’s an rfa we’ll have to qualify him at the mandated raise % of the cba, which escapes me at this moment.

    Considering we never used the supposed cap savings by getting rid of 14, the acquisition of Strome, a legitimate 1st round bust, was extremely stupid.

  • russ99a

    Early results, small sample size, but RNH-McDavid got caved in HDSC. So if we’re throwing Nuge’s defensive acumen away to chase offense, aren’t we diminishing his value to the team? Then that $6M for the next 3 years comes into question. If Strome can hold down 3C for under $3M, we can find a winger with a shot who’s better on the wall for a lot less than $6M…

  • 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/

  • 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!

  • Gravis82

    I have been saying this for a long time. Best way to fix this team is to put all of your best players as high up the lineup as possible and play them as much as possible. Note, that on a completed team this will not be balanced, but this team is not complete, it needs many additions. Playing Nuge Drai and McDavid on the top line fills in the most expensive forward positions with top line players under contract. This just makes filling out the roster easier and less expensive. Elevate Strome to 2C and Kharia to 3C. 4th line will take care of itself. Put Lucic and Aberg/someone else on the 3rd. Put puljujarvi and a REALLY good LW on the 2nd. There, forwards fixed by adding one significant player.

    • pkam

      The problem with this approach is once your opponent shutdown your top line, you have nothing else to go for. Remember the Spezza, Alfredsson, and Heatley line of the Senators? They were almost unstoppable until they met the Ducks in the cup final. The Ducks managed to shutdown that line and it was the most lopsided cup final in the last 10 years.

        • pkam

          With 27M tie up in the top line, 6M in the 3rd, and 18M in top 4 D (provided we don’t upgrade with a true 1st line D), 4M for Talbot. Assume we resign Nurse at 4M, that is 59M for 4 forward, 1 goalie and 5D. Excluding the 3 second liners, we still need 10 more players – 7 forwards, 2 defense and a backup goalie. If we assume average 1M per player, it will be able 10M. If the cap next year is 78M, it will leave 9M for your 2nd line. Do you think that is enough for a quality 2nd line? And Ryan Strome is not a quality 2C. But he will command 3M+ in his new contract. Puljujarvi may or may not be a quality winger this year. And if he becomes a quality winger by the end of next season, he will command 3M+ for his next RFA contract. I just don’t see how you can build a quality 2nd line with 9M-.

          • Gravis82

            with my suggestion we need to sign one 30 goal LW, thats it. Pretty sure kane can be had for reasonable price. The rest can be players on the cheap who are much better than their salary. This is how team win cups. They have GM that make it happen.