Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins Creating Chemistry

Playing with Connor McDavid is what every Oilers forward wants, but producing points and learning how to be productive with him isn’t as easy as some think. Not everyone can produce when playing with McDavid. Patrick Maroon learned where to go and when to go to spots to ensure McDavid could get him the puck. He had success with McDavid despite not being the fleetest of foot. Leon Draisaitl and McDavid were dynamic, despite their differences. McDavid loves to attack with speed, while Draisaitl prefers to slow the game down at times. They were the most prolific duo in the NHL last season.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been McDavid’s teammate for three years, but he centred his own line and watched McDavid’s brilliance from the bench. That changed on Saturday, and for the past three games Nugent-Hopkins has lined up McDavid’s left wing. So far, they have looked good.

In the past three games, one thing that has stood out for me is their ability to read off one another, especially on those short, leading passes, where they have sprung each other for breakaways. They haven’t scored on those chances yet — McDavid was stopped in Calgary, while Nugent-Hopkins didn’t bury his breakaway last night — but in each of the past three games, they have read off each other’s instincts when one has the puck in the middle of the ice just outside the blueline and the other has darted up the middle and received a perfectly timed and placed pass.

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They have similar instincts.

“I feel like it has clicked well so far,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “Maybe it is just because it is Connor and he always finds ways to get chances and opportunities, but I feel we have read off each other very well. We have been teammates for three years, but haven’t been on the same line so we are still getting a taste of what each other can do. I think we see the game fairly similar. Obviously, he does things nobody else in the league can do, but as far as reading the play, we see it similar.

“In the first period against Minnesota, it took a couple shifts to get into it, but after that I think we have found our chemistry and I think it will only get better,” continued Nugent-Hopkins.

Jesse Puljujarvi has a new number and I don't know how to feel about it

They have created many chances, but at EV they haven’t capitalized on as many as they’d like. They have combined for two goals and four assists in three games, while Pontus Aberg has chipped in with one assist. The trio has 18 shots in three games, but haven’t finished many of their best chances.

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“I probably should have just one-timed it. When it hit my stick it bobbled a bit and I couldn’t get the catch and release I was hoping for,” explained Nugent-Hopkins on missing a scoring chance in the third period last night.

“Playing with him, I’m always expecting the puck. Even when the play is almost dead he will find a way to make the extra play. I’ve learned over the past few games you can’t take your eye off him and be ready for the puck,” Nugent-Hopkins explained.

He admitted he needs to be on alert all the time. McDavid makes plays like no one he’s played with before. It will take some time to adjust, and if you look at their analytics through three games you can see they have room to grow.

** SF is shots for, SCF is scoring chances for and GF is goals for***

Game           CF-CA    FF-FA     SF-SA     SCF-SCA     GF-GA
Minnesota    16-23    11-16     9-12         8-18            0-0
Calgary         18-10    13-9        8-5          8-6              0-0
San Jose        12-16    9-14       8-8          5-8              2-0

The did connect for two goals versus Minnesota, but because RNH had changed on the fly after passing to McDavid Natural Stat Trick doesn’t count it as a 5×5 goal. These are small details of analytics that need to be improved and I’d also like to see who tracks their scoring chances, because I often disagree with the numbers, but I digress. Their other goal was an empty net tally.

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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

The other factor to remember is Nugent-Hopkins is playing wing for the first time in his NHL career, and while the overall defensive responsibilities of a winger are easier than a centre, there are still challenges moving to the wing that Nugent-Hopkins hasn’t encountered.

“It is different. It is easier, but it is harder. Those pucks come ringing around the boards on you (as a winger) fast and there is a lot less you can do with it. As a centreman you have more options. You have backhand, you have the forehand, you have back pass, but as a winger you have to make that play and make it instantly. There is often a defender closing down on you and everyone is so good at reloading and pinching you off, especially San Jose who are known for that. At times I struggled with that and I still need to get more comfortable making those plays on the wall. I have a new respect for all the wingers out there.

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“As for the overall transition from centre to the wing, I felt pretty good. We are pretty good at reading each other for when I’m going low first (in the D zone) or him and I’m trying to make it a little easier for him defensively,” answered Nugent-Hopkins.

Aberg hasn’t looked out of place, but he hasn’t shown much finish or scoring prowess yet. I’m sure it is very intimidating for him to play with those two, especially McDavid, and as we saw with Maroon-McDavid-Draisaitl last season, it is unlikely all three put up big numbers. Aberg mains focus is to be good defensively, but if he doesn’t start to make more plays or finish off the odd pass, I’m not sure how long he will stay there.

I’d give him more than three games though, and I would surely keep Nugent-Hopkins on McDavid’s for the remainder of the season and give them more opportunities to enhance their chemistry and production.

So far they have played well — not great, but very solid — and without question they have the potential to become more lethal offensively.

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****I also would keep Puljujarvi with Draisaitl. The Oilers will need two solid lines, or duos, to be competitive so I’d like to see more of #98 and #29 together.**

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • ziyan94

    The quote that matters to me is how Nuge said he and McDavid “are pretty good at reading each other”. That’s all I need to know, I hope they get to play together next year

  • Serious Gord

    So how many of us have been asking for this pairing? At least since the beginning of the season. And if recall some of us were looking for this before Christmas 2016.

    Yet TMC played them together – if memory serves – Less than ten minutes last year and hardly that much more until very recently this season (yet tmc shuffled lines every game).

    The reason for the pairing has always been simple and obvious: RNH is too good to be playing 3rd line centre and getting 3rd line minutes. The dearth of talent on the wing MANDATES that either RNH fills that void of he has to be traded to fill it.

    So he should have been put on the wing long ago.

    That he’s only now getting a shot is evidence of incompetence on both chias and tmcs part.

  • Consultant

    One article today talks about how great they look together (I agree), then another (Spector’s) talks about how Nuge is perhaps being showcased for a trade to Ottawa… Tough being an Oilers fan nowadays, get excited about a player combo only to worry our GM with his .125 batting average will ship him off. This looks to be working! Let’s trade him! Management seems stuck on continuity, but only for themselves not the players.

      • Serious Gord

        I don’t believe for a second that spect “hates” the oilers. What does have is no respect for the executives running the team. After all the years he’s covered them up close how could he?

      • crabman

        Spector was talking about how it was a stupid idea to play Nuge on the wing when he is a good center. Saying it doesn’t make sense to try and convert a center to wing.
        Spector is an idiot. The option is make Nuge a winger or trade him for a winger. The plan is to make Draisaitl a center long-term and Nuge is too good to be stuck on the 3rd line. If he can be a 1LW and give us cover as a replacement at center if their is an injury why should he be traded for a winger?
        I hope they catch fire enough to make it impossible to trade him for another winger.

        I’m not sold on Aburg as their other winger. I love his speed and the fact that he is shoot 1st. But I would prefer a winger with some more size and better on the wall and the cycle to be on that line. I don’t know if they have that player right now but I would like to see some more auditions on the right side to do the grunt work. Kassian or Slepyshev maybe. I don’t think that is the answer long-term but I would like to see some different options to close out the season.

    • ed from edmonton

      Spec does not have the Oil. He does write what he thinks and is more subjective about the Oil than other media people in this town. Sometimes the truth hurts.

  • GK1980

    ****I also would keep Puljujarvi with Draisaitl. The Oilers will need two solid lines, or duos, to be competitive so I’d like to see more of #98 and #29 together.**

    Yes yes yes, Ala Pittsburgh with Malkin and Crosby. Can Drai become a poor mans Malkin? We shall see.

  • DannyGallivan

    McJesus needs two wingers to leverage his skills, neither of which can be Drai as he needs to drive his own line. We will know by the end of the year if that is RHN. If he works then no sense in trading him for someone you are not sure of. The key is the other side – Aberg is probably NOT the guy. We may find he is by the end of the season but likely not.

    We need to develop within rather than having Chia make another bad trade….IMHO.

  • ScottV

    Drai needs to make it work with Lucic and Puljujarvi. Which means less rush stuff and more deep possession stuff. Cut the east west entry stuff that gets him in trouble and drive the puck wide and low. Work it from there in similar fashion to what Khaira is doing with his guys.

    Like it or not – somebody has work with Lucic and no – mass shoot mass retrieval isn’t gonna cut it with the big guy McL. Doesnt cut it with anybody but least of all Lucic.

    After years of wanting to see McD and Nuge together, it’s early but agreed – looks promising. Aberg? Give it a few more games but I have my doubts.

    • Oiler Al

      Lucic with Drai is wasting #29’s talent. Lucic cant make nor take passes effectively,and he is “Harry Ham Hands” around the net! You are correct in that he has to play with someone….. that I think would be on the third line.

    • Beer_League_Ringer

      Watching huge men (Lucic, Drai, Puljujarvi) trying to “pretty” play their way into the middle of the ice last night made me want to puke. Put pucks behind D while in full stride: first man in takes body, second man takes puck. They teach that in Pee Wee (and it works). Oh right, Pee Wees listen to their coach and play as a team. One correct thing T-McL has said all year is “get pucks deep”. Drai’s forced (completely telegraphed) cross-seam that resulted in a goal going the other way is a capital offense on all good teams. Remember the patented Eberle button-hook cough up? Ugh!!! 750+lbs of meat on that line and they only ground shifts out down low a few times last night… They were effective shifts.

  • corky

    Hopefully if Tmac is still coach next year he is more willing to experiment and not be so stubborn in regards to change. Go into the season like they have nothing to lose and gamble way more. Look at the Eagles in the NFL. Constantly rolling the dice and they found success. Dont just try new stuff in garbage time.

  • Dapper Dan 3099

    Sadly I think Nuge and/or Kelfbom will be the off-season casualty of an extremely panicked Oilers management team, which likely results in another trade that we lose….. Now that Nuge raised his value from last year, the minute Snow or Shero call with a 5th round pick and a prospect playing in the beer leagues, Chia will pounce on it for cap relief reasons…. and Klefbom has been playing injured all year and trading him now while his value is really low would be really dumb…..and kind of an Oilers thing to do…watch him bounce back (on another team) when he gets healthy. ….man I hope Im wrong

  • forsberg21

    Although it’s nice to have the ability to play either Nuge or Draisatl on the wing is great for next year, it does hinge on Strome’s ability to hold is own as a 3rd line centre (something I think he can do). I’d love to see Chiarelli pick up a cheap gun-for-hire free agent scorer this year like Vanek or Grabner to add to the top six. I’d love to see a Hornqvist or JVR come to but I don’t think the funds are there. I would try to take a flyer on Domi with a 2nd, the kid’s a talented player on a dumpster fire of a team and still puts up some points.


    Vanek/Draisatl/Nuge gives you a lot of versatility on either wing and there’s a decent chance Looch bounces back and puts up a half-decent season and can fill in as well (15-20G, 40-45Pts I think is fair) which could push down the rookies.

    • Hemmercules

      Its coming. I’m not getting too excited about him playing well with McDavid because in a couple months he probably won’t be an Oiler. I really hope they keep him but Chia will be looking to make some moves this summer and Nuge is his biggest chip. We can only hope the deal is fair this time.

        • Hemmercules

          I’m not afraid really, I have already accepted that Nuge is playing his final games as an Oiler. He will likely get traded for a lesser return to clear cap for Leon and Connor. Its the Oilers way now. Out of our control so why worry. On to the next season.

  • Simba99

    What does it matter unless heaven and earth is moved to get rid of lucic bug is gone. You need this you need that you ain’t paying anyone d or forward or goalies more than 4 mil a year unless they magically grew some on the farm which they haven’t so you have to spend buildingfor the next 8 years to get back into the playoff cause the oilers aren’t making it anytime soon!!! But hey we’ve had 10 out the last 11 to prepare for this

  • Crakupov

    The player they should be showcasing is Puljujarvi. The kid just does not have the competitive drive for the NHL. The Oil should have dealt his last year for someone like Duchene.

  • Time to Ride

    I noticed during the Sharks game that the McDavid line was having trouble maintaining puck control along the boards in the offensive end. It seems to me that it would be better to swap Aberg with someone with more size and grit who still has enough speed to keep up with McDavid and Nuge. Doesn’t that sound a lot like like Kaira?

  • pkam

    Nuge has 3 pts and +3 in the 3 games playing with McDavid. So why TMax didn’t put RNH and McDavid together earlier? I know it is small sample size, but Drisaitl has only 1 pt and -4 in the same 3 games.

    I wonder what the score would be if we kept Drisaitl and McDavid together and let Nuge centered his own line last night. TMac knows Nuge can play against the toughest opposition, but can Drisaitl? The only good thing that can come out of this wasted season is now TMac has no pressure and can be comfortable to find out the answer in the remaining of this season.

  • Quoteright

    Nuge will look good with mcdavid but I think he would click well with Leon and really mcdavid doesn’t need him like Leon would
    Playing with mcdavid should be a one year deal, contract booster for borderline free agents who we get for cheap
    Let the bottom six compete for minutes with him
    Not 6 and 8 million dollar wingers
    Crazy that they never let the two most gifted vision players play together till now