Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Three Thoughts: RNH not going anywhere

At various times this season, some fans opined it made sense to have Edmonton Oilers’ GM Pete Chiarelli trade Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and his $6-million salary to address holes in the roster. Others insisted that coach Todd McLellan should play him on the wing alongside Connor McDavid rather than have him languish as an overpaid and under-utilized third-line centre.

Those in latter group are crowing today, as they should, because if rolling the dice and letting Chiarelli send away the talented RNH for God-knows-who wasn’t a dim idea the moment it was hatched, it’s obvious it is now the way RNH has looked playing the left wall with No. 97 and, of late, Ty Rattie. The latest example was a 6-2 waxing of the Ottawa Senators Thursday.

Nugent-Hopkins scored a goal and added two assists for a three-point night — McDavid had 2-2-4 and Rattie 1-1-2 — and he now has tallied 4-5-9 in the seven games he’s played as a wingman for the soon to be two-time Art Ross Trophy winner. If Chiarelli and McLellan are thinking straight, you can forget any talk of moving RNH for something else and write him in with ink as McDavid’s left winger for next season.

While it’s impossible to justify paying a third-line centre $6 million a season when you’ve already got a third-line winger making that much lettuce in Milan Lucic — which was the case when McLellan was running McDavid as his first line pivotman, Leon Draisaitl as his second and RNH as his third — Nugent-Hopkins has looked like money in the bank on LW with his captain. It’s like Nuge was born there.

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Mar 20, 2018; Raleigh, NC, USA; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Matt Benning (83) celebrates his first period goal with forward Connor McDavid (97) and forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

I can understand if some might think I’m rushing to judgment based on seven games, but I don’t think so. RNH has hockey IQ. He’s smart with the puck, he makes plays and he knows where to go and when to be there. That holds true whether you’re talking about playing down the middle or on the wing. There are, of course, different demands playing each position, but smart players are smart players and RNH is most certainly that. He’s adjusted in a blink.

Nugent-Hopkins, who turns 25 next month, has tallied 21-21-42 in just 56 games. Whether you want to call it chemistry or something else — I tend to think it’s the ability to process the game at the same level more than anything else — RNH has the attributes to play with McDavid. That’s not going to change. With what we’ve seen from RNH over seven seasons, not just seven games, I think it would be foolish to dismiss what we’re seeing as just a hot streak.

From where I sit, the Captain Obvious play is to go into the off-season treating Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid as a duo. While Rattie has impressed in the looks he’s had on the line, he doesn’t have the same track record and you can’t count on what we’re seeing from him right now lasting. Maybe it does, or maybe the former Portland junior is just keeping the spot warm for Jesse Puljujarvi. We don’t know yet.

If I’m McLellan, Draisaitl stays right where he is as my second-line centre. If I’m Chiarelli, I’m making sure this off-season that I’ve got enough help for Leon on both sides, or at the very least, that he’s got a running mate, be it left side or right side. If that’s somebody on the roster, fine. More than likely, given the lack of depth we’ve seen on the walls, it’ll mean adding somebody. Either way, none of what Chiarelli needs to do this summer has anything to do with sending away Nugent-Hopkins.

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Feb 1, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) celebrates a second period goal against the Colorado Avalanche at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

With his four-point night against the Senators, McDavid now has 36-58-94, leaving him one back of Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov atop the NHL scoring race. As was the case last season, McDavid has been lighting it up down the stretch. His 36 goals is a career high. Is there anybody betting against him getting 100 points for the second time and hitting 40 goals for the first time? Not me.

Without a pure finisher to rely on, McDavid has taken it upon himself to shoot more. Not a lot more, but more. He had five shots against the Senators and he now has 249 on the season. McDavid is averaging 3.36 shots per game with a shooting percentage of 14.5 Last season, when he had 30 goals, he had 251 shots (3.06 per game), connecting at a 12.0 per cent clip.


I understand — although I don’t agree with — the lament by some people that Puljujarvi isn’t getting the sugar time looks that other players are from McLellan, but I think the idea that the big Finn is being held back or somehow screwed over by the Oilers is way overblown. The most reasonable take I’ve heard comes from former Oiler player and coach Craig Simpson. You can read that here. Puljujarvi is going to be a top-six forward for the Oilers and a fixture on the power play down the road. He isn’t, and doesn’t have to be, that now.


  • Facts

    Just posted this on previous thread but I’ll post it here because its more current.
    Obviously no one trades Nuge one for one, especially not one for one for Hoffman.
    However, does anyone do Nuge for Hoffman + Ceci?
    Not saying I would but this would solve more than one problem.

    • Rebuild3.0

      what is with oilers fans and wanting to trade their own good players???? not to mention theres no chance ottawa does that trade nor could the oilers take that much salary. good grief

    • Hemmercules

      Oilers already have a Cody Ceci type player named Matt Benning. Ceci gets few more points but he isn’t better defensively. Going off Chias past trades it would be more like Hoffman for Nuge 1 for 1. Hoff and Nuge have pretty close salaries and points, seems like a wasted trade.

  • Rebuild3.0

    rnh and mcdavid look great together and it also gives a safeguard in case of injury. nuge can not only play wing but can slot back in as a centre if needed. thats a huge luxury for the oilers to have

  • Hemmercules

    The fact that Nuge is still on the team makes me think that Chia likes him and wants to keep him. That said, I have this sinking feeling he’s gone this summer in another not so great trade. I wont be at all surprised when they ship him out for a cheap winger and a second rate Dman. If the cap goes up to 80+ it wont be as hard to keep his 6mil but I think Chia will be shopping for cheaper options.

  • Quoteright

    The NHL is brocken.
    Due to tax exemptions, weather, stress levels and comfort, it seems that all the Canadian cities that pay for the league, have to all offer more to free agents and are hampered under the salary cap. Winnipeg managed to stay the course with amazing drafting and development with Savy trades which has lead to their current success. Toronto is on the same path and is finding success after decades of floundering away on overpriced free agents. Remember before Mcd when we couldn’t get anyone to come, the lucic signing was the first coveted free agent we actually signed.
    Draft, develop and patience is needed with this team and let them have fun and play their way out of this.
    No big free agents
    No big trades
    No need to fire anyone ( Id give the coach 10 games next season to see how they start unless Quinville is made available)
    We need patience and a drop in ticket prices

  • ubermiguel

    Thank Gord we finally know how good Nuge the winger is. If Chiarelli trades Nuge this summer I will stop being an Oilers fan until Chiarelli is gone.

    Odd bit of trivia I just realized: the Oilers currently have 3 of the top 5 picks of the 2011 draft on their roster (Nuge, Larsson, Strome).

  • ed from edmonton

    Agree with Brownlee and others that the focus on JP is misplaced. If one looks at the development of big forwards, they take longer to develop than smaller quick guys. Maybe the poster child for this Cam Neely, after 3 so so years in lotus land he blossomed in Bean Town. People who lament the lack of prime ice time for JP, probably the same crowd who wanted the OIl to play Yak more. I’m not comparing JP to Yak ,at least JP looks like he wants to learn how the play in the NHL.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Look back at the articles & scouting reports pre-Pullijarvi draft. Laine & Pully went high in the first round. They were scouted very close.
      Laine had more of “the shot” & Pully was the playmaker, with the hockey sense. We have seen some of the latter lately.
      I don’t need to tell you how Laine has progressed & fit in. JP just needs to gain some confidence & swagger. I would play the heck out of him with the top lines for the rest of this season. I would also suggest he check out the Oates camp with McDavid in the off-season. I know the players are out of contract & can’t be told what to do in the off-season. But I do think that JP is open to developing & needs to be encouraged & invited.
      Whatever the Peg has done with Laine has proven to be effective. Not playing JP at the highest level hasn’t been…
      Why oh why did we waste a roster spot on Yamamoto for 9 games when we could have encouraged a top tier draft pick?
      That was just one of the extremely poor decisions that contributed to this embarrassing season.

      • ed from edmonton

        One man’s “giving a guy a chance to excel” is another man’s “gifting minutes without earning”. Yamamoto was given the 9 games because he was the best RW is training camp, a huge indictment of every RW in the Oil organization. I suggest Laine has been given the minutes because he has been filing the net since day 1, no question about gifting him anything.

        • Glencontrolurstik

          I guess my point is that Chevy worked properly with Laine. He did, like every player need to be eased into the NHL and NA style of play. But that was all done at the NHL level, on the line he was meant to play on. It just seems that the Oilers just move players up and down. both in the leagues & the lines until “they learn.” Most players need to be coached & developed. This generation of players (for the most part) also needs their confidence stroked constantly, until they can stand up on their own. It seems the Oilers aren’t very good at that.

  • Oil9744

    Nuge Connor ?
    ? Drai Puljujarvi
    Drake Strome Yamamoto
    Khaira ? Kassian
    I don’t think there is to many question marks for the oilers forwards next season, If Rattie keeps playing we’ll he can take a spot as well, I’m thinking the oilers need a strong 4th line centre and faceoff guy since they lost Letestu unless maybe Jujhar can fit that spot, I’m just amazed it took Mclellan almost 3 full seasons to put Connor and Nuge together. Brutal.

    • Natejax97

      Put Aberg with Drai if he plays anything like the last 2 games…yikes that kid can fly and goes right to the net. you have that carrying the puck, Drai in support for the drop pass inside the blue line and hit the trailer Puljijarvi for a cross ice one timer with Aberg flying at the net. It just…..might…..work….

      • Oil9744

        Ya I like Aberg so far, I’m not sure what that whole beef with Mclellan was about but whatever, I’m kind of hoping the Oilers still pick at least one legit top 6 winger for next season though to play with Connor or Draisaital. Kovalchuk on that left wing with Drai and Puljujarvi would be deadly.

  • Spydyr

    For over two years I have been saying that Nuge should be with Connor. At first most did not agree a few did. Now due to Nuge’s play with Connor he has made himself almost untradable. Even the ” Oilers Braintrust” cannot be that obtuse and move Nuge.

    Now that is a good thing.

    • Hemmercules

      I think management has it in them to trade him away. No of their past work leads me to believe otherwise. I wont be the least bit surprised when they do. I really want him to stay but I’m preparing for the inevitable.

      • oilerjed

        I think the fact that Nuge is still here and Ebs and Hall are not, should be clear enough evidence that they plan on keeping him. There were lots of rumours out there that were sending Nuge out of town for a good RD but they never came to fruition. I don’t think that is a coincidence

  • ponokanocker

    Out of the original kids that were supposed to pull us out of the basement, Hall, Eberle, RNH and Yakupov, RNH was always my favorite. He couldn’t drive a line like Hall, nor can he snipe like Eberle, but he rarely ever took games off or portrayed a bad attitude. He learned the 2 way game after being an offensive juggernaut in junior and learned how to be a pro. His injury history isn’t great, but he has that hockey sense that is just so hard to teach, and very gifted with the puck. Here’s to hoping he retires an Oiler.

  • A few years ago I bought my dad a Nuge jersey knowing he’d play out his contract and beyond.
    (This coming from a guy who has a signed Eberle jersey and bought his wife a Hall jersey.)

    I’ve always maintained you don’t trade skilled two-way centremen. You just don’t do it.

    • Leo Tard

      I think all of us who own Eberle and Hall jerseys should have a burning party! I have promised myself to not ever buy another jersey. Each time I bought one, within a few months that player was traded. By this theory, It is 100% my fault that Hall got traded. I bought his jersey as the season was ending. Oiler jerseys hold. Dry little value once that player has been traded. Who knew?

  • JimmyV1965

    I never understood the whole RNH is a $6 mill 3C narrative. Even if he plays 3C on this team, he’s a top 6 forward on every team in the league. It won’t happen, but if we somehow get four wingers who fall in our lap and RNH plays 3C I’ll be quite happy with that.

    • TKB2677

      The fact that Nuge seems to have established some chemistry with McDavid I think puts any crazy idea of swapping Nuge for Hoffman to bed. Maybe Hoffman can score a few more goals but Nuge is a far more well rounded player. He can play both special teams and sub in at center. Hoffman can’t do any of that. IF Hoffman was WAY cheaper then maybe but he makes almost 5.2 mill. So you aren’t even saving much contract wise.

      I originally thought they had to get rid of Nuge because he made too much money for what he produced. With 8 games left, Nuge probably scores 2 or 3 goals getting close to 25 and will be close to 50 points while missing almost 1/4 of the season. If Nuge is scoring you well over 20 goals, pushing 60 pts AND doing the other things he does, the contract is fine.

  • Glencontrolurstik

    Not in every case, but in this case. It’s proof that coaching staff should listen a little closer to the fan base…
    Now, about that penalty kill???

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Good article, Robin. I think the other factor that’s helped make RNH a viable 1LW option is the emergence of Ryan Strome as a decent 3C option going forward. Strome’s a really good fit on that third line – so much so, I’m thinking that’s why we’ve seen McLellan put RNH on the first line. He’s now more comfortable that he isn’t robbing the third line to pay the first line.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      A very good point. I also want to point out that I see far more value for this team in Strome over Eberle.
      IF, the existing players can continue to develop. I see JP becoming the next Eberle. With development in the off-season, as early as next season. If the players develop as planned & expected. I can see (and wouldn’t have a problem with it) trading Draisaitl for a big piece of “D” or Goal? That is a BIG IF, if everyone develops as planned, Draisaitl is tradable.

  • crabman

    I’m excited about how well Nuge and McDavid are playing together. I posted a week ago that I could see the Oilers doing something like trading Klefbom for Hoffman and then doing something really stupid like trade Nuge to Carolina for Faulk. I also said I hope Nuge plays so well on McDavid’s wing that Chiarelli couldn’t even think about letting him go.
    I know It’s only been 7 games but they seem like a perfect match and I can’t see how anyone could possibly consider moving Nuge now.

  • crabman

    Nuge has never been that #1 overall pick that leads a team or dominates on his own. He is however a very good complementary player. He played well with Hall and Hall is a simular player to McDavid. They both play at a high speed and both like to drive the play and carry the puck. The difference is McDavid is better. Better offensively and defensively. Giving Nuge less defensive responsibility while pairing him with a world class player like McDavid has really worked out. He is playing like a point a game player on McDavid’s wing and is bound to have a career year next year if they keep them together.

    • JayTee

      He was originally supposed to be that guy. But the fact he took it upon himself to be a 2-way player rather than a one-dimensional offensive guy, he doesn’t need to be #1 guy to lead a team. He’s still a legit top-6 guy. He changed his game. He adapted.

  • Rama Lama

    The fact it took TM 74 games to try the Nuge along side Connor McDavid is very troubling………many people have suggested this including writers and pundits long ago.

    Just maybe the guy that needs to be traded is Todd McLellan??

  • Connor McFly

    RNH is a high- quality person and player. Trade him just after the Oil start using him wisely? He is a known quantity, unlike some other wingers from another organizations. My perrenial concern is the stubborn management and coaching staff. All Chia wants to do is fob off talent to other organizations for lesser talent. They had a potential winger for McDavid right under their noses and could not or refused to see it. There has to be better hockey people available who aren’t peeing down their leg when they need to build this organization into a winner and have no idea what they are doing. Chia and TMac have cost Katz’ millions of ducats with just one faltering season. That would make me question the wisdom of moving ahead with current management and coaching here and Bakersfield.

  • Bills Bills

    Out of the three previous first overall pics. Nuge has the most upside. PC knows this and I am sure that is why he is still here. Trading him is stupid. But having him on the same team as McDavid for almost 3 seasons and not trying them together was dumb too. Makes me wonder if it was actual outside media pressure that caused this.

    • BringitbacklikeSlats

      I tend to think it was just a rare dose of common sense getting through to the obtuse coach. For three years he didn’t think to try him on 97’s wing or better still not give him number one PP minutes even when it was beyond failure. This idiot is a supreme problem for this team calling the shots. I get continuity, but I cannot forgive his useless stubborn insistences on poor deployment. As far as I’m concerned he’s cost us the year and likely several NHL careers will not be what they could have been.