Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuge is a winger

Let’s say this together. Five times, real loud for the people in the back.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a winger. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a winger. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a winger. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a winger. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a winger.

No longer should we view RNH as a second or third-line threat down the middle of the ice for the Oilers. It’s time to accept fate and embrace the fact that not only is he better suited on the wing, he’s likely the answer to the nagging and debilitating, “Who the hell will play with Connor McDavid,” question.

The answer to that, quite clearly, is The Nuge. If their chemistry and production at the tail-end of the Oilers’ season wasn’t enough to convince you that RNH and McDavid should be spending each waking hockey moment by each other’s sides, then look no further than the duo’s recent prowess at the IIHF Worlds.

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Anchoring the top line, McDavid ranks first among Canadian forwards in goals, assists, points (5-8—13) and ice time, while RNH leads the way in the shots department with 27 and sits just behind McDavid in goals (4), points (7) and TOI  — and they’ve done it playing together almost every even-strength minute of the tournament.

The pair’s prowess goes deeper than the numbers, too, as the eye-test has been more than kind for McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins during their seven preliminary games together in Denmark.

Both have visibly enjoyed going on the offensive together throughout this tournament, and when guys of this calibre are playing loose and free, it really makes you believe that chemistry — no matter how unquantifiable it may be — is a real damn thing.

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The pair have teamed up on a number of tallies throughout the preliminary round, including the absurd McDavid OT winner Monday in Canada’s penultimate round-robin contest against the Latvians. During Wednesday’s clash against Germany, McDavid and RNH tallied the assists on Brayden Schenn’s game-winner just 20 seconds into the opening frame, and connected again later for a Nugent-Hopkins insurance tally off a gorgeous drop pass from No. 97.

This tournament alone has been flooded with prime examples of why the obvious answer to McDavid’s wing-woes is RNH, and when you pair that with the success the duo saw during their month together on the Oilers’ top line at the end of last season, a permanent move to the wing for Nugent-Hopkins becomes an absolute no-brainer.

Todd McLellan finally decided to unite the two for a March 10th contest against the Wild and they clicked instantly, as RNH set up McDavid for the game’s opening goal before the captain returned the favour on a Nugent-Hopkins empty-netter — which happened to be the Nuge’s 300th NHL point.

In the 13 games they played together to cap off the campaign, RNH scored at a 1.15 point-per-game pace. In the 49 games prior, he was registering just 0.67 PPG. McDavid saw his production increase heavily (somehow) after the two joined forces as well, posting 27 points since that fateful March evening — Improving to a 1.80 point-per-game pace from the 1.21 he posted without The Nuge by his side.

So, let’s stop overthinking it. Nugent-Hopkins is officially McDavid’s winger, and that should sound like music to the ears of Oilers fans who have been at the forefront of the first-line debate for the better part of three seasons.

  • Gravis82

    Drai is a better center than Nuge. And Nuge is just as good a winger with McDavid.

    Too bad no more Hall to play with Leon. That would have been a stellar 1-2 combo wow.

    • crabman

      Couldn’t ask for a better top line winger. Has chemistry with McDavid. Has great hockey IQ. Can pick up the nuances of playing a new position without missing a beat. And provides depth and cover at center if there is an injury or the coach just wants a different look. How many wingers can say that?

  • crabman

    Gotta love Nuge, the ultimate team player. Drafted for offence but team defence sucked so he tried to be the responsible center not cheating for offence at the detriment of his own stats. Slid down to 3rd line center at times, and played with lesser wingers, so the team would have depth at center and never once did we hear grumblings or complaints from him or his agent. Moved off top pp to have a more balanced 1 2 PP, no complaining. Now asked to stop playing his natural position and convert to a winger for the good of the team, albeit a spot on the top line with the best player in the world.
    For a #1 overall to be such a selfless, team first player shows his great character and we are lucky to have him as an Oiler. I’m happy he and McDavid are clicking. It gives the Oilers a powerful top line and takes away any reason for Chiarelli to move Nuge. Nuge gives us the top end winger we need to play with McDavid while also giving us center depth incase of injuries. The Oilers couldn’t ask for a better option at this point.

    • geoilersgist

      This 1000x over. Nuge is the ultimate team player. Defence will lead to offense, I believe there was a guy named Steven Y who was coached to play defence before offence and he turned out alright. Dare to dream Nuge becomes that kind of player beside McDavid.

      • ManagerForHire

        Actually he was far ahead offensively of where Nuge has ever been so far in his career and learned to sacrifice offence for defence and became a better all around player. But I get what you’re saying.

  • Consultant

    And despite all this there are still rumors that idiot Chia might trade him for Pacorietty.
    It seems crazy, but as shocking as it sounds and as horrible as it would be, sadly we must keep in mind he is more than capable of laying another egg, in fact it would be his “best” trade out of his moves the previous three summers (Reinhart, Hall, Eberle).
    Please someone tell me Chia no longer has total authority to make trades.

    • El Petrolero

      Lowetide and the commenters on his blog were actually speculating that there might be an oversight committee preventing him from making any desperate, win-now trades in an attempt to save his job. However, that begs the question of who is the oversight committee, and are they capable of making frugal, but effective deals? Given the people still in positions of management and decision making, I’d have to guess the answer is unfortunately no.

    • Leichs

      Its funny because both him and nuge were talking about nuge playing on connors wing and nuge was saying he wasnt sure where all this talk came from about him playing wing. And coach basically said hes trying it because the media kept asking for it. That was before his first game with connor. I find it funny that the media has to beg him for years to make such an obvious move. I give us fans the true credit for this finally happening. Coach stubborn will have him back at center for the first pre season game im sure. Just like it took him half a season to take letestu off the pp. Always one step behind eh

  • Kr55

    McLellan should be fired just for taking 2.8 years to try Nuge on the wing. It couldn’t have been more clear, Nuge’s best strength was his shot, and the defensive responsibility of playing C was killing his offensive game, every play was 1 and done (if you got the 1) when he was centering a line because he would cheat for defense always. Add to that how it was more than obvious last playoffs that we need Drai being #2C long term and 17/18 should have been a year to figure that out from day 1. Nope, Drai as #2C didn’t even survive pre-season.