Nobody on the Oilers has been through what Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been through. There is a reason everyone loves The Nuge, he’s a survivor. As the longest-serving player in the most dysfunctional franchise in the league Nugent-Hopkins has seen some serious shit over the first eight years of his NHL career.
This guy is at a point now where he could request a trade and 95 percent of Oilers fans would be ok with the team granting his wish a setting him free, but he won’t. The former first overall pick is not a quitter. No matter the issue on or off the ice Nugent-Hopkins has kept his head down worked hard and said all the right things.
There was one the thing he said during his year-end availability that stood out while at the same time being completely understandable.
“The main thing is we’ve just got to figure it out and I think consistency with player personnel that does help. Personally, with me, I had a lot of wingers this year, I had to play the wing myself, I didn’t have a lot of stretches where I had the same line and I think that can be a little tough sometimes. You play with everybody so you do know each other but when you play together with a line for four or five games you start to build chemistry and start to find each other more and good things come from it. This year for me that’s not how it happened, so that’s got to be something I would like to see different in the future.”
That’s about as critical as Nugent-Hopkins has ever been and he’s absolutely right about everything.
If Nuge is frustrated about his lack of consistent linemates I’d love to know what he thinks about the rotating door behind the bench.
Nugent-Hopkins has now played eight seasons with the Oilers and the next head coach will be the eighth different bench boss he’s had.
It started with Tom Renney in 2011, followed by 49 games of Ralph Krueger, 113 games for Dallas Eakins and then a strange transition period from Craig MacTavish, which led to 51 games with Todd Nelson. Todd McLellan took over for 279 games, including playoffs, before giving way to Ken Hitchcock for the remainder of this season. I’m not sure any other player in the history of the National Hockey League has had a run like that.
So just how crazy was usage around Nugent-Hopkins this year? Let’s take a look.
First of all, he played a lot this year, 1648:22 at all strengths to be exact, good enough to be the 20th most used forward in the league. Leon Draisaitl led the league with 1852:27 and even though he missed a handful of games McDavid finished 7th at 1781:18.
Nuge’s most common linemate at 5×5 this season was Connor McDavid at 376 minutes.
The only other two players he spent more than 200 minutes on the ice with were Puljujarvi and Lucic.
I find this to be somewhat interesting. There were seven players who played between 100 and 200 hundred minutes with Nugent-Hopkins. Kassian, Khaira, Rattie, Gagner, Draisaitl, Caggiula, and Rieder all took turns with 93 this season.
Nugent-Hopkins played five on five minutes with 19 different forwards this season ranging from McDavid at the high end down to what looks like a shift or two with Brad Malone.
There we a lot of top end players who had similar ice to Nuge but for comparison’s sake I decided to take a look at players who played a similar amount 5 on 5 and also failed to make the playoffs. I narrowed the list down to Bo Horvat, Mika Zibandejad and Dylan Larkin who were 11th, 16th and 17th in time on ice among forwards 5 on 5.
Bo Horvat had similar deployment to Nugent-Hopkins. Horvat played more than 300 minutes with Eriksson and Boeser and was on the ice for over 200 minutes with Virtanen, Roussel and Goldobin. He also played between 100 and 200 minutes with six other players.
Mika Zibanejad played 923 minutes with Chris Kreider, which was almost triple what Nuge played with his most common linemate. Zibanejad actually played more with three of his teammates than Nuge did with any of his. Zuccarello (607 minutes), Namestnikov (406) and Buchnevich (378) all played more with Zibanejad than Nugent-Hopkins did with McDavid. The Rangers only had two forwards who played between 100 and 200 minutes with Zibanejad, five fewer players than what Nugent-Hopkins had to deal with.
Dylan Larkin had an excellent season for the Red Wings and did most of it while only playing with two players. Larkin played over 700 minutes with both Mantha and Nyquist. He spent over 300 minutes with Abdelkader and over 400 minutes with Bertuzzi.
FIND HIM HELP
If the next head coach of the Oilers wants to play McDavid and Draisaitl together the new GM will have to find someone to play with Nugent-Hopkins. The lack of consistency for Nugent-Hopkins this year is yet another reason I think a scoring winger should be the Oilers top priority this off-season. The Nuge abides; now help him.