Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: 2018-19 Season in Review

We continue our trek through the 2019 offseason, putting the disappointing, anger-inducing, expletive-filled 2018-19 season behind us. But, even in the darkest, coldest, scariest tunnels there are always at least a handful of diamonds to pick out and flee with to a brighter day. One of those diamonds from the rough past season is the focus of today’s topic, everybody’s favourite man-child: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

82 28 41 69 45.1 20:06 208 13.5 8 26

It was a career year for RNH, who had a sparkling season as the de facto second line centre, finishing with a very very nice 69 points on a virtually inept secondary scoring unit of the Oilers roster. He also played 265:49 minutes on the powerplay, which was third on the team (I’ll let you guess who was ahead of him), and 15th in the NHL; his 26 powerplay points were 10th in the NHL. The downside of Nuge’s stellar season was that on a team that finished with a 30th overall penalty kill, he led the Oilers in short-handed TOI at 139:03, almost 22.5 minutes more than the next closest player (Kyle Brodziak). The failure of the penalty kill cannot be pinned entirely on RNH, but some responsibility does have to fall on the top shorthanded centreman who had a concerning face-off percentage, which cannot be ignored as a factor for defensive struggles.

So what does all this mean in context? Let’s take a look at some of Nuge’s contemporaries (other centres) from this past season, based on point totals.

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(29) Logan Couture 70 18:36 46.3
(30 )Matt Duchene 70 18:50 55.3
(32) Elias Petterson 66 18:14 41.0
(33) Sam Reinhart 65 18:57 35.6
(34) Ryan Johansen 64 19:33 53.5
(35) Joe Pavelski 64 19:03 53.2
(36) Matt Barzal 62 17:55 41.5
(37) Pierre-Luc Dubois 61 17:43 43.5
(38) Bo Horvat 61 20:50 53.7
(39) Anze Kopitar 60 22:18 55.1
(40) Gustav Nyquist 60 17:31 50.0
(41) Jonathan Marchessault 59 18:09 37.2

First thing that sticks out is that only Horvat, Kopitar and Nuge averaged over 20 mins/gm in this grouping, but Bo and Anze were far superior in the face-off dot. But Nuge was leaned on a lot in all situations, particularly short-handed, so let’s take a look at how he did with his contemporaries there (centres based on SH TOI):

(29) Nate Thompson 13 142:55 51.38
(30) Jonathan Toews 81 142:18 52.14
(31) Claude Giroux 85 142:14 55.81
(32) Casey Cizikas 33 142:05 46.95
(34) Yanni Gourde 48 139:00 37.50
(35) Calle Jarnkork 26 138:40 43.75
(36) Derek Stepan 35 138:77 49.36
(37) Chris Tierney 48 137:03 43.44
(38) Eric Fehr 49 135:48 49.74
(39) Ryan Kesler 8 135:04 50.26

Nuge was 39.85% in face-offs while shorthanded. Not good. But other than Toews– who had an outlying career year– and Giroux– who’s been a Hart finalist– none of the other players in this group came anywhere near Nuge’s point totals. So though he was relied upon for defensive responsibility, that may have been ill-advised. But let’s take a look at the advanced counts to see how Nuge contributed to the Oilers offence:

Edmonton Oilers 2019-20 player review: Markus Granlund
CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start %
45.88 45.38 46.53 216/260 45.38 46.48 10.28 .894 .996 46.37

Umm… Not ideal. Barely any offence being generated by Nuge, and falling close to the bottom of the “average” bracket as far as Corsi is concerned. But, again, defensive-responsibility is likely the main culprit to this, as evidenced by the lack of offensive zone starts. The factor of low quality linemates for most of the season cannot be ignored; it’s hard to generate offence without having talented partners to help out with it.

So, let’s look at how Nuge did relative to the rest of the Oilers roster.

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(Counts are at Even Strength)

CF/60 CA/60 CF% Rel GF% Rel SCF% Rel HDCF% Rel HDGF% Rel
-3.2 4.11 -3.28 -1.12 -2.53 -2.60 .68

Well. All those numbers are in opposite directions you want them to be. Not pushing shot attempts to the right side of the ice, and not converting enough goals. But, he’s playing in a lot of situations, and not getting a lot of starts on the beneficial side of the ice.

So the individual numbers aren’t pretty, but how did he play with his teammates? Why don’t we take a look:

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w/ Connor McDavid

Even Strength TOI Together: 418:37
CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start %
50.93 46.55 50.91 94/91 50.81 48.28 10.93 .864 .973 58.76

Might be surprising that this was his most frequent linemate, but there was a moment in Todd McLellan’s system that he was insisting on Draisaitl centring his own line and Nuge was Connor McDavid’s trigger man. So it also shouldn’t come as a surprise that playing with the best player in the NHL resulted in some of his best offensive projection. Not enough goals, but a lot of attempts but with high usage in the offensive zone. This is the definition of being put in the position to succeed.

w/ Alex Chiasson

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Even Strength TOI Together: 315:16
CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start%
46.03 46.43 51.02 44/56 44.00 57.14 10.08 .905 1.005 44.20

Alex Chiasson won a Cup, came to the 2018 Oilers training camp on a PTO and became Nuge’s second-most frequent ES linemate. Didn’t get a tonne of chances in the offensive zone, but the numbers are respectable, with a healthy amount of scoring chances.

(Also, this isn’t a Chiasson piece, but over the course of this series, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by his chemistry with the forward corps. He’s a nice player who I hope the Oilers re-sign to a reasonable contract).

w/ Jesse Puljujarvi

Even Strength TOI Together: 245:10
CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start% 
42.82 42.86 46.67 38/49 43.68 46.67 13.33 .868 1.001 42.64

Oh man, well this is awkward.

w/ Milan Lucic

Even Strength TOI Together: 219:10
CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start %
45.98 63.64 46.67 32/38 45.71 72.73 16.28 .922 1.084 42.64
Monday Mailbag - Is there an advantage for Hub City teams?

The good news: I expected these counts to be abysmal. In fact, they aren’t even that bad. The shooting percentage is high, but it yielded the perfect results: goals. The High Danger count also indicates that Milan Lucic was probably doing exactly what we would expect of him and getting to the front of the net. Man, if only Milan was making half his salary we could all love him again…

w/ Jujhar Khaira

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Even Strength TOI Together: 185:07
CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start %
49.67 47.06 59.06 37/29 56.06 55.56 11.43 .886 1.000 38.93

Injuries kept him out for 22 games, but there were certainly some positive things to take from this pairing of Nugent-Hopkins and Jujhar Khaira. With a pathetic amount of offensive zone starts, they turned the possession around and generated a healthy amount of scoring chances. It’s reasonable to expect that with more time together, the goals would have followed.

Final Thought

Unfortunately, Nuge just doesn’t seem to do anything effective on his own. Only 29 of his 69 points were scored without McDavid or Draisaitl being involved, his Corsi Relative count was in the red, he was ineffective on the face-off dot, and he led a penalty kill unit in ice time that finished second-to-last in the league. Those stats aren’t flattering. But, he still finished with a very very nice 69 points, which is not nothing. Not to mention that perhaps his most effective linemate was injured for a quarter of the season, and was then tasked with playing with a guy who made the team on a PTO (who I like, but it’s still a PTO), a $6mil trade/buyout/lose-his-passport-and-leave-at-the-airport candidate, and a young Finn whose refused to ever wear an Oilers sweater ever again.

The roster is flawed. He needs help. These aren’t ground-breaking statements. Nuge may never hit 69 again, but that’s fine. As a second-line centre, he doesn’t have to, especially if he’s playing behind 200 points in Connor and Leon; he can settle in at the 45-50 point mark with some powerplay time, and limited PK time (certainly not the team leader). He was simply stretched thin. He was relied upon in all situations more than any other forward, and constantly put in a position to fail by being given defensive assignments– playing the most PK time and hardly starting in the offensive zone, and not being given the best partners on the flanks to turn the puck up the ice– and he just doesn’t seem to be a player who thrives with that level of responsibility.  Whether it’s a talented winger to play on his flank, or a centre who can help out with face-offs and Nuge can make the move to the wing, he can still be offensively effective. He just can’t be expected to do it alone. There needs to be more bottom-six players who can play effective PK time and help alleviate the burden so Nuge can focus on his offensive tools.

Get Nuge help, so he can stay forever.

  • ed from edmonton

    I remain amazed by the extreme emotional attachment many have for RNH. I don’t any player in Oiler history has ever had such a dedicated following. It must be his “bit next door” looks, as the author pointed out his play has its flaws. Even the author shows his RNH fan boy status in his last statement. RNH ideal spot would be on a team where he is a 2nd line forward that is not asked to kill penalties or take faceoffs.

    • JayTee

      When the kid has gone about his business, not complained, effectively changed his whole game from offensive catalyst to two-way forward to sacrifice offense to improve his defensive game to allow his team an opportunity to win, having to endure 1 winning season in 8, yeah you’re damn right we love NUUUUUGE. I for one hope he’s an Oiler for life.

      • ed from edmonton

        The thing about being attached to any player is that they are with your team for a while and then they will be playing against your team. Then he is your nemesis. How many players have played their entire careers with the Oilers (other than players who played a hand full of games and were never seen again, like Alex Plante)? Zero, not one player. This is not unusual in today’s game. For example the Phlegms have one player, Jim Peplinski and the Nucks have the Sedins and one other guy. It’s pretty much guaranteed that RNH will be playin against your team at some point.

  • Abagofpucks

    I would like to know why Good thinks he will never get to 69 points again?
    The way i see it get him a couple of guys that actually belong on a second line and watch him get 80.

      • The Rookie

        Most common was McDavid, because at the start of the year he was on Mcdavids wing. But that didn’t last long and the rest of the season was a revolving door of line mates. Yes McDavid was the most common, but it wasn’t even half the season

        • Willfkk

          The point I was trying to make, is that he won’t get 80 points like Abagofpucks suggested.

          It is reasonable to expect 60 points from RNH when playing with elite talent regularly (e.g. McDavid, Hall). That is evident in past seasons.

          Look at 16-17, he mostly played (all situations) with Lucic and Eberle, both whom put up 50+ points, while RNH only manged 43. Both Eberle and Lucic were top 6 talent in that year and yet he still put up what would be considered subpar numbers for a 2C.

          Then look at 13-14 and 14-15, where he put up 56 points, his two most common linemates where Eberle and Hall. Even 14-15 Hall only played 53 games, was still his second most common linemate (507 minutes).

          If the expectation is for RNH to carry a line without an elite talent like McDavid, Hall or probably Draisaitl then you can expect mide 40s for points.

        • The Rookie

          Nuge played over 1640 minutes. MCDavid and Nuge played 418 eve with Mcdavid. So he had a great linemate for 1/4 of the time and garbage the rest of it. And like the article states, most of his points came with Mcdavid or Draisaitl. Very little points earned with out those two because there is no other top 6 fwds on this team. Milan Lucic and Jesse Puljujarvi aren’t helping Nuge out.

          • Serious Gord

            DEH. It’s nit replacing him as an asset it’s getting different, better fitting assets. The oil have three 1/2 line centres. They only need two. Trade rnh to get a couple wingers who are young, cheap and can be signed or are signed to longer contracts.

          • Dallas Eakins Hair

            The Nuge haters seem to think that Nuge cant accomplish anything without McDavid, but like you I disagree with that, Nuge just goes about his buisness he doesnt complain and he gets it done. Imagine what Nuge could produce with some stable linemates?

            People say trade Nuge NOW…RIGHT NOW!!! His value is high, but think about it, what would it cost to replace Nuge with someone who got 60 points? It sure isnt going to be for 6 mil a season, Nuge’s contract is a bargain, and considering he didnt even have any real steady inmates and still managed his best point totals we should trade him, I dont get that

          • Bigdaddypuck

            He’s not getting traded Gord give it up.
            He can move up the line up if 29 goes down. Explain who plays on second unit center power play if he is traded? Please go out and buy a flames jersey and offer them your sage advice.

      • Quoteright

        Only by less than a hundred minutes
        The reality is he has played with everyone. Always in the blender, always carrying his line mates defensively. So he sucks at face offs.. get a winger who can win them for him. Otherwise love the dude for his endurance of all the garbage.

  • I think we take Nuge for granted, he deserves line mates that are hockey players and share responsibility in the defensive zone. I hope we get some momentum early and 2 lines dangerous. Nuge deserves what ever he wants after this contract and the only way he wants to stay is some wins. I think he and Benson become a force on the second line. If we are losing and Nuge tells us early he wants out, staple him to Conner and get value. What we should have done with Eberle. I sure hope he stays.

    • ed from edmonton

      But the data provided shows that the RNH/CMcD combo was not that effective with GF of less than 50%? You seem to be putting RNH’s interests above team success.

  • FutureGM

    zero reason to have this guy killing penalties when there a plethora of 1 million dollar men that can do that.
    Nuge’s value is in his shot and playmaking as his draw ability limits his defensive game. Let others kill penalties, give him more Ozone starts and let him score 20 to get value for his contract

  • TKB2677

    This was an much needed, good article because there are a lot of fans who think Nuge walks on water. Nuge is a good player, he’s not a great player and he is a complimentary player. He needs to have good linemates to succeed. If you put McDavid or Leon with lesser players, they will produce. Not to the level they can but they will produce. If you put Nuge with lesser players, he doesn’t produce very well.

    So we won’t see NUGE ever put up the numbers he did unless he’s with McDavid or Leon.

  • ricardo2000

    I like Nuge with Chiasson and Khaira because they are such bears on the ice. Train both of them harder to take faceoffs so that Nuge doesn’t have to do them all. This provides the Oilers with three sets of PK forwards from the same line (Nuge-Chiasson – Chaisson-Khaira – Khaira-Nuge).
    Similar things should be done with third and fourth lines.

  • Ken McTippett

    This just tells me that the Oilers need a viable third line centre to kill penalties and let Nuge focus on scoring with better linemates on the second line. He’s not a great penalty killer.

  • Beer_League_Ringer

    Everyone loves Nuge and he’s one helluva player for 6mil. You simply don’t trade your heart + soul (on a value contract no less)…
    Ryan Smyth. ‘Nuff said.

  • Arfguy

    I really hope Tippet realizes early that Lucic should not be on the top two lines. I would rather have any one of Joakim Nygard or AHL rookies like Benson or Marody be given the LW with RNH than another season of Lucic.