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What About Nuge?

In some ways, it doesn’t seem very long ago the Edmonton Oilers decided Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were going to be the foundation the franchise could build upon for years to come, throwing $6 million a season in long-term deals at all three of them. In other ways, it feels like forever ago.

Hall and Eberle are long gone and the franchise foundation has shifted to a couple of pillars named Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. RNH, now the most senior member of the Oilers, is still playing on the seven-year, $42-million deal he signed. There is Connor and Leon and then there is everybody else, including RNH, who is playing a more muted, secondary role.

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With McDavid and Draisaitl having assumed the role of game-breakers and difference-makers, RNH should be leading the way in that regard given his tenure and his salary, but to this point in the season, he’s been only OK at best. Through 17 games, he’s tallied 1-8-9, but has yet to score a 5-on-5 goal or really grab a game when opponents manage to shutdown McDavid and Draisaitl.

It’s obvious RNH has more to give because he’s done it before, but with the Oilers coming off a 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues and on a 3-4-2 skid after a 7-1 start, it’s more than fair for Oilers’ fans and coach Dave Tippett to ask when he might get around to doing it. The sooner the better.

THERE’S MORE

“I for sure look at myself as a guy who has to get going, secondary scoring-wise,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “Those two guys, they’re getting big goals for us almost every game. We’ve got to find a way to help them out, support them. Get an important one. We’ve got to find a way to start producing — every line.”

No argument from Tippett, who has yet to find any real scoring depth behind McDavid, Draisaitl, James Neal and Zack Kassian, who was back on the first line against St. Louis. “We have lots of guys looking for a lot of extra ice time and extra opportunities,” he said. “But there is not much happening. There is just not enough, right through.”

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While production from the likes of Alex Chiasson, Jujhar Khaira, Tomas Jurco (who was just placed on waivers), Gaetan Haas and Patrick Russell, to name five, has been collectively feeble, RNH is a cut above, so more is expected of him, as it should be. Fair enough. That said, while the grumbling will grow until RNH delivers more, let’s not get carried away.

THE WAY I SEE IT

Oct 12, 2019; New York, NY, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) chases a loose puck during the third period against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

I’m not sure who Weebo is, but there’s a big grain of truth to what he says. The difference between RNH and the others is he has a long track record of producing. He’s coming off a 69-point season. He’s a .70 PPG player for his career. He’s being paid like that kind of player, and that draws attention from fans even though it doesn’t mean a damn thing when the gate swings open.

Yes, RNH can be better than he has been in these first 17 games, but he’s got plenty of company in that regard. He certainly had a bad night against the Blues, and that’s been duly noted. Fair game. Reading anything more into things than that, though, is getting carried away from where I sit.

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That’s not a free pass, it’s an observation based on what we’ve seen from RNH dating back to the Hall and Eberle days. The way I see it, RNH is the perfect player to provide the push the Oilers need behind McDavid and Draisaitl. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt seven days a week based on the 556 games that he’s played here before I write him off after these last 17.

Previously by Robin Brownlee