It feels weird to think of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as a veteran, but after nine seasons that’s the role he finds himself in. As the longest-tenured player on the Edmonton Oilers roster at only 27-years old, he’s now had the best season of his entire career in 2019-20.
In the 65 regular-season games he played, Nugent-Hopkins scored 61 points, and was on pace to score 77 points. This is including 24 in his last 17 games of the season. Since January 1, the forward has scored the fifth-most points in the league with 37 since the start of the new year.
Those numbers are only behind teammate Leon Draisaitl (48 points in 29 games), Mika Zibanejad (44 points in 31 games), Nikita Kucherov (44 points in 31 games), and Artemi Panarin (40 points in 30 games).
In fact, Nugent-Hopkins has put up some of the best offensive numbers of his career. His 0.94 points-per-game is the highest of his career and a significant jump from his career average of 0.73 PPG.
Unlike other players who see a significant jump in production, Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t have some crazy shooting percentage. His 12.8% is just above his career 11.9% shooting percentage.
So what is the reason for this jump? Well, it’s no coincidence that the Nuge’s point streak began at the beginning of January. That’s when he began playing on a line with Draisaitl and rookie Kailer Yamamoto. The trio immediately clicked, with Draisaitl ending the year winning the Art Ross, Yamamoto scoring 25 points in 26 games, and Nugent-Hopkins solidifying the second line.
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Nugent-Hopkins signed a 7-year, $6 million-per deal that ends after next season when he’ll be 28. If head coach Dave Tippett decides to keep Nugent-Hopkins alongside Draisaitl and Yamamoto as the de facto second line, he would be poised for another productive season and a potentially hefty pay-day should he make it to the end of his contract before signing an extension with the team.
RNH, also an assistant captain, is on the verge of cracking the top 10 all-time Oilers scoring leaders. He sits at 11th right now with 443 points, just behind Shawn Horcoff’s 447. If the season had been able to play out, there’s little doubt he would’ve climbed into the top-10.
While Nugent-Hopkins has always been a fan favourite, he’s sometimes been overshadowed by flashier players during his nine seasons in Edmonton. But now he seems to have really found himself as a key offensive producer this season.
He also remains a positive possession player. His 53.1% Corsi-for in all situations and 8.0 Relative Corsi-for at even-strength is his best in years. He’s also producing the highest PDO (shooting % + save %) of his career at 105.1. While doing this, he’s creating offence for other players as well. His on-ice team shooting percentage is 16.6%. While this could be a product of playing on a line that’s just clicking, there’s no denying the importance of Nugent-Hopkins’ experience and two-play alongside two younger players.
He’s also starting a significantly larger amount of his shifts in the offensive zone, while also getting primary power play time on the top unit. Among the other top-five scorers since Jan. 1, only Zibanejad averaged more time on the penalty kill than Nugent-Hopkins’ 1:52 per-game.
Come playoff time when the Oilers take on the Chicago Blackhawks, Nugent-Hopkins will play a key role in any successful series win. It’s assumed that he’ll continue to play alongside Draisaitl and Yamamoto. On that line, he’ll be asked to not only continue providing offence and solid two-way play, but a solid veteran presence too.