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Photo Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers Offence Needs Nugent-Hopkins to Succeed

It might seem odd to write, but Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl aren’t on my list of players who need a good season for the Oilers to make the playoffs. I have no concerns in how they will perform. They are both elite players. They will have good seasons. They will be productive.

They might “only” produce at a 1.3 or 1.4 point-per-game pace, but that would be a down season for them. At season’s end I expect they will be the top-two leading scorers on the team. That isn’t a bold prediction or newsworthy. I don’t take their skill for granted, in fact I respect it so much I’m not concerned they will produce at elite levels.

For the Oilers to be a playoff team, like there were on track to be last season before Covid ended the regular season, it will come down to the production of the supporting cast, and I see Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as the forward who needs a good season.

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RNH was on pace to set a career high with 70 points in 2020, after scoring 69 points in 2019. However, much of that was due to him having the best two-month stretch of his career.

Can he match that this season?

Last week, the Nation’s Cam Lewis pondered what RNH’s next contract would look like. It was a thought-provoking article about RNH, and a few things got me thinking, specifically this paragraph.

The cluster of Gallagher, Chris Kreider, and Brayden Schenn who all inked deals worth $6,500,000 annually is probably the low-end for a Nugent-Hopkins extension. Those three are all good, productive, top-six players but I wouldn’t put any of them near the elite category. If this were two years ago, I would put Nugent-Hopkins in this category of players. But, over the past two seasons, the former No. 1 overall pick has elevated his game to a new level.

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No doubt RNH’s point totals increased from his previous high of 56, but much of that came on the powerplay.

Here are his 5×5 pts the past six seasons.

2015…37 points in 76 games with a 1.91 P/60
2017… 27 in 82 games with a 1.50 P/60
2018…28 in 62 games with a 1.96 P/60
2019…34 in 82 games with a 1.75 P/60
2020…34 in 65 games with a 2.23 P/60.

Last season was his best at 5×5, but remember he had nine points at 5×5 in his first 36 games. Then in the final 29 games, when he played with Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto, he produced 25 points in 29 games at a 3.35 P/60. He had a massive heater, and played great, but is it realistic to expect him to produce like that again?

McDavid’s best P/60 in a season was 3.17 in 2018, and he was 2.82 and 2.84 the past two years. RNH is likely not going to be clipping along at 3.35 P/60 for almost half a season again. Where RNH saw the biggest increase in production was on the powerplay. Not only in points, but TOI as well.

Here are his previous six seasons on the PP.

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2015… 206:36 TOI in 74 GP scoring 2-12-14 and a 4.07 P/60
2016…144:13 TOI in 54 GP, scoring 4-7-11 and a 4.58 P/60
2017… 154:19 TOI in 81 GP, scoring 5-6-11 with a 4.28 P/60
2018… 121:34 TOI in 62 GP and he scored 4-5-9 with a 4.44 P/60.
2019… 265:49 TOI in 82 GP, scoring 8-18-26 with a 5.87 P/60
2020… 243:31 TOI in 64 GP and he tallied 7-17-24 with a 5.91 P/60

I expect his PP TOI and point totals will remain high as the Oilers powerplay is deadly. I think it very plausible he will produce at a similar rate this season, because he is a vital part of the powerplay. But his 5×5 production is where he needs to maintain around a 2.10-2.25 P/60. And he should be able to do that as he will play with one of McDavid or Draisaitl all season.

The Oilers need to know they can rely on him for solid production, and if they do, their chances of being a playoff team increase immensely. He can’t have only nine 5×5 points through the first three months of the season again. Scoring at a 1.16 P/60 pace for three months was below average for him. It likely was an outlier three months for RNH, and I’d be shocked if he struggled like that this season. He is the third best forward on the team, and while the expectations for him aren’t as high as they are for McDavid and Draisaitl, I view RNH’s production as extremely vital to the Oilers playoff success.

He has the ability to produce solid numbers, and he needs to be consistent all season at 5×5. Teams win when their best players are playing well, and then it trickles down do everyone else. RNH has more responsibility than sophomore Kailer Yamamoto and returning-to-the-NHL Jesse Puljujarvi. You hope one, or both of those young players, are able to be complementary top-six players, but the Oilers are expecting more from RNH.

I believe he is capable of delivering, and if he does is line for a lengthy contract extension.

And speaking of an extension, I see him in a similar vein as Brendan Gallagher, Chris Kreider and Brayden Schenn. They have different strengths and weaknesses, but I see little reason RNH should command much more than them in free agency, especially with a flat cap likely for the coming seasons. 

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A six year deal at $6.5m would be fair for both sides.

MONTH OF GIVING

Thank you Harry and Laurel for their generous $5,200 bid on the dinner at Chop Steakhouse yesterday. Let’s keep the momentum going today.

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