Nugent-Hopkins Sets Career High with 70th Point
Photo credit:Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
By Jason Gregor9 months ago
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is having his best NHL season in his 12th year with the Edmonton Oilers. It has been one of the most unexpected and uplifting seasons in Oilers history.
Affectionately called the Nuge, or Baby Nuge, by Oilers fans, Nugent-Hopkins has quietly climbed the franchise rankings in many categories.
He is seventh in games played with 777. He will pass Kelly Buchberger (795) and Shawn Horcoff (796) before the end of the season. And he should surpass Glenn Anderson (845) and Mark Messier (851) next year for third spot. With six years remaining on his contract, he is poised to pass Kevin Lowe for first on the games played list (1,037) during either the 2025-26 season or the 2026-27 season, depending on injuries.
His 598 career points place him ninth among Oilers players. He will likely pass Ryan Smyth (631) and Paul Coffey (669) next season, and then only trail Wayne Gretzky (1,669), Jari Kurri (1,043), Mark Messier (1,034), Connor McDavid (802 and counting), and Leon Draisaitl (700 and counting).
RNH sits eighth in goals and ninth in assists. He has been a solid player for a long time, but at age 29 he is having his best NHL season. And he is going to obliterate his previous career-high of 28 goals, 41 assists, and 69 points which he achieved in 2019.
He set a new high in assists in Colorado on Sunday with his 42nd. Last night he picked up his 70th point when he set up Draisaitl’s power play goal. He is one goal shy of tying his career-best 28 goals.
He’s on pace for 38 goals, 61 assists, and 99 points. Considering his previous bests, those numbers are remarkable, and a bit unexpected.
Last year he scored 11-39-50 in 63 games which prorates to 65 points in a full season.
In 2021 he tallied 16-19-35 in 52 games which equals 55 points in a full season.
And that is assuming he’d maintain the same production all season, which is never guaranteed.
A 20-30-point increase over a previous career best at age 29 is rare. Here is the list of players who at age 29+ surpassed their previous career-best by 20 or more points. (I only included players whose original career high was 60+ points).
**PCH = previous career high and thanks to Scott from NHL stats for helping find the players.**
RNH could become only the 18th player in NHL history to have a 20+ point increase on their career-best at age 29 or older.
I spoke with RNH last night to discuss his breakout season.
Gregor: You set a new career-best in only 58 games. I know you’re in the moment, but what are your thoughts on how this season has gone for you?
Nugent-Hopkins: Tonight, I was just focused on getting a big win, and whatever happens personally you just let happen. We battled hard. We found a way to win. That makes it more enjoyable.
Gregor: I know you aren’t big on personal stats, but you have 70 points in 58 games and on pace to push for 100. Jay Woodcroft mentioned you two had a conversation at the start of the season and you said you wanted to produce more. Did you have a points goal in mind? Was setting a new career high a goal?
RNH: I wouldn’t say it was something I sat down and thought to myself I needed to get a career high, but like every other player you want to get better every year. I know last year, I wasn’t shooting the puck enough when I was getting opportunities. I didn’t feel I was bearing down enough. Come playoff time I changed my mentality a little bit (he scored six goals in 16 games after only 11 in the regular season), and I tried to build on that in the summer in hopes of keeping it going this year. Every year you want to get better, and sometimes the points will come to you, but at the same time you have to bear down and that was a focus for me.
Gregor: You have always wanted to be sound defensively. How have you found that balance of being able to produce more without being a detriment defensively?
RNH: It is year 12 in the league. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve played with some guys who were great two-way guys. And I’ve played against guys you look up to and try to model your game after and take little things here and there from. I still want to get better in my two-way game. It’s something I’ve always wanted to get better at, and I take a lot of pride in. I still think I can take more steps and get better and better. The more you play the more you learn. I need to be able to help out on the offensive side of things, but like you said, you don’t want to give up any easy stuff on the defensive side of things.
Gregor: When you are rolling like this are you way more confident and almost expecting you will get points?
RNH: Confidence is a huge part of the game. I wouldn’t say I come into the games thinking I’m just going to get points. I do think I come in with more confidence to be able to bear down and make the right play in the right situation and put the puck on net and give myself a good chance to put it in the net when I get opportunities.
Gregor: The ability for athletes to get better later in their careers is impressive. Players used to decline after 10 years, but not anymore. How much has the science helped you not just maintain but improve after a decade in the league?
RNH: I think training in every sport has come a long way. I think mentalities have changed in that aspect as well. When you get to 29 and 30 years old, I don’t know how much bigger, stronger, faster you will get, but you can take care of your body and improve things here and there. I feel young. I don’t feel like I’ve played 12 years and almost 750 games or whatever it is (he’s at 777). It goes by fast. You have to take care of your body. It is a lot of work out there, especially if you are playing decent minutes and practicing every second day. You have to take care of your body, make sure you are feeling good, get your sleep and take care of yourself the right way.
Gregor: Pretty unique goal last night — it had an 800th point (McDavid), a 700th point (Draisaitl) and your career-high 70th point on the same goal. Will you guys play Rock, Paper, Scissors for who gets the puck?
RNH: (Laughs) They can fight over it. Pretty incredible they reached 700 and 800 points on the same night on the same goal. Pretty special for those two guys to be as young as they are in their career and already hit milestones like that. I’m just happy I was part of the goal.
Feb 9, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Nugent-Hopkins put an onus on shooting more and burying his chances this off-season. He told me he shot a lot of pucks and worked on a quick release. It has paid off. It helps when you get off to a good start. As he mentioned he doesn’t go into games thinking he will get points, but unlike the past two seasons, he feels when he gets a chance his odds of scoring are better. You can see it on the ice. He shoots to score, rather than just putting the puck on net hoping he will score.
It is easy to overlook RNH’s season when McDavid is on pace to become only the 10th player all-time to score 140 points, and possibly the sixth to score 150 points, but for RNH to crush his previous career bests at age 29 is very impressive, and a key reason the Oilers are in a battle for first place in the Pacific Division.
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