How many for Nuge?
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
8 days ago
I don’t recall who tagged Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the “Baby Nuge” handle he’s carried for so many years or exactly when he got it, but even after 801 NHL games since his draft day in 2011, the longest-serving member of the Edmonton Oilers looks young enough at 30 that the nickname still fits.
With the team’s 2023 rookie camp set to open, there actually is a baby Nuge now with the birth of daughter Lennon in August to RNH and wife Breanne even if dad still looks like a teenager. It’s yet another reminder of how time flies. Sam Gagner, here on a PTO, is the only player coming to camp who was around for RNH’s first camp at Rexall Place in 2011.
It’s also worth noting that RNH is coming off easily the best season of his career, a 2022-23 campaign in which he went off for 37-67-104. Those are highs in all three categories and are numbers representing a 35-point improvement over his previous best of 69 points in 2018-19.
We know that a prolific power play accounted for more than half of his points total — 15-38-53. We know he shot at a career-best 18.4 per cent and finished at 1.27 points per game. We know that Evan Bouchard can grow a thicker beard in 10 hours than RNH can in 10 months.
What we don’t know is if dad – RNH, not Bouchard – can come remotely close to replicating his career season in 2023-24. Does he have another 100 points in him or was last season a one-off? With the latest generation of Oilers’ prospects jetting to Penticton, RNH talked about the possibility of an encore with the media this week.
ANY CHANCE TO REPEAT?
Apr 5, 2023; Anaheim, California, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) and center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) celebrate the empty net goal scored by left wing Zach Hyman (18) against the Anaheim Ducks during the third period at Honda Center. McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins each provided an assist on the goal. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
“I definitely want to be able to help produce on the offensive side,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “Everybody’s internal goals at the end of the day come back to the team and having success as a team. You play well as an individual, it’s going to affect the team in a positive way. That’s always been my mindset. Definitely, a season like last year should give confidence and we should come out rolling to start the season for sure.”
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl also enjoyed career years with 153 and 128 points respectively. So did Zach Hyman with 83 points, 29 more than his previous best. The way I see it, it’s fair to opine RNH was the biggest surprise, and by the biggest margin. So, does he have a number in mind for this season?
“I don’t know about points-wise,” he said. “Like I said, I’m going to continue to try to grow my game. I thought the season before (11-39-50 in 63 games), obviously I wasn’t scoring, and I lost a lot of confidence in my touch around the net. I found it again last year.
“I need to continue on that and grow my confidence in my ability. Obviously, playing with great players goes a long way. On a team like this, we have so many guys, so many weapons that individual success is easier to find when you’re on a team like this.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
I might be off base, but as I wrote before, I don’t see RNH being a 100-point player again. Even in the unlikely event that the power play continues to produce at the rate it has, it’s a lot to ask that he come up with another 53 points with a man advantage. A drop-off isn’t a certainty, but it’s likely, no? What’s your number for RNH?
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