Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Off the Top of My Head: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Connor McDavid’s 300th goal, and more
11 months ago
My first impression of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was underwhelming when the Edmonton Oilers selected him first overall in the 2011 Entry Draft from the Red Deer Rebels. I wasn’t sure about him. I recall having plenty of company in that regard.
Nugent-Hopkins, from the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, wasn’t particularly big. In person, he looked smaller in height and weight than what he was listed at. He wasn’t particularly fast, although he was quick and he moved around just fine. And he wasn’t what you’d consider a big scorer, finishing third in the WHL scoring race with 106 points in his draft year. Nugent-Hopkins was more of a set-up guy than a shooter.
If there’s anything history tells us about drafting teenagers when we’re not talking slam-dunk, generational prospects like Connor McDavid, Sid Crosby or soon-to-arrive sensation Connor Bedard – RNH isn’t in that category – teams can get it wrong. I didn’t know back then whether RNH would turn out to be as good or better than Gabriel Landeskog or Mark Scheifele, let alone Nikita Kucherov, who was taken 58th by Tampa Bay and has been the find of the class of 2011. And neither did you.
I remember an RNH item we ran at Oilersnation because of the headline – The First Overall Pick: Avoid Nugent-Hopkins. I wasn’t sure what pedigree of player the Oilers would get with RNH one year after selecting Taylor Hall. Jump ahead a dozen years and 796 games and there’s nothing underwhelming about The Nuge. As the longest-serving member of the Oilers, he’s enjoying the best season of his career at age 29 while sharing the marquee with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. I never saw this coming. You?
LIGHTING IT UP
Mar 28, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
After a five-point night in a 7-4 waxing of the Vegas Golden Knights and Thursday’s 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings, RNH added an assist in a playoff clinching 6-0 whitewash of Anaheim Saturday. He’s sixth in league scoring with a career-best 35-62-97. Having blown past his previous high of 69 points a month ago, he’s taking a run at 100 points. Simply put, The Nuge has been worth every dime of the eight-year, $41-million contract extension he signed in June 2021.
“He’s just such a good hockey player,” said Draisaitl, who hit 50 goals for the third time with a hat-trick against Anaheim. “It’s crazy. He doesn’t get nearly enough recognition than he deserves. The things he does are so subtle, and most people don’t realize what he does out there, but he’s just a phenomenal hockey player.”
“He’s had a hell of a season,” said Evander Kane, who posed with RNH along with McDavid, Draisaitl, and Zach Hyman after the Vegas game for one of those photos that could be a classic bit of memorabilia a decade or so from now. “He’s a guy that has great poise with the puck, real heady, makes great plays, and has been shooting the puck a little bit more this year and is finding the back of the net. He’s having a hell of a year.”
The Keep Nuge Forever sentiment that started long before his new deal was done was a lot of fun. More than that, it’s looking like a smart signing now. I say that knowing it’s highly unlikely RNH will string together a bunch of 100-point seasons at this point in his career. What his bump in production provides with Hyman and Kane in the mix is the scoring depth to complement McDavid and Draisaitl fans have been waiting for.
“When you’re having a team that’s clicking offensively, personal stuff just kind of comes,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “It hasn’t been something that I’ve been thinking about a whole lot and all of a sudden, it’s creeping up here. I’m lucky to play with a really good team and with some great players.”
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER
Mar 30, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) celebrates after scoring his 300th career goal during the third period against the Los Angeles Kings at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
On a night McDavid notched his 300th career goal to make it 2-0 with the Oilers shorthanded, Stuart Skinner set a franchise record with 10 wins in the month with 43 saves on the way to his second career shutout. Fans who’ve been talking about Skinner as a legit candidate for the Calder Trophy are really buzzing now.
“I thought he was amazing,” McDavid said. “I thought he was really good, made some really big saves, especially during the second period. Coming down the stretch, they did a good job of pressing and they had a couple chances and he held us in.”
Midway through the second period, Skinner made a glove save on Adrian Kempe in alone to keep the Oilers up 1-0. It was a highlight reel moment, an exclamation mark. The timing of Skinner being on top of his game in the heart of the stretch couldn’t be better. The 12 wins in March (12-2-1) is a team record.
As an aside, Jack Campbell grabbed some of the spotlight and some confidence against the Ducks, making 36 saves for his 10th career shutout and first with the Oilers. He was stupid good in the first period with 17 saves.
“I don’t think we’re anywhere near our potential just yet. I think we’re working towards that. I saw good signs in our team . . . we just came winning two games in a row in two tough buildings vs. a team that hasn’t lost a lot. For that matter, the team yesterday hadn’t lost a lot. So, for us to find wins, while we weren’t perfect in either game, I thought there was a lot of good for us to build on and we’re building toward peaking at the right time, which is in about three weeks.” – Woodcroft after the 7-4 win in Las Vegas.
- Enjoying the work being done by Paige Martin with the Oilers. Martin, a product of the journalism/communications program at Western University, has joined the Oilers digital content creation team after several seasons as an on-air host with the London Knights of the OHL. Like Tony Brar, Martin is really sharp.
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