Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: The Unexpected Season

Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 year ago
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is having one the most unexpected offensive seasons in NHL history. His second career five-point night pushed him to 96 points and he needs four points in the final seven games to reach 100 for the first time in his career.
When he reaches the Century mark, he will be the sixth player in NHL history to do it for the first time in his 12th campaign or later. He will join:
Gordie Howe: 23rd season, 1968-69.
Johnny Bucyk: 16th season, 1970-71.
Steven Stamkos: 14th season, 2021-22.
Jean Ratelle: 12th season, 1971-72.
Bobby Hull: 12th season, 1968-69.
Howe, Bucyk, Ratelle, and Hull played when the seasons had 70-78 game seasons.
Ratelle had five other seasons with 90+ points. Hull had three 90+ points seasons and had four 100-point campaigns in the WHA, after he left the NHL for $1m salary. Howe had six 80+ point seasons, one 95-point campaign in the NHL and three 100+ seasons in the WHA. Steven Stamkos had seasons of 91, 97, 95, and 98 before finally scoring 100 points in his 14th season.
Bucyk’s previous best was 69 points (in 72 games) before he scored 116 in 1971, but he followed that up with seasons of 81, 83, 83, and 93. Oilers fans are hoping RNH can do the same in the coming seasons.
Nugent-Hopkins will beat his previous best, 69 points in 2019, by at least 31+ points. Even the most ardent RNH fan, like Baggedmilk, would admit they didn’t see their beloved baby-faced-soon-to-be-a-father-for-the-first time scoring this much. It has been a pleasant surprise.
After enduring so many seasons of losing, it is nice to see Nugent-Hopkins have both team and individual success.
RNH scored 27-58-85 in 115 games in the past two seasons combined. He’s surpassed that with 35-61-96 in 75 games this season. So much of this season was unexpected.
As a rookie in 2011-12, he set his career high with five points v. Chicago in his 19th NHL game. It took him 775 more games to tie that mark last night. Crazy.
Last night was his fourth game this season with at least four points.
He had six games with 4+ points in his first 11 seasons, and never more than one in a year. He had one four-point game in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2019, 2020, and 2022.
In his first 11 seasons (719 games) he had 25 games with 3+ points.
He has 12 in 75 games this year. His previous high was five 3+ point games in 2014.
He’s exploded on the PP this season.
He has 14-36-50 on the man advantage. His previous best was nine goals in 2021 and the most PP points he had was 26 in 2019.
The Oilers’ PP is on pace to be the greatest PP in NHL history. The 1978 Montreal Canadiens were 31.9%. The Oilers are currently 32.7% through 75 games and RNH has played a large role in their success. He isn’t the main finisher or distributor, but he often starts the play. The Oilers trio of McDavid, Draisaitl, and RNH is one of the best in NHL history on the man advantage. The 1996 Pittsburgh Penguins are the only other team in NHL history to have three players with 50+ PP points. Mario Lemieux (79), Ron Francis (54), and Jaromir Jagr (51) are in the same category as McDavid (67), Draisaitl (57), and RNH (50).
The Oilers trio needs a total of 10 points to tie the Penguins with 184 points between the three. The Pens scored 109 PP goals on 420 chances that season (26%), while the Oilers have 84 goals on 257 chances (32.7%). The Oilers trio has been more efficient.
After two average seasons, RNH has exploded this year. It isn’t just luck. He’s made a concerted effort to shoot the puck more and to get more shots on goal.
Last season he had 231 shot attempts, 133 shots on goal, 83 shots from the slot, and 36 from the inner slot. He hit the net on 57% of his shot attempts.
This year he has 300 shot attempts, 186 shots on goal, 111 shots from the slot, and 51 from the inner slot. He’s hit the net on 62% of his shot attempts.
He is shooting more and shooting from the high-danger areas (slot and inner slot) more frequently. Scoring is a skill, and if you want to score more you need to shoot more and from the more dangerous spots and he has done that.
His assists are up because he has the puck more and he’s making passes to the slot with much more frequency. Last year he had 80 slot passes and this year he has 130. Last season he was involved in 66 quality chances, but this season he has 134. He averaged 0.95 quality chances/game and this season he’s at 1.78. He has put himself in a better position to be successful and it has paid off.
This breakout season isn’t just about luck or playing on the power play. His PP prowess is a main factor, but producing on the PP is a skill. I’ve long been perplexed by those who downplay PP success. If it was so easy, how come more players don’t do it? A total of 12 players have scored 50 PP points in a season since 2000, and before RNH, Draisaitl, and McDavid doing it in 2023, the last player to reach 50 PP points was in 2007.
Nugent-Hopkins’ production has been outstanding. He is currently sixth in the NHL with 96 points and unless something crazy happens it looks like he will join David Pastrnak, Nathan Mackinnon, Elias Pettersson, and Mitch Marner in the 100-point club for the first time in their careers.
It’s been an impressive and unexpected season. One of the most unexpected in Oilers history.
I hope he takes a moment to relish it because seasons like this are very rare.

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