Before the 2017-2018 season started, a big part of the conversation of what would make the Oilers successful was about having a second line centre who could drive his own line. Most expected that to be Draisaitl however right now Ryan Nugent Hopkins is overshadowing him; having arguably his best season since entering the NHL.
Nuge's 19 points finds him in the same company as some fairly prolific centres around the league. Logan Couture, Nicklas Backstrom, World's Best Hockey Player Jonathan Toews, and of course Leon Draisaitl. It's safe to say that the Nuge is Huge.
Nuge's 19 points is second on the team, tied with Draisaitl. His 10 goals are also second on the team. He is on pace right now for a 57 point season, which would be a career high. McLellan challenged RNH to be better offensively and so far he has certainly answered the call.
So what's actually happening here?
Here are some really basic numbers from RNH's first 27 games of last season
- 4 Goals (2 were on the PP)
- 8 assists (0 on the PP)
- 75 shots
Compared to in 2017...
- 10 Goals (3 on PP)
- 9 assists (1 on the PP)
- 59 shots
At a cursory glance Nuge has been shooting far less than he did last season. Be it the quality of the shots or simply puck luck Nuge is getting rewarded far more. By my eye Nugent-Hopkins has looked much more confident with the puck and is putting himself in a better position to score.
The improvements in his play are not only showing up on the scoresheet. For the first time in his career Nuge is over 50% in the dot. Of the 406 faceoffs he has taken, RNH has won 206 to put him at 50.7. While this might be average at best it is still far above his previous average.
In my previous blog I took a look at the Oilers depth chart going into the future. There is a definite abundance of skilled centres in McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and to a lesser degree, Strome. When McDavid and Draisaitl were signed to their new contracts of 12.5 and 8.5 million respectively, it seems almost assured that Nuge would be the next player on his way out.
Good teams keep good players. It is a simple statement but it rings true. In the cap world teams have had to make some tough decisions and move players out, however the Oilers seem to get a twisted pleasure from putting themselves into tough situations by selling low on skilled players. Nuge is certainly at his highest value right now but I would certainly hesitate on trading him.
If Oilers management can pull off another Taylor Hall trade I would consider it... and by Taylor Hall trade I mean from the Devil's perspective - to acquire a significantly better player because the team you're dealing with is desperate to fill a hole. Until that opportunity arises I hope that our little Nuge is here to stay.
Thanks for reading!