Since the moment he was selected first overall in 2011, the vast majority of Edmonton Oilers fans have been big supporters of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Though he never became the elite point getting forward that many expect from a first overall pick, he has become a very dependable two-way centerman for this organization.
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Perhaps even better is the fact that he loves playing in Edmonton, something that not all former Oilers would say. He proved just that by agreeing to an eight-year, $41 million deal this past offseason. That meant a lot to this fan base, as he had plenty of reason to leave given the struggles the team has had during his tenure, especially early into his career. Despite that, he chose to stay and has never once complained nor taken a night off.
As consistent as he has been throughout the majority of his Oilers tenure, however, the past two seasons have been somewhat disappointing from him. After having two of the best statistical seasons of his career from 2018 to 2020, he has put up 85 points through his past 115 games. While those numbers don’t seem poor by any stretch, it is quite alarming that only 37 of them have come at even strength, while 43 have come on arguably the most dangerous power-play unit in the league.
Now, for the second straight playoff year, we are seeing him struggle to put up points. Last year against the Winnipeg Jets, he managed just a single goal and two points in the four-game series. A quick glance at this year’s playoff stats would make it appear he has performed well with five points through five games. However, both of his goals, along with one assist, came on the Oilers’ sixth, seventh and eighth goals in what was an 8-2 win in Game 3 over the Los Angeles Kings.
Aside from that late-game outburst in the lopsided victory, Nugent-Hopkins has managed just two assists in this series, and that comes despite the fact that the Oilers’ power play is on fire, having converted on seven of their 17 opportunities. That simply isn’t good enough for a player they rely on in a big way for secondary offence, and is a major reason they now find themselves on the brink of elimination as they head back to Los Angeles for Game 6.
Nugent-Hopkins Has Struggled in Past Playoff Showings
As mentioned previously, Nugent-Hopkins struggled to get much of anything going in last year’s short-lived playoff series versus the Jets. The argument could be made here that none of the Oilers were very good in that series, and that argument is legitimate, but as one of the teams’ highest-paid players, they needed someone like him to step up and he wasn’t able to do so.
He was criticized for his play during the Oilers’ playoff run back in 2017 as well, where the Oilers were just one win away from advancing to the Western Conference Final. Several of his teammates were able to step up with big performances that year, none more so than Leon Draisaitl. Nugent-Hopkins struggled in a big way, however, going goalless in 13 games while chipping in with just four assists.
Oilers Relying on Him in Order to Advance
If there was any time for Nugent-Hopkins to be point getting centerman that he has shown to be at times throughout his career, that time is now. While Draisaitl hasn’t been at his best, he still has five goals and seven points thus far, while Connor McDavid is doing everything he can with two goals and nine points.
Admittedly, there are others who need to step up as well, but few of those other players have the track record that Nugent-Hopkins does at the NHL level. After an average season in which he recorded 11 goals and 50 points in 63 games, he has a chance to go out there and prove to all why Ken Holland chose to give him an eight-year deal last summer. If he is able to step up and give some offensive support to McDavid and Draisaitl, there is a great chance this Oilers club can still knock off the Kings and advance to the second round. If not, it will be another very long offseason with plenty of questions surrounding the future of this team.