With a majority of the headlines directed towards praising other teammates, it can be easy to forget that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has played an integral role on the Edmonton Oilers for almost a decade now. No. 93 may not be the team’s top scorer or flashiest player, but his strong two-way play, calm on-ice presence, and his role on both special teams have helped the Oilers to succeed despite injuries (Connor McDavid, James Neal, Kris Russell—and now we can add Oscar Klefbom to this list) and Zack Kassian’s suspension.
Kailer Yamamoto may be the Oilers’ angelic missing piece, Leon Draisaitl may embody the second coming of McDavid, their McSaviour, but what about Nugent-Hopkins? Is he just a regular, everyday human? No. That role is reserved for fans. He’s a play-making Greek god (from Burnaby, Canada) whose undeniable skill helps to highlight those around him.
It’s Not Just All About Yamamoto and Draisaitl
It’s evident that the Oilers can find ways to win without their captain, especially when you consider the fact that they’ve won three out of four games since his injury. It’s also evident that Yamamoto and Draisaitl have played a major role in those wins, but let’s take a look at Nugent-Hopkins’ impact.
In the last four games without No. 97, Draisaitl notched an inhumane 10 points, Yamamoto picked up six, and Nugent-Hopkins piped in with five. No. 93 may not be in the lead, but he’s definitely a huge reason why this line has worked out. You can’t pair Yamamoto with just Draisaitl—they need Nugent-Hopkins to succeed.
During the games without McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins has one goal, three primary assists, and one secondary assist. He’s not just giving the puck to Draisaitl or Yamamoto and twiddling his thumbs hoping they magically create a scoring chance—the longstanding Oiler is in the thick of it. He’s creating plays and generating chances.
Ever since the birth of this line, the Burnaby native has contributed 24 points, Draisaitl has produced 34 points, and Yamamoto has exceeded expectations with 18 points. Everyone on the line deserves recognition, including Nugent-Hopkins.
Related: Oilers’ Yamamoto Ahead of Schedule
Please keep in mind that he hasn’t had consistent linemates since the infamous Taylor Hall trade in 2016. But now he has more experience, and he’s only 26 years old. Expect his point production to rise while playing alongside Draisaitl and Yamamoto—and expect him to be a big part of this line’s success.
Nugent-Hopkins Doesn’t Just Help out on Offence, He Helps out on Defence, Too
No. 93 also plays a significant role on the Oilers’ penalty kill. During the 90:52 that he has spent on the kill, he’s had six takeaways and just one giveaway, whereas Draisaitl, who has served 58:19, has three giveaways and two takeaways. For a top-six player, I’d say Nugent-Hopkins is a very effective penalty killer.
Of course, most would agree that bottom-six players like Riley Sheahan and Josh Archibald have been the best forwards behind the Oilers’ successful penalty kill, but they lack the ability to produce top-six points like Nugent-Hopkins.
Last March, Ken Hitchcock talked about No. 93’s versatility:
“[Nugent-Hopkins] is in a situation where he’s on the first power play and either the first or second unit of the penalty kill. And we have no problem putting him against the top players. He’s able to play in every situation.” (from ‘Ryan Nugent-Hopkins fine with being third banana on Edmonton Oilers’, The Edmonton Sun– 3/28/19)
He isn’t afraid to play a two-way game. The versatile player has 44 takeaways this season, which is only two less than Draisaitl and four less than McDavid. He plays defence, he plays offence, and he rarely gives up the puck. Nugent-Hopkins has just 32 giveaways thus far this season. No. 29 has 71 and No. 97 has 69.
Albeit, Nugent-Hopkins has played less than these two superstars—1076:58 total ice time (TOI)—compared to Draisaitl—1330:25 TOI—and McDavid—1213:49.
Nugent-Hopkins Should Stay With the Oilers for His Career
Nugent-Hopkins may not get all the credit he deserves, but it’s definitely worth noting that he’s been a consistent, trustworthy Oiler since 2011.
Over his nine-season span with the organization, the Burnaby native has notched 162 goals—he’s currently tied for 10th place with Shawn Horcoff for the franchise record—while Jordan Eberle sits in the ninth spot with 165. He’s also been on the ice for 236 power play goals, which is 10th best in Oilers’ history.
The 26-year-old forward has survived several coaching changes during his duration with the Oilers (Dave Tippett is his seventh NHL coach). He’s endured basement-dwelling seasons and just one (fingers crossed that one becomes a two in 2019-20) successful, playoff-making season. No. 93 has played centre on the top three lines, while also moving to the wing when needed.
I’m all for signing him to a new, long-term contract in the future. His versatility, sneaky (but dominant) on-ice skill, his knack for killing penalties, helping out on the power play, and producing offensively makes him a player worth locking down.
One of my friends heard Nugent-Hopkins’ name in a conversation, and said, “Oh, I like that chocolate bar.” While another friend, who knows hockey quite well, had no idea who I was talking about when I said I was going to write an article on Nugent-Hopkins.
No. 93 clearly deserves more recognition, appreciation and credit for the work he’s done with the Oilers.