Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, and Paul Coffey. They are the first four Hockey Hall of Fame inductees to play for the Edmonton Oilers. All four won at least three Stanley Cups in Edmonton and have a banner hanging from the rafters at Rogers Place. They are also four players whose tenure with the Oilers is shorter than that of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Nugent-Hopkins is about to begin his 12th season in Edmonton, putting the 29-year-old in a club so exclusive that even many of the franchise’s most iconic figures are not members. Only six players have suited up for at least a dozen seasons with the Oilers: Glenn Anderson, Kelly Buchberger, Shawn Horcoff, Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier, and Ryan Smyth.
On Oct. 12, when the Oilers open their 2022-23 schedule by hosting the Vancouver Canucks, Nugent-Hopkins will join them. It’s hard to believe he has been an Oiler this long. Time flies and the No. 1 pick from the 2011 NHL Draft has grown up before our eyes.
But Nugent-Hopkins isn’t on the same level of greatness as Messier. He’s not a Cup winner like Buchberger, and he’s also not as widely beloved as Smyth. So, where does the veteran forward stand in franchise history?
How Nugent-Hopkins’ Scoring Stats Stack Up
Though he has never put up eye-popping offensive numbers (only two seasons over 60 points, none with 70 or more), Nugent-Hopkins has produced with remarkable consistency (his points-per-game average has fallen between 0.60 and 0.84 in nine of his eleven seasons) and ranks inside the franchise’s all-time top 10 in most major scoring categories: ninth in goals with 196 (13 back of eighth-place Coffey), ninth with 51 power-play goals, and tied for ninth in game-winning goals with 25.
Nugent-Hopkins also ranks 11th all-time with 332 assists and needs just four apples to pass both Smyth and Ales Hemsky to move into ninth. Additionally, he has fired 1,707 shots on goal, which is the sixth most all-time on the Oilers.
Nugent-Hopkins is a Two-Way Player
Eleven years after he made his Oilers debut, the former Red Deer Rebels star has yet to lead the team in points in a season. In fact, Nugent-Hopkins has only finished in the top two once, and so long as Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid are healthy and playing in Edmonton, he isn’t going to finish higher than third.
Yet, his 528 points rank 10th in franchise history. Not one of the eight forwards ahead of Nugent-Hopkins on the Oilers’ all-time points leaderboard has received the Oilers’ Top Defensive Forward award while he has won it four times (2013, 2017, 2018, 2019), and probably would have won it at least twice more had the Oilers not stopped announcing team award winners over the last three seasons.
Nugent-Hopkins is also one of only five Oilers forwards to log more than 1,000 minutes on Edmonton’s penalty kill since the NHL began tracking time on ice in 1997-98. The versatile player is the Oilers’ all-time leader among forwards in both blocked shots (389) and takeaways (488), both of which are stats the NHL began officially recording in 2005-06.
Nugent-Hopkins’ Understated Leadership Role
They don’t come more even-keeled than Nugent-Hopkins. He’s generally the picture of calm and composure, not prone to getting riled up or known for mixing it up (the most penalty minutes he’s had in a season is 33, and every other season he’s been assessed less than 30). All of this is to say that Nugent-Hopkins is not the player who’s going to be giving an impassioned speech on the bench, nor the one whose demonstrative fire becomes contagious among his teammates.
But does that mean Nugent-Hopkins is not a leader? Hardly. In fact, his discipline, effort, dedication, and professionalism is the example of how to conduct oneself as an NHL player. He’s the quiet leader, the one that every team needs to work with the emotional one. That’s why he served as an alternate captain every season since 2014-15 and is going into his team-record ninth season wearing a letter.
The Burnaby, B.C. native has also given back to the Edmonton community, having been involved with Hockey Helps Kids, Dogs With Wings, Sports Central, and Cystic Fibrosis Canada. In 2018, Nugent-Hopkins was nominated for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, recognizing “the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.”
Going Through Growing Pains With Oilers
Team success is commonplace among the vast majority of all-time great Oilers, but it has alluded Nugent-Hopkins, who had been part of only one playoff series win over his first decade in Edmonton, before helping the Oilers win two rounds to reach the 2022 Western Conference Final.
It wasn’t until his sixth season that Nugent-Hopkins even got to experience playoff hockey. But the Oilers have now reached the postseason three straight years, their longest streak in more than two decades and are considered bonafide Stanley Cup contenders for 2023.
Winning a ring would certainly bolster Nugent-Hopkins’ resume. After all, there are only five players that rank top 10 all-time on the Oilers in points while having also won the Stanley Cup in Edmonton – and they’re all in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, with a contract that runs through the 2028-29 season, Nugent-Hopkins could one day become the all-time leader in seasons with the Oilers (Lowe and Smyth are tied at 15). He is 318 games from tying Lowe for the franchise regular-season record (1,037).
Nugent-Hopkins is quietly building a legacy in Oil Country. He may yet reach a point where it is impossible to deny his place as an all-time Oilers great.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.