Oilers Should Consider Zach Hyman Over Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

TSN’s Darren Dreger said something very interesting during his discussion with the TSN panel of insiders on the most recent DFO Rundown podcast. In talking about what the Toronto Maple Leafs might do heading into this year’s NHL Trade Deadline, he wondered if the Leafs might be looking for a player with term, planning ahead for a scenario where Zach Hyman tests free agency and potentially leaves the Leafs for a better offer.

You might be asking, what does this have to do with the Edmonton Oilers? Well, Dreger lobbed a grenade out there for the panel to laugh at when he said, “If you get that six, seven guy, you’re never replacing Zach Hyman if he decides that he’s going to the open market and he’s going to sign a smokin’ deal with the Edmonton Oilers.”

While the comment was likely meant as haha moment and not to be taken all that seriously, it makes you wonder a little.

What If Oilers Can’t Come to Terms With Nugent-Hopkins?

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ contract situation is one that has been front and center when it comes to future Oilers contracts. The team and the player’s agent have spoken, the most recent news that a five-year contract extension was tabled by Edmonton and Nugent-Hopkins balked at it.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

There’s no reason the Oilers would trade Nugent-Hopkins this season, even if a deal can’t be done. The playoffs are too important. That said, when the season ends, would the Oilers start to look at other options on the open market to replace what could be a top-six left-winger leaving the team, and one who is an efficient two-way player and penalty killer?

Perhaps they may not have much choice to try and replace him if Nugent-Hopkins’ ask remains high.

In Many Ways, Hyman Makes Sense

While he’s not a center, Hyman has all the tools to be a top-six winger on a regular basis in the NHL. He could be looking this summer for an opportunity to get elevated minutes and a hefty bump on his current $2.25 million salary. Some are suggesting he could get as much as $5 million per season on the open market.

He’s more likely to fetch just over $4 million and for the Oilers anywhere between $4 and $5 million is a nice discount over what Nugent-Hopkins is set to make. At the least, Edmonton saves close to $2 million per season by choosing Hyman over Nugent-Hopkins. Moreover, if Nuge is set to be a winger for the length of his next deal — the Oilers have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl as their one-two center combination — Holland doesn’t need to sign another top-six center. He needs a top-six winger.

Edmonton can slot Hyman in as a winger, then look for a different third-line center option with the cap savings.

At worst, the GM can use those savings and spend it on their backend, where the team might be facing an issue with the costs of keeping both Tyson Barrie and Adam Larsson, should they want to.

The Biggest Argument Was Having to Replace Nugent-Hopkins If You Moved Him

Most fans in favor or re-signing Nugent-Hopkins argue that the Oilers will immediately be looking to replace him with a similar player. That is very true, but Hyman checks a lot of boxes in that regard.

Toronto Maple Leafs Zach Hyman
Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Zach Hyman (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

Both players are roughly the same age. Both are proficient penalty killers and two-way players. Both aren’t necessarily known as goal scorers, but both have posted multiple 20-goal seasons and have the skill offensively to regularly play on the team’s power play. The only real issue is that the Oilers know what Nugent-Hopkins is at this stage in his career. Hyman is coming into his own and while his ceiling may be higher, that’s not clear as of right now.

While Nugent-Hopkins offers you center depth, Hyman brings a more aggressive style of play and nasty forechecking presence. The Oilers could certainly use more of that. Hyman is potentially a more skilled and heavier version of Kailer Yamamoto, likely supplying the McDavid line with a forward who can do go the dirty areas to get him the puck.

Maybe There Are Too Many ‘What Ifs’

It’s not a perfect fit, but it’s close if things with Nugent-Hopkins don’t pan out. And, for the Maple Leafs, who would love to keep Hyman, the money may just be too much. I’m not suggesting the Oilers plan for this. I’m not even suggesting it’s a likely scenario that will play itself out. I’m simply suggesting the Oilers have the discussion if Hyman doesn’t re-sign right away in Toronto.

If Nugent-Hopkins’ contract ask is too high for the Oilers and Hyman’s contract ask is too high for the Maple Leafs, you never know where this could go. The Oilers have the means to make Hyman a nice offer and he’d give the team a chance to do other things. There are far worse ways to go.

Sign up for our free ‘Oilers Substack Newsletter‘ for all the latest.