Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?


It’s one of the hottest debates facing the hard luck fans of the Edmonton Oilers. With Taylor Hall making the jump from OHL superstar to NHL rookie and faring relatively well, will Ryan Nugent-Hopkins follow suit? Everyone knew the questions surrounding Hopkins heading into the NHL Entry Draft. With seemingly every first overall pick making the direct jump from junior to NHL, would his game translate to the next level? More pressing, how would his thin frame hold up playing against Douglas Murray, Kevin Bieksa and Shea Weber night after night? Would his persona be able to, at such a young age, handle the pressure of playing in the heartland of hockey? How would he handle the public opinion of himself changing on a whim?


Why Hopkins Should Play in the NHL This Season

While it’s a decision yet to be made, but like any decision, there are pros and there certainly are cons. Let’s start with the pros. If Nugent-Hopkins proves worthy of a top-6 spot on the roster, why deny it to him? It’s no doubt that the coaching and exposure playing in the pros will serve him far better than riding the buses in Red Deer. Nugent-Hopkins also has clear offensive ability, and maybe more paramount to him making the Oilers this year, is responsible at both ends of the ice.  If he shows the chemistry with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle we as Oilers dream of, why deny him a roster spot?  Like last year, there will be very little if any pressure on this team to make a playoff run (that’s what two years of Steve Tambellini gets you).  Why not take advantage of that and have Nugent-Hopkins acclimate to the NHL in as stress-free a way possible.


Is Hopkins Ready for the Show?

And of course, there are a few cons to him sticking around in the bigs.  For starters, unlike Taylor Hall last season Nugent-Hopkins still has quite a bit to prove at the CHL level.  Hall led his Windsor Spitfires to consecutive Memorial Cup Championships and was named tournament MVP both times.  Nugent-Hopkins has yet to lead his Red Deer Rebels on a long playoff run, and hasn’t proven he’s able to carry a team throughout the course of an entire season.  Another stat which may alarm Oilers fans is that Nugent-Hopkins didn’t produce a ton in the WHL during even-strength time.  At just 0.68 points per game 5 on 5, Nugent-Hopkins is behind fellow 2011 draftees Jonathan Huberdeau (1.03 PPG), and even Detroit Ty Rattie (0.87 PPG).  By contrast, Hall averaged 1.03 even strength points per game, granted on a much better Windsor Spitfire team.  What this signifies is that Nugent-Hopkins has unfinished business in the WHL, and there is a very tangible benefit in having his NHL debut delayed by a year.


Sam Gagner’s Role With the Edmonton Oilers

Another factor to consider is Sam Gagner.  At just 22 years old and already with four NHL seasons under his belt, Gagner has everything to prove this season.  Is he capable of being a top-6 forward in the NHL, or will he join the long list of Edmonton Oiler first round flameouts (Alex Plante, Riley Nash, Marc-Antoine Pouliot)?  If Ryan Nugent-Hopkins plays with the team, he will get top-6 minutes and quality powerplay time; and his development is far more of a priority for the franchise than Gagner’s.  With Nugent-Hopkins in the lineup and the free agent signing of Eric Belanger, a faceoff winning center who is proven defensively and can contribute offensively as well, Gagner will be relegated to a role where his opportunities will be very limited.  He will be stuck behind three higher-priority players (captain Shawn Horcoff being the other), and will have next to no opportunity to prove himself to the organization.


On the other hand, is Gagner’s fate already sealed regarding his future with the Edmonton Oilers?  Ryan-Nugent Hopkins will surely make the team in 2012-13, and next fall the depth chart at center should read Nugent Hopkins-Horcoff-Belanger.  With centers Tyler Pitlick and Anton Lander coming up, is there any room for Gagner period?  At just 22 years old, has he already run out of second chances with the organization that drafted him only four years ago?

The pros to Nugent-Hopkins becoming a full-time Oiler are very obvious:  if he wows us in training camp, if he shows us the deft vision and playmaking ability that seduced the franchise into taking him first overall, if he can play well without the puck, why shouldn’t he make the team?  On the other hand, he still has something to prove at the junior level.  The Oilers rushed another highly touted center, Mr. Gagner, into the show too soon and now he’s perceived by many to have unfulfilled potential and could change organizations soon.  As always, what do the readers think?


11 thoughts on “Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?”

  1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins should stay in the WHL for 2-3 more years and when he’s ready should be around 210-225 LBS, good weight for his height which is 6’1.

    • Don’t think he’ll play in the W after this season. Lots of small players thrive in the NHL at under 200 lbs. Thanks for the read!

  2. Don’t think the Oilers should rush him. The team isn’t exactly going to be in a place where they can make a big move up the standings this season so I don’t know that I’d use a year of his contract up this season rather than push it to next season and keep him a RFA a year longer. I think the team would benefit more by having him a RFA for that extra season unless he’s absolutely ready to contribute this year.

  3. Gagner is not the problem, Horcoff is the problem. If the Oilers are committed to youth, then dump an aging unproducing overpaid Horcoff and develop Gagner with the other youngsters. Have Belanger help the young centers learn how to win a faceoff. In a year or two, the depth at center should look more like RNH – Gagner – Lander – Pitlick.

    • I agree to a certain extent Bobby, but Horcoff’s value to the team is such that he won’t get moved until that fat contract expires. Team captain, mentor, community presence. Thanks for the read!

  4. First off Taylor Hall is not a great hockey player nor is he a good player. He was the direct cause of more goals scored against his team than he scored. At best a fourth liner.
    Hopkins is shaping up to be the same type of player. The Canadian junior hockey teams play only an offensive type game and when they get to the NHL they are completely loss in their own end.

    Gagner if he is not treated right will leave the team.

    Keep in mind it is not winning games but profit that the Oilers are after.

    • Dave,

      Do you watch any hockey? Or you must be American….
      I don’t even know where to begin with your statements. The only accurate on is in regards to Gagner. The Oilers will win the cup in the near future because they are building a team from the ground up. An example of a team who is driven for profit would be the Toronto Maple Leafs… Think about it dave, cause somethings in clearly in your kitchen..

      • Mack – I almost replied with the same answer. I watch a lot of hockey and have seen Mr. Hall play live – it was immediately evident that this kid will be a superstar in the NHL – it only took about 2 shifts to come to that conclusion.

    • Completely disagree sir. Junior hockey focuses on both ends of the ice, and as someone who’s seen Hopkins play live several times, he is very responsible in his own end. And Hall was the Oilers best forward before his injury, I’m not sure why he’s the cause of more goals against.

  5. Age of 1st Forward in each draft in there 1st NHL Season:

    19+ Years: Hall, Tavares, Kane, Ovechkin, E. Staal, Heatley, Stefan, JP dumont,

    18 Years: Stamkos(6’1″), Staal(6’4″), Crosby, Nash(6’4″), Kovalchuk(6’2″), Lecavalier(6’4″), J Thorton (7pt in 55GM)

    If your physically developed and can score goals your successful at 18YR otherwise. wait till 19YR+.

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