The Edmonton Oilers have one hell of a forward group. Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, David Perron and Nail Yakupov are all players on the rise. The centerpiece (no pun intended) is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, another of Edmonton’s big three first round draft picks.
Hopkins came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, scoring in his first game en route to a season where, had he not been injured, he was on pace for over 70 points, a stellar number for any rookie. Sadly, he lost out to Gabriel Landeskog. The Edmonton Oilers, on the other hand, gain nothing but potential.
While his lockout season totaled only 40 NHL games, many were wary of the loss of offence RNH showed. Scoring only 24 points, some were quite concerned he may not rebound. To be sure, RNH was coming off a freak shoulder injury, one which eventually required surgery. Following the slicing and dicing, the young centerman was more himself, scoring 56 points this season. It wasn’t a breakout season, but for a guy coming off surgery and learning a new system from a tough new coach it was solid enough.
In the off-season, the Oilers need to make a couple of tough decisions. Sam Gagner is currently sitting a the #2 position. It would be a minor miracle for him if he remains in that role. In the upcoming 2014 Entry Draft, the Oilers will take either d-man Aaron Ekblad or one of three centers—Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart or Leon Draisaitl. Should the team take one of the centers, there is a strong possibility that they will be on the opening night roster. Buzz on the street has said that the team is hoping to develop their pick in the AHL or back in Junior. Only time will tell if the Oilers do that as their last few forwards made an immediate leap.
Naturally, every team is looking for a good, big center. Oil on Whyte targeted David Legwand as a major piece that management could acquire through free agency. The team could also pull off a trade that brings a second line center to town. The reason I mention all of this is that it will have a major impact on the role RNH will fall into. Will the team acquire a big time center? Will RNH get pushed down the depth chart if Gagner is sent away? All of this plays into what quality of linemates he will have, and what type of chemistry that can develop.
As far as what to expect from RNH, I imagine that the young man will seek to add size and toughness to his frame. He has become more elusive on the ice, but can get knocked around a bit by bigger opponents. At 6’1, he has the height, but 180 pounds is not enough size. Should he come to camp at 190-200 pounds, he will see an instant improvement in his mobility on the ice and a direct increase in his offensive output and defensive success.
OIL ON WHYTE OUTLOOK: While we don’t expect a 90 point season, we should see an evolution in RNH’s play. He may see his minutes fall if there is no improvement on his ability to take a draw. Overall, a quietly effective season should emerge. Expect boxcars like this: 25-47-72.