The Edmonton Oilers are expecting a lot of change going into this season. They changed their roster, added new pieces to bring new culture (and hopefully success) and are looking to make another step forward in their rebuild.
With the new year also comes expectations for old and new players alike. For Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, he hopes to make new strides and take advantage of his status as an underrated centre in the NHL.
The former first-overall pick has a lot to his name; he is highly underrated and at times, is thought to be small, but possesses some physicality and a strong two-way game. He was even rumored to be a trade chip for the Oilers this past season, but they chose to hang onto him (and for good reason). Nugent-Hopkins has the potential to be a top-six centre who carries his line, and is projected to take over as the second line C and win the spot over Leon Draisaitl.
However, the real question revolves around whether or not he will exceed expectations, and reach his full potential. The 22-year-old has a lot of skill, and his ability is unprecedented.
“Has incredible hockey sense, vision and patience with the puck. Can set up line mates with aplomb, as well as score goals himself. Displays a two-way game. Makes his teammates around him better.” – The Hockey News
Nugent-Hopkins has the skills and potential to become an elite NHL centre. However, as his “Baby Nuge” nickname defines him, he lacks size and strength; add that in with his run-ins with adversity, and you get multiple injuries and struggles when it comes to the rough-and-tumble of the NHL.
On the contrary, a look at Nugent-Hopkins’ performance thus far in the World Cup of Hockey gives us reason to be excited. He already has a goal in the tournament thanks to outstanding stickhandling, and has displayed moments of strong two-way performance, such as when he stripped Anze Kopitar (also one of the top underrated centres in the league) of the puck as he sped down the middle.
Baby Nuge is displaying speed, skill and strength, and looks ready to come back this season and fight harder. He spent a chunk of last season sidelined with a hand injury, but managed to finish with 34 points (12 G, 22 A) in 55 games.
One of the advantages is his quiet confidence; Nugent-Hopkins can go under the radar, which in the end helps him to break out and perform well against top competitors. The 6-foot, 189-pound centre can speed down the middle and start the breakout, and be a catalyst, but goes unrecognized, which is a blessing, but for his name, a curse.
This season, I am predicting that Nugent-Hopkins will have a breakout year. I think that he can score plenty of points and carry the second-line, especially given the new depth of right wingers that the Oilers have in the mix. While Nugent-Hopkins does not need to rely on wingers to be an outstanding player, having great chemistry can make him all that much better. With Kris Versteeg, Jesse Puljujarvi and others in the mix, there are plenty of strong linemates for Nuge, which can in the end, make him more able to create scoring chances.
There’s a lot to be excited about, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this year was one where Nuge really broke out of his shell. He’ll prove he is more than just a trade chip, but a name you want on your roster.