Over the last few seasons, Edmonton Oilers winger Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has experienced struggles with injury, as well as inconsistent scoring.
As the Oilers build a new core around their promising youth, and with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle gone, many are curious to see what the future holds for the 24-year-old. In fact, his time with Edmonton could be winding down.
Nugent-Hopkins played in all 82 games for the first time in his career this past season, putting up 18 goals and 43 points. Though he was a minus-10, he had 48 takeaways for just 30 giveaways and again showed his worth as a two-way centre.
This coming season, Nugent-Hopkins finds himself in a tough spot. Leon Draisaitl seems prepared to centre his own line, and Ryan Strome is versatile enough to serve as a centre or winger. With the Oilers gaining more depth down the middle, Nugent-Hopkins could fall to the bottom-six and out of touch within the organization. However, with his skill-set and ability, his time in Edmonton shouldn’t be coming to an end.
Looking at Nugent-Hopkins’ Skills
First off, Nugent-Hopkins still has top-six potential, and a lot of that comes with his ability as a two-way centre. He plays a solid game at both ends of the rink and takes great care of the puck, while also backchecking effectively. In addition, Nugent-Hopkins can play big minutes and take control of the game and has great zone entry that comes with making smart passes and good plays.
Though he’s not a top scorer, or a stand-out name, he is underrated. Nugent-Hopkins can play a solid game at both ends of the rink and is a great defensive forward; he can also serve as an asset on special teams. His skill-set definitely classifies as elite in the NHL, and he skates well and has great vision.
Nugent-Hopkins and the Future
Still, while his point totals are far from impressive. The 2011 first-overall pick’s numbers have been on the decline over the years, and his numbers are not reflective of his true potential. All he has to do is add more edge to his offensive game, play more aggressive and get more pucks on net. Not only that, but he needs to be consistent in his performance and take no nights off.
If Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t take the time to improve his numbers and all-around offensive game, he will see a demotion, and that’s when Edmonton will have a problem. As evident from Jordan Eberle, the Oilers cannot afford to place $6 million players on the bottom-six, and they cannot wait for years for the core to finally develop.
But when it comes to Nugent-Hopkins, who hasn’t been playing poorly by any means, they can wait to see if he can put up numbers and add to his solid all-around game. At just 24 years old, Nugent-Hopkins is still young and developing.
As he continues to grow under head coach Todd McLellan, the Oilers must trust the process and give him time to rebound. However, if he doesn’t start showing consistency this coming year, it may be time for him to see a change in scenery.