The Edmonton Oilers enter training camp with 51 players under contract but lack a lot of high-scoring depth on the right side.
It is always possible that the Oilers could sign a player or two to a tryout, but they may first try to work with the pieces that they have. With that being said, and looking at players like Ryan Strome, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could start the season as a winger.
The 24-year-old centre hasn’t put up too impressive of point totals over the years. This past season, he played the full 82 games for the first time in his career, but only managed 18 goals and 43 points. Though 18 goals aren’t terrible for a playmaking forward, he is not playing to his full potential and plays with less zest than he used to.
When it comes to Nugent-Hopkins, he is a strong two-way player who takes great care of the puck and has great stickhandling ability. When given the chance, he shows great speed and is smart with the puck, and he is also able to shoot accurately and quickly.
Looking at his game over time, he has turned into more of a defensive forward. While he thrives on the backcheck, he does not produce as much offensively, and this hurts his overall value. So, in order to get him back in the offensive swing of things, Nugent-Hopkins may benefit from a switch back to the wing.
Nugent-Hopkins as a Winger
First off, the Oilers have a lot of depth at centre, and Leon Draisaitl may be ready to carry his own line and put up high numbers as a second-line centre. This would move Nugent-Hopkins down to the third line, and that would mark yet another time that the Oilers have seen one of their $6 million forwards on the bottom-six.
If the Oilers move him to the wing, they could get another experienced top-six player on the right side, which would add depth to their weaker area while saving Nugent-Hopkins form the third line. Additionally, this could allow Strome to start fresh with his new team as a centre, where he is more comfortable.
Second, this would help expand the former first-overall pick’s horizons. He has always been more of a playmaker, but as a winger, he can prioritize scoring and work on not only passing but shooting the puck more and stepping up offensively.
Additionally, if he plays as a winger, he can get the opportunity to play with players like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitil, who will certainly help his production. Last season, he played with Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic for a majority of the time, and he had more responsibility to carry that line. His linemates also somewhat struggled with putting up solid numbers, so having less responsibility to carry his line may benefit him, as he can focus on himself.
Overall, looking at Nugent-Hopkins skill, potential, ability and struggles over time show that he can benefit from switching to the wing. And that may just happen to start the year.