Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has struggled with injuries and consistency over the last few seasons.
And after seeing teammates Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle shipped out, the 24-year-old knew that he was expendable as well. So, the message may have been unvocalized, but it was clear. If he didn’t improve his numbers, he wouldn’t be staying with the Oilers much longer.
Heading into this season, Nugent-Hopkins was either going to start on the third line or stay in the top-six, all depending on if Leon Draisaitl ended up taking over as the second-line centre. However, after evaluating each player’s skill-sets, head coach Todd McLellan decided to keep Nugent-Hopkins as the second-line centre and to have Draisaitl remain on the first line wing alongside McDavid. And of course, if there wasn’t enough chemistry, the lines were subject to change.
In 12 games this season, the former first-overall pick has six goals and nine points and is currently riding a four-game point streak. Last season, he had just 18 goals and 43 points in the first 82-game season of his NHL career.
Puck Prose Ranking each NHL award from most important to pointless
More headlines around FanSided:— Edmonton Oilers: Tracking the 2018 NHL Draft results — Edmonton Oilers: Should they consider a James Neal buyout? — NHL trade rumors: Edmonton Oilers have interest in Matt Murray — Who are the top three best players in the NHL today? — Ranking the top 10 worst blown 3-1 series leads in NHL history
Looking at Nugent-Hopkins’ Game
Head coach Todd McLellan told the media that he wants to see Nugent-Hopkins ‘”play with a little more risk,” and as time has gone on, he has done just that. He looks faster and is skating much more effectively, and no longer shies away from taking the puck and running with it, let alone crashing the net.
Another noticeable difference in his game is his offence; this year, he is shooting the puck much more, and though a solid playmaker he is also trying to score goals. He has 26 shots this season, and as he continues to try and shoot the puck more often, he is getting more chances and is also generating more opportunities for his line and his team.
Not only is he thriving offensively, but the two-way centre is also playing well on the backcheck. He has 12 takeaways for just 11 giveaways this year and is also rushing back and making smart defensive plays. Looking at his game, he has no problem stacking up against his opponents, and can also keep up with the play and follow the puck well.
Making a Statement
With strong play at both ends of the rink, as well as his scoring pace and improved performance, Nugent-Hopkins is making a statement. He is proving that he is still an important member of the Oilers core, and also makes up a lot of their depth offensively.
If he can continue to put up consistent numbers and maintain his level of play heading into the thick of the 2017-18 campaign, he will not only get to remain with Edmonton but will show that he can play with the same aplomb that carried him to the ranks of the NHL.