We continue our trek through the 2019 offseason, putting the disappointing, anger-inducing, expletive-filled 2018-19 season behind us. But, even in the darkest, coldest, scariest tunnels there are always at least a handful of diamonds to pick out and flee with to a brighter day. One of those diamonds from the rough past season is the focus of today’s topic, everybody’s favourite man-child: @Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

82 28 41 69 45.1 20:06 208 13.5 8 26

It was a career year for RNH, who had a sparkling season as the de facto second line centre, finishing with a very very nice 69 points on a virtually inept secondary scoring unit of the Oilers roster. He also played 265:49 minutes on the powerplay, which was third on the team (I’ll let you guess who was ahead of him), and 15th in the NHL; his 26 powerplay points were 10th in the NHL. The downside of Nuge’s stellar season was that on a team that finished with a 30th overall penalty kill, he led the Oilers in short-handed TOI at 139:03, almost 22.5 minutes more than the next closest player (Kyle Brodziak). The failure of the penalty kill cannot be pinned entirely on RNH, but some responsibility does have to fall on the top shorthanded centreman who had a concerning face-off percentage, which cannot be ignored as a factor for defensive struggles.

So what does all this mean in context? Let’s take a look at some of Nuge’s contemporaries (other centres) from this past season, based on point totals.

(29) Logan Couture 70 18:36 46.3
(30 )Matt Duchene 70 18:50 55.3
(32) Elias Petterson 66 18:14 41.0
(33) Sam Reinhart 65 18:57 35.6
(34) Ryan Johansen 64 19:33 53.5
(35) Joe Pavelski 64 19:03 53.2
(36) Matt Barzal 62 17:55 41.5
(37) Pierre-Luc Dubois 61 17:43 43.5
(38) Bo Horvat 61 20:50 53.7
(39) Anze Kopitar 60 22:18 55.1
(40) Gustav Nyquist 60 17:31 50.0
(41) Jonathan Marchessault 59 18:09 37.2

First thing that sticks out is that only Horvat, Kopitar and Nuge averaged over 20 mins/gm in this grouping, but Bo and Anze were far superior in the face-off dot. But Nuge was leaned on a lot in all situations, particularly short-handed, so let’s take a look at how he did with his contemporaries there (centres based on SH TOI):

(29) Nate Thompson 13 142:55 51.38
(30) Jonathan Toews 81 142:18 52.14
(31) Claude Giroux 85 142:14 55.81
(32) Casey Cizikas 33 142:05 46.95
(34) Yanni Gourde 48 139:00 37.50
(35) Calle Jarnkork 26 138:40 43.75
(36) Derek Stepan 35 138:77 49.36
(37) Chris Tierney 48 137:03 43.44
(38) Eric Fehr 49 135:48 49.74
(39) Ryan Kesler 8 135:04 50.26

Nuge was 39.85% in face-offs while shorthanded. Not good. But other than Toews– who had an outlying career year– and Giroux– who’s been a Hart finalist– none of the other players in this group came anywhere near Nuge’s point totals. So though he was relied upon for defensive responsibility, that may have been ill-advised. But let’s take a look at the advanced counts to see how Nuge contributed to the Oilers offence:

CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start %
45.88 45.38 46.53 216/260 45.38 46.48 10.28 .894 .996 46.37

Umm… Not ideal. Barely any offence being generated by Nuge, and falling close to the bottom of the “average” bracket as far as Corsi is concerned. But, again, defensive-responsibility is likely the main culprit to this, as evidenced by the lack of offensive zone starts. The factor of low quality linemates for most of the season cannot be ignored; it’s hard to generate offence without having talented partners to help out with it.

So, let’s look at how Nuge did relative to the rest of the Oilers roster.

(Counts are at Even Strength)

CF/60 CA/60 CF% Rel GF% Rel SCF% Rel HDCF% Rel HDGF% Rel
-3.2 4.11 -3.28 -1.12 -2.53 -2.60 .68

Well. All those numbers are in opposite directions you want them to be. Not pushing shot attempts to the right side of the ice, and not converting enough goals. But, he’s playing in a lot of situations, and not getting a lot of starts on the beneficial side of the ice.

So the individual numbers aren’t pretty, but how did he play with his teammates? Why don’t we take a look:

w/ Connor McDavid

Even Strength TOI Together: 418:37
CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start %
50.93 46.55 50.91 94/91 50.81 48.28 10.93 .864 .973 58.76

Might be surprising that this was his most frequent linemate, but there was a moment in Todd McLellan’s system that he was insisting on Draisaitl centring his own line and Nuge was @Connor McDavid’s trigger man. So it also shouldn’t come as a surprise that playing with the best player in the NHL resulted in some of his best offensive projection. Not enough goals, but a lot of attempts but with high usage in the offensive zone. This is the definition of being put in the position to succeed.

w/ Alex Chiasson

Even Strength TOI Together: 315:16
CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start%
46.03 46.43 51.02 44/56 44.00 57.14 10.08 .905 1.005 44.20

@Alex Chiasson won a Cup, came to the 2018 Oilers training camp on a PTO and became Nuge’s second-most frequent ES linemate. Didn’t get a tonne of chances in the offensive zone, but the numbers are respectable, with a healthy amount of scoring chances.

(Also, this isn’t a Chiasson piece, but over the course of this series, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by his chemistry with the forward corps. He’s a nice player who I hope the Oilers re-sign to a reasonable contract).

w/ Jesse Puljujarvi

Even Strength TOI Together: 245:10
CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start% 
42.82 42.86 46.67 38/49 43.68 46.67 13.33 .868 1.001 42.64

Oh man, well this is awkward.

w/ Milan Lucic

Even Strength TOI Together: 219:10
CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start %
45.98 63.64 46.67 32/38 45.71 72.73 16.28 .922 1.084 42.64

The good news: I expected these counts to be abysmal. In fact, they aren’t even that bad. The shooting percentage is high, but it yielded the perfect results: goals. The High Danger count also indicates that @Milan Lucic was probably doing exactly what we would expect of him and getting to the front of the net. Man, if only Milan was making half his salary we could all love him again…

w/ Jujhar Khaira

Even Strength TOI Together: 185:07
CF% GF% SCF% HDCF/CA HDCF% HDGF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO Off.Zone Start %
49.67 47.06 59.06 37/29 56.06 55.56 11.43 .886 1.000 38.93

Injuries kept him out for 22 games, but there were certainly some positive things to take from this pairing of Nugent-Hopkins and @Jujhar Khaira. With a pathetic amount of offensive zone starts, they turned the possession around and generated a healthy amount of scoring chances. It’s reasonable to expect that with more time together, the goals would have followed.

Final Thought

Unfortunately, Nuge just doesn’t seem to do anything effective on his own. Only 29 of his 69 points were scored without McDavid or Draisaitl being involved, his Corsi Relative count was in the red, he was ineffective on the face-off dot, and he led a penalty kill unit in ice time that finished second-to-last in the league. Those stats aren’t flattering. But, he still finished with a very very nice 69 points, which is not nothing. Not to mention that perhaps his most effective linemate was injured for a quarter of the season, and was then tasked with playing with a guy who made the team on a PTO (who I like, but it’s still a PTO), a $6mil trade/buyout/lose-his-passport-and-leave-at-the-airport candidate, and a young Finn whose refused to ever wear an Oilers sweater ever again.

The roster is flawed. He needs help. These aren’t ground-breaking statements. Nuge may never hit 69 again, but that’s fine. As a second-line centre, he doesn’t have to, especially if he’s playing behind 200 points in Connor and Leon; he can settle in at the 45-50 point mark with some powerplay time, and limited PK time (certainly not the team leader). He was simply stretched thin. He was relied upon in all situations more than any other forward, and constantly put in a position to fail by being given defensive assignments– playing the most PK time and hardly starting in the offensive zone, and not being given the best partners on the flanks to turn the puck up the ice– and he just doesn’t seem to be a player who thrives with that level of responsibility.  Whether it’s a talented winger to play on his flank, or a centre who can help out with face-offs and Nuge can make the move to the wing, he can still be offensively effective. He just can’t be expected to do it alone. There needs to be more bottom-six players who can play effective PK time and help alleviate the burden so Nuge can focus on his offensive tools.

Get Nuge help, so he can stay forever.