I’ve said it before, and I will continue to preach it: the spot in which you were drafted means absolutely nothing the second you throw on the team’s jersey. It shouldn’t, but it still does, which is a problem.
Hockey fans love to look at a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who went first overall, and automatically assume that he should be an elite #1 centre. The reality is, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will never be a #1 centre in the NHL and to expect him to produce anywhere near that, just because of where he was selected, is completely unfair to the player.
Not all draft classes and first overall picks were created equal.
So when you look at a player like Nuge, what should expectations be? What can Oilers fans realistically expect from #93 and what should we consider a successful year from the 24-year-old?
Well, first we should be clear on what Nugent-Hopkins is. If we look at last season, which most agree was a down year for RNH, we can see that his goals/60, first assists/60 as well as his shot suppression and shot generation are all on par with an average second line center.
So at his very worst, Nugent-Hopkins is an average second line center. But like I already said, those “average” numbers came in a down season.
So as we head into a season in which Nugent-Hopkins is expected to bounce back, what are some numbers that we should expect him to produce?
Last year, Nuge took 200 shots on goal and scored on 9% of them. That 9% shooting% was a dip from his career average of 10.33%, if you were to pro-rate that he would have scored 21 goals last year, which I believe he can improve on.
Despite a down season statistically, those 200 shots were a career high, but I believe he could top that as he enters his 24-year-old season. One other thing, even though the season is still young, I’ve noticed Nugent-Hopkins going to the tough areas in the offensive zone with more regularity. Although it isn’t pretty, it’s something that will help push up his offensive numbers.
If he shoots the puck a little bit more from high danger spots, I would say that if he can score 23-28 goals this year playing on the Oilers second or third line, with decent power play time, that should absolutely be considered a success. A middle six forward who can score upwards of 20 goals is not an easy thing to find.
Of course, offense is only one part of what makes Nugent-Hopkins a solid player. Over the past two seasons, he has taken major strides in terms of his defensive play and that skill holds immense value for the Oilers. Draisaitl and McDavid will take care of the offensive zone starts, the Oilers need RNH to continue to be reliable in his own end, which I think he can.
When looking at Nugent-Hopkins this year, forget that he went first overall and forget the expectations thrown on him throughout the beginning of his career. Don’t expect him to be rushing the puck through the neutral zone, or running the powerplay, but here’s what you should expect:
- 23-28 goals
- 30-35 assists, putting him close to 60 points
- Contribution on both second powerplay unit & second penalty kill
- Solid defensive play (this one needs the eye test)
- Ability to win faceoffs (mix of eye test/FO%)
A 60 point centerman who plays an incredibly responsible defensive game and can play both sides of the special teams? If you ask me, I think a player like that is worth $6 million dollars.
It may be wishful thinking, but if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can check off the above criteria this year, not only will it bring the Oilers solid depth as they look for another run into the playoffs, but it could bring them something important once the season is done: trade value.