Nugent-Hopkins aims to ‘rise above’ meagre offensive output so far this season
Edmonton Oilers centre has just seven points in 17 games, but is playing well away from the puck
DALLAS — Is it too early to panic about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and his meagre points production this season?
Edmonton Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger isn’t a believer in line rankings, but if Nugent-Hopkins is centring Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, as he undoubtedly will be against the Dallas Stars Thursday in their third meeting this season, then he’s definitely a first-liner.
While the 19-year-old has faced all the top NHL centres — Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Mikko Koivu, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg — this season and is playing well defensively, with a minus-1 rating in 17 games, he’s also responsible for providing the Oilers with some offensive juice.
With all the one-goal games Edmonton has played in this 48-game season, they need more from Nugent-Hopkins, last season’s Calder Trophy runner-up. Although the coaches have praised his checking and ice savvy away from the puck for a second-year NHLer — he’s not in over his head — they want more than seven points from the Burnaby, B.C., native. He has just two points in the last 10 games and is seventh in scoring for the Oilers.
As for the NHL overall, there are 222 players ahead of him, which is startling for his wonderful skill set. He goes into games looking for a three or four-point outing with his linemates, but nothing like that has transpired — so far.
“Obviously, you have to worry about the defensive zone first, and I’m trying. The chances are there. I have to bear down, get the puck off quickly, and move my feet,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who knows the glare falls on him more than just about anybody outside of Hall or Eberle.
“Of course, we’re expecting more production from Ryan’s line, with the offensive zone time they have,” Krueger said. “We believe it’s only a matter of time (before they have a breakout game).”
Alarmingly, Nugent-Hopkins has just four points five-on-five this season. In 2011-12, he would get four points in two games — before he hurt his shoulder in early January 2012. Now, he looks like the poster boy for the sophomore jinx, which has affected so many young players before him.
“It is a challenge. I have to rise above it.”
Nugent-Hopkins gets the puck a lot and he’s shooting (40 shots this season), but has just one goal to show for his efforts. This is virgin territory for him. He did take one game off this year to rest the shoulder that was hurt last season, but that’s not supposed to be a concern.
As Nugent-Hopkins goes, so go the Oilers. Last season, he had 52 points in 62 games as a rookie.
“As a team, we want to score more. We’d like to get three or four goals a game, consistently,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who knows there are plenty of 3-2 games in the NHL.
“It’s putting the pucks on net as a team. Me, too. I can’t be so fancy.”
Nugent-Hopkins more than held his own against Toews, who’s certainly a role model. Toews didn’t get a point in the Chicago Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime win on Monday, and Nugent-Hopkins ended up winning 11 of 19 faceoffs, not always against the Blackhawks captain, but enough of them to make an impression.
“If he’s not the best player I’ve gone against, he’s one of them, for sure,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “It’s always difficult — you can never let your guard down against Toews or anybody else like that.”
Krueger, like all coaches, knows his best players have to play their best in order for him to win. It’s the same for every NHL club.
“It’s a real interesting situation with the point production of Nugent-Hopkins,” Krueger said. “But when you see the 24 minutes he had in Chicago, most of it against Jonathan Toews and a 58 per cent faceoff percentage, it was almost an even game five-on-five against their best line. The scoring chances were close, 6-5 for Toews’s line.”
“We see the five-on-five production (only 16 goals in 18 games) as a team production. It is lacking, we’re not happy with it, not happy with the results and Ryan is a part of that equation,” Krueger said. “But he’s been a very good player for us. He’s playing against the top lines at home and on the road. We’re pleased with the depth of Ryan’s game.
“He’s got so much offensive upside, and we feel in the last few games (things) are going better for him. After his injury, he got a little breath of fresh air. He got an extra gear back and he has the ability to separate himself from anybody ... against Chicago, against some of the top defencemen in the world (Blackhawks Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook), he was getting separation, making the plays he wanted to make.”
“I believe the points will come.”
But if Nugent-Hopkins isn’t a 35-38 point player over the 48 games this season, the Oilers are in trouble. Not just him, but Eberle, who has just six even-strength points out of his 12 points on the season, and only three five-on-five goals. He’s struggling, too.
Hall is not struggling with 16 points in 16 games, including nine even-strength points.
“It’s extremely important we stick to the tight process we’re in,” Krueger said. “I don’t need to add up the one-goal games we’ve been in (10 games, and three more were two-goal wins or losses with empty-net goals over their 18 games) and what more five-on-five goals (16 for, 32 against) could do for us.”
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