Nuge Under Fire

Our beloved Nuge is under fire.

After Wednesday’s loss to the Blues, there was an unprecedented level of hate and anger towards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on Twitter. Nuge has been a fan favourite in Edmonton from the very moment that he was selected with the 1st overall pick in 2011. He’s off to a slow start this season though, and there are a few fans who aren’t happy about it, especially after he gave the puck away by trying to feed McDavid at the point through 4 sticks from below the net when the Oilers pulled Smith late in the game.

He only has 1 goal through the first 17 games of the season. He has hit a few posts, and a few of his shots have gone in off of James Neal, but the fact of the matter is that he isn’t scoring goals. The more troubling thing is that only 4 of his 9 points this season have come at even strength.

Before we start running Nuge out of town, let’s take a closer look at his career numbers to get a better sense of what a fair expectation is for him.

Entering this season, he was averaging 0.73 points per game for his career. That equates to 59.48 points in an 82-game season. Last season, 59 points would’ve tied him with Jonathan Marchessault for 46th among NHL centres (according to NHL.com based on the players that they have listed as centres). That is quality 2nd line centre production.

I went back and looked at his EV point totals for every season in his career. I also figured out his 82-game pace for the seasons in which he suffered injuries. His sophomore season in 2012-13 was the only season of his career where he was on pace to finish with less than 32 EV points. He had 13 in 40 games that year, which would’ve equated to 27 over 82 games.

Last season, Nuge had 40 even strength points. This was the 2nd best mark of his career. 40 EV points ranked him 87th among all NHL forwards last season according to QuantHockey. Now, they do not list centres independently from wingers. They simply classify all forwards as Fs. By my count, that put Nuge in 34th in even strength points scored amongst centres last season. I can assure you that my count is probably wrong, but I am also quite confident that there were not another 28 centres ahead of Nuge on the list that I missed. He’s a quality 2nd line centre in terms of EV scoring as well.

I’m aware that is based on near-peak performance for Nuge. His year where he was on pace to finish with 27 EV points is an outlier. Even if Nuge would’ve scored 32 EV points last year, which is his 2nd worst career mark, he would’ve been tied for 128th among NHL forwards. Once again, according to my count, that would put him in 50th spot. I’m sure my count is wrong, but it won’t be off by enough to put him below 62nd spot.

Based on all measures of point production, Nuge is not being overrated when we call him a quality 2nd line centre.

Coming in to this season, he was averaging 0.46 even strength points per game, which equates to 38 even strength points per 82-game season. Nuge is 26 years old. He’s basically right in the middle of his peak years, although some might argue that he has already passed his peak and is now in that range of time where he will continue to produce at somewhere close to 90% of his peak performance. A fair expectation for Nuge would be 35-40 even strength points per year at this stage of his career.

He’s got 4 in 17 games this year. He’s only on pace for 19.

It’s clear that something is wrong with Nuge at 5-on-5 this year! I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the fact that he got married this summer or what it is, but something’s up.

Based on what I have seen in the games that I’ve watched, it seems like Nuge and his lines have been having trouble getting to the middle of the ice. If they get possession in the offensive zone, they get a couple of cycles along the wall, and then they’re headed back to play defence. Nuge hasn’t been getting many chances off of the rush either (Natural Stat Trick has him at 0 Rush Attempts). They aren’t attacking with speed. They’re dumping the puck in and having to chase it down.

Nuge has gotten better at puck battles as his career has gone on, but given his size, a strategy where he has to engage in more puck battles along the wall isn’t best suited for Nuge’s game.

Nuge’s struggles with getting or creating quality chances from the middle of the ice is a microcosm for the bottom 9 forward group for the Oilers as a whole so far. No line except the top line has been able to get chances consistently thus far. Nuge isn’t the only one, but his success is vital. He and his line are supposed to be the secondary scoring. Behind him, there is no depth scoring. McDavid and Draisaitl are amazing, but even they can’t do it alone.

Nuge’s most common line mate so far this season has been James Neal. Neal has 11 goals, but only 3 of those have come at even strength. 2 of them were against the Islanders, and Nuge did not assist on either one of those goals. The other came against Detroit, and once again, Nuge did not assist on that goal.

Nuge has not assisted on a James Neal goal at even strength so far this season. We are almost a quarter of the way through the season. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that the duo just isn’t clicking. It might be time to try something different. More on that in a later post.

The good news is that Nuge’s play is starting to turn for the better. You can tell by his shot totals. He has 42 shots this season. 20 of those have come in the last 5 games. The points will come for him soon enough, and there’s a hot streak in his near future.

Nuge is too good of a player to not figure it out at some point. He’s just in a slump. The Oilers definitely need him to get on it if they want to get back to playing winning hockey though.

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