Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on Team North America

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

After snubbing Taylor Hall, Canada can take a hike and I'm now all in for the kiddy team, Team North America. I'm glad to see both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jonathan Drouin are a part of it. My God I've liked dropping the "I told you so's" about Drouin for the past couple months.

I'm also excited to see how RNH stacks up on a team of comparable contemporaries. In theory he should be the leader - he's the 1st overall pick from the oldest draft year eligible for the team. I've been somewhat critical of Nuge over the past few years. I still believe in him, just not as much as I'd like to believe in a guy who was a 1st overall pick, with 5 years experience, who makes $6 million per. I can't help but be worried about how his best offensive year was his rookie year and how he's settled into a 55 pt / season guy since then, a similar trajectory to Sam Gagner's first five years. It will be interesting to see how he stacks up with guys like Drouin, MacKinnon, Eichel, Monahan, Schiefele, Matthews, all top picks his age or younger.

Provided he doesn't get traded, one thing Nuge has going for him is the coach is his NHL coach, Todd McLellan. Or does that work against him? We'll see. One has to wonder with Chiarelli and McLellan running this team if they are really going to push Nuge onto the stage and give him more opportunities. I hope they do because if things go well for him it may shift his career into a higher gear for the Oilers, but it also will showcase him as a trading chip needed to get the Oilers the assets they need in a trade. On the other hand if things go bad for him, and he struggles on this team of his (younger) peers... well, at least then we know what we've got, right?

I buy into the 3 strong centres idea... it's working great for San Jose this year. I don't fully advocate trading Nuge anymore, but I also don't believe he should be untouchable especially if there are indicators his long-term value is below what it is currently perceived to be, and we can get a lot for him. He's become a solid two-way C, but when you consider what his offensive ability was up until the 2013 World Juniors, it's a bit baffling how his offense hasn't developed as expected. Guys of his pedigree can learn to be defensive without losing that much of their offense.

He also needs to learn to play some wing if we're to run with 3 big C's. That's how San Jose does it... the only one who doesn't play wing at some point is Thornton, and that's McDavid for the Oilers. The World Cup might be a great chance to try him on McDavid's wing. A guy of his calibre can't live at 15:00 a night, and having the ability to shorten the bench and move him to a wing is a better use of his value. That's still a problem for the left-shot heavy Oilers though. McDavid, Hall, Draisaitl, Yakupov, and Pouliot all shoot left, and the odds-on 1st round pick Matthew Tkachuk does too. Hey Nuge, care to give RW a try?

In keeping with the San Jose comparisons, Nugent-Hopkins simply needs to produce more offensively. Couture can be counted on for 65 pts as the 3rd line swing centre; Pavelski can be counted on for 70+. In fact Pavelski (who coach TMac likes to compare Nuge to) hasn't scored under 60 pt / season since 2007-08, when he was 23. Nuge is also just 23, but he was a 1st overall pick and has 313 NHL games under his belt. Pavelski was a 7th round pick and had 46 games before his 23 year-old season.

So it's a big year for Nuge, and it will be interesting to see him kick it off on a world stage. Whether the rest of his season will be with the Oilers remains to be seen. I hope something can be worked out that allows the Oilers to run with the 3 big C's in a way that his value is maximized, the roster is balanced, and he starts scoring 65 pts +.

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