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What is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ Ceiling This Year?

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Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has quietly been putting together an impressive season. Can he keep at it for an entire year?

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Edmonton Oilers
Nuge: Quietly killing it
Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Connor McDavid gets the most press about the Oilers, and rightfully so. McDavid is on pace for another 100+ point season, and a third Art Ross trophy is quite possibly within reach. Leon Draisaitl is having a fine campaign alongside McDavid, and if everything falls just right, a career high in points could be in the works.

A third Oiler could have a career high in 2018-19, and that’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

OVERLOOKED?

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was drafted first overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft (the one between Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov). He’s played on some truly awful hockey clubs, but has established himself as a fine hockey player during some pretty bleak times. Nugent-Hopkins has a .7 points-per game average since his rookie campaign in 2011 (okay, it’s .696, but that’s pretty close to .7). If the club didn’t have a McDavid or a Draisaitl, it’d likely be Nugent-Hopkins’ show.

Nugent-Hopkins is having a really killer year right now. He’s got 24 points (6-18-24) in 27 games so far this year. Over the course of 82 games, that’s a 73 point pace. I’m not sure he gets that far, but the fact that we’re a little past a third of the season and we’re having this conversation is great. 70+ is a pretty great number when your best scorer might hit 110 and there’s someone else who could easily hit 80.

A common knock on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is that he has trouble staying healthy for a full season, and let’s be honest, he’s had a couple of significant ones for a player just 25 years of age. He’s played 76 or more games just three times out of a possible six years (excluding the 2012-13 lockout shortened year). Shoulder surgery, cracked ribs, and a hand injury have all chipped away at his overall game total which sits at 484 after last night’s contest in Dallas.

But forget all of that for now. Nugent-Hopkins is putting together a killer year on the second line. The two-way centre had spent time on the first line with Connor McDavid’s left wing. Since Leon Draisaitl had been moved up top to try and jump-start the offence, Nugent-Hopkins is back at centre on line two. He’s done it with a rotating cast of Drake Caggiula, Alex Chiasson (who’s hammering them home so far this year) and Milan Lucic for a short time. Jesse Puljujarvi has made an appearance to 93’s right as of late. It’s all working out, at least for now. Nugent-Hopkins has performed very well on the power play, he’s got 13 of his 24 total points with the man advantage. I think there’s some room for a couple more goals, his shooting percentage is clocking in at 7.7% right now. His career average is a notch over 11%, which is encouraging.

BACK IN THE DAY

I asked the faithful readership of the Copper and Blue what they thought Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was capable of in 2018-19, and 84% of respondents thought he’d finish with 60 or more points. Many thought he’d spend the season alongside Connor McDavid, and for at least a chunk significant part of 2018-19, he did. He’s on the second line right now, and he’s got a pretty good chance at beating his career high of 56 (he hit this twice). Can he keep it going and hit something lofty like 70?