Well this is awkward.
For the first time in the history of Copper & Blue’s Top 25 Under 25 rankings, we have a tie. Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins received the same number of second place and third place votes from the staff. Scott, Shona, Jeff, Matt and Zsolt selected Hall as the second best player under 25, while Ryan, Ben, Zach, Curtis and I selected RNH. Not a single voter picked either of these two players in a position other than second or third, and so we have a tie that can’t be broken. So I guess they’re both second, or maybe they’re both third.
By The Numbers
As you can see both Hall and Nugent-Hopkins are pretty good players and they are very close by the numbers alone.
The Case for Nugent-Hopkins: (Sunil)
This one was very tough for me. I’m a huge fan of Taylor Hall. He’s an elite winger and has come as advertised since day one. Despite all of the off-ice flak he gets, combined with the non-verbal on-ice cues that irks a lot of people, and the unfounded narratives which I still don’t understand, he’s still a cornerstone player for this franchise.
Unfortunately he’s not a center, which in my mind is a more critical position, and one that will have a greater impact on the franchise moving forward. Elite wingers are important, no question. But in my opinion, the success of a franchise is determined by strength down the middle and at defence.
Nugent-Hopkins took a major step forward in his career this past season, playing a bulk of his minutes against the best opposition in the league. Using some of the metrics we use to evaluate forwards, including total points, point production rate (i.e., points per 60 minutes) and possession, we see that RNH has improved year to year. He finished 17th in the league in points (37) at even-strength among centers with over 250 minutes of playing time. That’s up from 42nd place the season prior. His 1.92 points per 60 minutes at even-strength ranked him 35th among centers, which is up from 80th place the season prior. His Corsi went from 44.9% to 49.9%, and his Corsi Rel went from +1.07 to +2.65.
He’s not quite at elite status, but those are very good, and promising numbers for a 21(!!) year old. Based on his recent production, and the year-to-year growth, there is a very good chance RNH will be an elite center in the near future.
The Case for Hall: (Zsolt)
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has quietly become a force to be reckoned with in the NHL. He is arguably one of the best centres in the Pacific Division and up until the 2015 NHL Entry Draft he was Edmonton’s best centre. Unfortunately for Nugent-Hopkins he is no longer the Oilers number one centre and that really affected my decision.
Taylor Hall on the other hand is the Oilers’ number one left winger and will probably be the number one for a while to come. Hall has broken 30 points three times in his short 5 year career and that includes the shortened 2013 season. When adjusted for 82 games his scoring numbers are over 40 points on every season except for his rookie season. Hall has reached the 50% corsi for barrier 3 times in his career so far and has a relative corsi over 4.29 which includes his horrible 2013/2014 season.
Almost since the day he was drafted Hall has been considered the "leader" of this team. Remember he was the scaffolding to rebuild 2.0 back in 2010. Out of all of the previous 1st overall picks, including Nugent-Hopkins, he was the most NHL ready on day one. Hall may not be a centre like Nugent-Hopkins but he definitely has the tools to be considered the number 2 player on this team. He also has the advantage of being paired with McDavid and that will do nothing but make Hall a better player.
Really, it’s a nice problem to have. Both players have their strengths and weaknesses, but will have a positive impact on this franchise going forward. When ranking the two players in terms of their NHL performance and future potential, it comes down to this: do you prefer the elite winger who had an off year, or the emerging centermen who is projecting to be one of the league’s best pivots.