Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Arrival Of The Nuge

Following last night’s 5-4 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers, one cannot help but wonder if someone within the Edmonton Oilers sent over a thank you basket to netminder Ray Emery for essentially handing them two points. 

While Todd Nelson’s crew did not play an overly poor game, another god awful first period put them behind the eight-ball early on. In typical Oilers fashion, their defensive zone coverage and another poor start from Ben Scrivens combined to see them cough up three goals inside a ten minute stretch and turn what was a one goal advantage into a two goal deficit. 

Luckily for them, Philadelphia’s starting netminder has struggled in recent years when he has been given the net over at Rexall Place and that trend continued on Saturday night. To their credit, Edmonton took full advantage of their good fortune to pull out the win. 

After seeing the ice for a grand total of 10:41 over the last two months, Taylor Hall made his long awaited return to the lineup against the Flyers and while he did pickup an assist on the overtime winner, it was the guy who put that puck in the net who was the star of the show on this night. 

Despite battling through what has been an inconsistent campaign, it is next to impossible to argue who has been the Oilers Most Valuable Player in 2014-15 and he wears the No. 93 on his back. Following last night’s three point effort, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leads this team in goals with twenty-two and has now moved with five points of linemate Jordan Eberle’s team leading total of fifty-eight. 

With all due respect to Derek Roy, Teddy Purcell and Nail Yakupov, the top line of Eberle, RNH and Benoit Pouliot have been the difference makers of late and much of the praise has landed at the feet of the former Regina Pats standout. With that said, the former Red Deer Rebels star centre has matched him point for point over the last seven games. 

As productive as Eberle has been of over his last forty games, 14 goals and 26 assists, Nugent-Hopkins has been just as good, (41 GP, 15 G, 20A). Add to that, the fact he has been asked to do much of the heavy-lifting , including becoming a regular contributor on the penalty kill, and his season starts to look all the more impressive. 

While almost everyone will tell you +/- totals can be more than a little misleading, an ugly number generally does have something behind it. This roster has three forwards who have regularly seen action inside the top six who are not well into the double digit territory when it comes to plus/minus, (Pouliot +2, Hall -7, RNH -8). Considering two of those three have missed a good portion of the year due to injury and the other has been left to pick up the pieces in a lineup which has been among the very worst in the league since the turn of the calendar year, Nugent-Hopkins’ inclusion speaks volumes. 

Regardless of how things ultimately play out over the final three weeks of what has unquestionably been a disastrous campaign for this organization, it appears as though the first overall pick of the 2011 Entry Draft is comfortable in his National Hockey League skin. While this may already be his fourth season at the pro level, most tend forget just how young this kid is. Let’s take a moment and put this into perspective. 

The Edmonton Oilers will close out their 2014-15 schedule on April 11th in Vancouver against the Canucks. On the very next day, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be celebrating his twenty-second birthday. Think about that for a minute and realize just how far his overall game has evolved since 2011-12 and suddenly these notions of the “young core” of this team being busts become all the more ridiculous. 

Make no mistake, this team has a ways to go before becoming a playoff contender in the Western Conference. That point is indisputable but simply dismissing the progression some of these kids have made because of this organizations inability to address other glaring needs on the roster, is downright idiotic. Get these kids some damn help and then come talk to me.

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