Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Oilers Preview: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Jersey Card

(team and product links go to sponsored Amazon products, player links go to related pages on my blog, news links go to source pages)

This will likely be the preface to all of this year's Season Preview posts: I liked doing last year's format, so I'll be doing it the same way this season as well, partly because of that but also because as a father of a toddler and a baby, I just do not have enough time to write two separate posts per day on each blog. I'll copy these on each one instead. Like last year, the entire scope of the analysis will take place here and the player will have some sort of direct connection to what's written.

Caveats: At this point, despite training camp being set to start, several players haven't found a team yet, many RFAs haven't signed with their respective teams, and a few clubs are currently above the salary cap, which means there is much maneuvering left to do.

Key exits: Adam Larsson (D), James Neal (LW), Alex Chiasson (W), Ethan Bear (D), Caleb Jones (D), Dominik Kahun (LW), Tyler Ennis (LW), Jujhar Khaira (C), Dmitry Kulikov (D), Joakim Nygard (LW)

Key Arrivals: Duncan Keith (D), Zach Hyman (LW), Cody Ceci (D), Warren Foegele (LW), Derek Ryan (RW)

Top prospects: Evan Bouchard (D), Dylan Holloway (C), Raphaël Lavoie (RW), Xavier Bourgault (C), Philip Broberg (D), Carter Savoie (LW), Ryan McLeod (C), Tyler Benson (LW), Ilya Konovalov (G), Olivier Rodrigue (G), Stuart Skinner (G), Tyler Tullio (C), Dmitri Samorukov (D)

As a lifelong Edmonton Oilers fan, I must admit the departures of Bear and Jones were baffling, particularly with the team unable to keep Larsson in the mix, who would have been the ideal partner for Keith on a second pairing.

What makes their odds look good:
They have the best player on the planet (Connor McDavid) and the third- or fourth-best centre on earth (Leon Draisaitl), who are finally complemented by a decent surrounding cast at nearly every position...

Question marks: Will the goaltending duo of 41-year-old Mike Smith and the untradeable Mikko Koskinen (he of the 3.17 goals-against average and .899 save percetage last season) hold up or anchor the team?

The Vegas Golden Knights are the cream of the Pacific Division, so much so that they can withstand injuries to an entire line from their top-six and an elite defenseman without worrying aout losing home-ice advantage in the first two rounds, but the Oilers are definitely the best of what's left, if only because of their firepower up front. Their defense is also no longer an issue, with Darnell Nurse reaching elite status himself and Bouchard making for a nice wildcard to have, in addition to such steady defensive defensemen as Kris Russell and (believe it or not) Ceci, while a guy like Tyson Barrie can produce upwards of 50 points from the blue line.

Second in the Pacific Division.

For the past three years, most of the focus in Edmonton has been centered around McDavid and Draisaitl, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins figuring as an afterthought at best and perhaps a serious question mark regarding his production versus his salary and re-signing value, a situation GM Ken Holland dealt with well last summer by signing him to a long extention that diminished his cap hit by a little bit, saving the team nearly a million per season. I believe last year's points totals (13 goals, 19 assists and 35 points in 52 games, for a points-per-game average of 0.67 as a 27-year-old) to be an outlier in terms of his prime (0.77 PPG at 24, 0.84 at 25, 0.94 at 26), and that hovering between the third line when playing on the road and manning the second unit with Hyman and Kailer Yamamoto at home will enable him to return to at least 0.75 points per game, possibly 0.8 if he gets a few looks with either of the two superstars here and there.

As a former first-overall pick (2011), he cannot be considered on even footing with McDavid as a generational player, but he can be seen as a success, particularly in light of other recent Oiler first-overall players like Nail Yakupov. In his draft year, he currently ranks sixth in point production behind Nikita Kucherov (58th overall), Gabriel Landeskog (2nd), Mark Scheifele (7th), Jonathan Huberdeau (3rd) and Johnny Gaudreau (104th), and ahead of the likes of Sean Couturier (8th), Mika Zibanejad (6th), Ondrej Palat (208th), J.T. Miller (15th), Dougie Hamilton (9th), and Vincent Trocheck (64th). I believe he will catch up to Gaudreau, but Couturier and Zibanejad will give him a run for his money in terms of who will round out that draft class' top-five when their careers are over.

Here he is wearing Edmonton's orange (home) uniform on card #GJ-RN from Upper Deck's 2020-21 Series 1 collection and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a white swatch that is certified as having been used in an NHL game. I was pretty stoked to land it, as it's my first RNH "hit" ever.

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