The hiring of Craig MacTavish as general manager has instilled a new win-now attitude into the Edmonton Oilers, and after a disappointing 2013 season, they’re looking to get back into the postseason. They’ve made some improvements, both to their blue line and their depth up front, but there isn’t a secret as to what the most important element will be for them heading into 2013-14.
That element is the play of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Heading into more of an all-around role, which included taking more defensive zone draws, in 2013, Nugent-Hopkins struggled mightily in his sophomore season. Some health issues early on didn’t help either, and he really wore down as the season wore on.
RNH had only 24 points on the season, appearing in 40 games overall for the Oilers. More disappointing than his overall point total was his goal total in particular. He found the back of the net only four times on the season, two of which came on the power play. Is a bounce back in order for 2013-14?
The Oilers hope so. This isn’t a team with a wealth of center depth. They have Sam Gagner, but he can’t win a faceoff and it remains to be seen if his surprising success will carry over. Boyd Gordon is a pure defensive forward. The Oilers are hoping that Nugent-Hopkins can become their Jonathan Toews, a guy capable of playing in all situations and being a key piece every single night.
While it’s hard to expect him to reach that level this season, it’s hard to imagine anything but a rebound for Nugent-Hopkins. With a season to adjust to an increased role, and the summer to get healthy, he should be an impact player for them again this season, and could take his game to the next level if he gets off to a strong start. If that happens, the Oilers will be in much better shape as far as their playoff hopes are concerned.