Is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins a top center in the NHL?

Thanks to BLH writer Walter Foddis for helping contribute to this article. 

Entering his fifth full season in the NHL, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has yet to disappoint. Nugent-Hopkins has put in the necessary work to begin to turn into one of the top two-way centers in the NHL. Personally, I feel that he is often overlooked by people outside of Edmonton as the limelight can often fall on the other players like Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle.

With Connor McDavid coming to town, the Oilers are finally on their way to having two top centers. That’s something the team hasn’t been able to boast since the 2005-2006 when a 26-year old Shawn Horcoff and a 23-year old Jarret Stoll were our potent one-two punch that helped lead us to the cup finals. When you look around the league, the teams that often most successful have not one, but two centers.

Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Anaheim has Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. St. Louis has David Backes and Paul Stastny. The New York Islanders are on their way with John Tavares and Ryan Strome. Dallas has Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.

Granted not all of these teams are the elites in the NHL, but all of these one-two punches create an absolute nightmare for opposing teams. Soon, the Oilers will have Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid running show.

In all situations last year, Nugent-Hopkins has some good comparables.

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stats c/o war on ice and

What do we see here? We see that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is in good company. Ryan O’Reilly has been widely considered to be the best, if not one of the best two-way centers in the NHL today and last season the Nuge beat him out in almost all of the categories listed.

David Johnson listed the statistics for GF60Rel combined with CA60Rel for a good chunk of NHL centers over the last five years. What this combined metric shows is a player’s implied (1) contribution to goal production and (2) ability to suppress shot attempts, relative to his team’s average on these metrics. It also is a good reader for a player’s ability in the two-way game. Sidney Crosby (1.34), Pavel Datsyuk (1.21) and Jonathan Toews (1.14) are the leaders in said category. Nugent-Hopkins’ closest comparables for that statistic were John Tavares (.55), Jason Spezza (.56), David Backes (.57) and Ryan Getzlaf (.64).

I am very impressed that how despite the fact he is tied for third among NHL centers in time-on-ice per game, he still drew 13 more penalties than he took. That is some discipline.

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Ryan Stimpson’s passing project suggests that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is performing at the level of a 2nd line center (34th to 66th percentile) for most metrics.

  • CC% and CC/60 Corsi Contribution (or Shot Attempt Contribution), which are individual shot attempts, primary passes leading to shot attempts, and secondary passes leading to shot attempts. These are given as a percentage (i.e., proportion of shot attempts a player is involved in when on the ice) and per sixty minutes. These metrics tell you how much offense goes through that player while on the ice and also how often they contribute.
  • Composite SAG and SG represent the total number of shot attempts and shots a player generated from both primary and secondary passes per sixty minutes. SAG/60 is solely for the player’s primary passing contributions.
  • Entry Assists represent the number of controlled entries a player assisted on. This is determined by the number of passes in transition (prior to entering the offensive zone) that was recorded for each player.
  • SC Contribution% and SCC/60 are identical CC% and CC/60, but represent only the scoring chances a player was involved in. Passing data for scoring chances was combined with War-on-Ice’s scoring chance (link to definition) data to arrive at a player’s total number of scoring chance contributions. SC SAG/60 represents the number of scoring chances set up from a player’s primary passes.

Throughout his career, Nugent-Hopkins has steadily improved in almost every facet of his game. Last season, he was given more defensive responsibilities than he had in previous season, including more time on the Oilers penalty kill than in previous seasons. He also tied a career high in points (56) and set a career high in goals with 24.

Overall, I think it is fair to say Nugent-Hopkins is well on his way to being a top-flight NHL center.

Thanks for reading. Drop a comment below and let me know if you think Nugent-Hopkins is as good as his statistics say.

Zach Laing Written by:
  • reithmayermk

    Is there any better combo of Nuge and MacDavid….maybe for the exception of the Pens.

    • Thanks for the reply, reithmayermk.

      Right now, I would say there are a good number of 1-2 punches better than what the Oilers have. By the end of this season, that could all change.

  • Granted, the Oilers are rebuilding, so their emphasis on youth is understandable from that regard, but it’s also true that they’ve been stuck in a rebuilding mode for far longer than was hoped and statistics like this are a reflection of that. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had an assist in a 2-1 win against Minnesota.

  • The third overall pick in the 2014 Draft was used as the Oilers second center for 37 games last season before he was sent back to junior hockey as Edmonton did not have another pivot to play behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. But this season Connor McDavid will line up at center as well as Anton Lander and Mark Letestu.

    • Beer League Hero

      Thanks for the comment Alexander! You make somre great points but do you think Lander and Letestu are 2nd line centers?