Earning a hefty sum of $6 million per season as one of the most handsomely-paid forwards on the Edmonton Oilers‘ roster, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is still expected to play a key role for an Oilers squad that has since become Connor McDavid‘s team.
The 2011 No. 1 pick has recast himself as a two-way pivot in recent years, aiming to become a reliable depth presence while McDavid took over as the team’s top-line offensive dynamo. But it seems head coach Todd McLellan is looking for his other star centre to inject a little more excitement into his game.
“I asked (Nugent-Hopkins) to play perhaps with a little more risk in the summer,” McLellan told NHL.com’s Tim Campbell on Friday. “I don’t think he’s doing that yet. I haven’t seen him cheat at all, and that’s fine. I don’t want him cheating. But he’s got a better nose for the net, to jump in on loose pucks a little quicker around the blue paint.”
Nugent-Hopkins tallied two goals in Edmonton’s 5-4 victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday, including the game-tying goal in the latter half of the third period.
“Shooting, well. His second goal (against Dallas), he got the puck and he released it,” McLellan said. “It doesn’t have to be pretty. He’s got a nice little pace going here to get back up to that 20-goal barrier where he should be.”
The 24-year-old said he has the same hopes in mind, his attention turning to increasing his offensive contribution.
“I want to be able to find that offense a bit more, be a little bit quicker, a little bit more consistent,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “There’s momentum in all aspects of the game, personally and team-wise. So right now we have a little momentum as a team and we just have to keep that going.
“I definitely want to shoot the puck. I don’t necessarily want to force it all the time, but when I do have the chance I have to trust my shot and be able to get it off quick.”
Nugent-Hopkins’ best goal-scoring campaign came back in 2014-15, when he potted 24 tallies alongside 32 assists, tying his career-high of 56 total points. He’s approached the 20-goal plateau on three separate occasions, scoring 18 goals in both his rookie year and 2016-17, and hitting 19 in 2013-14.
This year, the Burnaby, British Columbia native is off to a strong start with four goals through nine games.
It can’t come soon enough for Edmonton, as the club currently holds the second-worst goals-per-game mark in the league (2.22) through the season’s early goings. Getting Leon Draisaitl back into the mix will surely help that average climb, but for the Oilers to take the next step in 2017-18, continued improvement from Nugent-Hopkins is a must.