The Edmonton Oilers, coming off a successful season in which they improved by 16 victories, and reached the second round of the playoffs (losing to the Anaheim Ducks in seven games), feel that some of their young players have more to learn and improve on as they look towards the 2017-18 season. Oilers head coach Todd McLellan was quoted recently on NHL.com that he feels that center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins must continue to improve, especially on the offensive end.
The former No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft has already played six full seasons with Edmonton and yet is still only 24 years old. The defensive center, needs to take more chances, according to McLellan and, while the coach praised the young forward for his all-around game, he must learn that it’s OK to take risks, especially now that he has a very talented team around him.
Nugent Hopkins finished with 18 goals and 25 assists for 43 points in 82 games this past season, which was his one his least productive seasons, offensively. He produced 19 goals in 2013-14 and then 24 goals in 2014-15 before only scoring 12 in 2015-16 in 55 games. He was not able to take his game to a new level as he told his coach that he was more focused on his defensive play. His playoff performance this was also disappointing as he didn’t score in 13 games and only finished with four assists.
“… we need him to be a little more productive so we’re going to encourage him to take a little more risk to try and be a little more productive offensively,” McLellan said. “Not at the cost of losing a game or anything like that, but mistakes are going to happen and you have teammates that have to cover for you sometimes.”
- McLellan also tried to look on the bright side of the loss of their top defenseman Andrej Sekera, who will be out six to nine months after tearing his ACL in Game 5 of the second-round series against the Ducks. The coach said that while the loss is tragic and the team will miss his veteran presence over the first half (or more) of the season, this might allow some young defensemen to get a chance they otherwise would never have gotten. Matt Benning is one name that came up in the interview. Benning, 23, who played in his first season with the Oilers after suiting up for Northeastern University for three years, got increased playoff time after Sekera went down and showed his is up for the challenge. Darnell Nurse, 22, also could see increased playing time as well in the first half of the season.
- Speaking of young defensive players, Oilers’ defensive prospect Ethan Bear’s season came to an end after his Seattle Thunderbirds were eliminated from the Memorial Cup. The former 2015 fifth-round pick had a breakout year in the WHL, finishing with 28 regular season goals. If you add his 17 playoff games to his totals, Bear finished his season with 34 goals and 62 assists for 96 points. The 20-year-old will now focus on NHL training camp with the hope of sticking with the Oilers. If not, he will be expected to join the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL.