PHOTO CREDIT: SERGEI BELSKI-USA TODAY SPORTS via Oilersnation
You never know when that extra bit of attention in practice is going to pay off.
It’s a dark Tuesday night in Vancouver. I’m sitting in a coffee shop watching the Edmonton Oilers beat up on the Columbus Blue Jackets. Naturally I’m watching the game a few hours later than it was aired because I coach hockey for a living, so hopefully they’re able to pull this one out.
Sure enough, just as I open up a document and look for some inspiration to start writing this post, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Burnaby native, Burnaby Winter Club grad, and former Red Deer Rebel scores on the powerplay to put the Mighty Oil up 2-0 in the middle of what can only be described as a disappointing season so far.
Now, you might think it’s crazy for a former first overall National Hockey League draft pick to be referred to as forgotten, but the razzle dazzle of two guys named Connor and Leon means that’s exactly what the Nuge seems to be. Hell, even when Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and fan favourite Nail Yakupov were still in town RNH was generally considered chopped liver.
But after a powerful exit meeting following their disappointing playoff defeating at the hands of the Godless Anaheim Ducks, perhaps Ryan Nugent-Hopkins isn’t an after-thought any more.
“Get Your Offense Back, Kid”
Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan was satisfied with Nugent-Hopkins last season from a defensive standpoint, but once the season ended he challenged RNH to take more offensive risks. To re-establish the scoring touch that earned him that first overall selection and 55 points in his rookie season.
And so far, so good. With the snipe against Columbus Nugent-Hopkins now leads the Oilers in goals.
Not even Kris Russel.
I doubt players of Nugent-Hopkins offensive ilk are accustomed to being ignored. When you’re the best player on your team every year your entire life, you get used to attention.
However, it was his strong defensive play in last year’s post season that freed up McDavid and Draisaitl to do their thing.
And these days? Well, the Oilers are in a tough spot, but can you imagine the stench of the creek they’d be up if RNH wasn’t contributing offensively? While playing on the second line and still facing the opponent’s best players night after night?
Don’t Forget Anyone
Todd McLellan challenged Nugent-Hopkins because he knew he was capable of giving more at the other end of the rink. “Sometimes a player just needs to hear the coach say it,” McLellan said following Nugent-Hopkins strong start to the season.
Sometimes all it takes is a quick conversation. This one was pretty dramatic, and the stakes are high, but even if you’re coaching junior in Flin Flon or pro in Hungary, I guarantee you’ve got a player or two who could benefit from that talk.
Tell them what they’re good at. Tell them how they can improve.
And oh yeah – tell them all.
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