a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

04/25/12 Rookie Report Card: Nugent-Hopkins

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins proved a lot of people wrong in his first NHL season, showing that he could handle the size, strength and speed of the league. It's impossible to know how many points he might have collected if he had stayed healthy, but the early returns from the first overall pick are strong. It's only that injury and our inability as fans to see how he could handle a full 82 games that can be a knock, which is why I'll give him an A- grade.

The ability to understand the quality of Nugent-Hopkins' season requires that we give it some context. Scoring 52 points as a rookie is great, but fourteen other first year players have accomplished that feat since the lockout. What's impressive is how little time it took.

The Nuge is is ninth in points per game by all rookies since the lockout and eighth in assists per game. His name appears on the points list ahead of players like Ryan Getzlaf, Matt Duchene, John Tavares and Thomas Vanek; and he's right up there with Jonathan Toews. The main difference is that RNH was only 18 years old all season. As I looked at in the Prediction Recaps, Nugent-Hopkins posted the second-highest points per game mark as an 18 year old rookie since the lockout.

Number four on that list is another Oiler: Sam Gagner. Gagner posted 0.62 points per game to Nugent-Hopkins' 0.84, but the differences go beyond that. When comparing their two rookie campaigns we can see the difference between a first and sixth overall pick.

Gagner 2007-08:

- 79 games played, 13G-26A-49PTS
- PP TOI per game: 2:48
- Powerplay points: 6-6-12
- TOI per game: 15:40
- TOI per point: 27:25
- Game winners: 0

Nugent-Hopkins 2011-12:

- 62 games played, 18G-34A-52PTS
- PP TOI per game: 3:00
- Powerplay points: 3-20-23
- TOI per game: 17:36
- TOI per point: 20:59
- Game winners: 2

I threw the game winners in there because it's fun, not because it's an actual measure of the talent of the two players, but the other stats are interesting. Nugent-Hopkins played considerably more at even strength than Gagner at 18, because neither played shorthanded and only 12 seconds is made up in powerplay TOI. But we'll deal with the even strength minutes in a moment; the powerplay points are the interesting part of these stats. With a very similar amount of powerplay ice time per game, Nugent-Hopkins blew Gagner's numbers out of the water. It's even more astounding when you take the games played into account. Gagner played 79 games, and therefore spent 221:38 on the powerplay as a rookie, while in 62 games Nugent-Hopkins collected almost twice as many points in just 186:45.

As for 5x5, both players were sheltered as rookies in zone starts and quality of competition (though RNH was moreso on the former point), but the Nuge had 29 even strength points (0.47/game) to Gagner's 35 (0.44/game). Gagner was minus-21 on a poor team, and RNH was minus-2 on a terrible team.

You might be worried that Nugent-Hopkins could pull a Gagner and never return to the kind of heights that he reached as a rookie, but there's little cause for alarm. Gagner has always been a streaky player who rides waves of unsustainable percentages, as we see even when we look at his rookie scoring by month. During the month of February, Gagner scored 9-9-18 in just 13 games, which padded his final totals enormously. He was a 0.47 p/g player the rest of the year, but in that one month he scored at a clip of 1.38 p/g.

Nugent-Hopkins started strong but his plateau wasn't wildly below the true point total we saw him finish with. He ended with 0.84 points per game, and his worst month (December) saw him collect 0.66 p/g.

But it's not just Gagner who we can compare the Nuge to. What about the other rookies from this 2011-12 crop?

RNH was tied for first in points, fourth in goals, second in assists, 8th in powerplay goals, 7th in shots, and did it all while collecting only 16 PIMs. Those are impressive numbers when you factor in age, games played and the fact that the Oilers were 29th. Fellow rookie Gabriel Landeskog - the player tied for first in points by rookies - not only played 20 more games than Nugent-Hopkins, he also played nearly 460 more minutes. That's more than 40% more total ice time.

What about that sky-high shooting percentage from early in the season? It came down to earth at 13.4%, which is still high but not outlandish. He was on pace for 177 shots, which would make for around 16 goals at league average shooting percentage in 2011-12 (8.94%).

Now he's headed to the Worlds. Nugent-Hopkins is a special player and he showed it all year. It'll be a long wait to see him and the rest of the Oilers' young talent get back at it.

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