The Rangers Should Take A Long Look At Nugent-Hopkins

It’s August, so forbid me for dreaming about possible trade options for the Rangers; it feels like just yesterday that I wrote about New York going after Matt Duchene. We’ve already talked at length about the Rangers issues at center – wouldn’t it be great if there was a young, offensively-talented center available on the trading block? One whose team may be actively looking to trade him?

If you read the title of this article, I’m sure you know where this is going; with the Edmonton Oilers interested in trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Rangers should be taking a long look at acquiring the young center.

I don’t want to get too hung up on the “former first overall pick” narrative because I think it’s much more productive to look at how Nugent-Hopkins has actually performed in the NHL, not in juniors. And you might be surprised to realize that he’s already played in six NHL seasons, giving us a pretty good sample of what he’s capable of. With 265 points in 395 career games, Nugent-Hopkins has maintained a very respectable .671 points-per-game rate (a 55-point pace over 82 games). While we probably won’t be seeing production comparable to his rookie season, Nugent-Hopkins has still been a consistent 50+ point scorer for the Oilers.

Now, many will point to last season as a reason against acquiring-Hopkins. It’s true, he had a bit of a down season as he only tallied 43 points. Since McDavid’s been on the Oilers though, Nugent-Hopkins’s role on the team has been reduced. Last year he only averaged approximately 17 and a half minutes of ice time, his lowest since his rookie season. Plus, he’s seen a lot less power play time, ranking ninth on the team in ice time on the man-advantage last year. Combine that with a slightly lower shooting percentage (9% compared to his 11.7% average over the last three seasons) and his decline in point production isn’t too surprising.

However, on the Rangers, you can bet that Hopkins will get ample time, as they have a pretty big hole in their top-six since trading Derek Stepan. It’s no secret that the Rangers could use another center to in their top six and Nugent-Hopkins would fit right in. With Nuge in the fold, centering one of the top two lines along with Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes could maintain his role as a third-line center, and J.T. Miller could stay on the wing. Nugent-Hopkins is no stranger to playing in a team’s top-six as he’s been one of the Oilers top centers over the past few years.

We all know it’d be nice for the Rangers to get another top-six center, any top-six center really, but it depends on the cost – which is why there’s almost no way the Rangers get Duchene. What makes Nugent-Hopkins such an attractive option is the potential low price for the Rangers.

David Staples reported that the Oilers are “gearing up to sell well below market value on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.” It has yet to be established how true that statement is, and even if it is true, below market value doesn't necessarily mean cheap either. Still, Staples’s report is a good sign for the Rangers if they do intend on pursuing him since he’s a quality center that would be a good fit in New York.

Now, it would be a bit hard to make the dollars work, as Nugent-Hopkins carries a $6 million cap hit, but not impossible. Trading away a defenseman is unlikely, but the Rangers have an abundance of wingers that the Oilers may be interested in. Offering J.T. Miller would probably be enough to get the job done while clearing enough cap space to absorb Nugent-Hopkins’ cap hit. However, a much more realistic scenario would be the Rangers trading a package including Kevin Hayes and his $2.6 million cap hit.

Either way, the Rangers have some cap space to play around with and could make a Nugent-Hopkins trade work. If the Oilers are serious about dealing Nugent-Hopkins for below market value, Gorton should waste no time getting on the phone with GM Peter Chiarelli.