If there was ever any doubt about how highly Todd McLellan thinks of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, it was laid to rest this week.
“Nuge for me — and I’ve told Nuge this — he’s like Joe Pavelski,” McLellan told the Edmonton Sun, after Nugent-Hopkins was ruled out for 6-8 weeks with a broken hand. “I trust him in every situation. He’s real competitive.”
That McLellan used the Pavelski comparison is telling.
The two were side-by-side in San Jose for seven years and, under McLellan’s watch, Pavelski emerged as one of the league’s best goalscorers, potting a career-high 41 during the ’13-14 campaign.
Now, Pavelski is the Sharks’ captain.
McLellan’s comments are also noteworthy given RNH has been in trade talks for most of this season. With budding star center Connor McDavid in the fold and the emergence of Leon Draisaitl as a capable No. 2, there’s been chatter about Nugent-Hopkins being expendable.
Last week, those trade talks were further stoked when a Sportsnet report claimed the Oilers had offered Nugent-Hopkins to Nashville in exchange for Seth Jones, prior to Jones going to Columbus for Ryan Johansen.
Yet despite that, McLellan continued to go to bat for his young pivot.
“Nuge gets a bad rap for being soft,” he explained. “He’s the farthest thing from soft.”