Heading into the off-season, the LA Kings are looking to add more scoring in their top-six forwards group. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers fits the bill.
It’s no secret that the LA Kings need to improve their offense, and it’s also no secret that general manager Rob Blake plans to address that need. To do so, he has one of two options. He can either use his plethora of prospects and draft picks to entice a trade for a high-scoring forward (preferably a left-winger); or, with over $20 million in cap space at his disposal, Blake can also go after any free agent he desires without giving up any of the assets the Kings already have.
Assuming Blake chooses to go the free-agent route, there are some good options available. Gabriel Landeskog and Brandon Saad from the Colorado Avalanche, Taylor Hall from the Boston Bruins, Mike Hoffman from the St. Louis Blues, and Kyle Palmieri from the New York Islanders will all need new contracts at the end of the season. It’s hard to imagine the Avalanche letting Landeskog walk and the same could be said for Palmieri and the Islanders. Taylor Hall picked the Bruins as the team he wanted to be traded to at the deadline, so it is unlikely that he is leaving. Hoffman is a wildcard, and Saad could be a possibility, but the Kings may have to overpay for either of these players. There is one more player hitting free agency that could be just what the LA Kings need and that is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers.
Nugent-Hopkins was the number-one overall pick for the Oilers in 2011 and can play either center or left-wing. Over the past three seasons, Nugent-Hopkins has put up 66 goals and 99 assists for the Oilers (oh, the irony of mentioning an Oiler having 99 assists!). He did spend some time on Connor McDavid’s line, but for most of his career, he was a first- or second-line center or winger. Nugent-Hopkins has been in all situations player during his time with the Edmonton Oilers, and his 35 points scored in 52 games played in the 2021 season would have placed him second in scoring on the LA Kings behind Anze Kopitar.
Besides his scoring prowess, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins brings an element of leadership to the room. He has worn an “A” on his sweater for some time now and with good reason. Known for his work ethic and willingness to do whatever it takes for the team, “Nuge” is a great influence on the younger players on the Edmonton roster. Considering the LA Kings are chock-full of young players and prospects, someone like Nugent-Hopkins would be a tremendous asset in a Los Angeles locker room that could quite frankly use some more leadership voices.
Yet another reason to bring Nugent-Hopkins to the City of Angels is his aforementioned versatility. He could slot in as the LW1 on Anze Kopitar’s line allowing Alex Iafallo to provide some much-needed support on the second or possibly the third line. Perhaps Gabe Vilardi struggles again as the second-line center. No problem. Nugent-Hopkins is a proven second-line center, and putting him in that spot would allow Vilardi to slide over to the wing which would perhaps be best for him. We are, of course, assuming Vilardi starts next season as the second-line center with Quinton Byfield centering the third line and Jaret Anderson-Dolan centering the fourth line. Having Nugent-Hopkins would also mean there would be no reason to rush players like Alex Turcotte, Akil Thomas, and Tyler Madden, among others, and allow them ample development time.
Entering this offseason, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be 28 years old. The AAV on his now expiring contract was $6 million per season, so he will, of course, be looking for at least that salary. The Edmonton Oilers have other needs they have to address and may not be able to get into a bidding war to keep him on the team. In any scenario, it’s highly unlikely anyone offers RNH a seven-year contract, although if the Oilers do decide they want to keep him, they will have to offer him more term to keep the AAV down.
The LA Kings are in a tremendous position of an advantage here with all of their available cap space. If Nugent-Hopkins wants $6-$7 million per season, the Kings would be able to do that because most of their young players are still on their ELC’s and big contracts like Dustin Brown’s are soon coming off of the books. Ideally, the Kings would be able to sign Nugent-Hopkins to a four-year contract, especially if it is a higher AAV that he wants.
The countdown is on to July 28th and the start of the free-agent signing period. Will Ryan Nugent-Hopkins be a part of the LA Kings future? We will know soon.