Nugent-Hopkins could be Edmonton's coveted centre
Red Deer forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ranks 1st among North American skaters
With the 2010-11 season quickly winding down, Edmonton’s attention has begun to focus on the upcoming draft in St. Paul, Minnesota in June. Last season, a dynamic winger by the name of Taylor Hall turned heads in Oil Country, creating an unmatched buzz once the Oilers had secured the first overall pick.
This season, a new offensive superstar has emerged in the junior ranks. Red Deer Rebels centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has enjoyed a fantastic sophomore campaign, posting 29 goals and 104 points in only 68 games. His outstanding offensive output has him ranked third in WHL scoring as his second-place Rebels prepare for a lengthy post-season run.
"This season has definitely gone well for us," Nugent-Hopkins said. "We've got over 100 points this year, so it has been a great season for us, and I've really developed myself as a player this year because of all the great players I've had to work with."
The Oilers organization has been looking to improve depth at the centre position for quite some time. Prospects Anton Lander and Tyler Pitlick have helped to improve that area, but Edmonton may have the opportunity to select an elite, two-way middleman; something the franchise believes is required to take the next step and become a top tier club in the NHL once again.
Nugent-Hopkins may be an enticing option for the Oilers, as he brings an array of constantly improving defensive qualities to his explosive offensive arsenal. When asked about his potential areas of growth, a determined Nugent-Hopkins was eager to explain his developing two-way game.
"One thing is my defensive game. This year I've really been working on my defensive game and they've really been helping me out with that. They've been giving me clips and stuff for me to look at and take what I need to from it."
Naturally, the NHL game is much quicker and certainly poses an intimidating physical presence for smaller, skilled forwards. Oilers Head Amateur Scout Stu MacGregor had some concerns for Nugent-Hopkins' size, but otherwise had some excellent things to say regarding his natural talent, raw athleticism and overall skill to dominate the WHL at such a young age.
"He's an extremely skilled and intelligent player with incredible hockey sense. The only thing is that Ryan is not overly big. He's tall enough, but the question is he strong enough to endure the rigours of the NHL game."
At 6’0" and 164 pounds, Nugent-Hopkins understands that certain areas of his game will require growth in order to achieve success in the professional ranks.
"Anytime you move up a level in hockey, you've got to make your decisions a little faster. That will be a little bit of a jump," he explained. "Also, I need to put on some weight, put on some size and add some strength to me."
Although his game still needs some seasoning, as you would expect with any young prospect, Nugent-Hopkins still recognizes his strengths as being potential strong-points for an NHL lineup.
"I think my ability to read the play really helps me out. It helped me jump from midget to [the WHL] pretty fast, so hopefully that will help me out if I jump to the next level, eventually."
"I've heard comparisons to kind of a Pavel Datsyuk kind of player," Nugent-Hopkins said when asked about a potential role model. "I think that could be a fair comparison because I like to play at both ends of the ice just like he does. If I could, I would probably be a player like that."
The Oilers will conclude the season near the bottom of the NHL standings, meaning that the first overall selection is very much a possibility. Having experienced the passion of Canadian hockey fans throughout his career in Red Deer, including his regular visits to Edmonton to battle the Oil Kings, the excitement of a possible Canadian destination has the wide-eyed 17-year-old motivated down the stretch.
"Canadian fans are crazy about hockey. If I got drafted anywhere in Canada, I'd be super excited about it. And it would be absolutely incredible if I got the chance to play in the NHL next season."
Determination holds no bounds. Only time will tell which direction the Oilers choose to go, and what kind of career Nugent-Hopkins will ultimately create.
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com