Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog, Huberdeau: NHL ready?
While Nugent-Hopkins will likely attend training camp, the odds of him sticking are slim. Then again, whenever 'The Nuge' has been challenged, he typically rises to the occasion. He wasn't rated the No. 1 skater in North America by NHL Central Scouting for nothing.
"Personally, I'm ready to play but I know there is a lot of young talented players (in Edmonton) and it might be a little hard for me to make the team," Nugent-Hopkins told NHL.com. "I mean, it's completely up to the coaching staff, so we'll see. Whatever happens, happens, and I'll be happy either way."
If he does earn a roster spot for 2011-12, the 6-foot-1/2, 164-pound center will become the fifth consecutive first-overall draft choice to play at least 10 NHL games in his draft year -- following in the footsteps of Taylor Hall (Oilers, 2010), John Tavares (Islanders, 2009), Steven Stamkos (Lightning, 2008) and Patrick Kane (Blackhawks, 2007).
Kitchener Rangers left wing Gabriel Landeskog, considered to be the one player in this year's draft pool to be NHL ready, was tabbed second overall by the Colorado Avalanche. The Florida Panthers then selected Memorial Cup MVP Jonathan Huberdeau, a center from the Saint John Sea Dogs.
"I think I'm ready," Landeskog told NHL.com. "There's a lot I need to work on to get better but I'm just determined to work even harder. When training camp rolls around, I'll have to show team and management I'm there to stay."
As far as Huberdeau goes, NHL Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau believes the native to Saint-Jerome, Quebec, still needs at least one more year of junior hockey.
"I don't think he's ready physically to play yet," Bordeleau told NHL.com. "At 170 pounds, he lacks physical strength right now. In my opinion, another year in junior would be very beneficial for his development down the road … no use rushing."
Some believe Nugent-Hopkins needs at least one more year in junior before taking the professional plunge.
"I would say another year for size and maturity," NHL Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com. "With his skill level, you don't want to take it too soon or push him too early because his confidence might get dulled a little bit. I think he still has a little bit more to learn and he has to still get stronger in the upper body. But he's the type of player who can go laterally as well as north-south, and that's what makes him so dangerous."
The 18-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., led the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League with 106 points in 69 games during the 2010-11 regular season, and his 75 assists led all WHL players.
With some added weight and muscle, Nugent-Hopkins, who had a total of 14 interviews over two days at the NHL Scouting Combine earlier this month, feels he might just have a shot to make the roster.
"I've taken some big strides this year and I think I put on five pounds since the end of the season and I feel I can put 5 or 10 more pounds on," he said. "If I do, I'll be ready to make the jump.
"My main goal is going to be making it with the NHL team, but if I don't make the NHL team, I won't be disappointed. It'll be a good year to go back to Red Deer and hopefully win the Memorial Cup -- that's the goal at least. Personally, it'll be a good rebuilding stage as well."
Nugent-Hopkins earned the Jack Link's Canadian Hockey League Top Prospect of the Year Award this season, earning the honor over Landeskog and No. 6 Sean Couturier of the Drummondville Voltigeurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
"I know the Oilers have a young team with lots of skill so I would hope to be a part of their rebuilding stage and hopefully, one day, win the Cup," Nugent-Hopkins said. "I played against Jordan Eberle a few times in the WHL when he played with Regina, so I know the skill level he brings and he's a great guy to give the puck to … he'll find you no matter where you are and will also score goals like it's his job. I watched Taylor Hall during the year play on TV too. They're a fun team to watch and I definitely feel they're going to be a great team in the future."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer