When the Oilers got to pick first overall for the second year in a row at the NHL Draft, getting to pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was seen as a bit of an option play. With five great talents at the top of the draft heading into the first round, the Oilers had their pick of whoever they felt would best improve the worst team in the NHL two seasons running.
Team Canada’s junior hockey development camp going on in Edmonton this week as they gear up to choose their roster for the 2012 World Junior Championships, Nugent-Hopkins is getting his shot to show that the local team didn’t make a mistake in choosing him with the top pick. After Taylor Hall’s dynamic debut last year, Nugent-Hopkins is giving the local fans reason be excited about the team’s future in Oilers country.
The skills and sense are all there. But the power and strength to compete for 82 regular-season games against men with far more years on him is the question mark.
“He obviously would be able to play and compete at the NHL level,” said Kevin Lowe, the Oilers president of hockey operations. “It’s a question of whether he has enough strength to absorb the checking and not get hurt.
“But for players like him, with his kind of smarts, they tend to almost have a sixth sense as far as preservation. The power part is a little over-stated.”
When Nugent-Hopkins was drafted, he weighed in at just 165 pounds and while he could have all the speed in the world, there hasn’t been a guy that weighed so little and played dynamically since Wayne Gretzky. Nugent-Hopkins offered up on his own that he’s added weight and muscle this summer in order to be a better fit on the ice.
If he can make the Oilers, he’ll join a very young group of forwards headed up by Hall and featuring the likes of Magnus Paajarvi, Sam Gagner, and Jordan Eberle. That sort of talent pool and having them all be under 23 years-old is an unbelievable wealth of future riches. Making it all work and hoping that you’re not pushing anyone into the league too soon is a tricky subject. Oilers GM Steve Tambellini and coach Tom Renney will do their best to make sure they’re making the right moves, but only time will tell. The pressure from fans to see all their new toys at once will be high, but the wont to get back to the Stanley Cup finals is a higher priority.
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