One of the big questions going into this season for 2011’s number one overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins surrounds whether or not he’s physically big enough to handle the vigorous and physical NHL season. When you’re an 18 year-old kid looking to make it right away in the big time, these are worries you have to take into account and in Nugent-Hopkins’ case, it’s a worry that won’t go away soon.
Nugent-Hopkins checks in as a 6′ 165 pound sleek skating potential offensive powerhouse for the Oilers and while he might have the skills to pull it off, his distinct lack of weight and strength is a rightful concern. While a kid that thin likely wouldn’t have been taken too serious dating back ten years ago when size was all the rage in the league, speed and skill are taken far more into account.
So could Nugent-Hopkins cut it in the NHL if he makes the team in training camp? 5’9″ Sabres breakout player Tyler Ennis sure thinks so and the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson shares Ennis’ thoughts on how Nugent-Hopkins can be a difference maker this season.
“I played about 155 pounds last year. It’s definitely doable. Strength is important, though. I definitely have to get better at it,” said Ennis, who has concentrated on building more muscle to go with the hustle the last few months. “It’s not something Nugent-Hopkins can do in one summer, overnight. It’s going to take a couple of years. It’s important to keep your quickness. You can’t get big and slow. Putting on 10 pounds is probably perfect for him. If he’s still slippery, it won’t be a factor. He’ll be making a lot of good passes.”
Skill kills in hockey, but Ennis agrees with Rick Dudley, the former Atlanta general manager and master scout, that ice savvy and competitive fire are the two most important traits to look for in players. If you don’t have those, it doesn’t matter how much talent you have.
“Nugent-Hopkins is an an amazing player. You can’t teach his vision and his skill. I think he’ll be a great player,” said Ennis.
With Ennis’ extra two and a half years of age on Hopkins he can give a more succinct assessment of what it takes to crack through in the league as a smaller guy. At 155 pounds and being three inches shorter than Nugent-Hopkins, Ennis was able to score 20 goals and add 29 assists last season for the Sabres. While he had two years of experience on what Nugent-Hopkins goes into this training camp with, it shows that big success might not be too far away for him.
What might work best in Nugent-Hopkins’ favor is having the host of other youth there with him to help him feel more at home. With so many other younger players there in Edmonton, it’s a youth movement borne out of recent failures and one that could help the Oilers be the most exciting team to watch in the coming seasons. If he can prove himself worthy in camp and not get sent back to Red Deer in the WHL for another year of seasoning in junior hockey it’ll give the Oilers an attack loaded with young talent. It makes for a good reason to be excited about the future for Oilers fans although their struggles might be forced to continue for a while longer because they’re so young.
One thing is for sure, size or not, Nugent-Hopkins has a world of talent that could come in handy for a team that’s in dire need of a playmaker at center.