Rookie camps and prospect tournaments provide young players with solid first opportunities to further their causes going into regular training camp, the preseason and maybe even the regular season. When the Edmonton Oilers made Ryan Nugent-Hopkins the first pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, many remarked that the undersized center might need at least one more season at the junior level before he’s ready for the big time.
While RNH is already taking steps to add some weight to his frame (one of the concerns scouts expressed about his NHL-readiness), the best way for him to prove that he’s ready for an immediate jump is to impress the Oilers as much as possible. That’s especially true regarding how he fares against direct competition.
Sunday’s Young Stars game against Vancouver Canucks prospects represented Nugent-Hopkins’ first chance to show his stuff. The Oilers crushed the Canucks 7-2, with the playmaker earning a second assist. Swedish prospect Anton Lander stole the show with two power-play goals, but various onlookers seemed to come away pretty impressed with Nugent-Hopkins.
Going forward, Peter Tessier wrote that Nugent-Hopkins “looks as advertised” while Ryan Classic believes that the rookie showed “incredible passing poise.” Thomas Drance also marveled at his playmaking instincts and said he was “just fun to watch.”
Obviously, one game against mostly non-NHL competition isn’t a proper gauge for Nugent-Hopkins chances of making the team, but it never hurts to show some signs of promise. While Ian Walker’s piece begins with discussion about the fact that Nugent-Hopkins might not look the part, it seems like the Oilers like what they’ve seen so far.
If anything, Nugent-Hopkins is student of the game. His combination of vision, creativity, skating and playmaking ability put him arguably at the top of the class when it comes to the 150 or so other prospects gathered here.
It’s no wonder his potential future Oilers teammates have him penciled in on the second line to start the regular season. “From what I hear from the guys on the team he’s been skating with for the past few weeks, he’s definitely ready to make the jump from junior skill-wise,” said Oilers’ former first overall pick Taylor Hall, who just so happened to use last year’s Young Stars tournament as a springboard to future success. “I haven’t seen him yet, but I guess it’s just amazing with what he can do with the puck. As long as he can handle the expectations, pressure and media, which I have no doubts that he can, he’s going to be fine.”
“I’ll tell you what I told Ryan, this is not a race,” said Tambellini. “We want training camp to be a learning experience and for him to just be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nothing more, nothing less. If he plays this year great. If he goes back to Red Deer, that’s also great.”
My instinct is usually to lean toward allowing players as much time to mature as possible, especially since dirt-cheap entry-level years can really benefit teams in the salary cap era. Why waste one of those precious bargain years if that player isn’t ready yet? (That being said, it’s pretty tough to argue with the results that Jeff Skinner produced right out of the gate in his Calder Trophy 2010-11 season.)
It should be interesting to watch Nugent-Hopkins’ ups and downs as he tries to make the Oilers roster out of training camp. The adept passer will get his next chance to “Wow” the Oilers’ brass on Tuesday, when Edmonton’s prospects takes on Winnipeg Jets youngsters. We’ll keep you updated about his progress, especially during key moments in training camp and the preseason.