Most recently it was Taylor Hall. Before him, John Tavares. Steven Stamkos and Patrick Kane. Jordan Staal and Sidney Crosby too.
Since the lockout, the first forward taken in the entry draft has joined his respective club four months later in the NHL.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could end the streak.
The top ranked forward for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft is widely regarded as having the most offensive potential, but the team that selects him will likely have to wait to enjoy his exploits in the offensive end.
While many of the skills possessed by Nugent-Hopkins would suggest that he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL, there are questions about whether the Burnaby, BC. native’s 170-pound frame would hold up against the grind of 82 games against men.
“Could he play there next year? I’m sure he probably could,” Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin told The Providence three weeks ago. “Is it going to be the right thing for him next year and long term? I think that’s what the team that takes him is going to have to determine and they probably won’t know that until September. Biggest factor for me, is he physically ready to play against men?”
Certainly there is an offseason to debate and months of training for Nugent-Hopkins to add to his six-foot frame.
“The summer could dictate if Nugent-Hopkins is an NHLer next year,” said one Western Hockey League scout. “He has the puck skills, maturity and understanding of the game to play. The only question is how he would handle the physicality.”
The trials of Boston Bruins rookie Tyler Seguin may serve as a warning for the club that picks up Nugent-Hopkins, who has 63 assists and 83 points in 56 games this season.
Seguin, drafted 2nd overall behind Hall last year, has averaged just over 12 minutes of action in 54 games this season and has recently found himself in the press box as a healthy scratch. Many question whether or not Seguin’s development would have been better served with another year under Plymouth Whalers head coach Mike Vellucci. Boston still has the ability to return the six-foot-one, 182-pound Seguin to the Ontario Hockey League.
But just as Seguin has struggled, a smaller Patrick Kane had little trouble acclimatizing to the NHL.
Kane jumped into the NHL head first, notching 21 goals and 72 points in 82 games en route to a Calder trophy in 2007/08. He accomplished the feat at a generous five-foot-10, 165-pounds. Today he tips the scale at 178-pounds.
If Nugent-Hopkins jumps into the NHL at the tender age of 18 is his season more likely to resemble that of Seguin’s or Kane’s? Will he get the opportunity to play in the NHL next season at all?
That fuzzy picture will at least be a little clearer come draft day.
Aaron Vickers is the managing editor of Future Considerations and can be found on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickersFC. Follow the latest Future Considerations news and posts, follow FC’s Official Twitter Feed at www.twitter.com/FCHockey.