One of the most popular questions I was asked during the course of the summer was will Ryan Nugent-Hopkins make the Edmonton Oilers or will he return to the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL.
I went back and forth back and forth. I did not feel definitive either way and could make a case for both. I watched the Burnaby, BC. product display his talents at the Canadian National Junior Team’s Summer Development Camp and left the Alberta Capital equally as confused.
And why? In the one red and white game I witnessed to be honest, he looked tired and really looked ‘just okay’. That was until the last three minutes when he took the game over, including scoring the game winner with less than 30 seconds remaining. From the first time I watched this youngster, I have never once left an arena having watched him where I did not utter one word on at least a couple of occasions. That word is WOW. His skill level blows me away. His vision and his ability to make people around him better was terrific to watch the last couple of WHL seasons. Here is what will make him a star. He hounds the puck and has some edge.
As impressed as I have been with his skill, I am equally in awe of his will. Two games into his NHL career, I think he has strutted his stuff likely for the last time in junior hockey. Nugent-Hopkins was a star in his NHL debut and in his most recent outing in St Paul. I watched his first two shifts and said out loud to a good friend, “He’s not coming back.”
Another 15-plus minutes went by and he did not look out of place one bit.
The only question for most has been his stature. How is he going to take the pounding of an 82 game season. Yes down low in his own zone he was out-muscled on a couple of occasions. Despite his size or lack there of or strength at this point, Nugent-Hopkins has tremendous escapability and his hockey sense is off the charts. At the highest level through two games, I see him doing a lot of the same things he did in junior.
So if you are asking me today, I like his chances of staying. Does it pain me a little yes for two reasons to say that? Yes. I am currently doing some scouting work for the Rebels, and if you don’t think part of me wouldn’t like to see him return and then play for his country at the world junior you are crazy.
But that’s part of me. Right now he looks like he belongs.
I have always put it this way about underage players and I stand by it. If they are playing regular minutes at that level, I have no issue. The Oilers still have seven more games to make up their minds and their vote is the only one that matters.
Ryan Nugent Hopkins looks like he’s ready to stay and for a second straight year the team in the Alberta capital have found themselves a gem.