By no means is he the biggest player in the 2011 National Hockey League Entry Draft, but he may just be the biggest name. Literally and figuratively.
Touted as a potential first overall pick all season and a mainstay a top Future Considerations’ draft ranking since the turn of the calendar year, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is poised to become the first 1st overall pick from the Western Hockey League since Chris Phillips in 1996.
Still, becoming the first pick from the Dub in a decade and a half didn’t distract the Burnaby, BC native.
“I won’t let it serve as a distraction,” Nugent-Hopkins vowed earlier in the year. “It can help me play better and add some more determination.”
Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin—a former NHLer and first round pick in the same 1996 draft as Phillips—said the attention that his assistant captain gets from being a highly touted pick hasn’t been disruptive to his season.
“He’s got such a professional approach to things that it’s not an issue.”
The statistics tell a similar story.
Nugent-Hopkins was third in WHL scoring with 31 goals and 106 points, including scoring 17 goals in his last 20 games. His is a talent that was on display nightly in the WHL and something Wallin had the luxury of enjoying for 69 games this season.
“He’s got an uncanny ability with the puck,” Wallin said. “His ability to handle the puck in tight corners is incredible. I don’t know if I’ve seen anyone that can handle the feet around his body the way he has.”
Red Deer defenseman Alex Petrovic—drafted in the second round by the Florida Panthers a year ago—got a first-hand look at the skills of Nugent-Hopkins daily in practice.
“I wouldn’t want him coming down on me or coming out of the corner on me,” Petrovic said with a laugh. “He’ll make you look stupid.”
But his skills don’t end there.
“(He is) obviously a phenomenal hockey player,” added Petrovic. “(He) has great hands. He moves the puck well.”
But if there’s a knock on Nugent-Hopkins it has been his size.
While he displays good height in standing at six-feet, the first overall pick in the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft weighs just 165-pounds.
“I try to use my abilities because I’m not the biggest guy, I’m not the heaviest guy,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “I try to use what I have.”
What he does have is an arsenal of offensive weapons that have drawn some lofty comparisons.
“I see elements of a lot of different players in him,” Wallin said. “I hear the comparison to Joe Sakic a lot. He’s got an ability with the puck like Pavel Datsyuk and he can skate like Sergei Fedorov.”
And while he hasn’t been explicitly been associated with the likes of Steve Yzerman, one aspect of Nugent-Hopkins’ game is also similar to the now Tampa Bay Lightning general manager.
“He’s got a quiet confidence about him, a special confidence, Wallin said. “He’s quiet and humble and down to earth but he knows he’s a special hockey player.”
“He’s very modest; very down to earth.”
Which is nothing short of impressive: For the draft’s biggest name.
Aaron Vickers is the managing editor of Future Considerations and can be found on Twitter. For all the latest Future Considerations news and posts, follow FC’s Official Twitter Feed, on YouTube and on Facebook!