With the exception of the 2005 and 2008 NHL drafts’ when Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos were selected first overall respectively, the race for the number one pick has been relatively wide open in recent years. The same can be said about this year’s draft class, which boasts at least three players – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, and Gabriel Landeskog – who all pose a strong threat as the potential first overall pick.
Currently atop the list is Red Deer Rebels play maker Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is the top ranked prospect according
to the March rankings released by the International Scouting Services. Although he was not selected by Team Canada for the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, Hopkins has quietly overtaken the number one spot because of his consistent play for the Rebels, who are poised to finish second place in the WHL’s Eastern Conference after a sixth place result last year.
Hopkins is an elite passer in junior hockey with 74 of his 102 points recorded as assists. The soon-to-be 18-year old centre possesses a rare combination of speed, soft hands in tight and ability to find his linemates anywhere on the ice. Once he fills out his frame and rounds out the rest of his game, Nugent-Hopkins has the potential to develop into a similar type of player as Matt Duchene.
“I definitely think I’m a playmaker,” Nugent-Hopkins said in interview with The Canadian Press in November. “In bantam and midget, I scored a lot more than I am now. Goals are a little harder for me this year, so getting an assist is just as good for me. A goal for the team is the same whether I get it or someone else does.”
He doesn’t have tremendous size – listed at 6-foot, 170 pounds – but makes up for it with his strong two-way play and high compete level. Nugent-Hopkins is also a well-respected player amongst his teammates and opponents around the league. He was acknowledged for his strong character by being named captain of Team Orr at the CHL Top Prospects game in January, where he scored the opening goal in a 7-1 win over Team Cherry.
The former WHL rookie of the year (in 2009-10) is a sure fire top three pick in the upcoming entry draft, but
Red Deer head coach Jesse Wallin stated that Nugent-Hopkins is, “…is a special kid in a sense that with his ability he doesn’t have the attitude that can go along with it. He works hard, he is very grounded and team oriented. I don’t think he is concerned about the accolades.”
With the assumption that teams such as the Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators, Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders and Florida Panthers are likely to form the NHL’s bottom five, the consensus is that Nugent-Hopkins would be the best player available on the majority of those team’s lists. Most notably the Oilers and Panthers seek a future number one centre, while the other three teams may opt for a more offensive minded defenseman like Adam Larsson.
Twice named as the WHL player of the week, Nugent-Hopkins is a tantalizing prospect who has star potential at the next level. With very few deficiencies in his game, the young Red Deer forward could be sporting an NHL sweater as early as next season.
Quotes used in this story courtesy of The Canadian Press (via the Alberta Local News)