2011 NHL Draft Prospects: No. 1 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Let’s see what we have here: a 6-foot, 165-pound center, tearing up his junior league. Sounds an awful lot like someone familiar, no?

Okay, okay, I know, let’s not go crazy. It’s kind of hard to compare the two. But Red Deer Rebels center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a hot commodity these days. As a possible first overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the top prospect according to NHL Central Scouting has done just about everything but win a Memorial Cup. The 18-year-old, Burnaby, BC native finished the WHL season fourth in scoring, with an unthinkable 75 assists and 106 points in just 69 games. He also helped lead his team to their first playoff berth since the 2006-07 season.

But many of Nugent-Hopkins’ accomplishments have taken place away from the WHL. Throughout his third Major Junior season, Nugent-Hopkins served as a guest blogger for NHL.com, relaying his experiences through the beginning of the 2010-11 season and the push to the playoffs. And through his writing, he showed just how excited he is for the opportunity to be a part of the National Hockey League. “With the draft three months away, there’s been quite a few interview requests but it’s all fun. I’m just trying to embrace it. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I’m just trying to embrace it as much as I can,” he wrote. “I was told that I was among the top five prospects and just to be mentioned among the top players is a huge honor for me. It’s great being mentioned No. 1 especially. It’s all very surreal for me.”

After the Ivan Hlinka tournament in 2010, scouts said that Nugent-Hopkins’ performance was among the best, if not the best ever – and that includes the incredible performances by Jonathan Toews and Rick Nash at their respective tournaments. His strengths are the following: his speed, his hands, his hockey sense, his defensive play, his hockey sense, and his hands. Notice any trends?

In all seriousness, the kid is incredible. He has blazing speed, the ability to pick apart the other team just be taking a look up the ice, and could deke the net off its moorings with his stickhandling. The only problem with Nugent-Hopkins is his size, but as we’ve seen with numerous NHLers, the strength will come in time.

“I like to set up plays and I consider myself a playmaker – getting down low and setting up my teammates,” Nugent-Hopkins told NHL.com prior to the 2010-11 season. “I’m looking forward to the upcoming season in Red Deer since we had a pretty young team last year. Everybody is going to be a year older and a year better, so we should be looking pretty good.”

“He’s got great skill and a knack for offense,” NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire said. “He scored the first goal of the whole competition at (RDO camp) with a great shot, and his Red Deer Rebels will be blessed with his skill set all year.”

The young center also says he idolizes NHL superstar Sidney Crosby and hopes to someday reach his level. Although many fans would snicker at that goal, while others would compare it to anyone else’s goal being to win the lottery, don’t count it out of the realm of possibility. In fact, if you polled a couple NHL scouts, they might tell you the same thing.

Alan Bass, a writer for The Hockey News and THN.com, is the author of The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed The NHL Forever. He has worked for the Philadelphia Flyers’ Fan Development department, going to schools throughout the tri-state area to teach about fitness and the importance of teamwork. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College Division II hockey team as well. You can contact him at Alanbasswriting@aol.com.

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