Print Edition: January 11, 2012
Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Taylor Hall and now Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Edmonton Oilers have struggled immensely since making it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006. However, hindsight proves the Oilers struggles to be a blessing in disguise as finishing at the bottom of the standings for the past five seasons has landed them incredible young talent through early first round draft picks. Five seasons of embarrassing performances now seems like just a small price to pay for what Oiler nation has inherited over the years. The latest prize is the 2011 first overall pick, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
At just 18-years-old, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a centre from Burnaby, BC, made a strong case at the Oilers training camp to make the team. After a strong preseason, the Oilers decided to keep Nugent-Hopkins up in the NHL for the first nine games of the season. All NHL rookies are allowed to play nine games with their NHL club before being sent back to the CHL. If a rookie plays in more than nine games, the first year of their contract automatically comes into effect. After the first nine games, Nugent-Hopkins already had five goals and proved he belonged in the NHL, despite being too young to even grab a drink with his teammates. When the Oilers dressed him in their tenth game of the season, therefore bringing his contract into effect, not many were surprised.
Nugent-Hopkins played for the Burnaby Winter Club during his minor hockey years, earning himself a first overall draft pick in the WHL Bantam Draft by the Red Deer Rebels. In the WHL, Nugent-Hopkins put up astounding numbers. In his first full season, he posted 24 goals and 65 points in 67 games, which earned him the honour of being the WHL Rookie of the Year. In his second full season with the Rebels, Nugent-Hopkins took off. He put up 31 goals and 75 assists for 106 points in 69 games.
The NHL has been no different for Nugent-Hopkins. He has successfully translated his ability to produce in the juniors into an ability to produce in the NHL. After a quarter of the season had passed, Nugent-Hopkins lead all rookies with 29 points in 27 games, and found himself tied for fourth in NHL scoring. It’s an amazing feat for sure to have the success he is having, and Oilers fans should cherish the thought that as long as this core of young players remains intact they can look forward to a decade of fast paced, exciting, high scoring hockey from their team.
Nugent-Hopkins’ success in the NHL is a motivating story for all junior centers that lack the “normal” size to be a centre in the NHL. At just over six-feet tall and a mere 175 pounds, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t possess a frame which is typical for the NHL. Centres are known to be big and strong with the ability to fight for pucks on face-offs and back check hard to help out the defence. I met Ryan Nugent-Hopkins when the Edmonton Oilers were in Vancouver during the preseason and he did not strike me as a hockey player. He was a scrawny, lanky teenager, who I was sure would be sent back to the OHL following his nine game stint in the NHL. However, the young centre showing that the NHL is indeed changing. The post-lockout National Hockey League, also known as the, “new NHL,” was intended to create more space for skaters and more goals for the fans. What Nugent-Hopkins and the rest of the young Oiler squad are doing is proving just that.