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Friday, September 9, 2011

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins "Ready for PRIMETIME?"

With the Oilers Young Guns Tourney about to start in Penticton B.C this coming Sunday September 11th, (Oilers 1st game and on Sportsnet West) there are lots of questions being asked. Will Nugent-Hopkins be ready for PRIMETIME or should he get the early experience and then at the end of the 9 game maximum, be sent back to Red Deer for a year to excel among peers? Does Ryan have the elusiveness that many say he does, to evade the big hits that could break his game down? There are a lot of questions and no one can really answer these questions in all honesty, better then Ryan Nugent-Hopkins himself.

There are many indicators we can use to show us how a player may fare in the pro game at such a young age. I’m not going to get into all the statistical data that you can compile but it does give you some indication as to the player. Copper and Blue and Lowetide do a great job of that already. I myself am a little old school still. I truly believe their track record is highly important. What is their work ethic like? How have they fared in competition in their respective leagues growing up? How consistent has their progress been? Is there a common thread that scouts are pointing out? This list could go on.

In evaluating this player, I want to look at some history first (after all, he is the 2011 #1 Draft pick). Following that, let’s look at the circumstances of the center position with the Oilers, then move on to the skill set Nugent-Hopkins has. At that point we will do a forecast of what likely is to happen to “The Nuge”.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a player, who craves to have the puck, always has and always will. Since he was a young boy, playing mini sticks hockey in the hallways of the Burnaby Winter Club, waiting for his older brother to finish a practice or game, Ryan was practising the game he loves.

Ryan played most of his minor hockey at The Burnaby Winter Club. An excellent skater, he could be found most days working on other aspects of his game. Ryan was fortunate to have top level coaching throughout his Rep level Hockey at The Burnaby Winter Club.

One thing you cannot take from Nugent-Hopkins is his desire to score. Ryan has scored many important goals throughout his career. He competed in The Quebec Pee-Wee Tournament, Won BC Provincial Championships as a Pee-Wee and Bantam, Western Canadian Bantam Champion in 2007, captain of his Burnaby Winter Club, Western Canadian Bantam Championships MVP in 2008, Macs Midget AAA Hockey Tournament MVP in 2008, BC minor Hockey player of the year in 2008

Nugent-Hopkins made his WHL debut for The Red Deer Rebels as an underage player in 08/09 season. He would later win WHL rookie of the year in 09/10 season, finalist for Canadian Hockey League (CHL) rookie of the year in 09/10 , team pacific member 2010 World under 17 Hockey Challenge, and scored the gold medal, game winning goal for Canada against USA at the 2010 Ivan Hilinka Memorial Tournament in Slovakia.

In last year’s CHL prospects game, Nugent-Hopkins registered a pair of assists, earning player of the game honors as he captained Team Orr to a 7-1 victory against Team Cherry. Team Orr coach Doug Gilmour said "He's a very skillful player with a bright future,” Coach Wendal Clark added his thoughts into the pool as well when he said to the media following the game ,"The heads-up play with the speed, how he can handle the puck at high speed and still judge the play and make plays, that's the big thing". In that same game Ryan also stepped up to fight Duncan Siemens (even though he said he was just trying to pull Duncan off Sven Baertschi before David Musil came to the rescue).  

Leading up to his draft day, it became a two way race between Ryan and Adam Larson for that #1 pick the Edmonton Oilers were holding. The hard thing for fans is we want to compare a player to someone we know or have seen. That’s when the comparables of what kind of a player Ryan is came into play. Former and current NHL coach’s even chimed in. What were they saying? He was said to have on ice vision like Wayne Gretzky. His creativity with the puck and the way he can skate on his edges is compared to Pavel Datsyuk. His foot speed and two way game has been compared to Jonathan Toews. If you ask Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, I am sure he is honoured to have his name mentioned in the same breath as any of those great players.

Because he has been compared to be like some of those players is not saying he will produce or end up with a career like any of those players. Comparisons are the easiest way to get a vague answer as to what you can see in a player’s game. I would like to add one other comparison. His work ethic, attention to detail and relentless drive to win reminds me of Sidney Crosby. He is an intriguing player and it should be a pleasure to be able to see how that all looks when he does find himself in the pro game full-time.

Upon being drafted first overall by the Edmonton Oilers, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has had one
question that stands out in every interview and is asked every time. “What is your current weight at”? Ryan finished the season at 164 lbs and if you ask Travis Ewanyk, his weight was not an issue in their playoff series in puck battles or the likes. Regardless, his weight is constantly brought into question. I have no problem with Ryan taking one more year for development. That is, if he needs it! No one has seen him play with pro hockey players, yet he is being second guessed daily by us fans. Nugent-Hopkins needs to put on more muscle mass, so he has been focusing on core work and leg strength. He has now settled in at about 175lbs. That is a solid growth of at least 10 lbs of muscle, but still fans complain he is not that hulking build. Why is that? I believe it has more to do with what is visually seen. Watching him on the ice, he does look quite thin. He looks like; he should be easy to knock off the puck.

This summer on NATION RADIO, Lowetide was able to speak with Skills and Development coach Steve Serdachny at the end of the 2011 Development Camp. This is what was said...

LOWETIDE: “Ryan Nugent-Hopkins may not be the most impressive straightaway skater--because of age and development--but he has that great first step quickness. Do you measure that and if you do how do you measure that?”

SERDACHNY: “I'd probably agree with your first statement that he has incredible first step quickness but I disagree with your other comment. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a dynamic skater who in my opinion, would probably be at an upper end NHL speed right now. He's quick and strong, has explosive quickness and dynamic speed. He has multi-directional ability and the control he has on his edges with mobility on and off the puck is exceptional. Ryan would fit in the category of very strong NHL skater and he's just going to get better”

Simon Bennet always weighed in on the subject of Ryan’s playing weight. He laughs that he got asked the same question, over and over again, by the Oilers management and scouting staff in the time leading up to the Entry Draft. He gave Dan Tencer the same explanation that he gave the club throughout the draft process: Nugent-Hopkins isn't being drafted to be a body builder. In other words, they don't need the kid to excel at the bench press; they need him to excel in areas like balance, agility and explosiveness.Upper body strength isn't irrelevant, of course, but Bennett explains that it pales in comparison to the importance of core strength when analyzing athletes in hockey.

"I think there's a big danger in getting too obsessed with his weight and falling away from the fundamentals of physical development," he says. "Really, what you have to do with this kid is build him from the ground up. Let's build his legs up and put most of the weight on his legs."Bennett explains that power from in the upper body doesn't necessarily need to be generated by the upper body. Strong legs are an absolute must for any hockey player and strength in the core can generate more than enough power to be transferred out to the arms. In very simple terms, the upper body can harness the power generated by the lower body and core. Bennett wants you to imagine Pavel Datsyuk when looking for a practical example of a player who performs at an elite level without having overly broad shoulders or a mean score on the bench press.

In an interview with Jim Matheson, Tyler Ennis chimed in on the concern of Nugent-Hopkins playing weight. “It’s not something Nugent-Hopkins can do in one summer, overnight. It’s going to take a couple of years. It’s important to keep your quickness. You can’t get big and slow. Putting on 10 pounds is probably perfect for him. If he’s still slippery, it won’t be a factor. He’ll be making a lot of good passes.”

While being interviewed by Bob Stauffer, Ryan confirmed he is weighing in around 175lbs, however he feels faster, even with the added weight. This was a concern for some fans; they have been worried it could slow him down. This does not appear to be the case.
Bob later on in his blog, said 2 veteran NHL defensemen both communicated to him, how “sick” RNH’s skills are. Pretty impressive words coming from pro players. Only time will tell.

We talk lots about the skills Ryan has but his ability to execute what he learns will be what can set him apart from others. Ryan was asked about being on the ice with guys like Ryan Smyth who he grew up watching and what it was like. He commented that watching, Smyth, Horcoff and Hemsky in the drills, he noticed how they go as hard as they can all the time. His final comment after is what I like to hear “I’m already starting to learn from them”.

This is really a loaded question. In fact this question can have fans in conversation for months. Wait, it has had us in conversation for months. The bottom line for Nugent-Hopkins is, only he can decide his future. He will have every chance to make the team out of training camp. We all have our opinions as to why or why not he should stay beyond his 9 game maximum. Ryan wants to stay; he has made that quite clear. He appears to be doing everything asked of him and focused to make the team right out of training camp. He is saying all the right things, and doing what needs done.

He needed to put on muscle, he has done that. 10-12 pounds is no small feat, and it’s mostly all core and leg strength where he is focused the most. He went to the world Jr camp invite and worked hard there. Went to the development camp, worked hard there. Went home and focused on being ready for camp. Ryan even showed up a little earlier to skate with some of the veterans ahead of time. Really, no other player stands in his way, only himself. This will be a test of his nerves, his agility on the new playing weight and the ability to evade the larger defenders game in and game out.

He has the intangibles required to battle in the corners with guys much larger then him, and more often than not, RNH comes out with the puck. He doesn't shy away from battling bigger players. Ryan is brilliant with his edge work and has the ability to out-manoeuvre defenders. His balance is notable. Most often he will be engaged from the back along the sideboards, stay up, and slide off the contact. Ryan's puck skills are elite and enough can't be said with what he does with the puck. His combination of vision, hands, and passing ability are a sight to see and separate him from other players.

With his elite hockey sense and agility, RNH does things at a quick and efficient pace while creating a ton of offense. When watching him on the ice you will notice he keeps his head up at all times, like his head is on a swivel, which helps him avoid checks but also gives him that uncanny ability to get passes through sticks and players to his open man who in most cases has a open net.

He is a perfectionist, who has a strong work ethic and gives lots of attention to detail. RNH is a cerebral player who can fool you when watching him. (i.e.: world Jr Canadian U20 red/white scrimmage game) Just when you think you have kept him at bay, the puck is in the net. An underrated strength he has is his commitment to defence. He works hard to be in the right position and his stick in the right lanes. RNH makes the game look simple and slow out on the ice. He is a Very focused player. Hard worker and humble

As much as some want to send Nugent-Hopkins back to the CHL for one more year, it only happens if the Oilers believe he is not ready for full time NHL action. It will be the physical game that would determine his outcome more than his skill. There are other center’s looking to earn jobs but if Nugent-Hopkins is ready, the timeline for player’s like Lander and VandeVelde will be a longer spell in the AHL. If RNH makes this team, expect some type of player movement to happen in the center position. If I was wagering on the % of him playing the year with the Oilers, I would put his chances at 80%. For those of you, who would rather see him back in the CHL, don’t worry. If Ryan is playing the year in Edmonton, it’s because he is just that good.

Some of the information I have given can be found written by local bloggers, mainstream media and hockey sites. I tried to mention where the sources were from when not forgotten. Fortunately, I have been able to watch Nugent-Hopkins a fair amount myself at live games, development camps, televised games and have listened to several Red Deer Rebel games on the radio. Hopefully all the information and comments gathered in this post will give us a better idea of the player we can expect to see. Now, the only question remains...Is ‘The Nuge” ready for PRIMETIME?

you can follow me on twitter @revingev


  1. I believe the oiler fans and management are looking into the subject to much. he has the skills and desire to play big time hockey now thats what he should be doing. we are rebuilding and watching youngsters progress why not throw him into the mix. rather than watch him have hints of brilliance at the start of this year and know exactly how prime time hockey works rather then coming in agian as a fresh faced rookie

  2. Great article. Im pumped to see this guy play :)

  3. Great article is right. He's ready!

  4. thanks guys! I know it all looks real good and he could be ready. On the other hand, as good as it looks, he could need another year to develop so for me I am hopeful but cautious in my excitement. I am confident , he only plays for us this year if they feel he is ready. As Renny said today, they knew Hall was ready for the NHL but still needed to wait and see. I think it will be the same way. What I am curious most about is...his face-offs. I didnt mention in the article but during the other top centerman in the jr camp he was 9 out of 12 first night and as best as i counted 7 of 10 on second night. Thats good work on face-offs, especially against Ryan Johanson and Ryan strome too.In development camp sillinger was working face-offs with him and lander. Looks like he worked on it cause in Red Deer he was slightly over 50%.


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