Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Lisa Brown on 08/14/11 at 04:23 PM ET
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was a fan and media draw during his time at the Team Canada development camp and Red and White games in Edmonton and Fort McMurray August 3-7th, but that should come as little surprise to anyone. Nugent-Hopkins has been a great hockey player at all levels he has played up to this point. Nugent-Hopkins was captain of the Burnaby Winter Club Bruins, led that team to many championships and won several MVP honours himself including the Mac’s Midget Tournament. When drafted by the Red Deer Rebels in 2008, young Nugent-Hopkins was drafted first overall. Starting as an underage player with the Rebels, Nugent-Hopkins was quick to win over to win over the fans that frequent the Red Deer Arena.
Although there was little time for one on one questions with Nugent-Hopkins, there still remains much to be learned about the rising star.
LM – What did you take away from the Oilers’ development camp?
Ryan Nugent - Hopkins - I definitely learned a lot at the camp. I learned about professionalism that NHL players carry and that you need to learn in the NHL. I learned that and just little things like faceoffs and stuff I got taught a lot about. It was really cool just being there.
LM – Ultimately, what are your goals for this fall, Team Canada or the Oilers?
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Right now I’m at this camp, so I’m going to be completely focused on making a good impression on the coaches as much as I can, but after this camp my main goal is going to be making the Oilers.
LM – How is your agility with the additional weight you’ve added?
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - I haven’t put on too much weight, it’s not like I’m getting too big. More than anything I think it’s coming naturally.
It had been quite the summer so far for RNH. Nugent-Hopkin’s team, the Red Deer Rebels made it through to the WHL Eastern Conference semifinals, RNH was drafted first overall, was then invited to the Oilers development camp and then RNH was invited to the Team Canada summer camp. Through it all, the media attention hasn’t stopped.
During my first time speaking with Nugent-Hopkins, I felt that he was extremely polite and cautious in his wording. I believed that this was due to pre-draft concerns and now that I have spoken with the up and coming star a few times, it seems that Nugent-Hopkins is becoming slightly more accustomed to the attention, and is settling into what will be his life. The Nugent-Hopkins I saw and spoke with at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft is still the same person I spoke with at the Team Canada camp, just with seemingly more to say and perhaps even more pressure going forward.
“I put on about 10 pounds so I’m pretty happy where I am and hopefully I have about three weeks before Red Deer’s camp so after this camp. I think I can put on another 5 or so, but I feel strong and feel pretty good. I feel little bit stronger and more powerful in my skating and I can get lower and I have a better stride and it’s helped me quite a bit and I’m happy where I’m at right about now.” There are several concerns about Nugent-Hopkins and his readiness to play in the NHL. Most of those concerns focus on Nugent-Hopkins’ weight and stature. Many feel that he may not be ready to take on the physical demands of an NHL career. Without seeing Nugent-Hopkins in an NHL environment, and up against other NHL players, this assessment may be made too quickly.
Nugent-Hopkins does look as though he has slowly added to his stature. The young centreman has a good sized frame to build upon, and given his young age, it is difficult to say what his optimal size or weight will be. The concern should not be how much Nugent-Hopkins weighs, but how he plays. The differences between the play of Nugent-Hopkins and last year’s first overall draft pick Taylor Hall are quite apparent even when seen separately. Taylor Hall plays a physical game and has the right size and build for that. Nugent-Hopkins is more of a “cerebral” player and will need to maintain his agility and speed.
On entering this camp as compared to last year: “It’s definitely different this year; came into December camp last year and I was a little more timid than I should have been and now I have more confidence and I feel good out here. I think having that experience is just really going to help me. I was timid coming in last year but now I feel I have the experience so I can assert myself a little more and you have to confident and assertive out there.”
The crowd at Rexall Place gave Nugent-Hopkins cheered as the first overall draft pick stepped onto the ice, but it wasn’t until the final minutes of the Red and White game that Nugent-Hopkins was given a true welcoming. The arena was alive with “Nuge” and “Nugent-Hopkins” chants, awkward though they were. “ It was pretty surreal” Nugent-Hopkins said of the chanting “That was different, it’s definitely never happened before.. It was a little bit weird, but I didn’t expect it.” Edmontonians will surely work the kinks out of the chants, maybe one day turning them into something that will be expected.
This was Nugent-Hopkins’ first time in Rexall place in months, “Well since the draft, it was my first chance. I’ve played here a bunch of times against the Oil Kings so it’s not my first time in the building but it was definitely a good atmosphere, even during warm-ups we were out there and we were stunned how many people were there.”
“It was pretty cool just getting to play in front of these fans. They’re great fans and it was a great atmosphere.”
This is certainly not the end to Nugent-Hopkins’ summer. Whether the Oilers will be the first team to send a forward drafted first overall draft pick back to juniors since Mike Modano is yet to be seen. From what I have observed and heard, I would like to see Nugent-Hopkins on the Oilers’ opening night roster but understand that it is not a foregone conclusion.
A warm thank you to Mike Morreale of NHL.com who was able to provide some Nugent-Hopkins quotes from a day that was slightly less stressful, where Nugent-Hopkins was able to provide a slightly longer comment .
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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