Just because Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has secured a roster spot for at least nine regular season games with the Edmonton Oilers to open the 2011-12 campaign, doesn't mean his coach in Red Deer, Jesse Wallin, has lost contact with him.
"I talked to him quite a bit early on in camp just to see how he was doing," Wallin told NHL.com. "But I haven't been in touch with him a whole lot lately; just a text here and there to see how he's doing. It was his first camp and he enjoyed himself. It's all new and exciting and a great experience for him and he handled it really well."
Wallin was asked if he's torn between seeing Nugent-Hopkins make the Oilers roster or having him return to Red Deer for his third full season.
"You want the best for him and, selfishly, we'd love to have him back here," Wallin said. "So from that end of things, we'd absolutely want to have him back in Red Deer. But having said that, if he makes the Oilers, then that's what it's all about as well. We're here to develop guys for the NHL and that's our No. 1 goal and if he's prepared to make that step this year, than we've done our job and that's good for our program."
Nugent-Hopkins entered the 2011 draft as the No. 1-ranked North American skater on NHL Central Scouting's final list in April. He led the Rebels and finished tied for third in the WHL scoring race with 106 points in 69 games during the 2010-11 regular season while his 75 assists led all WHL players. He was also named Player of the Game for Team Orr at the 2011 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
"Ultimately, at the end of the day, what I want to see happen is what's best for Ryan and for him as a player," Wallin said. "It's about what's going to be best for him this year and not just for this season but for long term as well. I just think he's a very special talent and I think he's going to be a big time NHL player. I say that not only because of his ability but because of his personality traits … he's just got a real level head on his shoulders and has that type of personality that you see in real elite hockey players."
During Canada's National Junior Team development camp in August, Nugent-Hopkins was in the spotlight since the event was held in Edmonton. At the time, Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast said that Nugent-Hopkins had a better than 50 percent chance of making the Oilers. He also said it would be up to the player to convince Renney he's ready to take that next step -- but it won't be easy.
"If playing for the Edmonton Oilers benefits him long-term, than that's great and good for hockey and that's his dream and I'm sure that's what he's trying to accomplish and what he should be trying to accomplish," Wallin said. "But if benefitting him long-term requires he return to Red Deer, we'll certainly welcome him with open arms and continue working with him to get him prepared to make that step when he's ready."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale