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Welcoming the new guys

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

This Friday Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will stand in front of the hockey world and don the jersey of his new team.

The 18-year-old forward from Burnaby, BC, who spent the last two seasons with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels, is the top ranked North American skater heading into the 2011 NHL Draft. Consensus is that the 6-foot, 164-pound centerman will be the first overall selection.

Wait – don’t the Edmonton Oilers, division rival of the Vancouver Canucks, hold the top pick, hence Nugent-Hopkins is to potentially become an enemy?

Yes yes, this is true, and if the Oilers go a different direction and snag someone like top ranked European player Adam Larsson, the Colorado Avalanche, another Northwest foe, hold the second overall pick. Either way, odds are good Nugent-Hopkins will be despised in Vancouver in the near future.

The Canucks got an up-close and personal look at Nugent-Hopkins during an off day of the Stanley Cup Final in Boston as he and the second, third and fourth ranked North American skaters, Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau and Dougie Hamilton, had a meet and greet with both teams.

It was an eye-opening experience for Nugent-Hopkins, a lifelong Canucks fan finally in the presence of his idols.

Nugent-Hopkins spent a few minutes with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows, Raffi Torres, Jeff Tambellini and Dan Hamhuis, alongside a handful of Boston Bruins; the smile plastered on his face as he sat down with media afterward said it all.

“They just told us to enjoy the experience that we’re going through,” beamed Nugent-Hopkins, “it’s really cool to meet some of those guys.”

Nugent-Hopkins, whose pre-game rituals include listening to ‘Savior’ by Rise Against and eating an apple, according to his Draft Prospect Card, said he’s been following the Sedins throughout their careers and while meeting them was a thrill, he’s on the cusp of going to battle against them. Surreal.

“It’s pretty cool to think about,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “We met Seguin too and he’s only a year older than us. It’s definitely cool seeing a guy like that playing in the Stanley Cup Final, it makes you think that we could be in his position next year.”

If Nugent-Hopkins is drafted as early as most prognosticators expect, the NHL will be a reality for him in a few short months.

“It still hasn’t even really hit me, but my first year in the WHL I kind of started to think that I could make the jump to the NHL and it would be pretty cool to be in their position.”

Daniel and Henrik were in Nugent-Hopkins’ position 12 years ago as the Sedins, the second and third overall picks at the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, made their way to the 1999 Stanley Cup Final between the Dallas Stars and Buffalo Sabres.

The Sedins, 18-years-young at the time, can’t recall exactly who they rubbed elbows with, partially because the experience was so overwhelming.

“There was so much going on at the time, it was just cool to hear from some of the pros,” said Daniel Sedin. “They told us just to take it all in because it only happens once and that’s what we told the guys today.”

The Canucks landing both Sedins at the 1999 Draft took an all-world effort from former Vancouver general manager Brian Burke and his staff. In short, the Canucks, who had the 3rd pick, made the following moves: first Vancouver sent Bryan McCabe and a 2000 first-round pick to Chicago for the 4th overall pick; then the 4th pick and a pair of third-rounders went to Tampa Bay for the 1st overall selection; next that 1st pick went to Atlanta for the 2nd pick under the condition the Thrashers wouldn’t take a Sedin.

Two months of wheeling and dealing resulted in one of the biggest draft day moves ever, one that was franchise altering for Vancouver.

It would take even more than that for Nugent-Hopkins to end Friday in a Canucks jersey.

Unless general manager Mike Gillis trades Vancouver’s way up, the Canucks will select 29th overall; your guess is as good as mine as to who will wind up in blue and green.

Even the folks over at NHL.com, who agree that Nugent-Hopkins goes to the Oilers, are divided on whom Vancouver picks.

Steven Hoffner: Adam Clendening, D, Boston University (HE) - Handles puck well under pressure. Ranking soared since mid-season.

Mike G. Morreale: David Musil, D, Vancouver (WHL) - Local prospect with big frame (6-3 1/4, 198) can box out, stand up for teammates; 25 Pts, plus-1, 83 PIM.

Adam Kimelman: Alexander Khokhlachev, C/LW, Windsor (OHL) - Outstanding first season in North America; led OHL rookies in playoff scoring.

The 2011 NHL Draft airs Friday at 4 p.m. PST on TSN.

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