"A couple of people high up in the Oilers' organization -- and I'm not naming names -- said Hopkins has the best vision on the ice since No. 99 (Wayne Gretzky)," Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan told NHL.com earlier this month.
With praise like that, it's hard to imagine Edmonton General Manager Steve Tambellini choosing any other player when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announces his team is on the clock to begin the first round of the NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24.
"This year's a little bit different, though, because all these players are elite athletes," Tambellini said. "There are so many of these players, dependent upon what the team needs. Ryan is a very-skilled, vision type of player that, regardless of where he goes, will be a very, very good NHL player."
Only time will tell what Tambellini will do, but he can rest easily knowing he'll have the option of selecting Nugent-Hopkins. For the second straight year, the Oilers, the last-place team in the regular season, retained the No. 1 pick in the Entry Draft following the Draft Lottery. It's the fourth consecutive year and fifth time in six years that the last-place team in the regular season has kept the top pick.
The New Jersey Devils won the lottery and moved up from eighth to fourth, but the Oilers, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers retained the top three spots -- with Edmonton again getting the No. 1 selection and a chance at what Tambellini hopes will be a franchise player.
"At this point it's more of a large group of players we're looking at," Tambellini said. "This is exactly where we are for the last couple of years. This is the time to acquire franchise-type players like a Taylor Hall and we want to be able to sustain success; we don't want to be good, we want to have a great organization."
The Oilers selected the OHL's Taylor Hall of the Windsor Spitfires with the No. 1 pick last year after he finished in a tie for the league scoring race with Tyler Seguin of the Plymouth Whalers at 106 points. Nugent-Hopkins finished tied for third in the WHL with 106 points, led the league with 75 assists, and his 31 goals (11 on the power play) were third on his team. He also posted a team-best plus-30 rating.
"I think any time you're selecting at the top of the draft, especially No. 1, these players are there for a reason," Tambellini said. "They have the ability to emotionally handle something; they have the obvious skill so whether they develop into that player, you don't know. But these top players have the ability to, one day, be franchise players."
If Edmonton does take Nugent-Hopkins, he'll be the first player from the WHL chosen No. 1 since Ottawa's Chris Phillips in 1996. Phillips played for the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders and Lethbridge Hurricanes.
The Devils won the lottery despite having only a 3.6-percent chance of winning. The Islanders, originally slated to choose fourth, are now picking fifth and the Ottawa Senators dropped from fifth to sixth.
"I think there are good players (at No. 6) but I guess now it depends on the preference of a couple of other teams with New Jersey moving into the mix now," Ottawa GM Bryan Murray said. "We do have a number of players on our top list of guys who can step in and become impact players, and we know we'll get a good player in that spot, but there is a little difference where we're picking now."
The lottery set the draft order for the first 14 picks of the Draft, to be held June 24-25 in Minnesota. The Oilers are almost certain to choose either Nugent-Hopkins, a center with the Western Hockey League's Red Deer Rebels, left wing Gabriel Landeskog of the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers or Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson of Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League.
Nugent-Hopkins and Landeskog were rated Nos. 1-2, respectively, among North American skaters by Central Scouting during its final release of draft-eligible prospects on Monday. Larsson was listed as the No. 1 among European skaters.
All three are expected to be excellent NHL players, but they may not be ready to help right away. Would Tambellini consider trading the No. 1 pick for more immediate help?
"To move the first pick overall, it would have to be something that would change an organization, also, in a positive way," Tambellini said. "It's not a deal where you're taking something to make a deal to get more players. Right now, at this spot, we're looking to get the best player for the Oilers."
As a result of the St. Louis Blues remaining 11th in the order, the pick automatically went to the Avalanche as part of February's trade that sent defenseman Erik Johnson to the Avs for forward Chris Stewart and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. If the Blues had moved into the top 10, they would have had the option of keeping the pick and sending their 2012 first-round pick to the Avs.
For the Avalanche, having two picks among the top 11 choices gives them a lot of options. One possibility with the No. 2 pick is Landeskog, a power forward who could look awfully nice alongside big centers in Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene or Ryan O'Reilly.
"Certainly we'll see how everything pans out over the next couple of weeks or months," Colorado general manager Greg Sherman told NHL.com. "One thing for sure, we know we're getting a good young player at that spot."
When asked if he thought Landeskog was the only true NHL-ready player of this year's Draft, Sherman wasn't so sure.
"According to our scouts, they felt pretty comfortable in the No. 2 slot that there's a sure possibility that someone is NHL ready," Sherman said. "Everything seems to be very positive with (Landeskog) though, from what I've learned through our scouts. But, again, we'll look at all the options that are on the board for us and our group will make the right decision at the right time."