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No question about Nugent-Hopkins' prospects

by Mike G. Morreale
High-flying center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins wasn't about to take any of the general managers, scouts and coaches in attendance by surprise in August during the recent 2010 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp fueled by G Series.

Barring a major setback, he's a sure-fire top-five selection at the 2011 Entry Draft to be held in June in St. Paul, Minn.

As if the 17-year-old native of Burnaby, B.C., doesn't have an impressive enough resume, he wowed those sitting in the stands at the Toronto Maple Leafs' practice facility with his offensive skills, tenaciousness and exceptional acceleration throughout the two-day event.

That's likely to continue in his second season with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. As a rookie last season, Nugent-Hopkins finished second on the team in scoring with 65 points, including 24 goals, in 67 games. That earned him the WHL's Rookie of Year Award and helped the Rebels reach the playoffs for the first time in three years.

"Everyone knows the Hopkins kid is a top pick. At the Hlinka tournament in Slovakia, he was one of the top players. He's not a hidden secret and he played well (at RDO camp) even thought he was sick. He's got good hockey sense, creates time for himself and he's got the gift." -- Jim Nill

"I like to set up plays and I consider myself a playmaker -- getting down low and setting up my teammates," Nugent-Hopkins told "I'm looking forward to the upcoming season in Red Deer since we had a pretty young team last year. Everybody is going to be a year older and a year better, so we should be looking pretty good."

NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire feels the sky's the limit for Nugent-Hopkins.

"He's got great skill and a knack for offense," McGuire said. "He scored the first goal of the whole competition at (RDO camp) with a great shot and his Red Deer Rebels will be blessed with his skill set all year."

Chris Edwards, NHL Central Scouting's Ontario scout, has seen enough of Nugent-Hopkins to conclude his skill set is "very high."

"He dominated the game at Red Deer and you can just see the talent coming right off the stick when he's on the ice," Edwards said. "Even in the (RDO camp), he made a few plays, made a move on a defenseman and fed the puck through another guy to set up a great scoring chance. He sees the ice very well, has excellent puck-handling and playmaking ability and skates very well."

The No. 1 pick in the 2008 WHL bantam draft, Nugent-Hopkins served as one of four assistant captains for Team Canada at the Under-18 2010 Ivan Hlinka Memorial in the Czech Republic. The highlight for the 6-foot, 155-pound forward was connecting for the game-winner 1:42 into the first period to give his country a 1-0 victory over Team USA in the gold-medal game.

"Just representing Canada was amazing and awesome, and winning the gold-medal game, especially against the U.S., was great since they're such a big rival," Nugent-Hopkins said.

He can still recall the goal as if it were yesterday.

"The U.S. dumped the puck in and our defenseman passed it up to the winger, who chipped it off the wall," he said. "I was kind of in a foot race with another guy and just chipped it up and the guy kind of fell. It was a 3-on-1 at that point and I held on to it … then just shot, high-glove."

Nugent-Hopkins was also named the 2008 BC Minor Hockey Player of the Year, an honor bestowed annually to the B.C. Amateur Hockey Association player who best exemplified sportsmanship, leadership and hockey skill. Previous winners include Colin Fraser (Edmonton Oilers), Gilbert Brule (Edmonton Oilers) and Karl Alzner (Washington Capitals).

Detroit Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill, who was also on hand for the RDO camp, says Nugent-Hopkins is a well-known prospect.

"Everyone knows the Hopkins kid is a top pick," Nill told "At the Hlinka tournament in Slovakia, he was one of the top players. He's not a hidden secret and he played well (at RDO camp) even thought he was sick. He's got good hockey sense, creates time for himself and he's got the gift."

Keep in mind, Nugent-Hopkins traveled from the Hlinka Tournament in Slovakia to Burnaby on Aug. 15 before flying back out to Toronto for the RDO camp on Aug. 17. Then all he had to do was play in four, one-hour scrimmages over two days.

Knowing that he could possibly be a top-five selection makes all the travel and playing time worth every minute. After all, if he wants to someday reach the level of his idol, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, he's going to need all the playing time possible.

"If that draft were happening today or tomorrow, I'd be very nervous," he said. "I'm looking forward to it. Hopefully, I'll have a good year and prove myself."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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