-- Just because the Edmonton Oilers
were the first team to get a shot at Red Deer's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
in the interviewing stage of the NHL Scouting Combine doesn't necessarily mean it's a foregone conclusion he'll be the first overall pick in next month's Entry Draft.
But it is interesting to note that the Oilers do, indeed, own the No. 1 pick.
"Edmonton was the first team to interview me (on Wednesday), and it went really well," Nugent-Hopkins, NHL Central Scouting's No. 1-rated North American skater, told NHL.com. "I got a good feeling from them and I'm starting to feel more comfortable around them now because I've had a couple of interviews with them, so it's been going pretty well. I'm looking forward to draft day."
The 18-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., led Red Deer and finished tied for third in the Western Hockey League scoring race with 106 points in 69 games during the regular season. His 75 assists led all WHL players.
Nugent-Hopkins, who had a total of 14 interviews over two days and will be among the first of eight players to undergo the fitness examination on Friday at 8:30 a.m. ET, feels he's ready to make the jump to the NHL despite the fact some doubt he possesses the size and strength to do so.
"I've been asked that question quite a lot, and I think I'm ready to play (in the NHL)," the 6-foot, 164-pound center he told reporters during a media gathering at the Westin Bristol Place. "I've taken some big strides this year and I think I put on five pounds since the end of the season and I feel I can put 5 or 10 more pounds on. If I do, I'll be ready to make the jump.
"I know that's the area I need to improve on the most, and I'm really going to work on that this summer."
Nugent-Hopkins earned the Jack Link's Canadian Hockey League Top Prospect of the Year Award this season, finishing ahead of No. 2-rated North American Gabriel Landeskog
of the Kitchener Rangers and No. 6 Sean Couturier
of the Drummondville Voltigeurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
When asked if he's anxious heading into the fitness portion of the Combine, Nugent-Hopkins smiled.
"I'm not a big bench press guy, as you could probably tell, but the VO2 and Wingate (bike tests) are going to be the toughest, definitely," he said. "My teammate in Red Deer (Alexander Petrovic) was drafted last year (Florida, second round, No.36) and he went through everything and helped me with the process. He just told me to be myself and have some fun with it … you only go through it once."
After going through so much this season, would it at all be disappointing if he wasn't selected No. 1 at the Entry Draft on June 24 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.?
"I'm not going to dwell on things too much because a couple of teams might come visit me in Red Deer when I return home," he said. "I'll be nervous (at the Draft) but I'm going to have fun. There is some added pressure (as the No. 1-ranked player), but I was young when I was drafted first overall by Red Deer in the WHL draft (in 2008) so I'm a little used to it. I know (the NHL) is a bigger stage, but I kind of got a feel for it now."
In three seasons with Red Deer, Nugent-Hopkins has produced 57 goals and 177 points in 141 games.
"Whether I go back to juniors or remain in the NHL, I think I'll benefit either way," Nugent-Hopkins said. "I mean, if I do make the NHL, then I'll learn a lot there from the older guys. But if I do go back to junior, it'll be a good year for me to just get bigger and stronger; and the team at Red Deer will be good next year and we could make a run for it."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale