High-flying center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
didn't take any of the general managers, scouts and coaches in attendance by surprise in August during the 2010 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp fueled by G Series.
Barring a major setback, he's a surefire 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, British Columbia, doesn't have an impressive enough resume, he wowed those sitting in the stands at the Toronto Maple Leafs
' practice facility with his quick release, tenaciousness and exceptional acceleration throughout the two-day event.
He hasn't taken his foot off the gas pedal in his second season with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. Through nine games, Nugent-Hopkins already has 3 goals, two via the power play, 14 points and a plus-5 rating for the Rebels (7-2-0), who stand atop the Central Division of the Eastern Conference. He's hitting at a 1.56 points-per-game clip.
As a rookie last season, Nugent-Hopkins finished second on the team in scoring with 65 points, including 24 goals, in 67 games to earn WHL's Rookie of Year Award and help the Rebels reach the playoffs for the first time in three years.
"I like to set up plays and I consider myself a playmaker -- getting down low and setting up my teammates," Nugent-Hopkins told NHL.com. "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 play-making ability and skates very well."
The first pick in the 2008 WHL bantam draft, Nugent-Hopkins served as one of four alternate 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, of course, 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 B.C. Minor Hockey Player of the Year, an honor bestowed annually to a B.C. Amateur Hockey Association player who best exemplified sportsmanship, leadership and hockey skill. Previous winners, in fact, included Colin Fraser
), Gilbert Brule
) and Karl Alzner
Detroit Red Wings
assistant general manager Jim Nill knows Nugent-Hopkins isn't entering the Entry Draft as an unknown. He was named the WHL's Rookie of the Year after helping lead Red Deer to the playoffs for the first time in three years.
"Everyone knows the Hopkins kid is a top pick," Nill told NHL.com. "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 though 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 he can get.
"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