Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson of Skelleftea and Kitchener Rangers captain Gabriel Landeskog are also prime candidates to go No. 1. Like Nugent-Hopkins, each made it through Friday's fitness portion of the NHL Scouting Combine unscathed.
If either Landeskog or Larsson is picked first by the Edmonton Oilers, it would mark the first time since 1989, when the Quebec Nordiques selected Mats Sundin No. 1, that a Swedish-born player was the top choice.
Both players are coming off seasons in which they each suffered some minor ailments.
Landeskog, No. 2 behind Nugent-Hopkins on Central Scouting's list of North American skaters, dropped a slot in the final ratings despite the fact scouts agree he could be the most NHL-ready of the entire bunch. The 6-foot, 1/2 inch, 207-pound left wing, who had 36 goals, 66 points, a plus-27 rating and 61 penalty minutes for the Rangers, missed 15 games this season due to a severe ankle sprain.
"It is probably more important for fans than I think it is for the players," Landeskog said of being picked No. 1. "It would be an honor for anybody to go first overall, but like Cam Fowler (Anaheim, No. 12) and Jeff Skinner (Carolina, No. 7) showed last year, it doesn't matter what number you go, it's what you do afterwards."
Landeskog never appeared fatigued or bothered by any of the tests on Friday at the Toronto Congress Centre. He produced 33 push-ups, well above last year's average (26.1). He also bench-pressed 150 pounds 11 times, besting last year's 10.7 average.
"I think scouts are looking for work ethic and even though your technique is wrong on sit-ups or whatever might be, you're not trying to stress out too much," he said. "You just put it behind you and move on and just put a smile on your face and have fun."
Larsson battled groin and shoulder injuries this season, but returned to the ice each time to showcase his wide range of traits that include size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds), skill and poise -- and the 18-year-old did so against men twice his age in Sweden's Elite League. He also represented his country at the 2010 and 2011 World Junior Championship, finishing as the team's highest-scoring defender at the tournament this past season with 1 goal and 4 points.
"Larsson played a big role on Skelleftea, which went as high as to the Swedish playoff Finals, so in a way, he's ready, yes. He could play here (in 2011-12)," Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told NHL.com. "I think what he wants really is having a big role when he comes over, so it's perhaps better for him to stay one more year at home. It's always in the individual. Some say it's good to come over, others say it's not good."
Larsson scored exceptionally well in the grueling aerobic-max VO2 bike test, which measures the endurance capability of a player's heart, lungs and muscles. He lasted 14 minutes, far ahead of last year's average of 11.33.
Last year, six players lasted more than 14 minutes on the VO2, led by Slovakian defenseman Martin Marcincin (14:15), who was drafted by the Oilers in the second round (No. 46). Halifax Mooseheads goaltender Mathieu Corbeil-Theriault, taken by Columbus in the fourth round (No. 102), went 14:03.
"I liked (the bikes) and practiced for this test for two weeks, so I was prepared," Larsson said. "Whenever you get to the bikes, it's always tough … that was the toughest out there. I enjoyed the whole week, I'm not used to this type of attention, but so far and so good."
Now all Larsson is hoping for is to hear his name announced early at the Entry Draft on June 24 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
"It's big for me and my family and all the people back in Sweden," Larsson said. "To be drafted No. 1 would be great. I won't be disappointed if I'm not, though, I'd just be glad to be drafted. The (interview with Edmonton) was nice and they were cool with me. They don't ask me so hard questions."
He does feel he'll need to improve in order to play in the NHL.
"I could be better at everything," he said. "Hockey is much bigger here than playing in Sweden. There's more attention to everything, with the media and stuff. But I'll be prepared for it. I model my game like Nicklas Lidstrom since I feel he plays the same style as I do."
Landeskog also felt his interviews with both the Oilers and Colorado Avalanche, who own the second pick in the draft, went well.
"I had a pretty good feeling after both of them," he said. "They didn't want to say too much but they both showed some interest and asked a couple of interesting questions. I can't really do too much after this, it's kind of out of my control right now." Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer