An introduction wasn't necessary, but Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
has already made an impact at Oilers Development Camp. The No. 1 overall pick, nearly two weeks removed from an historic selection at Xcel Energy Center, continues to wow at Millennium Place in Sherwood Park.
Wednesday's two-hour session was a workout, dedicated to skills away from passing and shooting. Rather than challenging the goalies with slick puck skills, Nugent-Hopkins and all the rest took to the sheet with cones, stopwatches and video cameras providing the only obstacle.
"They said today was going to be one of the easier days, too," he laughed.
Skating and Skills Coach Steve Serdachny assembled a variety of drills to gauge the players' technique, quickness and straightaway speed. Each prospect performed marvelously, but Nugent-Hopkins continued to impress with all three cemented in his elite repertoire.
With sweat beading down, lungs burning and not a puck in sight, it was a reminder that Nugent-Hopkins' pro hockey career had begun.
"It's been great. It's good to know where I'm going and to be out here skating with all the guys now. I haven't been on the ice too much lately, so I'm a little rusty."
Rusty? Could have fooled me.
RNH's seamless adaptation shouldn't come as a surprise. The 18-year-old pivot started young, developing a lethal skill-set in a sports-mad family.
"My dad was actually a big baseball guy," he explained. "I got started in hockey because my brother starting playing baseball and hockey, and I always watched him play. I started playing when I was really young. I really loved it."
From there, his newborn passion quickly evolved into something more. A promising minor hockey career led to several championships with his hometown Burnaby Winter Club Bruins. In addition, all-star performances at the Western Canada Bantam Championships helped lead his club to consecutive medal outings in 2007 and 2008.
He was a winner wherever he went.
Red Deer selected Nugent-Hopkins first overall in the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft. Before lacing up the skates in Central Alberta, he played midget hockey with the Vancouver NW Giants for one season in 2008-09. In doing so, he got the opportunity to participate in the annual Mac's AAA Midget Tournament in Calgary.
He won that, too.
"It was a really good experience," Nugent-Hopkins said. "It's a real high-class tournament. It's WHL simulated and it was very professionally run, and it definitely had a lot of competition. It was a good stepping-stone."
The Vancouver NW Giants have churned out a number of solid NHL prospects over the years, meaning Nugent-Hopkins was exposed to quality, high-level instruction at a young age.
"They're really focused on individual skills. That helped me, personally. We had a winning team and when you start to win, you learn how to win [at a higher level]. That really helped me out."
Following a successful season in Vancouver, Nugent-Hopkins then took his talents Red Deer. His 65-point rookie season was chased by a 106-point campaign, which included 31 goals en route to his No. 1 overall selection. Although he's only played two complete seasons for the Rebels, Nugent-Hopkins was humble in a review of his exceptional uprising.
"Our team got really good this year," he said. "We had an amazing goalie in Darcy Kuemper and a really good D squad. I think this year my success was due to the team's success."
Even so, a tremendous 2010-11 season properly prepared him for Oilers Development Camp in the most thorough way possible. Although General Manager Steve Tambellini and Head Coach Tom Renney have preached patience with the Burnaby, BC native, Nugent-Hopkins currently has one plan in mind.
"I'm trying to do my best here, but my goal right now is to make the team. If I don't make it and go back to Junior, I'm not going to be disappointed. We should have another good team in Red Deer next year, so it will be another good developing year for me too."
Wherever the site, he understands that further work is needed. Size is no longer an issue amongst the media, but skill constantly requires seasoning to achieve greatness in the game's highest levels. Nugent-Hopkins is prepared to meet the challenge head-on.
"I think I need to improve my shot quite a bit. The NHL is so much faster and stronger, so I've got to improve in those areas as well."Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com