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Nugent-Hopkins proves substance equal to stature

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' plan was simple when we last caught up with him near the end of the 2010-11 season.

Although fully immersed in his strive to help the Red Deer Rebels begin a strong post-season run, attention quickly swayed to his forthcoming NHL status following an impressive season in central Alberta.

"I need to put on some weight, put on some size and add some strength to me," he said back on March 18th.

So far, mission accomplished -- or at least, 'mission underway.'

NHL Central Scouting previously weighed Nugent-Hopkins at only 164 pounds. Standing on his 6'0" frame, the Burnaby native brought a stable presence, but wanted to build strength in order to maintain his physical edge at the next level.

Nugent-Hopkins concluded the season having gained several pounds, with his most recent weigh-in eclipsing the 170-pound mark (and beyond) at the Scouting Combine. The skilled centre, who recorded 106 points this past season in Red Deer, said his full-time commitment to the workout room has helped produce the sudden increase.

"The game has changed, and there's a lot of strength involved right now," he explained. "I know there have been lots of great players that couldn't [bench press] too much."

Apparently, he's already been able to buck that trend. Nugent-Hopkins recorded six bench presses on Day 1 at the NHL's Scouting Combine, while fellow centreman and Memorial Cup MVP, Jonathan Huberdeau, could only manage two on the same 150-pound obstacle.

Edmonton-native Mark McNeill, also considered a cut giant of the prospect pool, led all participants with 13.

Nugent-Hopkins admitted that arriving for his exam at the Toronto Congress Centre was nerve-racking, but his worries were quickly quelled once the event got underway.

"It was a little bit intimidating, but I tried not to focus too much on that and just worried about the exercises," he said. "I think I did pretty good. I don't have the biggest chest out there, but I think I did alright."

He did quite well, in fact. 

Physical stature can be a deceiving element; both up-close and on the various testing stations while exercises were being conducted. Kitchener's Gabriel Landeskog spoke to the media following his session, impressing the contingent with his ripped frame and particularly bulked upper-body.

In many ways, that scene helped shed light on the popular opinion that Landeskog is the most NHL-ready prospect.

On the other side, Nugent-Hopkins stood amongst a media swarm, answering questions about his developing body. The discrepancy was noticeable, but impressive considering the success he earned over the past WHL season. Even so, the 18-year-old was looking toned and ready to build on already productive campaign.

He had shown this season that he was willing to mix things up and get involved on the physical side, displaying a new level of compete and lack of concern for an alleged disadvantage.

"I think about it a little bit, but I'm not going to stress too much about it," Nugent-Hopkins said of his build. "I'm working hard at it, I'm trying to put on the weight and put on strength, so that's all I can do right now.

"All these kids are going to be working hard over the summer and I need to be doing the exact same thing."

Bearing the No. 1 overall pick in June, Edmonton may also see value in this opportunity to select an all-world talent with elite vision, raw skill and the potential to develop into something more as the years pass.

'RNH' would welcome that chance, too.

"I've talked [to Edmonton] a few times this year and every time has gone pretty good," he said. "If I got to join that club, I'd really enjoy being a part of that rebuilding stage.

"I could learn a lot from the younger guys there, because they went through everything that I'm going through now."

Currently there's no plan in place for Nugent-Hopkins to visit Edmonton and meet once more with Oilers management on-location, but Red Deer's elite playmaker would certainly accept if an invitation came.

"If they give me a call, I'd be glad to take the hour-and-a-half drive up there [from Red Deer]."

Although the possibility of being chosen by a franchise with such a storied history exists, Nugent-Hopkins also commented on the pick alone. Superstars before him, including Oilers rookie Taylor Hall have experienced the big-league spotlight with this incredible distinction.

"Just knowing who has been picked up there would be a huge honour for me," he said. "It would be amazing."

Author: Ryan Dittrick |

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