It's no secret that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
wants to play in the NHL next season. He's said so countless times and has shown what he's capable of throughout his young, accomplished career as a highly-skilled centre for the WHL's Red Deer Rebels.
There must be pressure and you'd expect a clue, but Nugent-Hopkins remains on an even keel. The Oilers' six-day development camp provided a challenge, but helped to build on an already promising skill-set. Now he's back in Edmonton, ready for the next one.
Nugent-Hopkins was among Canada's nine cuts made two weeks before the 2011 World Junior Championship began; the very last group to be sent home as the roster was settled without the skilled pivot onside.
"It was a little tough and disappointing, but I tried to use it as motivation to get better," he said. "I think it might have helped. In the last part of the season, I played a lot better."
As any athlete knows, having to watch your teammates compete and not being able to help can instill a helpless mindset. Nugent-Hopkins was able to continue on with his WHL campaign, but he was still unable to assist as he watched Canada lose the gold medal from his billets' home in Red Deer.
"I've always been a Team Canada fan," he said. "It was like I was a kid watching them play. Obviously there was a little more there. It was tough watching them lose."
This time around, he's driven to succeed, capture a spot and help Canada come out on top at home in Alberta. It all starts this week, as Edmonton plays hosts to the squad's summer development camp, with on-ice sessions beginning Wednesday at Rexall Place.
"I want to step up more than last year," Nugent-Hopkins explained. "I followed along a little more [last year], but this time I want to be more assertive and play my game.
"I'm going to do everything I can to make an impression on the coaches."
Canada will undoubtedly require a hungry attitude. Veterans will return, hoping to rebound, while new faces look to earn respect as the nation's newest heroes. All things considered, it's a new beginning for everyone involved.
"It's going to be a whole new team," Nugent-Hopkins declared. "The main goal this year is to win the gold medal. It's a different attitude this year and we're a new team, so when the tournament comes, whoever's on the team is going to try everything they can to win."
Nugent-Hopkins is already well on his way. Since being chosen with the No. 1 overall pick a little more than a month ago, his summer game-plan has been dedicated to bulking up and building strength. With a new diet and intense weight training on the docket, he's established a weight of 175 pounds.
"I've put on some weight and I feel like I've gained a lot of strength," he said. "I feel like my game is starting to improve a lot, too. There's been a lot of work in the gym and a lot on the ice. There's still some more off-season time to go, but this camp will be a good stepping-stone."
As he prepares for what will surely be a hectic 2011-12 season, Nugent-Hopkins understands that he's been presented with an amazing opportunity. No matter what happens, he'll likely be donning some iconic colours at Rexall Place come December.
"Both things are a dream come true. Obviously my goal is to make the Oilers. If I get the chance to play for Canada, it's going to be incredible."Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com