SUN Hockey Pool

Flames coach praises Nugent-Hopkins

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:53 PM ET

EDMONTON -- No, there hasn't been any dark-of-night meeting between Brent Sutter and Tom Renney over Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

You could guess how much Sutter would love to see Nugent-Hopkins back in the fold for the WHL's Red Deer Rebels team he owns.

Maybe even enough to meet Renney, the Edmonton Oilers head coach, and slip him a $20 bill to ensure the highly touted centre returns to the junior ranks?

"That hasn't happened, but I'll be willing to talk to him," Renney said, feigning interest in such back-room shenanigans. "Maybe add a couple of more zeroes, though."

As much as Sutter, the Calgary Flames head coach, wants to see Nugent-Hopkins pack his bags for Red Deer this season, he'd be just as happy to see the 18-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., make the jump to the NHL.

Even though he hadn't coached Nugent-Hopkins during the teen's two seasons in the WHL, Sutter knows as much about him as anybody.

In fact, Sutter almost comes across as a proud parent when discussing him.

"He's been a pleasure to have inside our organization in Red Deer. You knew he was going to develop into what he is and will be the player everybody thinks he'll be. More importantly, he'll be the player he thinks he can be," Sutter said after the morning skate Saturday in anticipation of the evening's pre-season meeting between the Oilers and Flames. "He's a special kid in a lot of different ways, and I'm happy for him. Yet, tonight, he's on the opposing team."

A player on the opposing team Sutter will notice, but not just because of his close ties to the 6-foot-1, 175-lb. centre.

"Let's put it this way -- whether you're sitting in the stands, behind the bench or watching it on TV, you're going to notice him," Sutter said. "He just does certain things that players do.

"He's an exceptional kid."

The Oilers know it, too, and planned to put him on a line with 2010 first-overall pick Taylor Hall for Saturday night's game against the Flames to start building chemistry between the expected stars of the future.

Renney was asked whether after a couple of weeks watching Nugent-Hopkins make his way through the prospects camp and now the main camp, the player had shown him something he hadn't expected.

His reply: "That's a good question. I've seen flashes of lots of things he continues to do."

And not just provide offence, which can sometimes be the case of a player who netted 31 goals and 106 points, as Nugent-Hopkins did last season for the Rebels.

"He's a sound defensive player. When we talk about our first guy getting in and getting on the body on the forecheck, he's not afraid to do that. He's playing with his body the way he needs to and his mental toughness is exceptional," Renney said. "He's certainly coming as advertised."

Through his first two pre-season games, Nugent-Hopkins collected a pair of assists, proving he can handle the scrutiny of being a first-overall pick on the ice as well as off it.

"I'm just trying to have fun with it all," he said. " All the guys are great, have taken me in and treated my like I'm part of the team even though I haven't made the team."

Not yet, but everyone knows that's just a matter of time, be it this season or next.

"I'm thrilled if he's in Red Deer. I'm thrilled if he's here," Sutter said. "The Oilers are going to do what's best for him."

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak


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