EDMONTON - All of players in the top five of this year’s NHL Entry Draft are almost certainly going to have good, long, solid NHL careers.
There’s one, however, who projects as having a chance at being a special player.
That is why, no matter what you read or hear this week, the Edmonton Oilers won’t do anything stupid like talk themselves out of picking Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall Friday evening in St. Paul, Minn.
Not once did general manager Steve Tambellini use the name Nugent-Hopkins at a press conference Tuesday prior to taking the plane to the NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn.
But did anybody listening think he was talking about anybody else when he made the following comments?
“I ask our scouts when we get into our meeting when we get there is: ‘Point to me someone who is special, that can bring to us something that we don’t have, that maybe isn’t there right now but maybe a couple of years from now is going to be obviously elite.…
“ 'The top four or five players are all very good and are all going to be great. You keep telling me that. But give me the guy who is going to be special.’
“That’s what Taylor Hall brought — something we haven’t seen here for a long time, the way he plays the game, the aggressiveness, the north, south, the fearlessness, the passion.…
“I am not adamant that whoever this player is has to play this season. That’s the difference. Taylor we knew was going to play. We’re not worried about that now.”
There is no NHL rule, written or unwritten, swears Steve Tambellini, that forbids a team from telling the world that they’re going to pick a player first overall.
“There’s not an official rule, I know that. But we have some internal rules,” laughed Tambellini.
But he might as well have announced the pick prior to taking the plane.
This year there’s been no Taylor vs Tyler dog-and-pony show. Instead of press conferences, luncheons, filming for the Oil Change documentary and special dinners with owner Daryl Katz, there’s been one low-key dinner with Nugent-Hopkins with the Tambellini family, on the quiet.
Back when the NHL Entry Draft was 67 days away, it was written here that there was every evidence the hockey world was expecting Tambellini to step to the microphone June 24 and say pick the player who has since become known as RNH.
Now it’s overwhelming.
TSN’s Bob MacKenzie, who has had the No. 1 pick right in seven of his draft specials, had Nugent-Hopkins No. 1 and said he was No. 1 on the list of every scout source he used to create his list, except one.
All four NHL.com corespondents, The Hockey News special draft edition, Central Scouting and the other scouting services, and virtually every hockey writer headed to Minnesota today, has it picked the same way. And the teams picking second, third and fourth seem to be assuming the Oilers pick Nugent-Hopkins No. 1 as well.
What I keep hearing, what keeps bouncing around the brain, is the word “special.”
Remember the stunning quote supplied by Central scouting’s Peter Sullivan halfway through the season?
“A couple people high up in the Oilers organization — and I’m not naming names — said Nugent-Hopkins has the best vision on the ice since No. 99,” Sullivan said of Wayne Gretzky.
“That’s the highest compliment you can get.”
Sullivan had further comment.
“Another thing is the way Ryan competes. He never takes a night off and he works as hard in his own end as he does in the offensive zone. It takes a special player with special skill to do that,” he said.
Taylor Hall isn’t Mark Messier. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins isn’t going to be Wayne Gretzky. But they both have a chance to be special in Messier and Gretzky ways.
The Oilers had to pick Hall.
And now they have to take Nugent-Hopkins.
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