MINNEAPOLIS - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins wants the people of Edmonton to know three things: NO, he’s not too small. YES, he is NHL ready. And he wants to be an Oiler.
While most top prospects won’t dare pick a favourite team on the eve of the NHL entry draft — they usually just default into saying they’re happy to go anywhere — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins makes no secret of the fact he wants to be an Oiler.
Meeting the media Thursday on the eve of the Entry Draft, hockey’s consensus No.1 called Edmonton a perfect fit.
“Going to Edmonton would be great because they’re such a young, talented team and it’s close to my family back in Burnaby, it’s close to Red Deer, it would be the perfect place to play for me,” said the 18-year-old phenom, beaming at the chance to centre Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
“When they say that kind of thing it just makes you smile. Hall is a goal scorer who likes to go hard down the wing and Eberle is the kind of guy who you give the puck to and he’ll find you no matter where you are. Playing with those guys would be great.
“The future definitely looks good for Edmonton right now. They’re definitely a fun team to watch.”
And with a room full of talented kids, probably a fun team to play on.
“If I went there (Taylor Hall) could definitely give me some pointers and help me out that way,” he said. “There’s a lot of young guys who’ve been through exactly what I’m going through, they’d be great to talk to, I could learn a lot from them.
“I joined a rebuilding team in Red Deer a couple of years ago and I really liked that. Edmonton is going through the same thing. I’d love to join a team like that for the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup.”
The pressure involved with playing in Edmonton, which proved too much for some Oilers in the past, is something he fully embraces.
“I’ve thought about that quite a bit and I’d love to have that pressure on me. I always feel like I play better under pressure. Every kid wants to be known for playing hockey, so going to a team where the fans are crazy about their hockey would be incredible.”
If there is a concern about Nugent-Hopkins, who the scouts say already has NHL vision and skill, it’s that it comes in an undersized package. But the 6-1 centre, who doesn’t look all that thin now that he’s climbed from 164 to 174, says he’s plenty strong enough to play in the bigs.
“Going to the next level you’re playing with men, so I know that I have to work on my size and my strength,” he said, adding he expects to be about 195 when he’s fully filled out. “But I’ve put on 10 pounds since the end of last season and I feel I can put on at least another five going into next season. If I do that I feel I’ll be OK to play next year.”
Next year meaning this October?
“Yeah, I feel like I am (ready now),” he said. “I’ve put on 10 pounds and I think that was going to be the biggest issue going into next year. I feel like am ready.”
We know what Nugent-Hopkins wants, now all that remains to be seen is what the Edmonton Oilers want when they step up to the podium Friday.
“I’m a pretty laid back guy but I think if you put anybody in this situation they’re going to be pretty nervous,” he said. “It’s something you dream about as a kid. It’s been a lot of hard work for a lot of years for my whole family. I’m glad that it’s finally here.”