Nuge fights big odds

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:35 AM ET

CALGARY - He may not be much of a talker or a shot blocker, but by most accounts the kid pretty much does it all.

So, when push comes to shove as part of his inaugural NHL experience does Ryan Nugent-Hopkins see himself dropping the gloves as his top-pick predecessor, Taylor Hall, did last season?

(You know, the scrap that ended Hall’s season with a high ankle sprain.)

“I don’t know,” chuckled the 175-lb. 18-year-old. “That’s a pretty tough question to answer.”

OK, here’s an easier one — how many fights have you been in?

“One,” smiled the face of the Oilers’ latest rebuilding project.

His name: Lukas Sutter.

Yep — nephew of Flames head coach Brent Sutter and son of Rich.

“It was pretty even,” smiled the kid whose voice is as soft as his hands.

It’s been, well, a year since so many eyes around the league were on a young Oilers rookie.

Much like last year with Hall, the attention is well-deserved with Nugent-Hopkins seizing the moment Saturday night with a Hockey Night in Canada performance for the ages.

At age 18, The Nuge picked up his first NHL hat trick, albeit in a loss to Vancouver.

You get the feeling that’s gonna happen plenty to Edmonton’s latest Clearasil Kids — they’ll lose despite putting on a quite a show.

They did something similar last night with a 2-1 loss at the Dome, despite leading 1-0 almost the entire night.

This time Nugent-Hopkins wasn’t a factor, largely invisible on the second half of a back-to-back set for the Oil. But it isn’t hard to see what kind of impact he’ll soon be having nightly on the Oilers both on the ice and off.

His skill is evident most times he touches the puck.

“My favourite word for him is humble,” said Ryan Smyth, who has played with his share of young studs.

“He scored a hat trick the other night. He was excited but not over the top. He’s a class act and he’s a great competitor.”

It’s early, yes, but could he eventually be one of the game’s spokesmen?

“It sure is early on, but there’s great potential for him — it’s not going to change who he is. He makes plays. He’s got that great potential.”

Four goals into this young season and it’s no wonder he was the one everyone spoke of prior to last night’s game.

Everyone including Brent Sutter, who got to know RNH well as owner of the Red Deer Rebels club Hopkins starred with before going first overall last summer.

“He’s very respectful, very level-headed,” said Sutter.

“A special player and a special person.”

A player content and well-schooled enough to simply let his play do the talking … for the first while anyway.

“He’s soft spoken but when something needs to be said I’m sure he’ll say it,” said Smyth.

“I look at a guy like that like Joe Sakic, and I played with Joe for two years and he was pretty quiet, too. But when something needed to be said, he said it.”

Sizable praise, to link him with ol’ Joe.

Unsure how the folks in Red Deer would divvy up sides in the Minor Skirmish of Alberta last night, Nugent-Hopkins is quite simply thrilled to be in the NHL, even if it is for a nine-game tryout before being sent back to junior.

Go ahead Steve Tambellini. TRY to send him back down.

Even if the kid doesn’t put up much of a fight, the rest of northern Albertans will — they’ll have the city-limit roads blocked.


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