So, even if Ryan Nugent Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels is the most talented player available in the 2011 Entry Draft, the Edmonton Oilers shouldn’t take him with the first overall pick because they already have too many small forwards?
Here’s a thought: if stature is the biggest knock against Nugent-Hopkins and the collective size of Edmonton’s forward group is a concern — that is an argument with merit — then make room for him when his development dictates by getting rid of one of the other roster runts.
If Nugent-Hopkins, listed at six feet and 165 pounds, is deemed the best player available by chief scout Stu MacGregor and his staff — my guess is that’s the case as of today — then the Oilers should call his name at the podium in St. Paul on June 24.
If, at some point, that decision results in parting with a less talented member of the Sub-Six-Foot Club, be it Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Gilbert Brule or Linus Omark, so be it. The Oilers don’t necessarily have to get smaller, but they can get more talented.
Runt in, runt out.
Anybody who has been reading here for more than 15 minutes knows that, all things being equal, I’ll take a bigger player over a smaller player every time. In that context, size is a tie-breaker for me. Of course, "all things" are seldom equal.
Here’s an often-cited quote from Ken Hitchcock, from an interview with Jim Matheson at The Journal, regarding concerns about the stature and build of the slight Nugent-Hopkins.
"I wouldn’t pay two seconds attention to that if I was a coach. Remember what they said about (Wayne) Gretzky? He was the toughest player in the league because he always had the puck. Weight in a player isn’t relevant to me. Look at Pat Kane in Chicago. He plays at 165 pounds and nobody gets a piece of him and he’s always got the puck."
If you’re like me, you tend to roll your eyes when somebody mentions a raw kid who is just getting the hang of shaving in the same sentence as the greatest player who has ever laced on skates.
That said, let’s not lose the legitimate point Hitchcock makes in the hyperbole. Talent and willingness to compete are a potent combination, and they don’t necessarily have to be wrapped up in a hulking package to produce an elite NHL player. Talent and size without that willingness to compete gets you Dustin Penner.
LITTLE MEN WITH BIG RESULTS
Historically speaking, exceptionally talented players who happen to be slight or short of stature have fared just fine.
Gretzky, Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, Mark Recchi, Marcel Dionne, Stan Mikita, Bryan Trottier, Adam Oates, Doug Gilmour, Dale Hawerchuk and Jari Kurri, none of them standing over six-feet or weighing 200 pounds, occupy 11 of the top 20 spots in NHL career scoring.
I’m not citing Nugent-Hopkins as a comparable to the players above in terms of anything other than being "smallish," so keep the calculator in your pocket. Different eras, different teammates and linemates and blah, blah blah factor into why players put up numbers. That’s a given.
The bottom line for me is the argument that the Oilers should avoid taking Nugent-Hopkins with the first overall pick because they are already too small up front makes no sense. Take Zack Parise? No, we”re too small already. Let’s take Marc Pouliot. How’s that working for you?
The Oilers have size on the way in prospects drafted over the past two summers. If need be, GM Steve Tambellini has the option of ridding himself of a less-talented small players between now and when Nugent-Hopkins is ready to play. See ya, Sam. Adios, Andrew. Runt in, runt out.
If the Oilers regard Nugent-Hopkins as a game-breaker and a difference-maker — and I believe the people in the key decision-making positions do — then they should call his name June 24.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.