FTHM PART II: RNH AND MATTERS OF SIZE

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t have any trouble measuring up when it comes to talent and hockey sense, but in a league where the perception has long been that size matters and bigger is better, he doesn’t fare as well when NHL scouts take out the tape measure and scale.

So, while the 18-year-old center from Burnaby doesn’t have to take a backseat to anybody in terms of the former after tallying 106 points in 69 games with the Red Deer Rebels this season, it’s the latter that has some people wondering if bigger might be better.

That’s a question Edmonton Oilers chief scout Stu MacGregor and his staff will be tossing around between now and the 2011 Entry Draft in Minnesota, where the Oilers will follow up the selection of Taylor Hall in 2010 with No. 1 pick for the second year in a row.

At just a touch over six-feet and weighing just 165 pounds, Nugent-Hopkins is eye-to-eye with other top-rated prospects like Adam Larsson, Gabriel Landeskog, Sean Couturier and Jonathan Huberdeau in terms of skill, but not stature.

How, exactly, does that fact play into the equation for MacGregor and the Oilers, who already have a roster laden with smaller forwards like Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Linus Omark and Andrew Cogliano who don’t play a robust, physical style?

It’s a fair question, and one I asked MacGregor.

MEASURING UP

While Nugent-Hopkins certainly isn’t the second-coming of legendary mites like Bobby Lalonde or Steve Tsujiura — you have to be a fossil to remember those big talents in little bodies — and isn’t much smaller than Huberdeau, who is half-an-inch taller and 170 pounds, there’s no question he isn’t an imposing physical specimen. He likely never will be.

"Will he get big enough? Will he get strong enough to play in the NHL? I don’t know if size is an issue in terms of height, but he will have to get stronger," MacGregor said.

"He’s six feet and half-an-inch, that’s what Central Scouting has him at. The issue is, is he going to put on enough poundage to handle the rigors of the NHL?"

That’s a question that’s been asked about a lot of players who turned out just fine, as in Hall of Fame fine, like Wayne Gretzky and Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman, who were all scrawny, pencil-necked kids as NHL rookies.

Of course, just mentioning three of the greatest players to ever lace on skates draws a groan from MacGregor, as you’d expect.

GROWING PAINS

"I’ve never been one who likes to compare players, especially when you get to Gretzky. Like, come on," MacGregor said.

"Yzerman was drafted at 155 pounds. Sakic wasn’t very big either. I’m not comparing this guy to those guys because they’re hall-of-famers, but remember these guys are 17 and 18 years old.

"The question is, can he put on the weight that gives him the strength and power? Those guys did, so obviously it’s not impossible to do that. Now, is it possible for him to do that?"

Obviously, it’s tough to say for sure with an 18-year-old. Fitness programs and diet aside, Nugent-Hopkins should put on size naturally as he matures. He has an older brother who is the same height and his father is shorter. Both are "thicker," according to MacGregor.

I’ll get into what MacGregor had to say about other aspects of Nugent-Hopkins game later in this series, but my read is he puts other attributes ahead of size when it comes to this player.

"He’s got great hockey sense and he’s got great skill," MacGregor said.

BY THE NUMBERS

There is also concern in some circles that Nugent-Hopkins scored 59 of his 106 points this season on the power play and that his even-strength numbers don’t stack up favourably against other top forwards. That’s not a fact lost on MacGregor.

"I guess you can look at it any way you want and we will have those discussions," he said. "There will be somebody who will bring that up in our meetings. They are important things to discuss."

Discussion about the breakdown of the numbers put up by Nugent-Hopkins — he finished fourth in WHL scoring and was the youngest player in that group — is one thing. Consternation about them is another.

"I’ve watched the kid play at both ends and he seems to do a lot of things on the power play and 5-on-5, so it’s not a real issue at this point," said MacGregor.

"He had the same number of points that Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin did last year. He rose to the occasion enough to be the leading scorer with his team and one of the top five in the WHL. He didn’t have a lot of guys to play with, but in the games I saw he was the guy who stirred the drink."

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    P. Datysuk went from a 19 year old 5ft 7 inch forward of 140 lbs , to a 5ft.11 inch man of 185 lbs .. Pretty amazing transformation i’d
    say . Now Hopkins just needs to figure out how to add 4 more inches and 45 lbs .. That should make him 6ft 4 inches and 205 lbs . Wonder what kind of food suppliments was Datsyuk on ? Article in Sports Illustrated this week .

  • Dan the Man

    RNH: is at best a 20 goal scorer: while usually only 120 players can do that. goals win games: the goal scorers are the diffrence makers.

    there are 5-10 +40 goal scorers each year.
    there are 15-20 +35 goal scorers
    There are 30-40 +30 goal scorers each year
    there are 50-65 +25 goal scorers each year.

    so in a 15yr draft cycle there will be 3-5 25 goal scorers/yr
    2-3 30 goal scorers
    1-1.5 35 goal scorers
    .6666 40 goal scorers/year.
    We got a future 40g Hall
    We got a future 30G Eberle
    We got future 25G scorers in MPS, Hartikainen,

    Possible +25G: Courtier, Z.phillips,Noesen, Puempel,Landeskog
    Possible +30G: Koklachev,
    Possible +35G: Hubredeau, Ritchie

    It could be apretty rare year

    • Dan the Man

      But what if a player can take a 30 goal scorer to 40 or 50? Wouldn’t that count just the same?
      Say Hall scores 40 regularly and RNH comes in and sets up Hall constantly and Hall jumps to 50, RNH might only score 20 goals (Highly unlikely probably around 30) but he gave Hall an extra ten so wouldn’t that to an extent be like him scoring 30? I don’t really care who is scoring them as long as they are going in and the Oilers are winning games I am happy.

  • db7db7db7

    MacGregor seems googley eyed over Hopkins on the Oil Change i seen last night . Easy to tell who he likes . Looks like he is sold on Hopkins going being the next Gretsky in his mind . Tambo also seemed to be sold on Hopkins . Are they frightfully over assessing again ? People were paranoid over Hall getting obliterated in NHL , yet everyone seems to coddle Hopkins with kid gloves expecting he can handle the size and physicality of NHL . I’d be a lot more worried about Hopkins than Hall . Comparing Hopkins to Gret’s seems rather rediculous .

    Have to wonder how many more years we have to go before they wake up and address the backend problems ? Seems like they don’t recognize it as a problem as yet ?

  • db7db7db7

    Red flags going up on all the draftees , but Hopkins being guarded from this . Oilers seem resigned to have this draft year dedicted to one whom is not ready to crack lineup this coming season . That puts The Swedes out of the running . Coutourier they certanly are not defending him on the red flags that are going up around him , or Huberdeau to be honest . Any of others they have given little /shown much attention to .

    There appears to be no attention toward moving away from any of our many diminutive forward status . Why , i don’t know ? How they expect to compete within our own division is a mystery ?

    You’d like to think they know what they are doing , but the more they don’t do makes you think the opposit . For starters we are still in 30th spot because they are the ones that put us there , and are keeping us there . When does the shell game end and competitiveness begin ? I doubt they’ll answer that question , as they misassummed it already had .

    • db7db7db7

      The Oilers have so many needs it won’t solve them all they need a number 1 Center and you could argue a number 2 if they don’t have the confidence in Gagner and yes they need D very badly but it might be a while before that D can make an impact (it might not though) I don’t think they can go wrong I think its easier to sign veteran D that would help the team more then veteran forwards who can put up points. Plus we have some D prospects in the waiting right now (we still need the number 1) but next years draft is D heavy and not much for Center, I would fill the center void now and address the D next year, well I would with a signing or trade this year as well but draft a D next year.

  • Wax Man Riley

    Who knows what happens in 2 years though, for all we know PRV is gone and Seguin is in.*

    *I don’t actually think this, but just saying how things can change