ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins faced a horde of reporters at a meet-and-greet luncheon with NHL media today and the talented centre from the Red Deer Rebels ticked off all the right boxes in terms of saying the right things about the likelihood — certainty — he’ll be drafted first overall by the Edmonton Oilers Friday.
Yes, he’d relish the opportunity to play in a hockey-mad market like Edmonton. No, he isn’t bothered by the scrutiny that will certainly come in town that calls itself the City of Champions, but where the NHL team has finished 30th for two straight years and hasn’t made the playoffs in five seasons.
Nugent-Hopkins says he sees nothing but opportunity when he looks at a roster laden with youngsters like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi. Oh, and, yes, he doesn’t discount the possibility that he might be ready to play alongside them in 2011-12.
That about covers it, no?
WHAT HE SAID
What would it mean to be selected No. 1?
"It would be a huge honour for me, obviously, but I mean I just want to go to a team that wants me there. I think going to Edmonton would be great just because they’re such a young talented team and there’s lots of promise for the future."
What did Nugent-Hopkins and Oilers GM Steve Tambellini discuss over dinner in Edmonton last week?
"We just talked generally. Not much talk about the draft or anything. He just wanted to get to know me a little bit. It was a really good. It was a good time."
What about the pressure of being taken first overall and playing in a city like Edmonton?
"I’ve kind of thought about that quite a bit and I’d love to have that pressure on me. It’s definitely not bad pressure to have, so, if I did get that opportunity, I always feel like I play better under pressure and stuff, so I feel like it would be a great opportunity for me."
Would having somebody like Hall, who has been under the glare of the rookie spotlight already, make the transition to a city like Edmonton easier?
"Yes, definitely. If I went there he could definitely give me some pointers and kind of help me out in that way, if I do go first. There’s a lot of young guys there, too, who have been through exactly what I’m going through right now. They’d be great to talk to and I’d learn a lot from them."
Does Nugent-Hopkins see the benefits of starting at square one with a group of young players during this rebuild mode?
"I kind of joined a rebuilding team in Red Deer a couple of years ago and I really liked that. It was great to see what we accomplished this year. I mean, Edmonton is going through the same thing. They’re rebuilding right now, so, I mean I’d love to join a rebuilding team like that and just help the ultimate goal, which is winning a Stanley Cup eventually."
Would Nugent-Hopkins be disappointed if he couldn’t make the jump to the NHL next season and returned to Red Deer?
"No, I wouldn’t be disappointed. I mean, Red Deer should have a good team next year, so if I did go first overall and I did play another year of junior, I think it would be good for me just getting bigger and stronger. Obviously, my goal is to crack the NHL and make and NHL team, whatever team it is, but if I do go back I won’t be disappointed."
Do you see your size being an issue?
"Obviously, I know I have to work on my size and my strength and stuff, but I’ve put on 10 pounds since the end of the season and I feel like I can put on another at least five pounds going into next season, so I feel like if I do that I’ll be OK to play next year."
Wouldn’t it be easier to make the transition to the NHL out of the spotlight in a non-traditional hockey market?
"No. I think going to a team where the fans are crazy about hockey would be, I mean, every kid wants to play hockey and wants to be known for playing hockey, so I mean going to a team that loves their hockey and their fans love their hockey would be incredible."
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