ST. PAUL, Minnesota — In the end, the scouting staff of the Edmonton Oilers was unanimous that centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels was the name GM Steve Tambellini had to call with the first pick at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
As was the case one year ago, when the Oilers used the first overall pick in franchise history to select two-time Memorial Cup champion and MVP Taylor Hall of the Windsor Spitfires, chief scout Stu MacGregor and his staff crunched the numbers, compared notes and had their say. When it was done, there was no debate, no dissension.
"We felt very strongly as a group," MacGregor said. "As a team, you have your people, your detractors, people on one side of the ledger and the other. The positives and the negatives for your prospects.
"When you come out as a group, you’re unanimous because the group is a team and the decision is the team’s decision."
With less separation at the top of the 2011 draft class than there was in 2010, when Hall and Tyler Seguin of the Plymouth Whalers were a cut above the pack, Nugent-Hopkins, Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson, Jonathan Huberdeau and Gabriel Landeskog were considered by many as potential No. 1 picks.
"They’re all great players, but Ryan possessed a level of skill which we haven’t seen in a long time," Tambellini said. "They ranked him No. 1 for a reason."
Through the 2010-11 season, scouting meetings and, finally, here in Minnesota, MacGregor and his staff took long looks at all of them, then came to the same conclusion.
MATTERS OF SIZE
At six-feet tall and just 174 pounds — that’s a gain of 10 pounds since his WHL season ended — the knock on Nugent-Hopkins in some corners has been that he’s slight. Nugent-Hopkins will never be a big, strapping pivot who plays a power game like Landeskog, a winger, or big Sean Couturier.
That’s a fact and a factor, especially given the number of small forwards on the Edmonton roster — Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Linus Omark and Gilbert Brule — but not one that, in the end, swayed MacGregor.
"There’s no doubt that’s his game — his hockey sense and his intelligence," MacGregor said. "Just his great vision and how smart he is to make plays with the puck.
"He’s a special player. Like I said, he’s a guy who has got the great intelligence. If you don’t take him, are you leaving something there on the table that’s going to be great?"
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.