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.

Nugent-Hopkins. Period.

"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.


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.

  • Roadhouse

    With the 31st pick, it may TAMBS an opportunity to get greater value in a trade from a GM sleeping on a uneventful Friday night draft. Regardless of what happens this weekend, if the Oilers do not address the need for a premuim Defenceman, the rebuild will be a waste. If Smyth does come to the Oilers and wants to continue with E-town, what do you sign him as a free agent in 2012?

  • Sparky

    I’m so relieved that they took the Nuge! I would have be ok with with any of the other top four, but I still would have felt a bit let down. Also, worried that passing on him would come back to haunt us.

    Now I’m just torn as to whether I want to see him in red deer or Edmonton next year… My rebels season tickets say red deer, but my heart says the big show!

    • Jamie B.

      Red Deer…let him continue to develop his game. He will be heads above the rest of the WHL and hopefully Red Deer can have a very successful year, perhaps a Memorial Cup. It would be great for him to be a champion, know what it is like. He has a bright future on the Oilers roster, there is no need to rush him.

      • Agreed. His Red Deer coach is saying this also. Tambellini has been making a big deal of saying he’s not concerned if the #1 pick this year is ready to play on the big club. The smart money has RNH playing in Red Deer next year.

        • Little Buttcheeks

          Tambellini is playing it smart, this way there is no pressure on the kid if he doesn’t make it and the fan base isn’t all up in arms. However, if he does make it then it looks like he is the real deal and it just adds to his confidence. IMO, they are going to give him preseason plus the first nine games before we have to make a clear cut decision on whether he stays or goes.

  • D

    From my perspective, I am just happy that the Oil didn’t try to show the world that they are so much smarter than everyone else. Going with the safe picks each time is fine. I wonder if the Jets have become the new Oilers in that regard…

    • Jamie B.

      Thought exactly the same thing when ‘the peg’ went off the board with their selection. Not a bad pick, but I just thought ‘ thank god we are past that drafting strategy’. We have been terrible doing that, don’t ever want to see that again. But hey, hockeys back in Winnepeg and Smytty’s back in e-town!! Life is good!!

  • Little Buttcheeks

    Don’t be a tool Tambo. Get the Ryan Smyth deal done already and bask in the glow of Oilersnation. It should be a short walk to go talk to the kings in person and get er done. This meddling around just makes you look incompetent imo…. Bring back the ole Ryan to teach the new Ryan how its done!

  • Thanks for all the great coverage Robin!

    Nugent-Hopkins was a no brainer. He`s not talented, he`s gifted(That`s what set him apart). I also agree he should remain in junior for 1 more season. He`ll hit 180-185 next year, play the world juniors and be %100 ready for the NHL.

    On a side note, I still can`t believe Couturier went at 8th and was passed by Winnipeg, or the fact that Dougie Hamilton fell right into Bostons lap making that Kessel trade look more like highway robbery than just a bad deal.

    Now then, about Ryan Smyth…

  • Sparky

    A buddy of mine knows rattie from airdrie, and as much as I’d like to see him picked by the oilers, he’s a small winger so I can’t see it happening. My votes musil or Jenner.

  • Mitch


    Love RHN at 1, I really want to see what Taylor can do with Ryan at center, I would start Hemsky on the right side, which leads me to say I would really like to see what Hemsky can do, could we get 1 or both of these players to 100pts maybe 90 in todays NHL. I play 3 swedes together. I have Horcoff in between Smyth and Eberle. A completely differnt 4th line of not sure who. At least at forward things are shaping up and I never mentioned Gagner and Cogliano.

    • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

      It would be a shame to loose such an impressive hockey mind to CV disease.

      I can imagine he eats a lot of fast food and a lot of rink food all high in Saturated fats.