Hockey players with great talent can get by with a so-so work ethic and attention to detail. Players with great work ethic and attention to detail can get by with so-so talent. Those with great talent and a similar work ethic and attention to detail can be something special.
Fans of the Edmonton Oilers can likely name a half-dozen players who fall into the first two categories. Imagine an honest ham-and-egger like stats-guy favourite Liam Reddox with the offensive talent to match how diligently he works at his game.
Imagine if Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner had the determination to work, prepare and perform consistently in concert with their considerable talents. What if they had Ryan Smyth’s jam? Could Hemsky be a great player instead of a very good player? How good would Penner be if he brought it 65 games a season instead of 45?
Given all the above, and all the examples I’m sure you can think of, I listened with interest today when Oilers co-ordinator of player development talked about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins today with Bob Stauffer On Oilers Lunch on TEAM 1260.
When Moores, a career coach for more than 30 years, talks, I listen. And he had plenty of glowing praise for Nugent-Hopkins today.
THE WAY MOORES SEES IT.
Nugent-Hopkins, of course, had all eyes on him last week at Millennium Place during the Oilers development camp as fans checked out the slight centre from the Red Deer Rebels, taken first overall in Minnesota.
Slick, quick and impressive was the 18-year-old Nugent-Hopkins, but to hear Moores tell it, there’s more than meets the eye.
"I read one comment that he’s not a very good practise player in the paper," Moores said. "I beg to differ because his habits are impeccable.
"The whole basis of the camp was not to scrimmage because these kids have scrimmaged their whole lives. What we’re trying to do is teach them concepts and tactics, individual tactics in particular — habits that are important for them, position-specific things.
"His habits are just impeccable. He does all the things that you need to have to continue with the foundation for a career. He’s got that, and then, obviously, his vision on the ice, his ability to make plays other players can’t make."
You’d expect Nugent-Hopkins, who had 106 points with the Rebels last season, to stand out in a prospects camp — he’s skating with prospects taken in lower rounds. Some might be steals. Some are guesses. He is supposed to stand out. That much is obvious.
The learning curve for Nugent-Hopkins will continue with how he trains this off-season. It’ll continue when he faces live fire at a prospects tournament in Penticton and, then, at training camp and in pre-season, where he’ll get a long, long look.
It goes without saying Nugent-Hopkins has a long way to go before he makes Edmonton’s roster, let alone a dent in the NHL. He has to get stronger. He has to stay healthy. Timing and circumstance have to fall in his favour. So many wildcards. It’ll take patience because there is no guarantee he’ll play this season in the NHL beyond 10 games.
That said, I’m a lot more likely to put my money on a kid like Nugent-Hopkins, if he possesses the qualities Moores believes he does, than a hard-working grunt without the game to make it pay off, or on a slacker who doesn’t make the most of his talent.
Stauffer asked about talented, young players without the commitment to working on their games.
"I think you’re right," Moores said. "That’s kind of the way it was for a long time, that some of the more gifted players maybe weren’t as focused on habits. I think that’s changed.
"A lot of the players that are real good, the Crosbys and that, their habits are very, very good, so it’s a complete package. When I look at Nugent-Hopkins, it’s obvious he’s been well-coached. It just didn’t happen at this development camp.
"We talked about the things, the habits and spelled them out, went over them daily and added to them. He did them right away. He’s been well-coached, like a lot of these players have.
"I think now, those players are expected to have the good habits, too, because that’s the foundation that allows them to play at the higher level. The game is so fast now, if you don’t have good habits, it’s really difficult to do some of the things you want to get done out there."
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.