You only get one chance to make a first impression. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made good and sent the crowd home happy.

Watching Ryan Nugent-Hopkins last night, I came away with a somewhat different view of him as a hockey player. Early on, the passes to and from linemates didn’t connect well but he still found a way to be a useful player. I’d noticed in previous viewings that he had very good puck pursuit on the backcheck, but last night he (and linemate Jaden Schwarz) were demons on the forecheck. That line had the added advantage of human cannonball Devante Smith-Pelly, but the trio was limited offensively save for a couple of impressive rushes from the ANA draft pick (Smith-Pelly).

RNH made up for it by winning faceoffs, playing effectively on the PK (I didn’t see him get any PP time) and the ability to play through what was a pretty filthy bunch of stick work and physical intimidation for an exhibition game. Team White played against some tall trees on team Red (notably Gudbranson, Gormley and Oleksiak) and some of the smaller forwards found the going rough (I didn’t see anyone shy away, though. Some gumption on both sides of the puck).

The two goals RNH scored were the kinds of counters that only very skilled players score. The first was a ridiculous backhand from the scoring zone (slot, just above the blue ice) in which the player threw the puck blindside to an area and found twine (this is exactly the type of thing he-who-cannot-be-named did many times in the same building).

The second goal was more impressive because it showed quickness and a very good shot. RNH–as he often does–stayed on the play and when the first attempt was foiled found a seam (again similar to the type of thing he-who-cannot-be-named did many times in the same building) and ripped a quick shot behind the goalie.


I mentioned yesterday that going to the game would give you a chance to start the "trunks of memories" for the RNH era. Of course, he’s going to share this "era" with Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi and others; last night I got the feeling that it’s going to be hard to send this young man back down Highway 2.


Because all of us want to take charge of a game late when things are on the line. Few of us are gifted enough to follow through and make it happen. That kind of player is very special.

Who does he remind you of?

First, remember that I’m old. Second, I was very impressed with his play away from the puck last night. He wasn’t getting a lot done with the puck but his pursuit on the forecheck, his PK plays, the faceoffs and his overall positioning were top drawer. The kid is exceptional, and I can see why the Pavel Datsyuk comparisons have been made.

Last night–when he scored those two goals–he reminded me of Steve Shutt. The reason? Shutt had a midas touch around the net and had the same kind of quick release we saw on the second goal. Shutt was also an exceptional as a two-way winger. Anyway, our minds fall back to our strongest memories and I’m certain Datsyuk is a more reliable (and more recent) comp. But Steve Shutt is the memory that came rolling in, so thought I’d mention it.

  • Last night was a typical Nugent-Hopkins game. His skating wasn’t there early, but he keeps the other team honest.

    Ridiculous hand-eye & ability to escape defenders. He can change the outcome of a game in 2 shifts, like he did last night.


    No mention of Sean Couturier? (He did have a nice PP assist) What’s your ‘take’ on him, now that you’ve seen him live?

    • Lowetide

      Nate: I decided to concentrate on RNH and Bunz. It’s very hard (for me, anyway) to focus on multiple players when I’m not really familiar with any of them.

      Couturier is a guy I like a lot. I did think his footspeed was maybe a little better than we’d been led to believe but iirc his line didn’t start to make inroads offensively until the coach shuffled the lines.

  • O.C.

    The quality of the goals and the timing of the goals and the importance of the goals are superstar qualities.

    My only concern… If this kid wins so many face-offs, the Oil are going to have to set aside a ton of practices on “what to do next when we have the puck after it’s dropped”. This is new territory.

    Shutt wasn’t much of a playmaker that I remember? How about a Pavel Bure who backchecks?

  • “No mention of Sean Couturier? (He did have a nice PP assist) What’s your ‘take’ on him, now that you’ve seen him live?”

    Hey NSH,

    Couturier was like many of the players last night, didn’t really stand out. I like LT was watching a few players in particular and the odd player like Smith-Pelly grabbed you by the throat and make you take notice. He did get a second assist on the third goal I believe which was a really nice passing play on the PP. He was the best white center until the third.

    Speaking of SP, he reminds one of a better skating Mike Grier. The fact that he was wearing 25 added to the comp. He has the same body type and a massive upper body by the looks of it. If his teammates do not refer to him as Rosy that will be a crime!

    Johanson was the best player on the ice and no way will he be available this year to the team. I can’t see how he doesn’t make Colombus.

    My three stars
    RNH with the key goals
    Smith-Pelly who was dynamite
    Johanson who is going to be a very good NHL player

  • a lg dubl dubl

    It’ll be interesting to see RNH come preseason when he’s up against NHL vets, didn’t get to see the game but from what Ive heard “Nuge” should handle himself pretty good this season and make fools out of a few dmen. I love summer but Sept/Oct cant come soon enough.

  • Semenko and Troy

    I have questions for the posters blindly assuming that pushing RNH back to junior for another year would be better for his development compared to facing NHL competition, given the argument that all he lacks is ‘size’.

    Will his on ice vision and the way he thinks the game develop significantly against lesser players in a league two steps away from the NHL? Will his skating, shot, and release get substantially quicker up against pressure from 17 year olds?

    Also, is it more of a benefit to practice with junior players all below his caliber? Aren’t practices, (particularly against and with NHL caliber talents), where you really improve your skills and your game?

    Is the coaching in Red Deer better for his development than with the Oilers?

    I’m not discounting the lack of strength argument but I’d like specific examples of how he could be so weak and overmatched physically that it would justify retarding the other aspects of his game by going back to junior, when he could be challenging and improving his skills more quickly against NHL competition in game situations and more importantly, in practice.

    • justDOit

      You had me until you mentioned coaching… ???

      But you might still be correct. What IS wrong, is that a young player can play in the NHL, but not the AHL? Huh?

      So instead of sheltering a young player a bit, but still getting him into a team’s system, he either has to suit up against men who will try and kill him (Torres, Cooke), or against boys who can’t offer any serious competition.

      Tell me this shouldn’t be changed in the new CBA.

      Edit – Apparently Eklund agrees:

      • What IS wrong, is that a young player can play in the NHL, but not the AHL? Huh?

        The CHL would die a talentless and futureless death very quickly if North American players under 20 were allowed to play in the AHL.

        So instead of sheltering a young player a bit, but still getting him into a team’s system, he either has to suit up against men who will try and kill him (Torres, Cooke), or against boys who can’t offer any serious competition.

        Holy Hyperbole Batman! Exaggerate much? Of course there is a jump in talent between the CHL and the NHL. However, to suggest that the CHL can offer no serious competition to young developing players is flat out wrong. Countless players spent time in the CHL past their draft days and still didn’t score 300 pts (which they could if there was no serious competition). Instead, they got a chance to continue developing in the best amateur hockey league in the world, and then went on to have great careers in the NHL.

        EDIT: That Eklund agrees with you should be your second clue that you are completely off the mark.

        • justDOit

          A ‘talentedless death’? Hyperbole? Holy, indeed!

          If you leave the decision to the team who owns the young CHL players rights, it doesn’t mean that every player will be sent to the AHL instead of the CHL.

          So why do they let the NCAA and Euro kids, at the same age, enter the AHL?

          I’m not saying that every 18-19 year old player should be in the AHL, and I doubt very much that their NHL team would make that decision.

          But for guys like RNH and maybe Couteurier (sorry, spelling?), they stand to benefit very little from playing with boys. Get them in the farm system, let them adjust to playing against men and get used to professional hockey before they meet the competition in the NHL. It’s a stupid rule.

      • He can play in the ahl no? It just starts his pro contract ticking. If the oil thought it was that big of a concern they could bite that bullet.

        Also, you dong think guys in the minors wouldn’t be gunning for his head same as the guys you mentioned? They are tryIng to make names for themselves in order to make it to he show.

        • Lowetide

          No. CHL kids (the NA ones) can’t play in the AHL when they are junior eligible. There are exceptions (PTO contracts at the end of the junior season, conditioning stints) but I’m not aware of a rule that would allow RNH to play in OKC.

        • justDOit

          No, he’s not allowed to play in the AHL at this age. But if he was coming out of the NCAA, or a Euro league, then he could.

          Yes, guys will run him down on the farm as well, but they’ll be slower players who aren’t as effective. You don’t see the difference?

          Edit: I mean, I would love to see Cooke and Torres in the AHL, really! Don’t get me wrong…

          • If you’re talking about a capped limit like 1 or 2 major junior eligible players per team allowed to play in the AHL (like what Arch is suggesting) then fine, I would acquiesce. However, it is a slippery slope and the number allowed would have to be very small otherwise we risk ruining the CHL. If you drain talent from the CHL because ‘it doesn’t offer competition’ then you are only making the situation worse by letting select top players leave the league. It could quickly become a runaway self-reinforcing cycle that magnifies and spirals into the effective destruction of Canadian Major Junior Hockey.

          • Lowetide

            There’s no way the CHL would agree to it. The Pats without Eberle those final two seasons would have been impacted imo.

            For the NHL, it’s a small price to pay for developing players.

          • justDOit

            I don’t know the intricacies of the NHL/CHL agreement, would the CHL have to agree to it if the NHL decided not to renew that agreement?

            If, after the current NHL/CHL agreement expires (if it expires any time soon), the NHL/AHL say they are happy to accept 18 and 19 yera old players from the CHL, where does the CHL stand? Do the CHL contracts with players stop those players from playing in the AHL at 18 and 19 in the absence of the current NHL/CHL arrangement?

          • Lowetide

            Not sure, but I don’t believe it’ll ever come to that kind of conclusion. How many potential players are we talking about a season? If push came to shove, and the kinds of deals the CHL already offers were increased, there might be a battle royale that ends up costing NHL teams money for no good reason.

            I think an individual player might try to break the rule ala Ken Linsemen or John Tonelli, but the NHL likes the situation just fine.

            That’s how I see it anyway.

          • Lowetide

            I would guess it wouldn’t come to that conclusion either, LT; after all, if the NHL wasn’t happy with the arrangement there’s no reason they couldn’t have tried to get it changed.

            I’m just not sure exactly what leverage the CHL would have if the NHL decided they don’t want or need an agreement any more, because I’m not sure of a number of things when it comes to the CHL player contracts, and CHL/NHL relations. So I don’t really know if it would matter if the CHL agreed with it, or not.

            I’m sure the NCAA doesn’t really agree with Oleksiak, Miller, Murphy, Boucher, and Gibson bolting for the OHL, but what can they do?

          • Lowetide

            The NCAA could compensate kids for putting dollars in the university coffers. The CHL probably badly underpays these kids but there is evidence of payment.

            The NCAA rules are old and outdated. Like muskets. If they redo their silly rules, then the CHL would be forced to redo theirs.

            I don’t care if a kid is 17-years old, if his labor holds value then he should be compensated.

          • justDOit

            I’m not suggesting any specific changes, only that it’s not fair for a player like RNH to have to go back to the CHL or into the NHL, with no middle ground. But for a player from the NCAA, they can play anywhere.

            I see your point about losing talent in the CHL, but I think it’s impact is being highly over-estimated. It’s not like every NHL team would rather have all their CHL draft picks go to the AHL, but for the kids like RNH, it should be an option.

            So yes, if every team could name one CHL player who could bypass the CHL NHL rule, that sounds like it would be fair. And maybe only one player out of every two years of drafts? It’s not like this situation arises often.

      • I see why they do it, but I think comprimise can be made. I think teams should be able to designate 1 underage player every year who would be elligible to play in the AHL before he’s 20.

        It would mean that a lot more 1st round picks would be able to go pro at 18, but I dont think every team would graduate their newly selected picks. I think it would affect more 19 year olds than 18 year olds overall.

    • Hemmertime

      Is the coaching in Red Deer better for his development than with the Oilers?

      Is playing 21 mins a night better than playing 5 if on the 4th line?

      The same point can be made for all the questions. I like having him at practices too in the NHL level, but if the playing time isn’t there because he isnt the best option to put on the ice I’d rather he be lighting up the Jrs. Belanger and Horcoff are safe options to send over the boards pretty much any time and its hard to argue “put on the rookie” with 6 mins left in a one goal game.

      That being said I think he can pull it off, I’m betting that he sticks through training camp and gets his 9 games. That’s when true assessment time comes in (unless he makes it a no contest argument, one way or the other).

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      I don’t know why we continue to argue about it. It’s impossible to know which route will produce the better player in the long run.

  • You can’t compare RNH to The Nameless One since the coach used the Nuge in the shootout! Had a nice move too but was stymied by an even better flying poke check from …Domingue was it?

    Bunz was great in his half of the game. Can’t say anything bad about a goalie who makes no mistakes yet still gets scored on twice. No chance.

    RNH impressed me with a solid 2-way game, which is always the true foundation of a good player: when the pretty offence isn’t flowing, the defence comes through by falling back on fundamentals. Like Red Green pontificated, ‘If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.’

  • As pertains to development, even if RNH is sent back to Red Deer and goes on to score a goal every game and dominate, this is not a bad thing. There is much more to development than the physical side of the game. Allowing a player to experience winning, success, and the ability to dominate or impose his will on the game is just as important.

    The mental aspect of the game is probably even more important than everything else, given the basic tools.

    What happens when a player goes through a slump or injury and has lost his touch? He HAS to have that mental fortitude to fall back on, that security that he can do it, that he has done it before and that things will come.

    I could be wrong but I have a suspicion that Sam Gagner would be better off today if he had been given a chance to develop that confidence earlier on.

    Remember his first year when he would deke the bajeebus out of goalies in the shootout? He doesn’t do that anymore and I really think it has everything to do with confidence.

    Whatever RNH is going to learn at the NHL level can still be learned one year later. What he can learn from one more year in Major Junior quite possibly can only be learned this year.

    I’m not saying he should definitely be sent back, just saying that it isn’t a completely vacuous idea.

    *dives for cover*

    • Semenko and Troy

      Just saying ..for RNH, who was already judged to be the best draft eligible hockey player in the world based on his play in junior the last two years, the arguments would have to be quite compelling to send him back to the same league.

      Haven’t seen those yet.

      • You can’t see them because they are psychological. Did anyone who watched last night’s game think RNH was head and shoulders above other players? Just sayin, he didn’t dominate against the best amateur players in Canada and so it isn’t out of the question for one more year in the ‘Dub, a year to dominate and develop confidence and a sense of winning. I just hope the Oilers err on the side of caution.

    • Wax Man Riley

      I agree. Even dominating in the CHL, he will develop. Playing 10 mins a night against the best in the world would teach him a lot, but being the go-to guy playing 20+ mins a night will allow him to hone his skills night-in and night-out.

      If anyone out there plays in even a beer league, you know that if you play a really good team you can get walked over, but playing a worse team, you will get a better chance to pass, shoot, and be in position. It is kind of comparable to a season long practice against high competition.

      If he earns a spot on the team, then that is awesome and I can’t wait to watch him for at least 7 years. If he doesn’t completely impress and goes back to junior, then we watch him starting next year.

  • striatic

    won’t know if RNH should stay up until his first 9 games in the NHL.

    if he’s not a liability, you keep him up and see if he can figure out the NHL game.

    not going to make any assumptions about where he should be until then. there’s just no need to.

  • striatic

    I agree that a year back in the Dub wouldn’t hurt his development. He has some wonderful tools, but he did not dominate the game last night like Johanssen did. Obviously his game was not hurt by one more year with the Winterhawks. He was by far the best forward on the ice.
    Give Nugent-Hopkins a cup of coffee, and let him be a hero in the World Juniors and tear it up on a Memorial Cup run. The fanbase will have plenty of excitement watching Hall, et al develop this year.

  • LT,

    I tried to focus on the defenseman, but it was hard not to follow Nugent-Hopkins.

    Murray and Gautier-Leduc looked good early in camp but Gudbranson looked the best in the game.

    This is the draft that ‘magnificent bastard’ and staff need to find the gem defenseman. With 15 D-men projected in the top 30 it will be a boom or bust draft.

    Do the Oilers dare go Russian?

  • I’m interested in seeing Oscar Klefbom now that I’ve seen Joe Morrow at camp.

    The Oilers have a realistic chance to draft the 1st or 2nd defensman available in 2012, it’s critical they get it right.

    Murray-Hamilton will be a good pairing for Canada.

  • stevezie

    I think young, elite Canadians who might have “outgrown” the CHL are crazy not to go to Europe for a season. If you’re not going to be in the NHL anyway, wouldn’t you rather make a real salary living in Stockholm than riding a bus back and forth between Brandon and Moose Jaw? You get to compete against men too, so it’s not like your development suffers.
    A crazy plan I know, but if I was 09-10 Eberle I would’ve caught the first plane to Europe.

    • I think loyalty and a desire to “do what they’re supposed to” keeps them from doing that.

      Its certainly an option that I bet never crossef Eberle’s mind, even if its one that make sense from the outside looking in.

      • stevezie

        That hockey players love doing “the right thing” is one of my favourite things about the game, but I would argue that:
        A)You don’t owe anything to the team that drafted you until they’re ready to start paying you, and more importantly
        B) Open minded teams should see this as a preferable option as well. The level of competition is higher and the risk of injury is lowered. These are both big, unresearched assumptions by me but I would be willing to bet that the an average Swedish elite league team would kill an average CHL team, and I’ll betcha that the dub is a much more violent place to play.
        I’m totally willing to admit that this might be a dumb idea, I just can’t for the life of me figure out why.

        • Certainly. What if some forward thinking team went crazy and made a SEL team their affiliate? Could they then send their best young prospects to a Pro league without breaking CHL agreements?

          I would love to see someone give it a shot. There are probably all kinds of reasons why its impossible, but I would love to see it.

  • John Chambers

    Hmmm, something’s fishy. Nugent isn’t supposed to be a goal-scorer! In fact I’ve read all sorts of stats-based evidence about how his G per G, and G per 60, and G at evens, are among the lowest scored by first round selections with hyphenated last names born in the month of April.

    You’ve got an argument with Willis on your hands LT if you’re going to continue with these “hands around the net” statements.

  • Zamboni Driver

    Blind faithers with a ridiculous obsession with 18 year old boys need to really give their heads a collective shake.

    It is ENTIRELY okay for the kid to go down. It’s probably even a GOOD idea. I am PRETTY sure the Oilers play the Bruins this year….they have this REALLY GIGANTIC guy….or….the Flyers, another giant who is incredibly mean.

    So RNH gets killed and y’all say “I knew it!”


    • Why should we all view it as okay if RNH fails to do what every forward taken 1st overall has done since 89? Why is it acceptable for him to fail to meet such an established standard?

      There are big players everywhere. If RNH cant play against big players then we made the wrong choice. Players like him are good bcause they dont get hit. Thats his billing.

      Until he proves to be the worst 1st overall forward since the fall of the Soviet Union we should consider that he probably SHOULD play in the NHL based on the historical data.

      • Devon

        Well I wouldn’t consider it a failure for him not to make it. Now I know where your coming from Arch but, hey the last guy to not make the team that was taken first overall was a guy by the name of Madano. I think he had a damn good career wouldn’t you agree? So while it’s not ideal for him to not make the team I don’t think it’s the end of the world for RNH either.

        • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

          The last forward was Modano, Chris Phillips I believe was the last #1 pick not to start the season with his team.

          Edit: Make that Erik Johnson.

        • Sure, I just see it as silly that there’s this sentiment that he should go back to juniour even though there is no reason to send him back save for his weight, and he wouldnt even be the skinniest kid to play in the NHL as an 18 yr old in the last 5 years.

          Every time I see it mentioned I roll my eyes. The established standard for 1st overall picks is to play in the NHL. Failure to meet that is not a good thing, and yet there are plenty of Oiler fans hoping this guy goes back to play with the kiddies.

  • 9 Inches Uncut

    The easiest way to change the rules regarding CHL talent would be for the NHL to financially compensate a team for taking a junior eligible player.

    The NHL does need the CHL as has proven to be the best developer of young talent in the world.

    There is value in that but they are also a business and if you take away it’s talent then financial compensation would likely soften that blow.

  • Eulers

    Thanks, LT, for making me feel like I was there (and knew a heck of a lot more about hockey!). On behalf of all the out-of-towners who can’t catch the Edmonton games (I’ve never been to Rexall!), thanks!

  • Steve Shutt. Grew up watching those 70s Canadians. RNH has the “knack” factor. He has a knack for scoring at the righjt time. For getting the puck. For being in the right place. He makes his own puck luck. Hard work is the key to success but add to it the on ice intelligence that RNH has he then becomes one of those special players. Its hard not over hype this kid. He just seems to be at the center of things when they happen.If RNH is half as good as we think he’ll be….