THE OILERS WILL TAKE NUGENT-HOPKINS…ERR… THEY BETTER

If you don’t see this picture in three weeks then I’d be very surprised, and you should be disappointed. I’ve said since March the Oilers should draft Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and after speaking with many scouts the past month on my show and via text, there is no doubt in my mind he is they guy they should, and will, call on June 24th.

I don’t want to rehash why I think they should use their first pick on a centre over a D-man, but if you want to know read here, meanwhile I want to focus on why they must take Nugent-Hopkins. It is becoming clearer by the day that he is the most talented player in the draft. His ability to see plays that others can’t is what separates him from the rest of this year’s draft class.

If you are worried about his alleged lack of size chew on this for a second. Oil Kings forward Micheal St. Croix finished the WHL season at 175 pounds, on Wednesday he weighed 185 at the combine. Nugent-Hopkins finished his campaign at 168 and earlier this week he was already at 177.

Oilers head amateur scout, Stu MacGregor explained to me why this is not a surprise.

"It is not unusual for the young guys to gain weight quickly after the season, because they take a little rest, get home to mom and eating home cooked meals more regularly. They do really focus on eating better and they start to look at developing physically and getting into their fitness programs."

How many of you put on some pounds when you went from being single to dating a girl who was a good cook? Of course you probably gorged yourself and didn’t work out feverishly like these draft-eligible kids, so it isn’t hard to see why Nugent-Hopkins will likely end up being a 190 pound NHLer in his second season.

WHAT ABOUT HUBERDEAU? 

Jonathon Huberdeau had a great playoffs, 16-14-30 in 19 games, including tallying 3-3-6 in four Memorial Cup games while leading his Saint John Sea Dogs to the championship. Some are wondering if his playoffs have put him in the same category as Nugent-Hopkins. It is a good question, but I don’t think he is there yet.

In my conversation with MacGregor I asked him to compare the similarities and differences between the two.

"The similarities are certainly their hockey sense, skills and vision of the ice. The difference is that Ryan has that quickness and slipperiness that defenseman seem to fear. Jonathon is starting to develop that same aspect but he isn’t as smooth at it just yet."

MacGregor didn’t want to tip his hand on who he was leaning towards, but he did say with certainty that he knows who he would take first today and will reiterate that to Steve Tambellini in the coming weeks. He did however give me a slight glimpse as to where they were leaning when I asked him if it was likely that they would use their first two picks on different positional players. 

You might think I was reading between the lines too much on that, but I’d suggest of MacGregor was leaning towards Adam Larsson at that moment he naturally would have mentioned taking a D-man. I wouldn’t expect MacGregor to tell me or any other outlet, on the record at least, who they were taking, because it would take away that incredibly special moment for the player when his name is the first one called on June 24th. I’m very confident; however, it will be Nugent-Hopkins.

One other tidbit, the first team to interview Nugent-Hopkins at the combine this week was the Edmonton Oilers.

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING

Over the past month I’ve had the chance to interview over 15 different independent scouts and NHL scouts, and all but one of them said if they had the first pick they would take Nugent-Hopkins. The one who didn’t chose him opted to not give an answer. Many listed Nugent-Hopkins’ hockey sense and vision on the ice as the main reasons they’d take him first. 

One of the most interesting responses came from Mark Edwards of www.HockeyProspect.com.

"He has the stuff you can’t teach. You can’t teach a player to go down and see the ice like he has 360 eyes in his head. I had to steal that line from Duncan Siemens when I asked him about playing against Nugent-Hopkins. He said, ‘Just when you think you have him, he looks out another eye in his head and sees another play that you couldn’t see, and boom, the pass goes tape-to-tape to another player, and it’s a great play that sets up another chance.’

"I think he is undervalued as a goal scorer. We all know what a great playmaker he is, but his shot is much better than many think. I see that elite player in him. To me he has separated from the pack. Our two through six or seven are a lot tighter, and I probably could sit down and do the rankings everyday and I could be convinced to move a guy up or down one, but for him he has been a constant number one since late December."

In three weeks the Oilers should have the 2nd player in franchise history to wear #93 when Tambellini steps up to the podium and announces, "With the first overall pick in 2011 draft, we are extremely excited to select from the Red Deer Rebels, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins."

Props to D.L. and J.M for some sweet photoshopping early this morning.