Monday, September 12, 2011

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: Should He Stay Or Go?

It is not very difficult to support the point of view that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins should make the Edmonton Oilers roster this season. While others, could make just as strong a case to return this summers first overall pick back to Red Deer for one more year of junior hockey. Would an extra year in junior hockey do the Burnaby native harm? Absolutely not but if the kid displays throughout training camp that he belongs in the NHL, it would be almost impossible for the Oilers brass to not allow Nugent-Hopkins to start his pro career on October 9th against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

I see the kid coming to camp and making all this talk about him going back to junior a non factor...that is until he hits his first speed bump and all the critics start coming out of the woodwork questioning why he wasn't sent back to junior when they had the chance. Make no mistake, Nugent-Hopkins will have his struggles but having the likes of Shawn Horcoff and Eric Belanger in the fold to help the rookie centre with those speed bumps, will make his transition into the NHL a whole lot smoother. Be it taking on those tough minutes late in games or against the elite teams in the league, the two veteran centres will take a load of pressure of Nugent-Hopkins and allow him to concentrate on what he does best...putting points on the board.

If he makes this club, it has to be as a top six forward/power play specialist. Look for the youngster to play in between sophomore Jordan Eberle and fan favourite Ryan Smyth. Playing with Eberle will give last seasons Red Deer Rebels leading scorer a trigger man to set up shop with and both should relish playing with one another. Smyth helps shelter both youngsters 5-on-5 while providing a presence down low in the corners and in front of the oppositions net. The trio have the potential to be a solid second line and should allow Nugent-Hopkins to put up his fair share of points.

An area Nugent-Hopkins should make an instant contribution on is the power play. If he came to the Oilers a year or two ago, this would not have been the case but it is now. The big advantage he has coming to the Oilers this season is the fact that they are loaded with skill upfront. Playing on a power play with the likes of Taylor Hall, Ales Hemsky, Linus Omark, Smyth, Sam GagnerEberle, Ryan Whitney and Cam Barker will make the adjustment to an NHL power play feel seamless for the 18 year old. Watching Nugent-Hopkins with the Rebels, he seemed to think the game at a different level and that is something you can't teach. You either have it as a player or you do not and most players fall in the latter category. That being said, many players who put up monster seasons in junior never come close to matching those numbers in the NHL...I do not expect Nugent-Hopkins to fall into that category. Look for him to start the year on the Oilers second unit with the man advantage but by seasons end, do not be surprised if he has made a home on the top unit.

I know many fans and critics feel an extra year in junior would help Ryan Nugent-Hopkins but if the kid is ready to play, he should play. Having a player develop the shortcomings in their game while they are on an NHL roster is usually not the best way to go about things but Ryan Nugent-Hopkins does not come across as your run-of-the-mill 18 year old rookie.

2011-2012 Prediction:    13 G - 40 A - 53 Pts

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