Former Rebels player could wear copper and blue

The debate has been raging on since the beginning of the year and promises to continue on until Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini lets the cat out of the bag on June 24th.

That question, of course, is, who will go number one overall in the NHL Entry Draft in Minnesota.

Red Deer Rebels standout Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who finished the regular season with 31 goals and 104 points and was ranked third amongst North American skaters in the mid-term rankings, is the offensive player of the draft, having been ranked number one by NHL Central Scouting in its final ranking of North American players.

Standing in his way is a young man from Sweden named Adam Larsson, a defenseman that many are comparing to Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom.

Barring a huge upset, one of those two players will be donning Oilers’ silks near the end of June.

“Obviously, I was pretty excited about it,” said the soft-spoken Nugent-Hopkins of the Central Scouting rankings.

“My mom was the first person to text me with the news. The text read `Congratulations on being ranked number one.` It’s a huge honour for me and I’m looking forward to it.”

The 2010-2011 season was something of a coming out season for the young sophomore, who was drafted first overall by the Rebels in the 2008 WHL Bantam draft.

After scoring 24 goals and 67 points in his 16 year old season in the WHL, earning himself the league’s Rookie of the Year award in the process, Nugent-Hopkins picked up where he left off in his second season, increasing his totals by 37 points in leading the Rebels to their first Central Division crown since 2002-2003.

“Obviously, you want to get to number one, but I mean, my team has been huge,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who turned 18 on the same day the Oilers found out they were getting the first overall pick in the draft for a second straight year.

“We had a great year this year and I couldn’t have gotten to number one without them.”

While Nugent-Hopkins may be quick to deflect the credit to his teammates, many in the hockey world feel the Burnaby, B.C. native is the straw that stirred the offensive drink for Red Deer.

“He makes everyone around him better,” said former Calgary Flames general manager Craig Button in an interview with NHL.com.

“He reminds me of Joe Sakic in this thinking and ability. Sakic was one of those guys where it didn’t matter what type of game you were playing. You always knew you could count on Sakic and you knew he’d made a play and make a difference, and I feel exactly the same way about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. In my mind, it will take an enormous effort by another player to unseat Nugent-Hopkins as the number one prospect heading into the Draft because I think he’s a star in the making.”

Peter Sullivan, who primarily scouts WHL games for Central Scouting, agreed with Button’s assessment.

“A couple of people high up in the Oilers’ organization — and I’m not naming names — said Hopkins has the best vision on the ice since No. 99,” Sullivan told NHL.com.

“That’s the highest compliment you can get, but also another thing is the way Ryan competes. He never takes a night off and he works as hard in his own end as he does in the offensive zone. It takes a special player with special skills to be able to do that.”

When asked about where he would prefer to start his NHL career, Nugent-Hopkins said it doesn’t matter.

“I’m excited about getting drafted anywhere,” said the play-making centre.

“No matter where I get drafted, I’ll be one happy guy.”

sports@reddeerexpress.com

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