Red Deer Rebels’ Nugent-Hopkins continues to shine

It’s been quite the whirlwind as of late for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

The Red Deer Rebels standout, projected by many agencies to go first overall to the Edmonton Oilers, who hold the first pick in next week’s NHL Entry Draft in Minnesota, is back in Central Alberta after a trip to the NHL Combine in Toronto and a quick jaunt to Boston.

Nugent-Hopkins excelled at the Combine, an event which puts the top 100 eligible prospects through a barrage of physical tests, impressing many scouts and NHL general managers in attendance.

“I did pretty good, compared to the other guys,” said Nugent-Hopkins.

“Obviously, I’m not the biggest guy, so I’m not going to blow out any of the strength exercises, but I did above average on most of them.”

Above average is right as Nugent-Hopkins was a cut above fellow top prospect Jonathan Huberdeau in the bench press exercise, with Nugent-Hopkins recording six presses (he actually had eight, but two weren’t low enough), while Huberdeau, who was coming off a Memorial Cup winning run with the Saint John Sea Dogs, notched two.

But, despite being the top ranked prospect ahead of the draft and putting up 106 points in his sophomore season in the Western Hockey League, some scouts still feel the 18-year-old is too small to play in the NHL next season.

“I finished the season at 164 pounds,” said the 6” Nugent-Hopkins.

“I’m up to 173 pounds now. I’m spending a lot of time in the gym, eating a lot, and eating the right things. In the gym, I’m working on agility as well, so I don’t think I’ll be losing any agility or any aspect of my game that way.”

Not only does the Combine give NHL teams the chance to check out the conditioning and fitness levels of the prospects, they also get a chance to sit down with the players.

“I talked to 14 teams and the Oilers were the first team,” said Nugent-Hopkins.

“I was pretty nervous, but once we got going I got a bit more comfortable. I was nervous a little bit because it was the first time I had sat down with (Oilers general manager) Steve Tambellini, (Oilers president) Kevin Lowe and (Oilers head scout) Stu MacGregor. It was all of them right there, but as it went on, I started to feel really comfortable. The whole experience though was great. Meeting all those teams was really neat.”

Traditionally, there is always one team that meets with a player and asks a question right out of left field, but Nugent-Hopkins says that didn’t happen this year.

“I didn’t really get asked a weird question,” laughed the Burnaby, BC native.

“I don’t really know of anyone getting asked a really weird one this year but earlier this year, we did have some questions sent out to us and one asked if I’d rather have a well-made gun or a well written poem. I’d probably rather have the poem. Guns are really destructive and you can go any way with a poem.”

After the Combine, Nugent-Hopkins flew back to Red Deer for his high school graduation before getting on another plane and heading to Boston, where the NHL was hosting some of the top prospects during the Stanley Cup final.

“I met (fellow prospect Gabriel) Landeskog last summer, but we really got to know each other pretty well on our trip to Boston,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who already knows many of his hockey-playing brethren.

“I already knew Jonathan (Huberdeau) from the Under-18 tournament, and I knew Dougie (Hamilton) as well, but it’s always good to know these guys off the ice.”