Fans in Edmonton were able to get an up close look at their most recent No. 1 overall pick, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, at team Canada's prospect development camp this past week, and the early returns are very promising. He helped cap off a come-from-behind win for the White team during their Red-White scrimmage on Saturday, tying the game in the third period and then winning it with 20 seconds to play.
Donna Spencer of the Canadian Press wrote about the skills he displayed on Friday, while Oilers forward Ryan Smyth, and potentially a teammate of Nugent-Hopkins this upcoming season, called him a "nifty little player" after sitting behind the bench for the Red team during the scrimmage.
It's still not known whether or not he's going to play in the NHL this season, but if recent history is any indicator, it would seem to be a mild upset if he didn't. Going back to 1997 there have been 11 forwards taken with the top pick in the NHL draft, and 10 of them made their debut the same year they were drafted. The only player that didn't, technically speaking, was Washington's Alex Ovechkin, and that was due to circumstances beyond his and his team's control: the NHL lockout. Had it not been for the work stoppage he would have been a lock to make his debut.
What can be reasonably expected of Nugent-Hopkins should he play for the Oilers this upcoming season? Here's a look at what the recent straight-to-the-NHL top picks have done during their rookie seasons:
|Top Picks NHL Draft Rookie Season|
|Player||Games||Goals||Assists||Points||Avg. Mins. Per Game|
|Taylor Hall (2010)||65||22||20||42||18:12|
|John Tavares (2009)||82||24||30||54||18:00|
|Steven Stamkos (2008)||79||23||23||46||14:56|
|Patrick Kane (2007)||82||21||51||72||18:21|
|Sidney Crosby (2005)||81||39||63||102||20:07|
|Alex Ovechkin (2005)*||81||52||54||106||21:37|
|Rick Nash (2002)||74||17||22||39||13:06|
|Ilya Kovalchuk (2001)||65||29||22||61||18:34|
|Patrik Stefan (1999)||72||5||20||25||14:48|
|Vincent Lecavalier (1998)||82||13||15||28||13:39|
|Joe Thornton (1997)||55||3||4||7||8:05|
*Ovechkin's first season came after the lockout, which was a year after his draft year.
With the exception of Patrik Stefan, every one of these players has gone on to be a productive player or a star player in the NHL (the jury is still out on Taylor Hall at this point after just one season, but we like his chances).
What's a reasonable expectation for Nugent-Hopkins should he play for the Oilers this season? Well, nobody should expect Crosby/Ovechkin levels because those guys are from a different planet. But 20 goals seems like it would be a solid goal based on recent performances by other top picks, assuming he's able to withstand the physical toll of the NHL. And that seems to be the chief concern for Nugent-Hopkins; it's not his skill or ability, but simply whether or not he has the strength to do it at this point. He currently weighs in at 175 pounds according to Spencer's Canadian Press report from over the weekend. That would make him one of the smallest players in the league