Some eyebrows were raised when the Edmonton Oilers selected Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall at this past summer’s NHL entry draft. Some people, myself included, thought the Oilers would be better served by drafting a defenseman, given the boutny of good young forwards the Oilers had already amassed in their system.
However, 25 games into his first season, Nugent-Hopkins has defied the nay-sayers that said he was too small and not strong enough physically to play in the NHL as an 18-year-old. Nugent-Hopkins has 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 points in his first 25 games, and has taken his spot as the Oilers’ #1 centre, on a line with Jordan Eberle and depending on the night, Ryan Smyth or Taylor Hall.
Nugent-Hopkins is on pace, should he be able to maintain it, for 88 points in his rookie season. Since the first NHL lockout in 1994-95, only 3 rookies were able to surpass the 80 point plateau, and only one of them did it as an 18 year old. In 2005-06, both Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby surpassed 100 points, and one year later Evgeni Malkin scored 85 points in his rookie campaign.
That puts Nugent-Hopkins in some serious company, and heights that the likes of Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Taylor Hall, Patrick Kane were not able to reach as 18 year old rookies in recent years.
His 10-point cushion on the 2nd leading rookie scorer (Craig Smith of Nashville) makes him an early slam-dunk to win rookie of the year. The only question is whether or not, with his slight frame, he can continue to play every night or is an injury inevitable?
He is surrounded by a good mix of young players he can grow with as well as veterans he can learn from. Sitting in 4th place in NHL scoring, Nugent-Hopkins has put up almost as many goals (11) as Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg combined (12), and his production equals the combination of Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise in New Jersey.
Ryan Nugent Hopkins is already a star in the NHL, and based on his learning curve so far it will not be long until he reaches legitimate superstar status.
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