Ryan Nugent-Hopkins went into the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game as the third ranked skater among North Americans by NHL Central Scouting.
The Red Deer Rebels outstanding centre justified those rankings
The 17-year-old native of Burnaby, B.C. was one of the top performers during the skills competition Tuesday then added MVP honours for Team Orr Wednesday.
He scored a pair of goals during the shinny game and was second in the breakaway contest during the skills competition. He added a pair of assists in Team Orr’s 6-1 victory over Team Cherry, but it was his overall body of work, from the defensive end to his sticking up for a teammate during a scuffle, that impressed everyone in attendance from NHL general managers to hockey insiders.
While Nugent-Hopkins impressed those who counted, the experience was something special.
“I’ll remember it for the rest of my life,” he said after arriving back at the Centrium Thursday afternoon. “Meeting all the top prospects and meeting Doug Gilmour, Stan Butler, Wendel Clark and Don Cherry was certainly special.”
Nugent-Hopkins played on a line with Sven Bartschi of the Portland Winterhawks and Zack Phillips of the Saint John Sea Dogs.
“We played together in the three-on-three Tuesday and started to get a little chemistry,” he said. “The first period (Wednesday) we didn’t do much, but we scored a couple of goals in the second and third period, so it as good for us.”
Nugent-Hopkins admitted there were some nerves heading into the game at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
“It was a lot of fun, but there were a lot of jitters at the start,” he said, “But once our team worked through that we started playing really well together.”
The fact Nugent-Hopkins went into the game as one of the top ranked athletes could have put more pressure on his six-foot, 160-pound frame.
“I didn’t think about that. I just tried to play my game and not worry about where I was ranked. If I had a poor game there would be questions, but really I need to be consistent day in and day out and do what I can do make myself better every night. The thing is it was great exposure, not only for myself, but all the players. It was the first time the scouts got a chance to see us all together and there were definitely a lot of scouts and GMs, so it was great for that.”
Chances are Nugent-Hopkins next exposure on a international level will be the 2012 World Junior Championships in Edmonton and Calgary.
WHL grads in the NHL
As of Jan. 1, 868 players have played at least one game in the NHL this season and 185 of those are WHL grads. The Rebels have 14 players in he Show along with one head coach — Brent Sutter of the Calgary Flames.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have four former Rebels in F Colby Armstrong, D Dion Phaneuf, G James Reimer and F Kris Versteeg while the Carolina Hurricanes have three — F Brandon Sutter, F Brett Sutter and G Cam Ward — along with the Edmonton Oilers — F Colin Fraser, F Steve McIntyre and D Jim Vandermeer.
D Jeff Woywitka is with the Dallas Stars while F Martin Hanzal is with the Phoenix Coyotes, F Arron Asham with the Pittsburgh Penguins and F Boyd Gordon with the Washington Capitals.
A number of former Red Deer midgets are also on the list with G Chris Mason (Atlanta), D Kris Russell (Columbus), D Brad Stuart (Detroit) and F Trent Hunter (New York Islanders).
Duane Sutter, director of player development with the Flames, and Glen Wesley of Red Deer, director of defence for Carolina, played junior hockey with the AJHL’s Red Deer Rustlers while both Detroit head coach Mike Babcock and St. Louis assistant Ray Bennett of Innisfail were with the RDC Kings. Bill Ranford, son of Bill Ranford Sr. of Red Deer, is the goaltending coach with the Los Angeles Kings and Perry Pearn of Stettler and former NAIT Ooks head coach, is with the Montreal Canadiens.