His numbers would suggest that he’s a Western Hockey League veteran.
Instead, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a multi-talented, 16-year-old rookie whose early-season offensive contributions have totalled a little more than a point per game.
“He’s come in and done everything we’ve expected of him,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin. “He trained hard during the summer and added some strength, plus he sprouted up an inch or two.”
Of course, as Wallin noted, expectations of the Burnaby, B.C., native were sky-high, considering he scored two goals and added four assists in five regular-season WHL contests last winter as an underage centre. In addition, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 bantam draft was a runaway winner of the BC Major Midget Hockey League scoring race, collecting 87 points, including 40 goals, in 36 games.
Not only is Nugent-Hopkins a special talent, he’s also mentally strong, Wallin insisted.
In fact . . .
“The success he’s had this far is based on how he’s handled the expectations,” said the coach. “He just seems to accept every challenge. He has his head very squarely on his shoulders and he knows what he wants, which is to be a pro hockey player. He’s very focused and dedicated on becoming that.”
Nugent-Hopkins has made a seamless transition from minor hockey marvel to full-time WHL player.
“I’m starting to get my confidence back that I had in past years, which I think is really important,” he said. “When I played here last year I was quite nervous, but I’m feeling more confident and comfortable now.”
He’s found that comfort level despite being hundreds of miles from home, playing in arguably the world’s premier junior hockey league and attending a new high school (Hunting Hills).
“It’s a different life, big time, but I’ve pretty much made the adjustments already and I’m feeling good about everything,” he said. “My billets are really good and they have kids my age, so I just fit right in there.”
The six-foot, 160-pound forward has racked up six goals and 12 points in 10 games this fall and is anxious for his own personal success to pay off for the team as a whole.
“Things are going pretty well for me and I think we’re going to start doing a lot better as a team,” Nugent-Hopkins predicted, looking ahead to home games tonight and Saturday versus the Portland Winterhawks and Chilliwack Bruins.
While his future burns bright — he’s regarded as a top-three prospect for the 2011 NHL entry draft — Nugent-Hopkins is not the complete package.
“Like all young players he has things to learn in his own end of the rink,” said Wallin. “But he’s very willing to learn. He’s willing to get involved physically . . . he’ll take a hit to make a play and he’ll go into the high-traffic areas.
“Sometimes he gets in trouble down low, but all young guys do. But I like his willingness to play down there, his willingness to backcheck and compete in his own end. Good players know that if they compete in their own end they’ll have the puck more, and he’s a guy who certainly wants to have the puck.”
And when he does gain control of the puck in future games, Nugent-Hopkins has some changes in mind regarding his occasional propensity for rushing shots and missing the target.
“I think that I need to start shooting better and passing harder. I have to make quicker decisions,” he stated.
Nugent-Hopkins should be a lock for Team Pacific for this year’s World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, although — after skipping the B.C. evaluation camp — he won’t discuss his relationship with Hockey Canada or the possibility of playing in the international tournament, set for Dec. 29-Jan. 4 in Timmins, Ont.
l Rebels sniper Landon Ferraro will miss the weekend games with a lingering knee injury. Ferraro was in Detroit this week where the Red Wings doctors examined the joint.
Meanwhile, winger Connor Redmond will return to the Red Deer lineup after sitting out six games with a shoulder injury.