After a two-month layoff, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ extended hockey season resumed Friday at the Red Deer Arena.
“Yeah, I’ve played a lot of hockey this year. But it’s been fun and it’s exciting to get back to Red Deer, for sure,” the Rebels’ first-round pick — No. 1 overall — in the 2008 bantam draft said at the conclusion of the first of three on-ice sessions constituting the Western Hockey League club’s fourth annual spring camp for prospects 15 and 16 years of age.
Nugent-Hopkins ran away with the BC Major Midget Hockey League scoring title during the 2008-09 season as a member of the eventual champion Vancouver Northwest Giants and also collected six points, including two goals, in five games with the Rebels.
The multi-talented centre led the Giants into the Pacific Region final against the Calgary Buffaloes in Burnaby, a hard-fought three-game series that ended in the visitors’ favour.
“It was an awesome season. We won provincials, which was a great feat, but it’s too bad we had to lose to the Buffaloes, the same team that beat us in the final of the (Calgary) Mac’s tournament,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who was the MVP of the annual Christmas tournament.
“I think we gave them all they could handle and if we’d pushed a little harder we might have been able to take the series.”
The 16-year-old future WHL star will likely run into “four or five” of his Giants teammates playing with various clubs during the 2009-10 season, and he’s anxiously awaiting for August and the start of training camp.
“For sure, it can’t come soon enough, but it’s going to be a lot of hard work in the meantime,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “I’ll be going to the gym a lot and be on the ice a lot during the summer. I just have to try and improve my game so I can compete at the next level.”
Nugent-Hopkins, whose summer schedule will include weight training and plyometrics, doesn’t have to worry about “competing” next season. His berth on the team is guaranteed and his vast array of talents — which were on display during the four-on-four and later three-on-three drills Friday — should translate into some impressive rookie numbers.
The Burnaby native stood out during the first day of the spring prospects camp, and while he was basically in a league of his own, he was surrounded by plenty of burgeoning talent among the collection of 26 drafted and listed players.
“I think this is the most skilled group we’ve had in the four years we’ve been doing this,” said Rebels head coach Jesse Wallin. “We have some defencemen who can skate and up front we have some guys who can make plays, show creativity and really handle the puck at top speed. I thought it was a pretty good day.”
Wallin was impressed, but not surprised, by the performance of Nugent-Hopkins and fellow 16-year-old forward Daulton Siwak, who’s also expected to earn a regular spot next fall.
“Obviously, ‘Hoppy’ looked real good, as did Siwak, as you’d expect,” said Wallin, adding forwards Tyson Ness and Nikolas Olsson and rearguards Matt Pufahl and Mathew Dumba to the list of players who caught his eye. “I didn’t think anyone looked out of place. I was really impressed with a number of them.”
Mostly, Wallin was intrigued by the obvious improvements and overall changes shown by various players, including Nugent-Hopkins and Siwak.
“Both of them have grown about an inch and a half since a year ago. Daulton is over 180 pounds now and ‘Hoppy’ has gained about 15 pounds. It’s neat to see that progression and how they’ve changed over the course of a year,” said the coach.
• Lucas Grayson, a defenceman from Port Hardy, B.C., who was selected in this year’s bantam draft, suffered a leg injury Friday and will be replaced in camp by list player Luke Madill, a 17-year-old local . . . Olsson, a forward from Escondido, Calif., and another 2009 draft pick, was a surprise participant Friday. Olsson had informed Rebels president Brent Sutter that he wouldn’t be attending the spring camp but would be at main camp in August, but showed up at the last minute . . . Today’s session is scheduled for 3:15-5:15 p.m. The camp will conclude with Sunday’s two-hour drill slated to start at 10:45 a.m.
Contact Greg Meachem at email@example.com