ST. PAUL, Minn. | A year ago the Edmonton Oilers stepped to the podium at the NHL draft and took Taylor Hall first overall. Hall was back on the stage Friday night, but he wasn’t the man in the spotlight.
That distinction belonged to center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, whom the Oilers made the No. 1 pick at Xcel Energy Center. He’ll join Hall and the rest of Edmonton’s young nucleus.
“Before the draft it kinda went through my head, just in case,” Nugent-Hopkins said.
Unlike previous years, there was no consensus top pick. Adam Larsson and Gabriel Landeskog (pick No. 2 to Colorado) were the other top prospects in this draft.
But Nugent- Hopkins, who played for the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League last season, was the choice. He was WHL rookie of the year after putting up 24 goals and 41 assists.
“(Nugent-Hopkins) has very good puck-handling capabilities. His on-ice awareness is very good. He’s one of those guys that knows where everyone is and where they should be and where the puck should go,” NHL Central Scouting’s B.J. MacDonald said. “He can dish both right or left, either on his backhand or forehand with that kind of vision. But not just the vision, but the fact he can lay that puck between the skate boot and the skate blade – that’s hard to find.”
Peter Sullivan of Central Scouting said some consider Nugent-Hopkins’ vision the best in hockey since Wayne Gretzky.
On Thursday, Nugent-Hopkins said he embraced expectations like that. Now, as the No. 1 pick in 2011, he’ll get the chance to live up to lofty ones.