It was quite fitting. Center was clearly the coveted position as player after player came off the board.
Nugent-Hopkins was the first to go Friday night, starting a run of pivots with six of the first eight selections. Then came the defensemen, with six being chosen in the top 14. After that came a couple of eyebrow-raising trades.
Nugent-Hopkins, the first Western Hockey League player to be drafted first since 1996, has been raising eyebrows at the junior level for a while. The Oilers, slotted first overall for the second straight year, selected the slick passer from the Red Deer Rebels. The 18-year-old center led the WHL last season with 75 assists, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll be the next great player for the Oilers.
Edmonton took left wing Taylor Hall No. 1 in 2010, and Nugent-Hopkins could eventually find himself on a line with him. The first British Columbian to be taken first overall in the NHL draft, Nugent-Hopkins has already spoken with Hall.
“He was so great to talk to. Everything looks good right now,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “He just said, ‘Enjoy this whole experience. You’re going to be nervous and stuff, but try to enjoy it as much as you can.’”
As for their chemistry?
“I guess we’ll never know until we get on the ice together, but hopefully we do. I can see it working,” Nugent-Hopkins said.
To get there, Nugent-Hopkins has to bulk up. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 164 pounds, he said this week he’s added 10 pounds to that total since the end of his junior season and plans to pack on five more.
“Steak and potatoes, mostly,” he said when asked about his diet. “Just trying to put some weight on.”
Nugent-Hopkins said he’s heard general manager Steve Tambellini is in “no rush” to bring him to Edmonton.
“If I do go back to junior, I won’t be disappointed at all,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “It’ll be a great opportunity for us as Red Deer as a team to hopefully get to the Memorial Cup. Personally, it’ll be a good development year for me, too. But my goal right now is to make the Oilers.”
The remaining rounds, two through seven, will take place on Saturday.
The home fans will return happy, after the Minnesota Wild drew roars from the crowd following the announcement of their big deal with the San Jose Sharks. The Wild sent All-Star defenseman Brent Burns and their 2012 second-round pick to the Sharks, and they received a pair of forwards Devin Setoguchi, a former 30-goal scorer, and Charlie Coyle, a first-round pick last year; plus another first-round pick this year, 28th overall.
Setoguchi had just agreed to a three-year, $9 million-deal on Thursday.