It looks like the Edmonton Oilers might reach for the Nuge at Friday’s draft.
According to Bob McKenzie of TSN, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is ranked as the NHL’s top prospect by nine out of ten scouts polled. If the Oilers’ war room decides to follow conventional wisdom and draft Nugent-Hopkins, he will join an Oilers team that is overflowing with young talent up front, including the trio of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi. In other words, the Oilers won’t have this much scoring talent assembled since, umm, 1980. Add in a possible Ryan Smyth return, and this could be one interesting team to watch next season.
For more on RNH and his skill set, check out this article I wrote back in November, when I had the chance to watch him play for the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL. Since that time, he has become the WHL’s fourth-leading scorer in 2010-11 (106 points in 69 games) while being named to the WHL’s East First All-Star Team. He was unable to earn a spot on Canada’s World Junior roster, but that didn’t stop him from being named the captain of Team Orr at the CHL Top Prospects Game in January.
The Oilers drafting Nugent-Hopkins would make perfect sense from a marketing standpoint, as he would not have to journey very far from his old hockey home to his new one (154 km north on Highway 2). But would the Oilers be better served in drafting Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson? Just as the Oilers are stockpiling at the forward position, they are also in need of serious help on the blueline. Larsson has solid size for an 18-year-old (6′3″, 200 lbs.), and he can log major minutes – possibly enough to make Oilers fans forget about Sheldon Souray, anyway. This year’s draft may not be the deepest one on record, but the Oilers can also choose from rising star and Memorial Cup MVP Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Richards-clone and supposedly NHL-ready Gabriel Landeskog, and former number one-ranked prospect Sean Couturier. Colorado (who already has a plan for the number two pick), Florida, New Jersey, and the New York Islanders will be able to grab whatever’s left of the top five picks. Don’t expect the Oilers to trade the pick, however, as it only makes sense for them to continue with the rebuild process.
What is my prediction? I say that the Nuge is handed an Oilers sweater on Friday. When the Winnipeg Whatevers pick at number seven, they may not have a sweater to hand their first-ever draft pick. As for other excitement, look for a minor deal or two on draft day, although I don’t believe there will be any blockbuster trades. July 1 should be a whole lot more interesting when it comes to players changing teams.
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