Young star cherishes choice of two dreams
Ryan puts suiting up with the Oilers first
By Vicki Hall, Postmedia News; Calgary Herald
August 4, 2011 4:03 AM
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins says he's been trying to put on weight since NHL guys are bigger andstronger.
Photograph by: Getty Images, Postmedia News; Calgary Herald
Keen to the concerns of his new fan base, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins answered the inevitable question before it was even asked Tuesday after touching down at Edmonton International Airport.
"I've put on some weight," said Nugent-Hopkins, who the Edmonton Oilers selected with the first overall pick in June's NHL entry draft, as fans scurried around to snap pictures. "I definitely feel like I've gained a lot of strength. I feel like my game is starting to improve a lot.
"A lot of work in the gym. A lot of work on the ice."
That work will either pay off for the Oilers or Canada's entry at the IIHF world junior hockey championship. Nugent-Hopkins and 46 other hopefuls hit the ice Wednesday afternoon at Rexall Place for the first session of the five-day Canadian national junior team summer camp.
Truth be told, Nugent-Hopkins would rather be on the road with the Oilers when Canada opens round-robin play Dec. 26.
"Obviously, both things are dreams come true," he said. "It's a dream come true to get another chance to play at world juniors and to play in the NHL.
"My goal is to make the Oilers, but if I do get the chance to play for Team Canada, it's going to be incredible."
Nugent-Hopkins' added weight is crucial to him suiting up for the Oilers this fall. As a start with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, he played with 160 to 165 pounds on his lanky sixfoot frame.
And today? "I'm at like 175 right now," he said.
Every day, Nugent-Hopkins climbs on the scale at the gym in his hometown of Burnaby and waits for the verdict.
"Obviously, in the NHL the guys are bigger and stronger, so you do have to put some weight on - put some strength on. But more important than putting weight on is putting strength on and being more stable on my skates."
Team Canada head coach Don Hay can only wait for the Oilers to issue the Nugent-Hopkins verdict this fall. The slick playmaker is expected to stick around for the first nine games of the NHL regular season for an audition. If the Oilers dress him for 10 games, he officially eats up a year of eligibility toward unrestricted free agency.
Every summer, Hockey Canada invites a handful of players with a chance to suit up the following season in the NHL. This year, Nugent-Hopkins has plenty of company in Erik Gudbranson (Florida Panthers), Ryan Johansen (Columbus Blue Jackets), Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers), Devante Smith-Pelly (Anaheim Ducks), Sean Couturier (Philadelphia) and Boone Jenner (Blue Jackets.)
But Nugent-Hopkins is a special case. Some scouts have openly wondered if he might be the most purely skilled forward to come out of the WHL since Joe Sakic in 1988.
Oilers fans are salivating over the possibility of a dream line with Nugent-Hopkins in the between Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
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