Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is not an easy name to forget. Even harder when you’ve actually seen him play a game. It’s not out of the ordinary to see the youngster with his name from shoulder-to-shoulder going end-to-end for the Red Deer Rebels in the WHL.
Nugent-Hopkins really came into the hockey spotlight last June following the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Immediately his name was thrown into the discussion of who would go first overall in 2011.
His stiffest competition then and still now comes from the QMJHL in the form of a 6’3″, 192-pound Drummondville Voltigeur, Sean Couturier.
“I haven’t had a chance to see Sean play yet but I’ve obviously heard he’s a really good player so just being mentioned with him is a big honor for me,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “It’s surreal for me. It’s hard to grasp still.”
Since then, other prospects have been talked about to go number one, including Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Murphy, and Adam Larsson.
But if it’s up to “RNH” as he’s known, there’ll be three names called when the first overall pick is announced this summer.
“I definitely want to go number one, it would be a huge honor and something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid watching the draft. I just really want to go to a team that wants me to play there.”
Nugent-Hopkins grew up in Burnaby, British Columbia idolizing another slick skating forward with a great set of hands and a heck of a shot. He too had three names of sort, “Burnaby” Joe Sakic.
“I grew up watching him a lot,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “I always loved watching Paul Kariya too. He played for the Burnaby Winter Club as well so I always looked up to him. Then as Jason Spezza came into the league I started watching him as well.”
But long before Sakic, Kariya and Spezza, it was his older brother Adam that RNH was at the rink watching. Nugent-Hopkins would go with his parents to his brother’s games and fell in love with hockey.
He couldn’t play his brother on the ice, but off the ice, he was using guys like Sakic and Kariya to show his brother what he wanted to become.
“As I got older I started beating him on PlayStation and he started getting mad,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “It’s kind of close now. He beat me when I was younger though.”
Years later, his brother is studying to be a personal trainer and Nugent-Hopkins is studying game film gearing up for his first World Junior Evaluation Camp.
Putting on the Hockey Canada jersey is a dream come true for many and can sometimes be intimidating in itself. Nugent-Hopkins on the other hand, has already graced the ice in the Canadian Leaf and won gold.
He scored the game winner in a 1-0 victory over the United States at the World Under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in Czech Republic. It’s definitely something he’ll never forget.
“It was kind of a breakout and my winger chipped it off the wall, their d-man pinched, the puck went by him, their forward was back checking on me and I just chipped it by him and beat him in a foot race. It was a 2-on-1 kind of thing and I saw high glove and it went in.”
No, he doesn’t remember every goal that vividly. He’d need one heck of a memory. The year he was drafted to the Red Deer Rebels, Nugent-Hopkins lit it up for his Burnaby Winter Club Bantam AAA team. He potted 119 goals, 214 points and was an absurd plus-129 in only 66 games.
Leading up to the draft, the Phoenix Coyotes have already seen enough in the slenderly built, smooth-handed Rebel that they’ve already spoken to him numerous times.
When that draft day comes, whether its Phoenix or one of the other 29 NHL teams, he won’t have to wait long for someone to say those three magical words.
What were they again?