1. LC Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Red Deer (WHL)
DOB: Apr. 12/93 | Shoots: L | Height: 6.00 | Weight: 164lbs Midterm Rank: 3 | League Rank: 1st WHL | Country Rank: 1st Canada
After a spectacular rookie season in which he won the WHL rookie of the year award for putting up 65 points in 67 games while quarterbacking the Red Deer powerplay, Nugent-Hopkins came into the season as a legitimate top 5 prospect for the 2011 NHL entry draft. He also had the hopes of an entire league on his shoulders as the WHL has been waiting 15 years since the last time one of its players was chosen 1st overall at the NHL draft (Chris Phillips in 1996).
This past year, Nugent-Hopkins has done everything he could to live up to the hype. After dominating the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka U18 Tournament in August where he both led Canada in scoring and scored the tournament-winning goal, Nugent-Hopkins returned for a second full season in Red Deer. There, he improved upon his rookie season by tallying 31 goals, 75 assists and 106 points, good enough for a 3rd place tie in league scoring. After the Rebels lost out of the 2nd round of the WHL playoffs, Nugent-Hopkins was free to focus on off-season training and the NHL combine where he looked to have impressed.
Nugent-Hopkins has astute vision and is a premier powerplay talent. He easily led the WHL in powerplay assists with his vision and ability to make tape-to-tape saucer passes through traffic. Nugent-Hopkins is very good at maintaining possession of the puck and his passes rarely result into turnovers.
While known to be a primarily a playmaker and knocked by critics earlier in the season for not being able to finish, Nugent-Hopkins proved he is a capable goal scorer as well when he scored 15 goals over a 11 game stretch from the end of the regular season through the 1st round of the playoffs. It was during this late season stretch that Nugent-Hopkins played some of his best hockey of the season dominating opponents to a tune of 28 points over those 11 games.
While currently lacking breakaway speed, Nugent-Hopkins can still be considered one of the better skaters available in the draft. He is extremely agile and his ability to change direction and stop and start quickly makes him very elusive.
His ability to evade checks and control the puck in tight quarters is among the best in the entire draft. While Nugent-Hopkins needs to improve upon his even-strength offensive production (only 47 of his 106 points were not powerplay points), he is still able to contribute at even strength and he can be relied upon on the defensive side of the puck as well. Nugent-Hopkins finished with a +29 on an offensively starved Rebels team. Nugent-Hopkins’ vision and awareness have made him very capable at forcing turnovers especially in the offensive and neutral zones.
Pros: Highly skilled, has tremendous vision and hockey sense. Very elusive.
Cons: Lack of top-end speed and size. Even-strength production could be better.
Skill-set comparison: A cross between Ales Hemsky and Pavel Datsyuk