- Ken Hitchcock: “My opinion on Nugent-Hopkins has changed … last summer I thought he reminded me of Joe Sakic, but it’s Pavel Datsyuk now. He strips people of the puck, he’s crafty in high-traffic areas, he dishes well, he’s got great patience with the puck.”
- NHL Central Scouting’s B.J. MacDonald: “(Nugent-Hopkins) has very good puck-handling capabilities. His on-ice awareness is very good. He’s one of those guys that knows where everyone is and where they should be and where the puck should go . . . He can dish both right or left, either on his backhand or forehand with that kind of vision. But not just the vision, but the fact he can lay that puck between the skate boot and the skate blade — that’s hard to find.”
- NHL Central Scouting’s Peter Sullivan: “A couple of people high up — and not naming names — said Hopkins has the best vision since No. 99 (Wayne Gretzky). That’s the highest compliment you can get. But the other thing is the way he competes. He never takes a night off and he works as hard in his own end as he does in the offensive zone and that takes a special player with a special set of skills to do that.” ither one of those two guys (in ability), that’s a pretty good thing.”
- Redline Report: Nugent-Hopkins has the highest offensive upside and is the most potent playmaker of the bunch. He’ll struggle to handle the physicality of the NHL over a grueling 82-game season since his current walking around weight is a slightly built 163 pounds. But he is gritty and willing to battle in traffic and stand up for himself, so he’ll eventually get there. One thing he has shown is a consistent ability to elevate his game at the biggest moments.
TSN (Grant McCagg): Had a slow start in terms of goal production, including going goalless in 13 games in October, but ended the 2010-11 season with 17 goals in his final 20 games after being cut from Canada’s U-20 team. Strengths - high end skills, including amazing vision and agility. Quick elusive skater with superb edges. Soft hands and creative puck handler. Solid work ethic and character. Weaknesses - Needs to add some muscle to compete with NHL defencemen in tight quarters. More of a playmaker than a goal scorer, although he began showing more finish at season’s end. NHL Upside - first-line center who draws comparisons to Pavel Datsyuk in terms of style.
Kirk Luedeke: Outstanding skater with explosive burst, top-end speed, excellent lateral agility and superb edgework. Shifty, with quick feet and the ability to accelerate rapidly over short spaces. Elite stickhandler; can make any play at top speed or in traffic when there isn’t much time or space. Soft touch on the puck for on-target passes. Can thread the needle through a maze of skates and sticks to hit the open man. Lightning release with a bullet shot that is accurate. Will pick corners at will. Hides his release point well and confounds goalies with his ability to get the puck on net from just about anywhere. Off-the-charts hockey sense- puck follows him around the ice. Always in the middle of the action and makes quick cuts to open up room for his linemates. The most creative player in the draft and a deadly scorer with the man advantage. Makes everyone around him better. Leads by example with his hustle and work ethic. Never quits on the play. Will initiate contact and not afraid to take the hit to make the play. Good character kid- wants to be a leader and has game-breaking ability to put his team on his shoulders at any given time.
The other thing about RNH that we weren’t absolutely clear about last winter: he’s a complete player type. Ridiculous offensive ability owing mostly to insane creativity. He just sees stuff that others don’t see. He also has a great work ethic getting back on the play, and makes heady plays in all three zones with or without the puck.
- Tom Renney in October: “He’s doing a good job. On top of his points, our defensive structure isn’t lost on him.” 18-year olds from the WHL don’t often get that kind of rating from an NHL coach. Don’t be fooled by the lack of hypberbole–that’s an NHL coach telling you the kid is soaking things up and then going out there and delivering. Music!
- Steve Tambellini: “I think he’s played well right from Day 1 of the regular season. People are focusing on the production and that’s obvious, but I think what the coaching staff was impressed about right from rookie camp is his intelligence in the defensive zone. To play centre, that position in the NHL as a young person is quite a task at times.”
- Brent Sutter: “He’s a very level-headed young man. He handles everything really well — very grown, very mature for his age. I’m happy for him. He’s a good young man, he’s a great young man, and that’s what makes him unique, too. Special player, special kid.”
THE WHO, BY NUMBERS
- RNH’s 2.41/60 at 5×5 ranks him 79th among NHL forwards who have played 5 games or more. Jonathan Toews had a 2.17/60 number at 5×5 during his rookie season, so RNH seems to be on a solid path. Although Toews was older than RNH as a rookie, their styles (C’s with a nice range of skills) are similar enough for the comparable to have some merit despite the 12 month difference in age.
- RNH’s 8.34/60 at 5×4 ranks him 16th among NHL forwards who have played 10 games or more. Now that’s an insane number, but the fact that the Oilers are using him as a major option for dishing on the PP–AND that his beautiful passes are being cashed by linemates–is an astounding portion of this early season. Rookies take a long time to impact NHL powerplays. Jonathan Toews 4.29/60 at 5×5 in his rookie season would seem to be a good “line in the sand” by season’s end.
NHL teams are aware of RNH with his ability to make plays. He has been the target of opposition teams with hits and intimidation and it’s very difficult for coach Renney to keep him protected on the road. In Dallas the other night, Brendan Morrow spent enormous amounts of time focusing on the rookie, at one point attempting a check at the blueline that backfired (and apparently injured the much bigger Dallas forward).
After 20 games, he’s one of the Oiler players other clubs target. Perhaps that’s the biggest compliment of all.