We all had a pretty good idea the Edmonton Oilers were going to be hanging on to their first overall draft pick from the 2011 entry draft, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The fact that they made it official comes as a surprise to roughly no one.
RNH leads the Oilers in points, with 9 in 9 games, and has terrific chemistry with his other two fantastic young linemates, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
As someone who played the game long enough to know that some professional hockey players are remarkably big and strong, I’ve spent some time trying to figure out how an 18 year old kid who’s 175 pounds(!) could possibly be successful in the NHL right now.
The question pertains more to 5 on 5 play – strength is obviously not a crucial factor in being successful on the powerplay, but he’s getting it done 5-on-5 too (7 of 9 points).
It’s a difficult question to answer. I was slight when I played (185 lbs.), and it’s not that I struggled with constantly getting rocked or anything, it was just the little things – a guy gets a hand on you for a shove, say. If you’re strong, you don’t budge. I was constantly set off course, slowed on my way to get where I needed to be offensively. When guys would sneak in a hook I’d basically come to a standstill. How does this kid do it?
I spoke with an Edmonton Oilers scout about this, who explained it like this to me:
Basically, RNH is so smart and savvy that he doesn’t put himself in those situations. He may struggle to fight through some hooks and holds, but when he’s creating – which is what they want him to do – he’s about finding the soft spots, puck distribution, and evasiveness. He’s not going to create his offense by winning puck battles, or muscling his way to the net, or getting body position and banging home a rebound. If he does get a rebound goal, it’ll be the lurky kind on the back door. He’s too smart to play in traffic.
My understanding is that RNH is still effective at the weight of large dog because he thinks his way around the rink, instead of doing it as guys like Taylor Hall or Alex Ovechkin try to, by being bigger, faster, more powerful and so on. Both ways are effective, but for Nugent-Hopkins, those things are less relevant to his being an offensive presence.
He was always going to stay with the big club. It was his spot to lose, not win. He was never going to get plowed, because he’s smart enough to know when to avoid being where.
And he’s a little jerk for it too – why weren’t we blessed with a hockey mind like that?