Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 3/22/12

NASHVILLE – Before the season there were doubts as to whether Edmonton Oilers rookie – and first overall selection in the 2011 draft – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be NHL-ready. As his first season winds down, he has left no doubt in the minds of his teammates and players around the league that he has all the makings of becoming an elite player – if he isn’t already.

If there was one reason for the doubters in relation to his readiness for the greatest league in the world, it was due to Nugent-Hopkins’ size; the 18-year-old stands at 6’1”, 175 pounds. Despite missing 20 games with a shoulder injury, his rookie season has been better than many expected.

“He’s a smaller guy, but he’s tenacious,” said Ryan Smyth, one of the handful of veterans that have helped Nugent-Hopkins’ transition from the WHL to the NHL. “The thing is, he’s like a sponge and wants to learn more and be better as a pro. Just observing and watching, that’s how you’re going to learn. He’s a prime example of that, for sure.”

Nugent-Hopkins has 45 points through 53 games and is in contention for the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL’s top rookie at the end of the season.

“His ability to do what he did at junior at this level has impressed me, in respect to navigating the NHL game and still being effective as a puck-mover and playmaker,” Oilers head coach Tom Renney said.

When you ask his peers what impresses them the most about ‘RNH’, as most refer to him, they say it’s his vision.

“He’s got great vision, man,” raved Smyth, who first broke into the league in 1994 at 19 years of age. “He’s probably one of the better players I’ve seen as far as vision goes… next to Gretzky. I’m not trying to compare the two, but he’s an elite player and there’s something special about him.”

Oilers winger Jordan Eberle added, “He sees the ice incredibly and gets in the right spots to make the right play. The big knock against him was his size, but his smarts have overcome that.”

Nugent-Hopkins, who mentioned faceoffs as his biggest adjustment at this level, has played much of the season alongside fellow youngsters Taylor Hall (currently concussed) and Eberle. They make for a dynamic trio and will only get better with age – which is hard to fathom.

“It’s a lot of fun playing with them,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better start [to my career]. I’ve gotten lucky to be able to play with so many great players. When the three of us are playing together it’s been pretty fun.”

The standout rookie also mentioned that Hall and Eberle have helped him off the ice, too, since they were recently in his same situation.

“It has definitely helped. It’s real easy to talk to them and get a feel for things. Right when I came to the team they were two guys I relied on to help me through everything,” Nugent-Hopkins said.

Eberle said of ‘RNH’, “He marvels you every night.”

The quick jump to the NHL for a teenager can be tough – not only on the ice, but off of it as well. On top of his near point-per-game production, Nugent-Hopkins has also done well in adjusting to the NHL life.

“He’s got the wherewithal to understand the rigors of the schedule. He’s a very focused young fella and shows good judgment. He takes really good care of himself,” Renney said.

Smyth added, “What really catches my eye is – whether it’s lunches or on the plane, he waits for the other guys to go through. He’s very observing that way and very respectful.”

Nugent-Hopkins has been living with Ryan Jones and rooming with him away from home. Guys like Smyth and team captain Shawn Horcoff have taken ‘RNH’ under his wing off the ice, inviting him over for dinner and making him feel as much as a part of the team as everyone else.

“I didn’t really know what to expect coming into the NHL, but it’s definitely been a lot of fun and every day I try to learn something new,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “The team I came to is great with so many young guys, but the veteran players help lead us.”

There’s no doubt that Nugent-Hopkins is a special player, proving everyone why the Oilers selected him first overall last summer.

“The arrow is pointing up for this young fella,” Renney said. “He’s just going to keep getting better and better.”

Photo credit: Getty Images

The worst players to play pickup basketball with
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Report: Dez Bryant expected to play in Week 8

Jay Cutler cleared to return from thumb injury

Report: Geno Smith likely suffered torn ACL

Report: 49ers willing to trade LT Joe Staley

Report: Rockets management worked to cut Howard’s minutes


WATCH: Cardinals, Seahawks trade missed chip shot OT field goals in worst game ever

Gronk giggles like a school boy thinking of 69th career touchdown

WATCH: Stafford connects with Boldin for game-winning TD

Ryan Fitzpatrick: Benching from Jets inspired me

Geno Smith leaves game with apparent knee injury

Report: Doctors concerned Bridgewater may not come back

Week 8 in college football as explained by Elton John

Three reasons why the Cleveland Indians could win (or lose) the World Series

Good, bad, and ugly from Week 7

Can Oilers' amazing start last?

WATCH: MLS player got a yellow card for twerking

Rock Band Rivals review: Score hunting

The NBA vets we're going to miss in 2016-2017 season

Tyrann Mathieu irritated over lack of offense for Cardinals

Four-star recruit on Notre Dame: Talking to Kelly ‘wasn’t fun’

Five best hockey fights from Week 2 in the NHL

Who and what is hot and cold to start the NHL season?

With Game 6 looming, Kershaw not defined by inaccurate image

NHL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Week 8 in college football as explained by Elton John

Three reasons why the Indians could win (or lose) the World Series

Good, bad, and ugly from Week 7

Rock Band Rivals review: Score hunting

The NBA vets we're going to miss in 2016-2017 season

Who and what is hot and cold to start the NHL season?

With Game 6 looming, Kershaw is not defined by inaccurate image

Best games to watch in Week 8 of CFB and the rest of the season

Five most interesting NBA players who don’t play for the Warriors or Cavs

Indians go from overlooked to potential World Series favorites

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Follow Yardbarker