ST. PAUL, Minn. – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was picked first in a center-heavy NHL draft by the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night.
The Oilers, slotted first overall for the second straight year, selected the slick passer from the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. The 18-year-old center led the WHL last season with 75 assists.
Nugent-Hopkins is the first WHL player to be drafted first since 1996. Six of the first eight picks this year were centers. Then came a run of defensemen, with six going in the top 14. After that, came a couple of eyebrow-raising trades.
The Minnesota Wild delighted the home crowd, which roared as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced their deal with the San Jose Sharks. The Wild sent All-Star defenseman Brent Burns and their 2012 second-round pick to the Sharks.
They got back a pair of forwards Devin Setoguchi, a former 30-goal scorer, and Charlie Coyle, a first-round pick last year; plus this year’s first-round pick, 28th overall.
Chicago dealt right wing Troy Brouwer to the Washington Capitals for the 26th overall selection, giving the Blackhawks a pair of first-rounders.
The Oilers chose left wing Taylor Hall from the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL No. 1 in 2010, and Nugent-Hopkins could eventually find himself on a line with him.
To get there, Nugent-Hopkins has to bulk up. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 164 pounds, the native of British Columbia said this week he’s added 10 pounds to that total since the end of his junior season and plans to pack on five more.
“Steak and potatoes, mostly,” he said when asked about his diet. “Just trying to put some weight on.”
Nugent-Hopkins said he’s heard general manager Steve Tambellini is in “no rush” to bring him to Edmonton.
“If I do go back to junior, I won’t be disappointed at all,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “It’ll be a great opportunity for us at Red Deer as a team to hopefully get to the Memorial Cup. Personally, it’ll be a good development year for me, too.
“But my goal right now is to make the Oilers.”
The first British Columbian to be taken first overall in the NHL draft, Nugent-Hopkins has already spoken with Hall.
“He was so great to talk to. Everything looks good right now,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “He just said, ’Enjoy this whole experience. You’re going to be nervous and stuff, but try to enjoy it as much as you can.”’
The first American selection – and first college player – was defenseman Jamieson Oleksiak of Northeastern University by the Dallas Stars at No. 14. Another American, center Jonathan Miller, went 15th to the New York Rangers.
The remaining rounds, two through seven, take place today.
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