Welcome to WHL Alumni of the Week, a 22-part series focusing on a key alumni from each of the 22 WHL member Clubs. Each week, these pieces will look at some of the top moments of their career in the WHL and their transition into the professional hockey ranks or into Canada West play via the use of their WHL Scholarship. Check in on Wednesday of each week to catch up with an alumni of note from around the WHL!
From first overall at the 2008 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft to first overall at the 2011 NHL Draft and beyond, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has thrived in the province of Alberta with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels and NHL’s Edmonton Oilers.
During the 2008-09 WHL Regular Season, Nugent-Hopkins made his WHL debut against the Seattle Thunderbirds on November 7, 2008. Later in the season, he’d impress for his hometown crowd, scoring his first goal on January 23, 2009 as the Rebels played host to the Calgary Hitmen.
Making a 23-improvement in the standings for the Rebels during the 2009-10 WHL Regular Season, Nugent-Hopkins helped to power that success by finishing second in team scoring with 65 points (24G-41A) in 67 games.
Splitting his goal total evenly between home and away games, Nugent-Hopkins scored in his first three games of the season and notched the first hat trick of his WHL career on October 2, 2009 against the Brandon Wheat Kings. That hat trick would ignite a six-game point streak, his longest of the season, with him recording 10 points (5G-5A) throughout that span.
Already impressing on the WHL level, Nugent-Hopkins had the chance to shine internationally for Canada Pacific at the 2009 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge with five points (1G-4A) in five games.
Returning to the Rebels for the 2010 side of the campaign, Nugent-Hopkins tallied 29 points (7G-22A) through to the end of the regular season. That also tied him with Landon Ferraro for the team scoring lead during that period as well. Helping mark his team’s return to the WHL Playoffs in 2010, Nugent-Hopkins tallied a pair of assists over a series loss to the Saskatoon Blades.
His performance over the second half of the regular season helped to confirm him as the recipient of the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as WHL Rookie of the Year, setting the stage for big things to come from the young Burnaby, B.C. product.
After helping Canada claim gold at the 2010 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Nugent-Hopkins had big expectations on his shoulders for the 2010-11 WHL Regular Season.
He did more than deliver to those expectations, posting 106 points (31G-75A) in 69 games to rank in a tie for third in WHL scoring with Mark Stone from the Wheat Kings. One of just four players to surpass the 100-point plateau that season, Nugent-Hopkins led the WHL in assists, power-play assists, and was tied for fourth with nine game-winning goals.
Like he had done during his rookie season, he again scored in his first three games. However, this performance was part of an eight-game point streak, recording 14 points (2G-12A) to start the season on a roll.
Adding to his total, Nugent-Hopkins further confirmed his case for the first-overall selection with a 10-game point streak from January 23 to February 12, 2011, recording 27 points (7G-20A) in that span. That streak included a career-high six-point game for the 17-year-old at the time, with him picking up three goals and three assists in an 8-1 home win over the Moose Jaw Warriors on February 4, 2011.
Leading the Rebels to a 21-point gain in the standings, they captured the WHL’s Central Division title and made quick work of the Edmonton Oil Kings in the first round of the 2011 WHL Playoffs. Nugent-Hopkins led off the series with a four-point performance in the first game and tallied nine points (4G-5A) over the four-game set.
Though the Rebels would eventually fall in the next round, ending Nugent-Hopkins’ WHL career, his totals remain impressive to this day. Recording 177 points (57G-120A) in 141 WHL regular season games, including 23 power-play goals and 12 game-winning goals, his quick rise as an offensive star in the league turned plenty of heads.
He also recorded 13 points (4G-9A) in 13 WHL playoff games, including one power-play goal and two game-winning goals.
That June, Nugent-Hopkins officially became a member of the Edmonton Oilers and has thrived since. Posting 443 points (169G-274A) in 604 NHL regular season games, he ranks third in games played by his draft class and fifth in points, two points shy of third in that scoring race.
From his time in Red Deer to moving up the road to Edmonton and the NHL ranks, the 26-year-old Nugent-Hopkins continues to be a key part of the offensive attack for the Oilers in the present and future.