Ryan Nugent-Hopkins gets grilled by the media a day before the NHL draft. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS – There has been a lot of speculation that the Florida Panthers are trying to swap picks with the Edmonton Oilers in an effort to get Nugent-Hopkins first overall.
The move makes some sense on the surface. The Oilers would get a roster player, perhaps Stephen Weiss, and would likely still be able to get Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson third overall. All indications are the Colorado Avalanche will not let Gabriel Landeskog go past them at No. 2.
But as of Thursday afternoon, Panthers GM Dale Tallon said it was looking very much like the Oilers would be hanging onto the pick.
“I think we’ll be picking at No. 3 and (the Oilers) will be picking at No. 1,” Tallon said. “Steve (Oilers GM Tambellini) and I have talked because we’ve known each other for a long time. If the Oilers were going to move that pick, I’d love to talk to them about it. I would sure be disappointed if I showed up at the draft and they had traded that pick to somebody else.”
The new Winnipeg franchise has shed almost all of its ties to the Atlanta Thrashers, but will be relying heavily on the Thrashers scouting staff to get it through this year’s draft.
The former Thrashers have a new GM in Kevin Cheveldayoff, a new assistant in Craig Heisinger and a new coach when they name Claude Noel to the post, but will leave all decisions in the draft to head scout Marcel Comeau. As far as Thrashers scouts are concerned, director of player personnel Dan Marr and scout Grant Sonier have been let go.
“The Atlanta scouts are the guys who put in the time and the effort all winter and they’re the ones with the knowledge,” Heisinger said. “We’ve met with everybody and we’re very comfortable with what we’re inheriting and we’re going to move forward with them.”
Heisinger said both he and Cheveldayoff asked Comeau to guide them through this year’s draft and added: “I would assume we’re not going to overrule (Comeau) in any way, shape or form. Everybody’s aware of what we think we need and what our strategy should be to fill those needs.”
Heisinger doesn’t think there will be any more bloodletting in the scouting department after the draft, but there’s little doubt both he and Cheveldayoff will want to fortify things by hiring a head amateur and pro scout.
“We have to work through the infrastructure and there’s a lot of work to do there,” Heisinger said. “We’ve made the changes we thought were necessary to get us to this point and through July 1 and then hopefully by July 5 or so we’ll have our legs under us and we’ll be able to stand back and reassess where we are.”
Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and former Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay, who has been told he won’t be retained by Winnipeg, were huddled at a table Thursday morning at a Minneapolis restaurant in what looked very much like a job interview.
But Babcock said later that was not the case and Ramsay will not be joining the Red Wings staff as an assistant.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people, but I’m not close to making a decision,” Babcock said. “If you wrote that (Ramsay would be offered a job), you would be wrong.”
There has been speculation Babcock, who has been given the full power to hire his own assistants by GM Ken Holland, already offered a job to Ken Hitchcock, but was turned down.
Top prospect Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said when he does finally get picked in the NHL draft Friday night, he’ll hug the person who’s closest to him first. Chances are that will be his father Roger, whose battle to see this day come to reality has been every bit as difficult and arduous as his son’s.
Eight years ago, Roger Hopkins was working as a coffee salesman when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Ryan knew something was wrong with his father because of all the time he had to spend in the hospital, but both of his parents managed to keep the seriousness of the illness from Ryan and his brother until years after Roger had been cured of the disease.
But Roger Hopkins, who’s described as retired, has not been able to work since then.
“Nobody wants to hear that about their dad,” Nugent-Hopkins said Thursday afternoon. “But he battled through it. I knew he was sick, but he never told us what it was. My parents didn’t want to upset us too much, so they told us when we were older. Both of my parents have gone through a lot and I owe everything to them.”
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.