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Edmonton Oilers must deal with weighty issue of Ryan-Nugent Hopkins bulking up

Aug 28, 2011, 6:18 PM EDT

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While most pundits approved of the Edmonton Oilers’ decision to make Ryan-Nugent Hopkins the top pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, many believe that he might not be ready for the big time until the 2012-13 season. One of the main reasons why people feel that way is his size; RNH weighed in at just 161 lbs. during the beginning of the 2010-11 season, according to the Edmonton Journal.

Jim Matheson wonders if the promising prospect responded to those questions a bit excessively being that he’s reportedly weighing in around 175 lbs. now. It’s hard to fault him for bulking up with the hopes of making an immediate jump to the NHL, but Matheson is among those who wonder if he’s overdoing it. Sam Gagner compared the difference to “skating with a 10-pound vest.”

RNH scored two late goals in the first Red-White scrimmage at Rexall Place with one bullet shot and another quick move, showing some of his obvious magic but he didn’t stand out in the five-day camp.  Maybe we’re expecting too much from the kid? Maybe RNH would be better at 165 than 175, for now. Would that be a problem? It shouldn’t be.

As Gagner said this week, his buddy Patrick Kane was 161 pounds when training before he joined the Blackhawks. He’s bigger than that now but 95 percent of NHLers are larger than Kane who almost never gets hit. Same for local boy Tyler Ennis, who has some dazzling moves, in Buffalo.

GM Steve Tambellini is saying all the right things about bringing him along at the right speed, so hopefully the Oilers will be careful with their second consecutive top overall pick. As Matheson wrote, RNH’s perceived sluggishness could have as much do with his busy summer schedule as his weight gain, and it might just be a matter of him getting accustomed to playing at a higher weight.

Ultimately, the team and the player are justified in taking their time to gauge his ideal playing weight – even if that amount is lower than what is considered the “ideal” amount – and move on from there. The NHL has seen many success stories with smaller players, from undersized and unorthodox goalie like Tim Thomas to fellow smallish forwards such as Martin St. Louis and Kane. Talent and drive ultimately matter more than a player’s dimensions.

Don’t get me wrong; Nugent-Hopkins is justified in trying to add some weight to his frame, but if it comes at the cost of his elusiveness or confidence, then he should drop back to a more comfortable level. It just seems like sports teams occasionally make the mistake of asking an athlete to make fundamental changes to their game after they’ve had success for years; just look at how seemingly every NFL team messes with a quarterback’s mechanics in their 20′s. That way of thinking doesn’t have the greatest success rate.

In the end it’s up to the Oilers and RNH to handle this situation properly. If they find the right balance, the Oilers might just be on a similar track as teams like Kane’s Chicago Blackhawks, a franchise that went from the NHL’s cellar to becoming an elite squad full of talented young players.

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