The excuses have been flying fast and furious to try and justify saying the names Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the same breath. "He's too thin, he's too weak, he's just like Gagner, he doesn't look like he'll be a top tier NHL player, his was a weak draft". Pick your poison, whichever of these statements you may believe or have read so many times that you'd rather take it for fact than not, I beg to differ.
Here's a list of the 1st overall forward picks in the last 25 drafts followed by their best season in the NHL:
Joe Murphy 82 points in 80 games Pierre Turgeon 132 points in 83 games
Mike Modano 93 points in 76 games
Mats Sundin 114 points in 80 games
Owen Nolan 84 points in 78 games
Eric Lindros 115 points in 73 games
Alexander Daigle 51 points in 78 games
Joe Thornton 114 points in 82 games Vincent Lecavalier 108 points in 82 games
Patrick Stefan 40 points in 82 games Ilya Kovalchuk 98 points in 78 games
Rick Nash 79 points in 78 games
Alexander Ovechkin 112 points in 82 games
Sidney Crosby 120 points in 79 games
Patrick Kane 88 points in 82 games
Steven Stamkos 95 points in 82 games
John Tavares 67 points in 79 games in 2nd season
Taylor Hall 42 points in 65 games in rookie season Ryan Nugent-Hopkins TBD
Of the players listed above (besides RNH) only the players highlighted in red failed to outscore Sam Gagner's career high in points (his rookie season) in the first 2 years of their careers. In one extreme case (Patrick Stefan) the player never attained the same personal career high that one Sam Gagner reached. Taylor Hall was on pace to break Gagner's mark by 2 points (if they played the same amount of games) prior to getting injured.
Of the above list 4 players didn't hit the point per game mark in their career year, two of them will never get there (Daigle and Stefan) and two others are too young to call but look like at least even money to do so (Tavares and Hall).
I'm sure that the last quarter of a century has seen some tremendous drafts, terrible drafts, and everything in-between. Through it all all but 2 or 3 of the players listed above had/are having/will likely have tremendous careers. Unless you are of the mindset that RNH will be a complete bust, there's a hell of a lot better chance that he'll end up being middle of the pack in terms of the list above than scraping the bottom of the barrel and keeping pace with Gagner.
Sam Gagner belongs nowhere near this list unless you isolate the outright busts and compare him to them. RNH in all likelihood will be a point per game or better player at some point in his career, the same should not be said of Gagner with a straight face unless he ends up playing with an elite winger ie. Ovechkin and another good winger on the opposite wing while being spoon fed PP time on a good PP.
The last truly weak draft (2007) still yielded Patrick Kane, RNH regardless of whether he'll be better or worse than Kane will be much closer to him than he will be to Sam Gagner.Unless of course he hires Alexander Daigle as his motivational coach, Eric Lindros' dad as his agent, Patrick Stefan as his empty net goal scoring coach, and Sam Gagner as his personal strength trainer.