Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made provincial hockey history when he was selected first overall in the 2011 NHL entry draft in Minnesota on Friday.
The 18-year-old sensation for the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League was made the first-ever B.C. player to go No. 1 in the junior draft when Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini called his name at the Xcel Energy Center.
"It's been a whirlwind. It was a lot of fun," said an exhausted Nugent-Hopkins from Red Deer on Monday. "I'm trying to enjoy it all. You only go through it once. It's all worthwhile."
As the first player from B.C. to go first overall, Nugent-Hopkins, surpasses some all-time greats like Joe Sakic of Burnaby, claimed 15th in 1987, and Steve Yzerman, a fourth overall pick in 1983.
He also beat out another Burnaby product Ryan Walter, who along with former New Westminster Bruins blueliner Barry Beck, previously held the honour as highest second overall picks from B.C. in 1978 and '77, respectively.
In 2007, New Westminster's Kyle Turris and Karl Alzner of Burnaby were claimed third and fifth, respectively.
Other Lower Mainland products going early in the first round were Paul Kariya (4th in '93), Andrew Ladd (4th in 2004), Gilbert Brulé (6th in '05), Evander Kane (4th in '09) and Ryan Johansen, a fourth overall pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets last season.
But the biggest thrill for the likeable NHL prospect was hearing his name called and then putting on the Oilers' jersey, he said.
"It was an incredible feeling. I feel I've been waiting to put (the jersey) on for a long time," Nugent-Hopkins said.
Nugent-Hopkins tied for third in Western league scoring with 106 points, including a league-high 75 assists. He was also made the WHL rookie of the year with a 65-point major junior debut last season.
"First and foremost, it's the person that he is that really sets him apart," said Rebels head coach and vice president of hockey operations Jesse Wallin in a WHL press release. "His vision, his creativity, his intelligence and his understanding of the game, and the skill package that goes with it is what make him so special. He's got tremendous hands and passing ability, he's got a great release, he's a great skater, he's got tremendous agility. ... He's a guy who people will be comparing other players to in years to come."
Nugent-Hopkins was the first WHL prospect to be selected No. 1 since Chris Phillips of Prince Albert was chosen by the Ottawa Senators back in 1996.
The Burnaby Winter Club product was also just the eighth player to be made a first overall pick in both the NHL and WHL bantam drafts.
"It's a big honour obviously to be the first guy in the draft. Hopefully, I can represent B.C. in a good manner, but just being drafted by Edmonton is a bigger honour," said Nugent-Hopkins who has a busy summer ahead of him.
Nugent-Hopkins will be in Edmonton for his first prospect camp in a week's time. It gets even busier in August, when he has the world junior development camp and then Red Deer's main camp and Edmonton's rookie camp one after another.
It was clearly never in the cards that Tambellini would do anything with Edmonton's first-round pick other than use it to make the talented play-making centre an Oiler.
"I think Ryan prossessed a level of skill and vision that we really hadn't seen for a long time. I asked our scouts at the end of the day to come up with something that in their minds was special, and obviously the hockey world ranked him No. 1 for a reason. He's a special young man," said Tambellini on TSN television.
The Edmonton GM also added that there would be no pressure on Nugent-Hopkins to make the jump from major junior to the NHL this season, adding speculation that the Burnaby star would almost certainly be in the lineup when Team Canada goes for gold at the 2012 world junior hockey championships in January.
But Nugent-Hopkins said he has every intention of coming out of his first NHL camp as an Oiler.
"I'm going to go in there and try to make the team," he said.
Nugent-Hopkins led Canada to the gold medal with the game-winning goal against the U.S. at the under-18 Ivan Hlinka memorial tournament.
He played for Team WHL in the Subway Super Series last year, while also earning the MVP at the Top Prospects Game in Toronto.