1. Edmonton Oilers: Sean Couturier, C – Drummondville (QMJHL) – The Oilers have a choice between several top-end players; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, and Couturier are the most obvious possible selections. While the conventional wisdom suggests they’ll go with RNH – who’s considered to have the highest potential of all the 2011 draftees, I believe that the Oil will go to the early favorite for the top-spot – Couturier. At 6’4” and nearly 200 lbs., he’s got the size you want from an elite NHL forward, is physical, plays well without the puck and he’s got the hands and shot to be a top-line player. His skating isn’t above average, but it’s tough to suggest that that downfall is enough to second-guess this emerging star.
Despite failing to secure his second consecutive scoring title in the Q, Couturier owned the highest PPG total of all draft eligibles. Based on stats from the hockey blog, Blue Chip Bulletin, Couturier’s production was significantly affected by the games he lost due to contracting mononucleosis midseason. It’s conceivable his stock would be significantly higher if he’d played out those games and out-produced St. John Seadog, Huberdeau. If the Oilers have a chance to trade down to three, where Couturier might still be had – but in the end, I feel they select the safest guy who fills a distinct need for them and has the first-line scoring upside that you want from a #1 overall.
Projects at Prime as: 35-40-75 (Best-Case 40-45-95) (Worst-Case 25-35-60)
Style Compares to: Eric Staal (but less skating ability), John Tavares (but bigger), Brad Richards
Wild Card Selection – Adam Larsson – The Swedish defender fills another one of Edmonton’s pressing needs; that of a can’t-miss anchor defenseman. I would not be surprised to hear his name called first overall.
2. Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog, LW – Kitchener (OHL) – With a big, righty defensive anchor of the future already in the fold via a midseason trade (Erik Johnson), and excellent center depth, Colorado looks to grab an elite winger with the second overall pick. The choice between Huberdeau and Landeskog is a difficult one, for sure. However the Swede gets the edge due to his two-way play, physicality and leadership. He might not have the top-end point totals and puck skills Huberdeau has, but he makes up for it well. His leadership (he captained Kitchener) is well-documented, and there’s certainly no fear he might take his skills across the pond at this point.
Landeskog’s certainly won the love of scouts and fans alike, as Kirk Luedeke of Boston Bruins 2011 Draft Watch writes: “You have to look long and hard for any flaws in Landeskog’s game, and his character, intelligence and attitude are beyond his years…” Landeskog is consistently ranked top-5 in pre-draft rankings across the board and in draft blogs around the web. Have to love a guy who’s the complete package. The kid oozes intangibles.
Projects at Prime as: 30-30-60 (Best-Case 40-40-80) (Worst-Case 25-25-50)
Style Compares to: Jarome Iginla, Dustin Brown
Wild Card Selection – Jonathan Huberdeau – The Q’s leading scorer is a masterful perimeter player from the wing. It’s hard to find many pass-first wingers of his caliber, especially ones with his ability to finish.
3. Florida Panthers: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C – Red Deer (WHL) – I know I’ll get lambasted for dropping RNH so low. Here’s the skinny: RNH is a magician with the puck. Some scouts have labeled his ice-vision as Gretzky-esque. He’s got an above-average shot (more accurate than heavy) and passing ability that will undoubtedly rival the best in the game. His skating ability is definitely plus, but he’s more of a shifty, agile guy than someone with top-end speed. He might be the top talent in the entire draft, but his risk factors should make teams pause. At 6’1” – 171 lbs., he’ll be one of the lightest players in recent memory to go top-five, lighter than any player (goalie or not) taken in the top-10 in the past 20 years…by over 10 pounds. His listed weight puts him lower than any player in the NHL who played more than 2 games this season, save for waterbugs like Steve Sullivan and Tyler Ennis. It’s enough of a gap to make anyone wonder if his lanky frame will stand up to the constant assault of a NHL season. Additionally, more than 50% of RNH’s offence came from the powerplay, as compared to under 35% for Couturier. Still, Nugent-Hopkins is a very impressive prospect and is a tremendous value pick below first overall.
Projects at Prime as: 15-60-75 (Best-Case 20-80-100) (Worst-Case 10-45-55)
Style Compares to: Marc Savard, Henrik Sedin
Wild Card Selection – (None if RNH is available) Couturier – Couturier is a good value-pick here, as is Huberdeau. Don’t expect a Defenseman, as Florida is pretty stocked with quality defensive prospects.
4. New Jersey Devils: Adam Larsson, D – Skelleftea AIK (SEL) – As the top overall prospect on many draft boards, New Jersey takes the obviously talented young defenseman Larsson with the fourth overall pick. Larsson has an impressive two-way game and sees the game at a very high level, as evinced by his excellent performance as a 17-year-old among men in the Swedish Elite League. He’s got great skating ability for a D-man of his size (6’3”, 220 lbs.) and is very strong puck mover and outlet passer. He’s got an above-average point shot and outstanding hockey awareness. He’s got the potential to be an amazing, front-line two-way defenseman. He’s not a heavy checker, but he uses his size well to force turnovers and own the defensive zone. Despite having some promising defensive prospects in their system (Jon Merill and Alex Urbom in particular), Larsson should be able to step in immediately and grow into a franchise-type defender.
Projects at Prime as: 15-35-50 (Best-Case 20-45-65) (Worst-Case 10-30-40)
Style Compares to: Ray Bourque, Nick Lidstrom, a more physical Drew Doughty
Wild Card Selection – Ryan Murphy – If Lou Lamoriello is sold on the massive upside present in the Kitchener defenseman; he won’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Murphy has the talent to be an all-world transformative blue-liner, but the risk is certainly higher than the near-certainty that is Larsson.
5. New York Islanders: Dougie Hamilton, D – Niagara (OHL) – Hamilton is one of those guys who’s got it all: Size (6’4”, 190+ lbs.), offensive acumen (12-46-58 this year), decent skating ability, physical play and intelligence. He’s almost a no risk prospect, as Kirk of BB2011DB says:” [With a bust factor of l]ow to medium; Hamilton will play in the NHL; he’s too big and mobile not to at least reach that level…given his intelligence and work ethic, it’s tough to bet against him.” But some think he doesn’t have the high-end potential of Murphy or Larsson, which could push him down a few slots come draft day. The Isles snatch him up here to be their defenseman of the future, and he easily supplants Travis Hamonic as their number one defensive prospect.
His offensive outbreak this season certainly bumped his draft stock. A 42-point improvement during the regular season is impressive enough, let alone for a defenseman with solid capabilities in the d-zone. He produced at a better than point-per-game clip in the postseason. Only big issues with his game are a need for some refining of his defensive positioning and his tendency to get out-maneuvered by skilled opponents.
Projects at Prime as: 10-35-45 (Best-Case 15-45-60) (Worst-Case 5-25-30)
Style Compares to: Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo
Wild Card Selection – Sven Bartschi – The Isles have a chance to draft Nino Niederreiter’s teammate and fellow Swiss countryman, Bartschi who has the tools (but not the size) to be a star in the NHL.
6. Ottawa Senators: Mika Zibanejad, C – Djurgårdens IF (SEL) – The guy who’s rocketed up the draft boards these past few months, the Finnish-Iranian who plays in the Swedish League has all kinds of across-the-board talent. He plays a great physical game, he’s got top-end speed even though he’s more of a north-south guy than east-west. He possesses a plus shot and solid on-ice vision, is trilingual and loves to play a strong two-way game. At 6’2” and 190+, he’s got the size teams want from a top-end player, and is not afraid to use that frame to deliver impressive hits and gain leverage on the attack. While his all-around game may leave some scouts drooling, there’s certainly some buzz that his top potential doesn’t quite match some of the other high-risers on this board. That being said, he makes sense for a team looking to stock up on can’t miss plus talents, i.e.: Zibanejad.
Projects at Prime as: 25-35-60 (Best-Case 35-40-75) (Worst-Case 15-25-40)
Style Compares to: Ryan Kesler, R.J. Umburger
Wild Card Selection – Jonathan Huberdeau – Huberdeau certainly makes a lot of sense, and his production with St. John was excellent. He’d be a no-brainer if it weren’t for Zibanejad’s amazing and unexpected rise to prominence in draft-boards around North America.
7. Winnipeg Jets: Jonathan Huberdeau, C/W – St. John (QMJHL) – Huberdeau is an amazing prospect, winner of the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as Memorial Cup MVP. He tops six feet, has great hands and ice vision (though not as high-end as RNH) is an outstanding playmaker but can also finish, as evinced by his 43 goals in this Q campaign, leading all CHL draft eligibles. As Leudeke writes, he “carries himself well and exudes professionalism.” I see some issues with his playstyle translating to the pro game (he’s more of a perimeter guy who doesn’t get to the dirty areas as well as could be hoped) and his strength (he’ll need to bulk up to make the jump). But there’s no denying the talent and intelligence of this top draftee. He could certainly go higher, but because he played for such a dominant team in St. John, there are going to be those who diminish his accomplishments due to his potent teammates.
Projects at Prime as: 25-50-75 (Best-Case 35-60-95) (Worst-Case 15-45-60)
Style Compares to: Alex Tanguay, Loui Eriksson, Patrick Kane
Wild Card Selection – Ryan Murphy – The dynamic defenseman could easily be targeted by anyone in the top-9 who thinks his massive potential outweighs his innate risk factors…even with the Jets possessing a deep defensive team; Murphy’s talent is difficult to ignore.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets: Ryan Strome, C – Niagara (OHL) – Strome was another of those guys who seemed to fly up the charts as the season progressed. Not blessed with great size, it took an absolute explosion in scoring before he started showing up on the top-10 radar of draft analysts (33-73-106). He’s got top-notch skating abilities, could be one of the top three or four skaters among contenders for the first round. Strome is patient with the puck and finds the soft spot in the zone to shake defenses. His statline indicates he’s more of a playmaker, but his shot is equally impressive, and he shows elite accuracy with both the slapper and the wrist-shot. Some concerns include his size, which is underwhelming; his strength (which is mediocre at best); and his handling of the physical aspect of the game, which is extremely troubling. Strome is able to get away with not playing hard on the puck and shying away from physicality in the juniors, but many a promising prospect has fallen off the map due to not being able to handle the physical nature of the game. At 8, however his risk is mitigated entirely by the extremely impressive offensive promise he holds, and the Blue Jackets would do well to snatch him up if he’s available.
Projects at Prime as: 20-55-75 (Best-Case 25-65-90) (Worst-Case 10-45-55)
Style Compares to: Claude Giroux, Henrik Zetterberg
Wild Card Selection – Sven Bartschi – Aquiring top prospect (and 2010 #4 overall pick) Ryan Johansson’s teammate and sometime linemate, Bartschi makes some real sense for a Blue Jackets’ organization that’s looking to grow offensively.
9. Boston Bruins: Ryan Murphy, D – Kitchener (OHL) – With Zibanejad moving into the top-8, the Bruins luck into the guy who has been hyped by Bruins draft-watchers all year. The final pick in the trade with Toronto for Phil Kessel is used by Boston to select the dynamic and potent offensive defenseman. He’s lightning quick, and can create plenty of offense and space while at top speed. His shot is excellent, and he scored 24 goals from the point, tops in the CHL (tied with Nashville prospect and Windsor Spitfire, Ryan Ellis). Despite his size, (5’10” and 175 lbs.) Murphy is an adequate defender with the ability and desire to play physical, evidenced by his usage of the hip-check. He thinks the game on a very high level and will effectively quarterback the powerplay of whoever takes him.
His concussion history is enough to give teams (including the concussion-plagued Bruins) plenty to think about, but with his incredible upside (perhaps higher than any other player in the draft) someone in the top 10 will take him, and with the Bruins powerplay woes and no true blue-chip defensive prospects in their system, Murphy’s their man.
Projects at Prime as: 25-35-60 (Best-Case 35-45-80)(Worst-Case 15-30-45)
Style Compares to: Mike Green, Nick Lidstrom (with more emphasis on goals)
Wild Card Selection – Nathan Beaulieu – If Murphy, Hamilton and Larsson are off the board by nine, the Bruins could look to St. John Seadog Beaulieu as the next best defensive prospect in the draft. Beaulieu has all the tools necessary to be a top-rate d-man talent, and would be a very satisfactory fallback selection should one of the aforementioned defenders not be available.
10. Minnesota Wild: Joel Armia, RW – Assat (SM-L) – When he fills out, the 6’4”, 190 lbs., winger from Finland could become an elite player. With 18 goals and 29 points in 48 games playing among men in Finland’s top division (eleventh in goal scoring in that league), he’s shown the kind of offensive ability that’s coveted among top draft selections. He’s not extremely strong, but he already can use his size well to gain leverage on opponents. He’s an underrated passer with a plus-plus shot that could be the best in the draft – he’s a pure goal scorer. He’s mobile, with above average speed and agility.
Despite his high-end potential, there are several major questions surrounding the “Armia of One”: He’s prone to taking shifts off, not playing a rounded two-way game, and still hasn’t reached his physical potential. Luedeke compared him to failed Bruins prospect Mikko Lehtonen, saying: “Armia is an alternately a dazzling and frustrating player to watch…He doesn’t backcheck much and just looks lazy skating up and down the wing at times…[he’s not talented enough to support his] lackadaisical approach to play in the neutral zone or his own end.” Despite Kirk’s reservations, I believe that Armia is just way too talented to pass up at ten, and the Finnish connection in Minnesota (Koivu, Granlund, Miettinen, Backstrom) makes him just too good to pass up.
Projects at Prime as: 35-30-65 (Best-Case 45-35-80)(Worst-Case 25-25-50)
Style Compares to: Jeff Carter, Alex Semin
Wild Card Selection – McNeill – This Big, strong center who looks like the prototypical power forward in the making. With his impressive NHL-combine performance, solid skill and massive physique he could be a decent alternative if the Wild want to look for someone with more consistent work ethic.