With the draft lottery complete and the draft order changing a bit from the final regular season standings, it is time for the draft speculation to begin! For the second year in a row, the Edmonton Oilers have the first overall pick, with the entire top 10 draft order looking as follows:
1. Edmonton Oilers
10. Minnesota Wild
Alan Bass, a writer for The Hockey News and THN.com, is the author of The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed The NHL Forever. He has worked for the Philadelphia Flyers' Fan Development department, going to schools throughout the tri-state area to teach about fitness and the importance of teamwork. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College Division II hockey team as well. You can contact him at Alanbasswriting@aol.com.
With the first pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, the Edmonton Oilers select, from Skelleftea HC, defenseman Adam Larsson.
Although his offensive statistics don’t blow anyone away (nine points this season in 37 games, 17 points last season in 49 games), it’s his all-around game that impresses the scouts. After all, Pavel Datsyuk scored just eight points in 24 games in his draft year in Russia’s Elite League, yet has risen to become one of the best players in the world.
"This guy's puck game, power play-type game, is way ahead of Hedman's at this age," one scout from an Eastern Conference team told NHL.com. "His puck game has always been the same. He's a cool customer again out there. That's his forte. He just never panics. He is just such a big, thick kid already at his age."
Although his statistics don’t stand out like other top-ranked prospects (Landeskog has scored 112 points in 114 career Ontario League games with the Kitchener Rangers), it is his all-around play, both with and without the puck, that make scouts lick their chops at the prospect of drafting the Stockholm, Sweden native.
“Not only was Landeskog one of the top scorers in the Ontario League through early December,” wrote The Hockey News columnist Ryan Kennedy, "but he was also consistently throwing stiff hits, blocking shots and even fighting when he felt a teammate had been wronged.”
With the third pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, the Florida Panthers select, from the Red Deer Rebels, center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a hot commodity these days. As a possible first overall pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, the Western League star has done just about everything but win a Memorial Cup. The 18-year-old, Burnaby, BC native finished the WHL season fourth in scoring, with an unthinkable 75 assists and 106 points in just 69 games. He also helped lead his team to their first playoff berth since the 2006-07 season.
With the fourth pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, the New Jersey Devils select, from the Drummondville Voltigeurs, center Sean Couturier.
Couturier has grown to 6'4", 191 pounds in recent years. But his game has also grown while playing for the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Jumping right onto the scene in his first season (2008-09), Couturier never looked back, amassing a career total of 223 points in 184 QMJHL games (including 96 this season, the second-best on his team and fifth-best in the league).
The 18-year-old center has had the spotlight on him for years now, but is still being compared to stars such as Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal and his brother, Pittsburgh Penguins center Jordan Staal. As a 17-year-old in the Q, Couturier became the first player to lead the league in points at that age since Sidney Crosby did so in 2004-05.
With the fifth pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, the New York Islanders select, from the Niagara IceDogs, defenseman Dougie Hamilton.
The Toronto, Ontario native has been a stellar force on the Ontario League blueline since he joined Niagara as a rookie last season. This season, he was a plus-35 in 67 games—a huge increase from his minus-eight rookie showing. He also contributed 12 goals and 58 points to help lead his team to a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
At 6'4" and 193 pounds, Hamilton is a tall, lanky defenseman who still has room to bulk up a bit. But there is no doubt that the youngster can play the game. And regardless of what scouts say, he’s even stronger this year than he was last.
“It becomes more fun being able to push guys off the puck,” Hamilton said in an NHL.com interview. “When you're stronger it's easier to do that. I realize I'm able to do that this. I do have fun with it. I do have fun battling with guys in corners. I like doing it.”
With the sixth pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, the Ottawa Senators select, from the Prince Albert Raiders, center Mark McNeill.
McNeill has been wowing scouts across North America with his impressive ability to make plays and power his way to the net. The 6'2", 210-pound center leads his team with 49 assists and is second with 81 points in 70 games.
“He's one of those kids that has the ability to do so many different things,” Raiders coach/GM Bruno Campese told NHL.com. “He's got so much upside to him. ...He's a powerful skater and has great hockey sense. He's got very good basic skills and he's got the ability to be a real tough person to play against. He's got the mental capabilities to understand the game as well.”
With the seventh pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, the Atlanta Thrashers select, from the Saint John Sea Dogs, center Jonathan Huberdeau.
The 6'1", 155-pound, St-Jerome, PQ native did not so much show up with a bang in his 2009-10 rookie season, scoring just 35 points in 61 games. However, playing on the top line in Saint John this year, he has been one of the most successful major junior players in the continent—scoring 43 goals in the process. Not bad for a kid whose experiences began on a speed skating rink, struggling to keep up with the rest of the group.
“He's still not the fastest, but I'd certainly label him the craftiest on our team,” Saint John coach Gerard Gallant told NHL.com. “There are other guys on our team quicker…But when Jonathan has the puck, he's very quick and makes good decisions. He goes East-West, North-South all the time.”
With the eighth pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, the Columbus Blue Jackets select, from the Saint John Sea Dogs, defenseman Nathan Beaulieu.
Many have argued that Beaulieu is one of the top-two defensemen in this year’s draft, along with Adam Larsson. The top-rated defenseman in the Quebec Major Junior League, Beaulieu is one of the most NHL-ready players for this summer’s draft.
However, he was extremely disappointed when, after an impressive showing at the Canadian World Junior camp in August, he wasn’t invited to join the team for the international tournament in January. But Beaulieu claims he understands that he’s still young and will use it as motivation to make the team next year.
That’s assuming he doesn’t go pro.
“He's gotten better, bigger and stronger,” Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant told NHL.com. “He's playing a lot better defensively but he's pressing for his points. He's a guy who gets a lot of opportunities because he jumps into the rush very well.”
With the ninth pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, the Boston Bruins select, from Northeastern University, defenseman Jamieson Oleksiak.
The tallest and biggest prospect for the 2011 NHL entry draft is also ahead of most players his age in terms of his development. The 6'7", 244-pound gargantuan defenseman is manning the blueline for Northeastern University at age 18.
Playing for the Chicago Steel of the United States League, Oleksiak took a while to develop his game. Far from an offensive defenseman, Oleksiak scored just two goals and 18 points in three seasons in the USHL. His total plus/minus rating was a minus-three.
This year, however, he has scored four goals and 13 points in 38 games, in addition to an even plus/minus rating.
ESPN writer Gare Joyce compares Oleksiak to Norris Trophy winner and Boston Bruin giant Zdeno Chara, in that both, at this age, were tall and thick—already filled out. But in terms of skill, Oleksiak more closely resembles Buffalo Sabres blueliner Tyler Myers.
“A player with that sort of frame needs to build strength and fill out,” said an NHL scout in an interview with ESPN.com. “It's hard for major junior kids to do the gym work in season but college kids can with just games on weekends. The Northeastern program is good for getting kids to the gym year-round. You can see that (Oleksiak) has made real progress from one year (in the USHL) to the next (as a freshman) on conditioning.”
With the tenth pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft, the Minnesota Wild select, from the Portland Winterhawks, left wing Sven Baertschi.
Baertschi has been tearing it up for the Winterhawks. After struggling to put up points in Switzerland’s B-League last year, the 5'10", 185-pound forward posted 34 goals and 85 points for the Winterhawks this season—leading all rookies. His plus-23 rating also speaks to his ability to play on the defensive side of the puck. Oh, and remember that stereotype that Europeans don’t play physically? Seventy-four penalty minutes for Baertschi helps to dispel that notion with this kid.
“It's fair to mention him in the same breath as [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins] over the course of the night,” wrote Gare Joyce of ESPN.com of Baertschi’s performance in the CHL Prospects game. “He has great speed and a great hockey sense. He was the target of a lot of after-whistle abuse from frustrated Team Cherry defensemen, stuff that should have and would have drawn penalties in any other game. Still, it was a good indication that Baertschi isn't very much fun to play against.”