Offense always headlines the NHL Draft. The top of the past seven entry drafts have produced some of the brightest offensive talents in the NHL, including Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Taylor Hall.
While the 2011 NHL Draft won't yield any elite offensive talents on the level of Crosby and Stamkos, this draft class boasts a deep group of gifted offensive stars who have the upside of developing into first-line players at the NHL level.
The teams at the top of the 2011 NHL Draft certainly hope that the likes of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Johnathan Huberdeau, Sean Couturier, and Gabriel Landeskog can become the offensive superstars of tomorrow.
However, the top of the forward class is not the story of the 2011 NHL draft. Rather, it's the depth this class presents. Despite the lack of a truly elite prospect, owning a first round pick in 2011 could land a legitimate first-line player.
Here is my first set of rankings for the forwards in the 2011 NHL draft.
Tomas Jurco, RW, Saint John (QMJHL), 6-0, 175 pounds
Tomas Jurko has all of the talent in the world. Trn on the tape of this kid and the first thing that stands out is his playmaking ability. Jurco has the size and physicality to match his tremendous speed and stick handling ability.
The Finish forward is impossible to move in front of the net, but at the same time has the skills to go end to end with the puck. He is a definite matchup concern for any opposing coach.
Questions about Tomas Jurko's compete level, mental toughness, and consistency have been raised. Scouts are concerned that he won't be willing to give it everything he's got for 60 minutes night-in and night-out.
NHL Player Comparison: Blake Wheeler, F, Atlanta
Both Tomas Jurko and Blake Wheeler are blessed with size and talent but have had their toughness and willingness to do the dirty work called into question. If surrounded by the right situation, Jurko should succeed.
Ty Rattie, RW, Portland (WHL), 5-11, 170 pounds
Ty Rattie's quickness and hockey smarts have caught the eye of scouts around the league. Rattie burst onto the WHL scene this season with 79 points in 67 games played.
Rattie's 5'11'', 170-pounds frame has essentially pushed him down the rankings a bit. Scouts are starting to wonder if Rattie is going to be strong enough to take a beating at the NHL level.
NHL Player Comparison: Nathan Gerbe, W, Buffalo
Nathan Gerbe might be a cliche comparison because of the lack of size, but it's the two players' playing styles that draws this comparison. Both players have incredible awareness in the offensive zone and seem to be a spark plug for production on their respective teams.
Nicklas Jensen, W, Portland (WHL), 6-2, 188
Jensen's biggest strength is his overall skating ability, which is surprising for a man of his stature. The Danish forward has soft hands to go with his physical offensive nature. As if those attributes weren't enough, Nicklas also possesses a very high hockey I.Q.
A big weakness in Jensen's game is his defense. He has not had the opportunity to fully develop into a two-way player at this point in his career. The hope is that he will become more adept defensively as he matures.
NHL Player Comparison: James Neal, Pittsburgh
In his short NHL career James Neal has yet to prove his worth in the defensive zone. Much like Jenner, Neal is a big forward with skating ability and a rocket of a shot.
Vladislav Namestnikov, Center, London (OHL), 5-11, 170
Vladislav Namestnikov has an all-around excellent package of offensive weapons. He is a very smooth skater who is a terror for the opposition when he gets in open space. In addition, the Russian-born forward is equally strong as a playmaker and a finisher on offense.
The two main concerns with Vladislav Namestnikov are his strength and whether or not he will sign to play in the NHL. If a team is confident that they can get him under contract and in the weight room, he is a safe bet towards the end of round one.
NHL Player Comparison: Alex Burmistrov, Atlanta
The similarities between Burmistrov and Namestnikov are striking, to say the least. They are both prototypical Russian forwards who are dangerous with the puck on their stick and very aware of what's going on around them in the offensive zone.
Seth Ambroz, RW, Omaha (OHL), 6-3, 215 pounds
Seth Ambroz projects as a solid third liner at the NHL level. He has above average speed, but his true calling is his ability to grind in the corners. Ambroz is constantly initiating contact and winning one-on-one battles in the corner.
If he finds the right system, Ambroz could be plugged in shortly as an agitator at the NHL level.
Ambroz does not possess the elite offensive tools or upside to warrant a top 10 pick. He may never develop into a top six forward, but he is almost a sure bet to contribute in the NHL in some capacity.
NHL Player Comparison: Darroll Powe, Philadelphia
Darroll Powe has made a living wearing opponents down in the corners and killing penalties. That is the type of player Seth Ambroz should develop into with the potential to contribute a bit more offensively than Powe does for the Flyers.
Victor Rask, Center, Leksand Jr. (Sweden), 6-2, 194 pounds
Despite the recent hit to his draft stock, nobody can deny Victor Rask's offensive ability. Rask is the ideal offensive prospect. He has size, speed, awareness, and tremendous hands and shot. The Swedish superstar is the type of prospect who has the upside to be a 30-goal scorer in the big leagues.
Unfortunately, Rask's personality is not ideal. He has lapses where he plays with very little intensity and has been considered arrogant and entitled by some.
NHL Player Comparison: Phil Kessel, Toronto
Fans often complain about Phil Kessel's less than endearing personality, but he consistently produces on the ice. Rask possesses a lot of the offensive promise that Kessel embodies, as well as some of the perceived character concerns.
Mark Scheifele, C, Barrie (OHL), 6-2, 177 pounds
Mark Scheifele is a highly talented center prospect with outstanding vision and passing ability. He is a true playmaker and tends to make everyone around him a better player. He also uses his size and instincts to his advantage in the offensive zone.
At just 177 pounds, Scheifele has plenty of room to add to his lanky frame. If he can bulk up in the weight room and maintain his speed, he will be a top six forward at the NHL level.
NHL Player Comparison: Joe Thornton, San Jose
It's tough to compare any prospect to one of the most prolific playmakers in the NHL, but with his size and vision Scheifele possesses this kind of upside. He will need to add a lot of muscle to his frame to match Jumbo Joe's size, but he has the raw skills to be a first- or second-line center.
Mika Zibanejad, Center, Djurgarden Jr. (SWE), 6-2, 192
Mike Zibanejad has slowly made his way to the top of these rankings and appears prime to jump even higher up this list. His intensity and physical tools make him a nightmare for opposing defenses.
The main concern with Mike Zibanejad is his lack of elite production for an extended period of time. Also, he plays as a power forward, which could make for a longer transition into the NHL.
NHL Player Comparison: Ryan Kesler, Vancouver
If Zibanejad lands in the right situation and develops properly, he has a very high ceiling. It is tempting to place him in the top 10. The Finish prodigy has the size and skill set of Ryan Kesler.
Boone Jenner, Center, Oshawa (OHL), 6-1, 194 pounds
Any team that drafts Boone Jenner will be getting a relentless worker and a terrific physical presence on the forecheck. He is a high character guy who will be a leader and the next level. Jenner has first round talent and a big body to go with his top notch intangibles.
Boone Jenner is not the strongest skater in the 2011 NHL Draft, which limits his upside. Jenner may not ever develop into a first-line center, but he will be a valuable second or third line forward.
NHL Player Comparison: Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia
Boone Jenner has the potential to develop into the type of two way forward teams will covet. Much like Scott Hartnell, he does not possess the elite high-end offensive skills, but gets by on his drive and willingness to compete for loose pucks.
Tyler Biggs, RW, US National Development Team, 6-2, 210 pounds
Tyler Biggs is strong in most areas of his game, particularly his ability to be a solid contributor in all three zones. However, Biggs is best when it comes to having a nose for the puck. Biggs always seems to know where the puck is going to be and is tough to knock off the puck once he has it.
Tyler Biggs lacks elite speed and a complete offensive skill set. He gets by more on his physical play than his offensive prowess. Therefore, his upside is not as high as some other top-15 forwards, but he is still worthy of a draft choice in the top half of round one.
NHL Player Comparison: David Backes, St. Louis
Tyler Biggs has a ceiling of David Backes. Backes is a hard nosed and physical leader who consistently puts up over 50 points. Biggs also has a high floor which makes him an attractive mid-first round pick.
Matt Puempel, LW, Peterborough (OHL), 6-0, 190 pounds
Some may think this is a bit high for Matt Puempel, but he has a goal scorer's touch that cannot be taught. He has a breathtaking shot and simply knows how to score goals.
Puempel has been accused of not bringing intensity to the ice night in and night out. Also, there are question marks about his ability to create on his own. He is also not a "true" power forward despite his size.
NHL Player Comparison: Brad Boyes, St. Louis
Like Boyes, Puempel has the upside to be a 30-goal scorer in the NHL. Puempel will need to be a secondary player, however, because he has issues creating plays on his own.
Brandon Saad, LW, Saginaw (OHL), 6-1, 208 pounds
The strengths in Brandon Saad's game are definitely his size and speed. He has a strong shot and decent passing skills.
The issue with Brandon Saad is his inability to use his size to his advantage. He has the raw skills to be a power forward, but does not have the demeanor to make it happen.
NHL Player Comparison: James Van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia
Both JVR and Brandon Saad possess the size and offensive talent to be dangerous power forwards, but lack the physical aspect of the game to put them over the top. Neither effectively uses their size to their advantage.
Sven Bartschi, LW, Portland (WHL), 5-11, 175 pounds
Sven Bartschi is a talented playmaker in the offensive zone. He is a good but not great skater and has a better than average shot. Bartschi will raise most eyebrows with his vision and passing abilities.
The problem with Bartschi is he has talented players around him, which raises the question of whether or not he can make things happen on his own. Would his numbers be as impressive without Ty Rattie by his side?
NHL Player Comparison: Tyler Kennedy, Pittsburgh
Bartschi has the playing style of Tyler Kennedy but plays the game with much more skill than Kennedy is capable of. Bartschi is almost on a Claude Giroux or Joe Pavelski level when it comes to creativity in the offensive zone.
Mark McNeill, Center, Prince Albert (WHL), 6-2, 210 pounds
Prospects of Mark McNeill's caliber are extremely rare. He has the size, speed, and physicality that make him a potential "true" power forward in the NHL. McNeill has a competitive edge that is coveted in a first- or second-line center.
Weaknesses of McNeill's include his lack of truly elite offensive upside, and perhaps a bit of lack of production in big games.
NHL Player Comparison: Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim
Ryan Getzlaf's name is not to be thrown around lightly, but McNeill is a similar prospect. Incredibly physical and a great leader, but also has some offensive tools to go with it. Power forwards are rare at the center position, but McNeill has the potential to be the next in line.
Joel Armia, RW, Assat (FIN), 6-02, 183
Joel Armia has a jaw-dropping combination of size and skill. The kid can dangle his way through opposing defenses one second and be grinding it out in the corners the next. Armia has a cannon of a wrist shot, but is equally impressive as a passer.
Scouts would love for Joel Armia to add a bit more muscle to his 6'2'' frame. He is also a bit raw, but that won't stop a team from taking a shot at him in the top 15 picks.
NHL Player Comparison: Bobby Ryan, Anaheim
Armia is an offensively gifted winger with a nasty streak to his game. Think Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks.
Ryan Strome, C, Niagra (OHL), 5-11, 160 pounds
Ryan Strome has shot up draft rankings after a stellar season in the OHL in which he compiled 106 points. He creates space in the offensive zone and makes those around him better with his incredible vision.
Strome is not quite as strong as one would like an NHL prospect to be. However, that appears to be his lone weakness, and one that is easily corrected with a summer in an NHL weight room.
NHL Player Comparison: Tim Connolly, Buffalo
The way Strome moves the puck and sets up his teammates will remind some of Tim Connolly. He may have the upside to be more, but Connolly is no slouch.
Jonathan Huberdeau, Saint John (QMJHL), 6-1, 170 pounds
Like many of the top prospects in this draft, Huberdeau makes a living off of his playmaking ability in the offensive zone. He can certainly score when he has to, but his strength is his passing and vision.
Scouts would love to see Huberdeau add some muscle to his lanky frame. At 6'1'' Huberdeau has the frame to become an ideal center. There are not a whole lot of flaws in Huberdeau's game.
NHL Player Comparison: Alex Tanguay, Calgary
The comparison to Alex Tanguay is striking. Both are tremendous passers and skaters but leave a little something to be desired in the shooting area.
Gabriel Landeskog, LW, Kitchner (OHL), 6-0, 207 pounds
Gabriel Landeskog is considered the most NHL-ready forward in the 2011 NHL Draft. He is a gritty, physical, and talented leader on and off of the ice. Landeskog attempted to play through injury in the 2011 World Junior Championships for Team Sweden in an admirable effort.
The youngster's offensive skill set will not disappoint either. He has a hell of a shot and is a tremendous skater.
Landeskog's lack of elite upside is what is keeping him from being the first player selected in June's entry draft. He is ready to be inserted into the lineup right away, but does not have the ceiling of some of his counterparts.
NHL Player Comparison: Jarome Iginla, Calgary
Landeskog and Iginla are both physical wingers who have a tremendous amount of skill in their game. Neither is afraid to throw the body around or drop the mitts, but they are known for putting the puck in the net. In addition, both are ideal captains.
Sean Couturier, Center, Drummondville (QMJHL), 6-4, 195 pounds
There is no denying Sean Couturier's offensive prowess. Two straight 96-point seasons in the QMJHL are evidence of just how dominant Couturier is. He has soft hands and superb vision in the offensive zone. The Canadien born center also has ideal size, making him an excellent two-way forward.
Couturier has been knocked for his skating ability, but the criticism may be unwarranted. He is not going to blow anyone away with his speed, but he is an effective skater in all three zones.
NHL Player Comparison: Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh
Couturier is Jordan Staal with more offensive upside. Both play a physical two-way game despite not being the best skaters in the world.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Center, Red Deer (WHL), 6-1, 170 pounds
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has the rare ability to make the game slow down to his place and use his stickhandling and playmaking ability to wreak havoc on opposing defenses. Nugent-Hopkins can stickhandle with the best of them and has a sixth sense about where the puck is going to be on the ice. His instincts and anticipation are among the best in the entire draft.
Ryan Nugent Hopkins needs to add muscle to his 170-pound frame in order to become a more complete two way forward. He has the speed, hockey I.Q., and drive to be one hell of a backchecker, but does he have the strength to muscle NHL players off of the puck?
NHL Player Comparison: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit
Pavel Datsyuk and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are both breathtaking stick handlers with a knack for making plays in the offensive zone. They have the rare vision that makes everyone around them better hockey players. Both can finish when needed, but are much more effective as playmakers.