NHL Draft 2011: 25 Bold Predictions for the 2011 NHL Draft

Matthew FairburnCorrespondent IApril 27, 2011

NHL Draft 2011: 25 Bold Predictions for the 2011 NHL Draft

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    Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Adam Larsson: Sounds like quite the core of young talent, doesn't it? 

    Not so fast.

    The Edmonton Oilers hold their second consecutive first overall draft choice in 2011, and despite their recent splurge on offensive dynamos, they are considering adding the services of talented center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to their frontline.

    Now, a lot still has to be answered regarding these top prospects before the weekend of June 24th rolls around, but the 2011 NHL draft is shaping up to be quite the thriller at the top.

    Adam Larsson, Sean Couturier, Gabriel Landeskog and most recently, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have all had their turn atop draft boards this season and it's conceivable that those boards could change a handful of times leading up to the draft.

    The muddled waters of this draft class do not stop after the top five selections. As a matter of fact, they become even murkier.

    Talented offensive weapons such as Tomas Jurco, Victor Rask and Vladislav Namestnikov all come with their fair share of risks, while other prospects—such as Ty Rattie and Tyler Biggs—are getting mixed reviews.

    The dust will officially settle in two months, but for now, here are 25 bold predictions for the 2011 NHL draft. 

25. Denis Golubev Will Be a Sought-After Commodity

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    Denis Golubev may not possess the elite talent of some of the other Russian forward prospects that have come before him, but his impressive showing at the World Juniors will do wonders for his draft stock.

    Golubev is a flashy prospect, and he displayed that flash by netting a handful of crucial goals and lifting the Russians to the gold medal.

    Golubev will be be wanted man after the completion of Round 1. The fact that he was born in '91 gives him less leverage in terms of signing an entry-level contract. A 20-year-old Russian will be more ready to make the jump to the NHL, and his KHL team will be more prepared to replace him.

    I expect Golubev to come off of the board somewhere in Round 2 or 3.

24. Jamieson Oleksiak Will Represent the NCAA Well

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    Jamieson Oleksiak may be the only legitimate first-round prospect the NCAA is going to produce this season, but he is going to represent college hockey well.

    At 6'7'' and 244 pounds, Oleksiak provides rare size that is truly an asset at the NHL level. The Husky defenseman is not just pure mass, however. Northeastern's finest has an NHL skill set and the makings of a first-pairing defender.

23. Magnus Hellberg Will Be the Draft's Best Goalie

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    Magnus Hellberg has had an amazing season over in the Swedish Elite leagues, wrestling the starting gig from Atlanta's stud prospect Fredrik Pettersson-Wentzel.

    Hellberg is huge and possesses nearly flawless technique. He has taken Sweden by storm, and will soon do the same to the National Hockey League.

22. The 2011 NHL Draft Will Be Relatively Weak

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    The 2011 NHL draft is not considered to be strong. The main reason is the lack of game-changing prospects at the top.

    There is no Steven Stamkos, John Tavares or Sidney Crosby in this draft class. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sean Couturier, Jonathan Huberdeau and Gabriel Landeskog all figure to have solid NHL careers up front, but they lack truly elite upside.

    Also, many of the first-round talents have either question marks attached to them or limited potential. This class should produce a handful of starters, but not as many All-Stars as past drafts. 

21. The NCAA Will Fail To Produce Stars

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    The NCAA has failed to transition their prospects into first-round talents. In 2011, Jamieson Oleksiak is the only true first-round talent from the NCAA ranks.

    As expected, NCAA prospects will take a bit longer to transition the the professional game, but this year's class looks particularly weak. While there are definitely talented prospects, each comes with some concerns.

    Boston University products Matt Nieto and Adam Clendening have talent, but neither has put it all together on the ice.

    These kids could develop somewhere down the road, but for now, Jamieson Oleksiak is the only bright spot for the NCAA.

20. Tyler Biggs Will Disappoint

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    Tyler Biggs is a promising power forward with a powerful shot that is very difficult to remove from the puck.

    My big issue with Biggs is his skating ability, which is less than adequate. In addition to his worrisome skating ability, Biggs suffered a hip injury that will be difficult to fully recover from and limits his skating ability even further.

    This is a huge red flag, and one that should concern teams drafting in the middle of the first round. 

19. Sven Bartschi Will Also Disappoint

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    Bartschi is currently ranked No. 7 by the Central Scouting Service, and that is setting him up for disappointment.

    Bartschi will not be able to live up to the hype of a top 10 pick. His play at the World Juniors was underwhelming and he is more of a middle-of-the-first-round type of talent at this point in the process.

    Oddly enough, Bartschi would benefit from his draft stock cooling off a bit. At least then he wouldn't be the center piece of a rebuilding effort and could be brought along more slowly.

18. Trades Galore

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    With a lack of elite prospects at the top of this draft and the mixed reviews on so many prospects in the middle of the first round, the beginning of the 2011 NHL draft could be full of trades. 

    Teams will be jockeying for position on certain players they like per usual. The difference with this draft lies in the fact that so many players have varying grades. 

    Each draft seems to involve a greater number of trades than the last, and this year's edition should be no different.

17. Corey Schneider Gets Dealt for a Top 10 Pick

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Corey Schneider should be on his way out of Vancouver this offseason if the Canucks want to maximize his value while they still can.

    The Boston College Eagle would demand a steep price in a trade and the Canucks have been devoid of draft picks in recent years. Vancouver needs to get something for their blue-chip goaltender before he walks in free agency.

    At this point, it's difficult to speculate who the Canucks may target, but they would certainly increase their options by moving into the top 10.

16. Ty Rattie Will Be the Draft's Best RW

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Ty Rattie is going to contribute as a playmaking forward on someone's top two lines. 

    Rattie's mixture of speed, hands, passing ability and hockey sense compensates for his physical shortcomings.

    Rattie is currently being graded as a late first-rounder, which is about right based on his upside. That won't stop Rattie from being the best right winger in this class. Rattie can thank the lack of an elite right winger for that, but his skills don't hurt either.

15. Mark McNeill Develops into a Top-Line Center

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Mark McNeill jumps out on tape as a physical center with a dangerous combination of size and speed. He has a bit of Ryan Getzlaf in him.

    His two-way game is one of the best in this draft class and McNeill anticipates plays steps ahead of everyone else on the ice. 

    If there is a wild card in the first round, this kid is it.

14. Victor Rask Will Be a 1st-Round Pick

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    At the beginning of the season, predicting Victor Rask as a first-round pick would have been considered anything but bold. It's amazing what six months can do to a kid's draft stock.

    During those six months, Rask has exhibited a dangerously low competitiveness and disappointing production. He now has scouts wondering which Victor Rask they will be drafting.

    All of that being said, Rask should still find a home in the first round. All it's going to take is one team to fall in love with him and his elite skill set. There's a reason Victor Rask was once a borderline top-five prospect in this draft.

13. No Goaltenders Will Be Drafted in the 1st Round

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    I cannot remember a draft with a complete lack of promising first-round talent at the goaltending position. The Gibsons (Chris and John) were once both thought of as first-round prospects, but have since seen their stock drop.

    With neither goalie stepping up to the plate to claim the top spot, teams may elect to wait on drafting a netminder. There are some talented sleepers, such as the aforementioned Magnus Hellberg, who would provide far more value than either of the risky fringe first-rounders. 

12. Vladislav Namestnikov Will Be Worth the Risk

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Russian players are always risky first-round picks, given the fact that they often opt for the KHL and teams are unable to retain their rights.

    However, some Russians are just too talented to pass up. Namestnikov is one of those players. He can score goals with the best of this draft class and has a well-rounded two-way game.

    There is enough North America in this Russian-born winger to invest a first-round draft pick in his services.

11. Teams Will Regret Passing on Rocco Grimaldi Because of His Size

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    A lot of teams will look at Rocco Grimaldi's 5'6'' frame and skip right over his name. That will be a grave mistake.

    Grimaldi's skills are undeniable and his size is no reason to ignore his talent. We've seen the likes of Nathan Gerbe and Martin St. Louis slip through the cracks due to size, and NHL teams would be wise to avoid that mistake this time around.

10. CHL Will Have More 1st-Rounders Than All Other Leagues Combined

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    The Canadian Junior Leagues have taken over the NHL draft—and for good reason. The CHL produces the most talented and pro-ready prospects year in and year out.

    Swedish and Finish elite leagues do their best to keep up and the NCAA is still grasping at straws, but the fact remains that Canadians dominate the NHL, and the CHL gets the largest number of Canadian-born players. Not to mention, the CHL actually brings in some of the other nations' top talent as well.

    It may come down to a handful of picks, but the CHL will have more first-rounders than the rest of the leagues combined.

9. Forwards Will Dominate the Top 10

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    A trend recent NHL drafts have given us is the tendency for forwards to be selected over defensemen in the early portion of Round 1. There are a couple of reasons for this.

    First of all, since the lockout, the NHL has focused on an offensively orientated style of play that plays to the strengths of elite offensive talents. Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos have the ability to carry their teams because there is more open space and thus less physical play in the modern era of hockey.

    Due to this style of hockey, defensemen have become riskier picks in the top 10 than ever before. The speed of the NHL game is difficult to prepare for, making it more than an inexact science when attempting to determine which D-men will be able to make the transition.

    Expect the trend to continue in 2011. A handful of skilled offensive prospects will get the nod over their defensive counterparts. The times they are a-changing.

8. Ryan Murphy Will Be Better Than Dougie Hamilton

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    At the moment, Ryan Murphy is being underrated while Dougie Hamilton is being slightly overrated. Hamilton has ideal size and skating ability, but Murphy is the better all-around defenseman.

    Ryan Murphy's size and skating ability are on par with Hamilton's, but what separates Murphy is his puck-moving ability, which is on an elite level.

    Murphy recently dominated the U-18s, which is an excellent sign for the continued accession of his draft stock.  

7. Tomas Jurco Will Outperform His Draft Position

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Tomas Jurco is one of the most underrated prospects in the first round of the 2011 NHL draft. Sure, the kid has some attitude issues, but he still hasn't even hit age 20 yet. Let's give Jurco some time to mature.

    In the meantime, scouts should focus on Jurco's ability to generate offense on the rush and spin defenders into the ice with his stickhandling.

    Jurco is not a complete player by any means, but his offensive contributions will make him worthy of first-round selection.

6. Joel Armia Will Produce Like a Top 10 Draft Pick

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    Joel Armia is a huge sleeper of mine in the 2011 NHL draft. The Finnish winger has immense offensive ability. His shot combined with his jaw-dropping hands make Armia comparable to any forward in this draft class.

    I truly believe Armia could end up being the most productive offensive player in this draft. He has a chance to be a mainstay at wing on the first line in the NHL.

5. Ryan Strome Will Be a Top 5 Pick

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    Ryan Strome's stock has been on a steady incline for the entirety of the season due to the immaculate season he has put together.

    After the boost Tyler Seguin received last season, it would be no surprise to see Strome land in the top five on the heels of an impressive year.

    In addition, there truly is not much separating Ryan Strome from the rest of the forwards in the draft class. He has as much offensive talent as any of them, but appears to be a bit undersized. Add some muscle to Strome's frame and there is Calder Trophy potential. 

4. Mika Zibanejad Will Be a Top 10 Pick

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    Mika Zibanejad is another prospect on the rise—and for good reason. The secret is out on ZIbanejad, who compiled nine points in the WJC.

    The Swedish-born center is a power forward with soft hands and an excellent two-way game. The improvement he has made this season should also win scouts over.

    The amount of work this kid puts in on and off the ice should make any GM comfortable investing a top draft choice in him.

3. Sean Couturier Falls Out of the Top 5

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    For some odd reason, Sean Couturier has seen his stock slide in the months heading up to the NHL draft.

    Couturier did not have the dominant season some were expecting, but he has the most well-rounded game of any center in the draft. In addition, he appears to project as an excellent leader in the NHL.

    Starting the season as the consensus No. 1 pick, Couturier has had his game nitpicked all season long, and it could cause him to slide out of the top five. However... 

2. Sean Couturier Will Be the Best Forward in the Draft

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    Regardless of his draft position, Sean Couturier will be the most successful forward in the 2011 NHL draft.

    He has a more well-rounded game than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and has size that Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau and Ryan Strome can't match. His skating could use come work, but Couturier takes long strides, which make up for his lack of quickness.

    The Canadian-born center has plenty of time to mature and fix some of the flaws in his game. I don't expect him to be a difference-maker at the next level, but a solid first-line center nonetheless. 

1. Adam Larsson Will Be the Best Player in the Draft and the 1st Pick

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    Despite Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the Oilers picking up steam, I think Edmonton will eventually opt to select the elite Swedish defensive prospect, Adam Larsson.

    With Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi up front, the Oilers would have little use for another forward prospect, especially considering their lack of depth on the blue line.

    Larsson could step in immediately and provide them with a solid two-way defender for the next 10-15 seasons. Larsson is the most pro-ready prospect in this draft, and despite the noticeable risk that comes with drafting defensemen, Larsson appears to be a slam dunk at the position.

    The Oilers are in a rare position by selecting first overall for the second-straight season. It is essential that they maximize the value of the pick by not only selecting the best available player, but one that fills a massive need. 

    Passing on Adam Larsson would set the franchise back another three-to-five years.

For More on the NHL

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    For more on the NHL, be sure to check out more of my articles in the coming weeks. I will be focusing on NHL draft content in the months leading up to the draft in order to give Bleacher Report some of the best coverage on the web.

    Also, follow me on twitter @MatthewFairburn for constant updates on my thoughts on the playoffs and draft.

    Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your feedback in the comments!

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