The NHL Draft matters.
Ask the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are currently playing in the Eastern Conference Finals thanks to the first overall draft pick in 2008, Steven Stamkos. Perhaps Tyler Seguin, who was drafted less than 12 months ago, can attest to the impact young players can make. After all, the rookie did carry the Bruins to a Game 2 victory in the Eastern Conference Finals.
These kids are making an impact like never before. In fact, between the years 1997 and 2008, Patrik Stefan and Erik Johnson are the only two players drafted first overall who have not appeared in an All-Star Game.
Meanwhile, four of those players drafted with the first pick have hoisted the Stanley Cup, and Steven Stamkos has a shot to do so this season.
Teams are built through the NHL Draft. The talented youngsters available early in the draft have the ability to impact the game immediately. With the NHL transitioning to a game that is more focused on speed than physicality, an 18-year old can jump from juniors to the NHL seamlessly given he has the talent.
On June 24th and 25th at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. the stars of tomorrow will be given new homes at the 49th NHL Entry Draft.
Canadian born playmaking center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and the offensively gifted blue-liner from Sweden Adam Larsson, have entered what appears to be a two horse race to be selected first overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
The rest is a mystery.
Without elite top end talent in the first round, it's anyone's guess as to where this tightly ranked group will fall into place.
Here's the second edition of my 2011 NHL Mock Draft.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter @MatthewFairburn for analysis of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NHL Offseason and of course plenty of scouting notes for the 2011 NHL Draft Prospects.
Christopher Gibson, Goalie, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
6-3, 205 Pounds
The Vancouver Canucks already have the best goaltender in the world and one of the league's best backups behind him, so why another tender in the first round? Well, there is a significant chance that Cory Schneider will be traded this offseason. Next season is the final year of his contract, and the Canucks need to get some value out of him.
Meanwhile, the system is devoid of talent in net. Christopher Gibson would solve that issue and give Vancouver an athletic prospect to bring along slowly to some day replace Big Lou.
Gibson has been injured for much of the season, but his talent is undeniable. The Finnish netminder has shown flashes of jaw-dropping ability at times.
Daniel Catenacci, Center, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
5-10, 180 Pounds, Shoots: Left
Brian Burke gave up a ton to bring in Phil Kessel. Now, he has to provide him with an elite center.
More than likely Burke will fill that need via free agency or trade. Also, Nazem Kadri is developing in the system to potentially handle that role.
However, a team can never have enough centers in the system.
Catenacci is a bit undersized, but his skating ability is off the charts.
Rocco Grimaldi, LW, U.S. National Team Development Program
5-6, 163 Pounds, Shoots: Right
The San Jose Sharks have very few prospects on the wing beyond top prospect Charlie Coyle.
Rocco Grimaldi is a bottle rocket of offensive ability and tenacity on the forecheck. His size will scare some teams off, but that's a mistake.
We've seen undersized players have success, especially post-lockout. Grimaldi has all of the intangibles to be the next in line.
Brandon Saad, LW, Saginaw (OHL)
6-1, 208 Pounds, Shoots: Left
It seems laughable to think that Brandon Saad was once mentioned in the same breath with top five lock Gabriel Landeskog. Unfortunately, Brandon Saad suffered through an injury riddled season of mediocre play.
Saad has plenty of size, but it's his ability and willingness to use it that is being called into question by scouts. He's hyped up to be a power forward, but plays far too finesse for that tag.
Despite his struggles, Saad should find a home in the first round. Tampa could use a big winger for the future to potentially play with Stamkos.
Phillip Danualt, Center, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
6-0, 1798 Pounds, Shoots: Left
The Washington Capitals are attempting to transition to a more defensive style of hockey. The problem is that they do not have many players that fit the scheme well.
Phillip Danualt is exactly the type of kid the Caps will be eyeing in the 2011 NHL Draft. Danault thrives at the center position because of his awareness in all three zones of the ice. He has flown under the radar a bit because Victoriaville has been so terrible.
Seth Ambroz, RW, Omaha (USHL)
6-3, 215 Pounds, Shoots: Right
With a pair of first round picks, Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs have a chance to solidify their system at a couple of positions.
Seth Ambroz presents tremendous value at the bottom of the first round. His size is exactly what the Maple Leafs need to complement some of their smaller forward prospects.
Ambroz also possesses the skill to make a difference on the score sheet. He's got a deadly size and speed combo.
Vladislav Namestnikov, Center, London (OHL)
5-11, 170 Pounds, Shoots: Left
The Detroit Red Wings could be heading for a rebuilding effort with the recent retirement of Brian Rafalski, potential retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom and the aging of some of the team's key offensive contributors.
The defense will likely be patched with a solid free agent class at the position. At forward, the Red Wings simply have to get younger.
Vladislaw Namestnikov is one of the most skilled centers in the entire draft. The issue is whether the team that drafts him will be able to sign him and get him to play in the NHL.
The team that is able to pull that off will have a late first round gem.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Nicklas Jensen, Wing, Oshawa (OHL)
6-2, 188 Pounds, Shoots: Left
With the depth the team has up the middle, the Pittsburgh Penguins need to focus on the wing positions, which leave a bit to be desired.
A guy with Jensen's frame and skating ability deserves to go a bit higher, but inconsistent play causes him to fall to the Pens.
Tomas Jurco, RW, Saint John (QMJHL)
6-2, 193 Pounds, Shoots: Left
One of my favorite sleepers of the first round, Tomas Jurco has begun to creep up draft boards recently.
The Ducks eventually need to replace Teemu Selanne, and Jurco has the skill set to attempt to fill that monstrous void.
Jurco has benefited from playing on a very talented Saint John team, but he has stepped up in big moments for the team this season.
Matt Puempel, LW, Peterborough (OHL)
6-0, 198 Pounds, Shoots: Left
With a pair of first round picks, the Ottawa Senators will get an opportunity to revamp an offense that needs quite a bit of work.
In addition to a franchise center, the Sens need to add someone with a knack for putting the puck in the net.
Matt Puempel is that player. It isn't always pretty, but the kid has a nose for the net and the uncanny ability to find the back of the cage.
Joel Armia, Wing, Assat (Finland)
6-3, 187 Pounds, Shoots: Right
A run on defensemen causes Joel Armia to slide a bit, but make no mistake about it, this kid is a dynamo prospect out of Finland.
I have Armia ranked as the 6th best forward in this class in my 2011 NHL Draft Prospect Rankings. Armia might be the most gifted goal scorer in this class. He maneuvers through the defense as if they are cones and has the ability to make a highlight reel play at any moment.
The Coyotes are the perfect landing spot for Armia. The Finnish prodigy would get a chance to step right into the lineup.
Duncan Siemens, Defense, Saskatoon (WHL)
6-3, 197 Pounds, Shoots: Left
If the Edmonton Oilers fail to address their defense by drafting Adam Larsson first overall, they will have to fill the void with their second of two first rounders.
Duncan Siemens is not a bad consolation prize, though he is a bit overrated by some. Siemens is as tough and physical as any blue-liner in the draft but lacks the top end skill of some of the draft's other best defensemen.
Johnathan Miller, C, U.S. Nat. Team Development Program
6-1, 198 Pounds, Shoots: Left
The biggest need for the Chicago Blackhawks is depth at the center position. The best player available at this juncture just so happens to fill that need.
Miller is a top 20 lock after an impressive showing at the U-18's. He is a terrific kid to have in the locker room and can bring it one the ice. Miller projects as a solid second or third line center and will learn tons playing behind Jonathan Toews.
Sven Bartschi, LW, Portland (WHL)
5-11, 175 Pounds, Shoots: Left
Sven Bartschi is not physically imposing but has tons of offensive skill, making him the perfect Montreal Canadien.
The Canadiens' draft plans are a bit of a mystery at this point given the amount of free agents they have to re-sign. We'll get a clearer picture as the offseason gets rolling.
Boone Jenner, Center, Oshawa (OHL)
6-1, 194 Pounds, Shoots: Left
The Buffalo Sabres need to add some depth at the center position and love a tough physical player. Boone Jenner fits the bill.
Jenner's biggest weakness is his skating ability, but Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis wheel enough for the entire Sabres' team. Buffalo could use a guy like Jenner with a bit of grit and drive to set up the more skilled players on the roster.
Mark Scheifele, C, Barrie (OHL)
6-2, 182 Pounds, Shoots: Right
Mark Scheifele is another player who as shot up the rankings to the point where this pick is the worst case scenario for the Kitchener native.
It just so happens that the Rangers need some depth up the middle of their offense.
Schiefele is playing his best hockey at the most opportune time. The lights are starting to shine brighter and the kid just gets better. That's a sign of success at the next level.
Joe Morrow, Defense, Portland (WHL)
6-0, 197 Pounds, Shoots: Left
Joe Morrow was arguably the best defenseman in the WHL this season and has the potential to be taken in the top half of the first round in the 2011 NHL Draft.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars are completely devoid of defensive talent at both the AHL and NHL levels.
Morrow would be able to step in and fill in on the third defensive pairing for the Stars and upgrade their anemic powerplay down the road.
Jonas Brodin, Defense, Farjestad (Sweden)
6-1, 165 Pounds, Shoots: Left
Jonas Brodin is only months away from being a 2012 Draft eligible player. The '93 born defenseman has all the potential in the world but must bulk up in order to succeed at the next level. His skills are wonderful, though.
Assuming the Flames re-sign Alex Tanguay and retain Jarome Iginla, defense could be the focus of the draft. Plus, with all of the top centers gone, Brodin presents the most value.
Mark McNeill, C, Prince Albert (WHL)
6-1, 201 Pounds, Shoots: Right
Power forwards at the center position are rare in this day and age. Outside of Ryan Getzlaf, few are able to achieve success at the center position in that role.
However, Mark McNeill has that kind of upside. A big physical player with a high compete level, McNeill is truly a two-way player. His playmaking ability is as solid as his coverage in his own zone.
What make McNeill so attractive is his ability to step in right away and play with the muckers on the third and fourth lines.
Tyler Biggs, RW, U.S. National Team Development Program
6-2, 210 Pounds, Shoots: Right
Tyler Biggs's stock has been all over the map this season, but he seems to have settled down in the top half of the first round.
Biggs has the trifecta; hockey sense, work ethic and leadership. In addition, Biggs has solid size and is difficult to remove from the puck. He's one of the best power forwards available in the 2011 NHL Draft.
This pick makes tons of sense for the Avs, who just traded away their physical presence up front, Chris Stewart.
Mika Zibanejad, Center, Djurgarden Jr. (Sweden-Jr.)
6-2, 192 Pounds, Shoots: Right
Another European dynamo that is shooting up draft boards is Mike Zibanejad. The Swedish superstar is not expected to make it out of the top ten to twelve picks at this point in the ball game.
The Minnesota Wild could use a forward whose best attribute is not his ability to check. With all of the muckers in the Wild lineup, a guy like Zibanejad would be welcomed with open arms by the Minnesota faithful.
He would fit in nicely with last year's first round pick, Mikael Granlund, who has yet to break through to the NHL.
Nathan Beaulieu, Defense, Saint John (QMJHL)
6-2, 185 Pounds, Shoots: Left
The Tomas Kaberle experiment has been a total disaster. The Bruins, who gave up a first round pick and top prospect Joe Colborne for Kaberle, will likely let the defensive liability walk in free agency and cut their losses.
However, that does not solve the glaring issue on their powerplay.
Now, Claude Julien isn't just going to throw a rookie into the lineup, as we saw with Tyler Seguin, but he may be tempted to in this case.
Nathan Beaulieu has tons of offensive ability and is so smooth with the puck in the transition game. He would fit in wonderfully with Seguin and company on that second powerplay unit in Boston.
Ryan Murphy, Defense, Kitchener (OHL)
5-11, 176 Pounds, Shoots: Left
Ryan Murphy is going to attract a lot of attention in the top ten picks of the 2011 NHL Draft due to his offensive skill set. He moves the puck better than any defenseman in this draft, and handle the biscuit as well as anyone.
The Columbus Blue Jackets will not hesitate to take Murphy off the board, given their struggles on the back end, especially on the power play.
Ryan Strome, C, Niagara (OHL)
6-0, 183 Pounds, Shoots: Right
Whether they are playing in Winnipeg or Atlanta next season, the Thrashers (or Jets, Moose, etc) need to find more scoring options.
Last season, Dustin Byfuglien was second on the team in goals as a defenseman, and was one of just two players to pass the 20 goal mark.
Luckily, scoring is Ryan Strome's specialty.
Much like Tyler Seguin in the 2010 NHL Draft, Ryan Strome has shot up the ranks after a stellar season in his draft eligible year. He now appears to be a lock for the first seven picks.
Sean Couturier, C, Drummondville (QMJHL)
6-4, 195 Pounds, Shoots: Left
Sean Couturier has been bumped down boards a bit after a less than stellar showing at the World Junior Championships.
The Ottawa Senators don't mind the fall, as they land their franchise center at number six overall.
Couturier is an elite playmaker with excellent vision and puck skills. His size and skating ability are also ideal for a top line center.
In my mind, Couturier is one of the top three players available in June's draft.
Dougie Hamilton, Defense, Niagara (OHL)
6-4, 193 Pounds, Shoots: Right
At 6'4'' tall and 193 pounds, Dougie Hamilton is the physical presence the New York Islanders need on their blue line.
The cupboard is stocked with offensively gifted d-men in Long Island, but the system lacks a true bruiser at the point.
Hamilton is that guy.
Five may seem a bit high for Hamilton, but he has the most polished physical game of any blue-liner in the draft. He lays the lumber better than any player available.
Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Saint John (QMJHL)
6-1, 168 Pounds, Shoots: Left
Don't look not, but Jonathan Huberdeau is still in the mix to be taken first overall by the Edmonton Oilers.
His recent play in the postseason has made Huberdeau a favorite amongst scouts. There is more of a debate between Huberdeau and Nugent-Hopkins than most realize.
The New Jersey Devils won't mind if the talented Canadian falls to number four. His hockey sense and incredible vision will make him a perfect complement to Zach Parise someday.
Gabriel Landeskog, LW, Kitchner (OHL)
6-1, 207 Pounds, Shoots: Left
If I'm the Florida Panthers' general manager, and my roster is in the shape that it's in, I am looking for an impact player up front with leadership capabilities that I can build my franchise around.
Gabriel Landeskog is considered by many to be the most NHL ready player in the draft and a tremendous leader.
His big frame makes him an ideal power forward, and the offensive skill he boasts is second to none.
The blend of toughness, physicality and offensive prowess makes Landeskog a must have in the top three picks.
Adam Larsson, Defense, Skelleftea (Sweden)
6-3, 200 Pounds, Shoots: Right
Simply put, Adam Larsson is a franchise defenseman.
His size, leadership, experience and offensive ability are everything a team looks for in a star blue liner.
Larsson has played well as an 18-year old in the Swedish Elite League and should have no problem stepping into the NHL as a third pairing type of guy.
The Avs are hurting on defense right now, and would love for the Edmonton Oilers to pass on the Swedish defender.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Red Deer (WHL)
6-1, 170 Pounds, Shoots: Left
With their third straight top ten pick, the Edmonton Oilers will draft the most dynamic playmaker available, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
RNH has played his way into the top spot, and despite Edmonton's need for help on the blue line, Nugent-Hopkins should be the pick.
Just the thought of sticking Nugent-Hopkins between any combination of Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle is enough to have any Oilers' fan dreaming of a Stanley Cup.
Some may think Edmonton's system is overloaded with offensive talent, and it is. However, without a franchise center none of the other goal scorers will reach their true potential.
Drafting Nugent-Hopkins will ensure that the previous three first round picks all reach their seemingly limitless potential.
For more on the 2011 NHL Draft be sure to check out
and be sure to follow me on twitter @MatthewFairburn for constant updates.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more versions of this mock draft leading up to the end of June.