For the first time in the post-lockout era, we are less than a month away from the NHL draft, and no player has been dubbed the undisputed top prospect in the draft. For the Edmonton Oilers, who hold the top pick in the draft, this could be a good thing, as they could potentially trade down two or three spots and still select the player they rank the highest.
Ranking prospects is never an easy task, especially because where each player is selected in the draft depends as much on the needs of the team doing the selecting as it does the quality of the players available.
With that being said, the highest picks in the NHL draft are usually reserved for forwards, simply because they develop more quickly than goaltenders and defensemen. It's much harder to project where a rearguard or a goalie will be in three years, while forwards are a little bit easier to gauge based on the numbers they put up in juniors or college.
In addition, since 2004, a forward has been selected first overall each year except for 2006, when Erik Johnson was selected by the Blues, and even that year, he was the only non-forward taken in the top ten. For this reason, I've decided to rank the top five forwards in the draft, though it's likely at least one defenseman will be taken in the top five, as the Devils and Islanders need help on the blueline more than in the offensive zone.
Without further ado, here are the top five forwards eligible for the 2011 NHL entry draft.