All to often fans of the cellar-dwelling teams are looking forward to the NHL Draft months in advance. The 2011 NHL Draft is no different, as fans of the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers have been eyeing the weekend of June 24th for far too long for their liking.
However, those fans can at least look forward to landing a potential impact player at the top of the draft. The 2011 NHL Draft crop looks solid, especially at the top, and if history tells us anything the top picks will shine.
Top draft picks 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 Tyler Seguin 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 third edition of my 2011 NHL Mock Draft with more than ten changes in the first round. Stay tuned for more updates.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Red Deer (WHL)
6'1", 170 Pounds, Shoots: Left
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins remains atop my 2011 NHL Mock Draft, despite the fact that the Edmonton Oilers are in need of a blue chip defensive prospect like Adam Larsson.
Magnus Paajarvi, Taylor Hall, and Jordan Eberle are a hell of an offensive trio, but the Oilers need to add a playmaking center to the mix to get the most out of the talent they have.
Just ask Phil Kessel about life without a center. It's rough.
Pencil RNH into the lineup between any combination of Paajarvi, Hall, and Eberle, and the Edmonton Oilers could have one of the most explosive offenses in the NHL within a couple of years.
Adam Larsson, Defense, Skelleftea (Sweden)
6'3", 200 Pounds, Shoots: Right
After a disappointing season in the eyes of many scouts, Adam Larsson falls to No. 2 in this 2011 NHL Mock Draft.
The Colorado Avalanche won't complain, as Larsson would add a tremendous amount of skill to a blue line that could really use it.
Given that Larsson already has experience in the Swedish Elite League under his belt, he should be able to step right into NHL action as a rookie.
Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Saint John (QMJHL)
6'1", 168 Pounds, Shoots: Left
A change from my previous update, the Florida Panthers select Jonathan Huberdeau.
Huberdeau was brilliant late in the season, and has worked his way into the top-five picks.
While the leadership and grittiness of Gabriel Landeskog would be excellent for the Florida Panthers, the team is in need of a franchise centerman, especially with Stephen Weiss's imminent departure.
I have questions about Huberdeau's ability to be an elite finisher around the net at the next level, but his playmaking ability is among the best in the draft.
Ryan Murphy, Defense, Kitchener (OHL)
5'11", 176 Pounds, Shoots: Right
My previous update saw the New Jersey Devils selecting talented center Jonathan Huberdeau.
Unfortunately in this version, the St. John playmaker is off the board. So, where do the Devils turn?
Well, center Sean Couturier is certainly an option and probably the best player on the board. However, the need for a puck moving defenseman in New Jersey will likely take precendent.
Ryan Murphy has shot up many draft rankings. Don't be shocked if Murphy winds up being drafted in the top five.
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.
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 No. 6 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.
Gabriel Landeskog, LW, Kitchner (OHL)
6'1", 207 Pounds, Shoots: Left
This is absolutely as far as we'll see Gabriel Landeskog drop in the 2011 NHL Draft.
With a lower ceiling than other players and the fact that he's a winger, Landeskog easily has a chance to slip out of the top five.
That being said, Winnipeg will have no problem adding this gritty, goalscoring leader to their offense that desperately needs some firepower.
Nathan Beaulieu, Defense, Saint John (QMJHL)
6'2", 185 Pounds, Shoots: Left
The Columbus Blue Jackets are in desperate need of offensively gifted defensemen and a powerplay quarterback.
Enter Nathan Beaulieu.
The St. John standout was a monster this season and has earned himself a top-10 payday at the 2011 NHL Draft.
Ryan Strome, C, Niagara (OHL)
6', 183 Pounds, Shoots: Right
After the colossal failure that was the Tomas Kaberle experiment, everyone is projecting the Boston Bruins to select another puck moving defenseman in the 2011 NHL Draft.
Unfortunately, the value does not match the pick for the Bruins, with Nathan Beaulieu and Ryan Murphy off the board.
So, why not add some offensive firepower to a lineup that could use it?
Ryan Strome has made a Tyler Seguin type leap up the rankings and could be drafted as high as No. 7 overall.
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 10-12 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.
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.
Jamieson Oleksiak, Defense, Northeastern (NCAA)
6'7'', 244 Pounds, Shoots: Left
Joni Pitkanen is set to become a free agent on July 1st, and the Carolina Hurricanes have to be keen on replacing his presence on the blue line.
Jamieson Oleksiak has surprising offensive ability given his size and has the immense upside to be a franchise defenseman in the NHL.
Joel Armia, Wing, Assat (Finland)
6'3", 187 Pounds, Shoots: Right
After losing their best defensive prospect, Tim Erixon, the Calgary Flames will definitely be looking to retool the blue line at some point in the 2011 NHL Draft.
However, the offensive ability Joel Armia brings to the table is too much for this team to pass up, given how devoid Calgary's system is of offensive talent.
I truly think Armia will be the steal of this draft. His speed and stick handling ability are insane at his size.
Joe Morrow, Defense, Portland (WHL)
6', 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.
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.
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.
Tyler Biggs, RW, U.S. National Team Development Program
6'2", 210 Pounds, Shoots: Right
Tyler Biggs' 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.
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.
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.
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.
Siemens interviewed well at the combine, which could push him into the top-15 picks.
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 after a stellar Memorial Cup.
Jurco stepped up when the lights were shining brightest, and the Phoenix Coyotes desperately need to inject some offensive talent into their system.
Matt Puempel, LW, Peterborough (OHL)
6', 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.
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.
It's no secret that the Ducks struggled on the blue line this season, as they failed to contain the Nashville Predators, who are notoriously average on offense.
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.
Vladislav Namestnikov, Center, London (OHL)
5'11", 170 Pounds, Shoots: Left
The Detroit Red Wings could be heading for a minor 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.
Vladislav 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.
Shane Prince, Center, Ottawa 67's (OHL)
5'11'', 185 Pounds, Shoots: Left
Imagine if Phil Kessel had an NHL player centering his line? That'd be nice, wouldn't it?
The prospects in the system are promising. both Joe Colbourne and Nazim Kadri project as top-six players, but a team can never have enough talent up the middle.
Shane Prince is a steady playmaker who is reliable on the defensive side of the puck.
Phillip Danualt, Center, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
6', 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.
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.
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.
Ty Rattie, RW, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
6'0'', 170 Pounds, Shoots: Right
Ty Rattie brings an ideal mentality to the locker room. His agressive forechecking and nonstop energy on the ice makes him a first round pick despite his lack of size.
If he can bulk up, Rattie would make an excellent third line winger for the Leafs.
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.
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.