NHL Draft 2011: Gabriel Landeskog and the 5 Best Two-Way Players
For many teams, especially those who failed to qualify for the postseason, the 2011 NHL Entry Draft represents an opportunity to significantly improve the futures of their organization.
One of the most important qualities teams look for in prospects leading up to the draft is how well a player can manage their responsibilities at each end of the ice.
For forwards, that means being capable of adapting to defensive systems and priding themselves on their ability to limit the opposition's scoring chances.
As for defensemen, being a good two-way player entails a rearguard to be as proficient at starting offensive rushes as they are at stifling those of their opponents.
While it's often difficult to gauge a player's offensive production at the next level, which in this case is the National Hockey League, a player's attention to detail at their own end of the ice is an attribute that typically manifests itself by the time a player is drafted.
One player who appears to fit the bill is Kitchener Rangers' captain Gabriel Landeskog, who is projected to be a top-five selection in this month's draft. While his offensive abilities are outstanding, his commitment to team defense and willingness to play a physical style of hockey are the reason behind why many scouts have compared him to fellow Swedes Henrik Zetterberg and Peter Forsberg.
With that in mind, here is a look at the six best two-way players eligible for the 2011 NHL Draft.
6. Ryan Murphy
As far as defensemen go, Ryan Murphy is small by NHL standards, standing just 5'11" and 175 pounds. However, Murphy has compensated for his small stature by utilizing his superior skating and puckhandling abilities, which is why he's considered a surefire first round pick in the 2011 Draft.
During Murphy's rookie season with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, he lead all first-year rearguards in scoring, tallying 39 points in 62 games.
While those numbers are impressive, Murphy's sophomore season was his true coming-out party. In 63 games, Murphy tallied 26 goals and 79 points, earning himself a spot on the league's first all-star team.
As far as offense goes, Murphy probably has the greatest upside of any defenseman in the draft, but scouts are concerned with his play at his own end of the rink. While there's little doubt that he'd be able to quarterback an NHL team's power play, Murphy still has to show he's capable of handling the bigger, stronger forwards that await him at the next level.
5. Mika Zibanejad
While it's been fellow Swedes Gabriel Landeskog and Adam Larsson that have been touted as the top European players in the draft, 17-year-old Mike Zibanejad has been turning heads with his play over the course of the last year.
Unlike Landeskog, Zibanejad plays in the Swedish Elite League, widely considered the third or fourth best professional league in the world. While most of the other top prospects have honed their skills in junior leagues, he's been given the opportunity to play against grown men and has shown he's capable of holding his own.
Though Zibanejad didn't exactly take the league by storm offensively, as he posted just nine points in 26 games, he played for Djurgarden, one of the top teams in the league. Additionally, he demonstrated his ability to compete at both ends of the ice, which is a positive sign for such a young player skating in a man's league.
Zibanejad also has an NHL-ready frame, as he stands 6'2" and 191 pounds, which makes him the perfect build for a two-way center at the next level.
Like many Swedish forwards to come before him, Zibanejad is a great skater with good hockey sense, and projects to be a solid two-way centerman, similar to 2009 first rounder Marcus Johansson of the Washington Capitals.
4. Boone Jenner
While Boone Jenner will probably never put up the offensive numbers that some others in his draft class will, he may be the most complete forward prospect available outside of Landeskog.
What makes Jenner such a highly coveted prospect is his commitment to doing all of the little things well on a night-to-night basis. That includes blocking shots, finishing his checks and winning races to loose pucks in the corner.
Jenner's offensive numbers during his two seasons with Oshawa of the OHL have been respectable, especially this year, as he posted 66 points in 63 games.
With that being said, it's unlikely that Jenner will ever develop into a first-line forward at the NHL level. Instead, he's probably suited for a second or third-line role, which suits his game perfectly.
He's capable of putting the puck in the net, but it's his talents elsewhere that have made him a definite first round pick in the upcoming draft.
3. Dougie Hamilton
At 6-foot-4, Dougie Hamilton is one of the most imposing defenseman available in the 2011 NHL Draft, but there's much more to his game than just size.
While Hamilton has the build of a stay-at-home defenseman, he's demonstrated that he's capable of making his presence on the score sheet, which he did on a regular basis for Niagara of the OHL this past season.
In 67 games, Hamilton notched 58 points, which put him among the top offensive rearguards in the league. The difference between Hamilton and say, a Ryan Murphy-type of player, is that Hamilton is much bigger and responsibly defensively, which becomes increasingly important at the next level.
He hasn't filled out his large frame yet, as he weighs in at just under 200 pounds, but in a couple of years, many scouts believe Hamilton will be a solid NHL defenseman, capable of contributing at both ends of the rink.
Two-way defensemen are often difficult to gauge, because there it's unclear how well a rearguard's offensive game will transition at the next level, but due to his size and talent, he's virtually a lock to be off the board by by the middle of the first round.
2. Gabriel Landeskog
Though Gabriel Landeskog will probably not be selected with the top pick in the 2011 Draft, he is likely the most complete forward available.
Like many top Swedish forwards to come before him, Landeskog is a fantastic two-way player with good speed, puck control and hockey sense, but he also possesses a few attributes that aren't as typical.
First of all, Landeskog is a physical player, who is fearless when entering high-traffic areas of the ice, much like what we saw during the first few seasons of Peter Forsberg's career.
More importantly, he's a natural leader.
As a member of the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL, Landeskog enjoyed a solid rookie season offensively, with 46 points in 61 games. However, it was his intensity and ability to lead by example that lead his team to name him the Ranger's captain for the 2010-11 season.
It's uncommon for European players to opt to continue their development in North American junior leagues, but it's virtually unprecedented for one to be named a captain, as Landeskog was the first European to do so in the franchise's nearly 50-year history.
While it's difficult to predict what kind of numbers Landeskog will produce at the NHL level, he projects to be a solid two-way winger capable of playing on a team's first line.
1. Adam Larsson
Widely regarded as the best defenseman available in the draft, Adam Larsson has all the tools to be a franchise defenseman in the NHL.
Larsson has the size of a shutdown defenseman, as he stands 6'3", but also the skill and poise of an offensive blueliner. His unique blend of talent, size and on-ice intelligence has made him one of the most intriguing European prospects in recent memory, and has some scouts likening him to legendary Swedish defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.
Though just 18, Larsson has already played three seasons in the Swedish Elite League, so he's probably better prepared for the rigors of the NHL than most of the players in the draft.
As a 17-year-old, Larsson posted 17 points in 49 games for Skelleftea of the Swedish League and followed that up with nine in 37 games this season. While it's rare for a defenseman to have three seasons of professional experience by the time they enter the draft, it's even more rare for one of have such an impact offensively at such a young age.
Larsson's performance at the World Junior Championships was also outstanding, as he posted four points in six games, solidifying his status as a lock for a top-five selection.
If Larsson is still available after the top three selections have been made, he'll be the steal of the draft, but the chances of that happening are extremely remote.