While the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals festivities are stealing the headlines and taking the hockey world by storm, the Edmonton Oilers are preparing for what has become their own Stanley Cup: the NHL Draft. The team will be picking first overall in the draft for the second consecutive year. Luckily, there's plenty to look forward to for Edmonton.
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 blueliner 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 fourth edition of my 2011 NHL mock draft with more than 10 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
No change for the Avs here, as they take who I believe to be the best player in the draft.
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.
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.
With his performance at the 2011 NHL scouting combine, Gabriel Landeskog has cemented his status as a top-three selection.
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.
Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Saint John (QMJHL)
6'1", 168 Pounds, Shoots: Left
Don't look now, but Jonathan Huberdeau's stock is skyrocketing.
His recent play in the postseason has made Huberdeau a favorite amongst scouts, and he is now the clear-cut No. 2 center in the eyes of many.
The New Jersey Devils won't mind if the talented Canadian falls to No. 4. His hockey sense and incredible vision will make him a perfect complement to Zach Parise someday.
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 blueliner 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.
Mika Zibanejad, Center, Djurgarden Jr. (Sweden-Jr.)
6'2", 192 Pounds, Shoots: Right
Mike Zibenejad is starting to win over NHL teams with his rapid improvement and intensity on the ice. Oh, and the Swedish forward has quite the set of skills as well.
Ryan Strome has been the popular pick here for a while now, but with Zibenejad's recent bump up the rankings, he makes a ton of sense for a franchise that could use some goal scoring up front.
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 power-play quarterback.
Enter Nathan Beaulieu.
The Saint John standout was a monster this season and has earned himself a top-10 payday at the 2011 NHL draft.
If the Blue Jackets hang onto this pick, Beaulieu would be an ideal fit.
Ryan Murphy, Defense, Kitchener (OHL)
5'11", 176 Pounds, Shoots: Left
Ryan Murphy is going to attract a lot of attention in the top 10 picks of the 2011 NHL draft due to his offensive skill set. He moves the puck better than any defenseman in this draft, and handles the biscuit as well as anyone.
The Bruins need a power-play quarterback with Marc Savard out for the foreseeable future, and Tomas Kaberle clearly not the answer.
Murphy would eventually give the Stanley Cup champions a legitimate offensive playmaker on the point.
Ryan Strome, C, Niagara (OHL)
6'0", 183 Pounds, Shoots: Right
The Minnesota Wild's offensive struggles have been well documented the last few seasons.
The addition of Martin Havlat was a boost, but there is still plenty of work to do up front for Minnesota.
Ryan Strome falls to the Wild at No. 10 due to the rise of Mika Zibenejad and the need for blueliners in the early going. It's no knock on Strome's ability. The kid can flat-out score.
Sven Bartschi, LW, Portland (WHL)
5'11", 175 Pounds, Shoots: Left
Sven Bartschi is not physically imposing but has tons of offensive skill, which the Colorado Avalanche could definitely use on the wing.
The consensus is that the Avs will draft a defenseman and a forward with the two picks in the top 11; the mystery is which position will take priority.
With a prospect like Adam Larsson available to them at No. 2, the decision is made for them.
Joel Armia, Wing, Assat (Finland)
6'3", 187 Pounds, Shoots: Right
The Carolina Hurricanes have plenty of talent up the middle in their current pool of prospects, but could use an elite talent at wing.
Joel Armia is a versatile and highly skilled forward who can play both center and wing for this organization. His combination of size and speed to go with his jaw-dropping stick-handling skills makes up one of the most impressive offensive skill sets in the draft.
I truly think Armia will be the steal of this draft.
Jamieson Oleksiak, Defense, Northeastern (NCAA)
6'7'', 244 Pounds, Shoots: Left
After being unable to sign top prospect Tim Erixon, the Calgary Flames are in desperate need of a blue-chip D-man to develop in the minors.
Jamieson Oleksiak may actually have the ability to step in right away for the Flames. He's a monster at 6'7" and shows some surprising offensive ability on the ice.
Oleksiak's performance at the combine only further solidifies his spot in the top 15 picks.
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 makes McNeill so attractive is his ability to step in right away and play with the muckers on the third and fourth lines.
He's exactly the type of prospect the Dallas Stars lack at the moment.
Mark Scheifele, C, Barrie (OHL)
6'2", 182 Pounds, Shoots: Right
Mark Scheifele is another player who has 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-18s. He is a terrific kid to have in the locker room and can bring it on 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 blueliner 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.
Zack Phillips, Center, Saint John (QMJHL)
6'1'', 181 Pounds, Shoots: Right
Zack Phillips had an impressive showing at the 2011 Memorial Cup, and that should vault him into the second half of the first round.
Phillips was surrounded by tons of talent on Saint John this season, but there's no denying the guy's ability to finish around the net. He's a true competitor.
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.
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.
The Ducks selected Cam Fowler last June, but need to add more depth on the blue line to contend in the West.
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.
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.
The Leafs could use a talented winger in their system.
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.
Jurco plays well in all three zones of the ice and most importantly stepped up big in the playoffs, something the Washington Capitals could use on their club.
If the Caps want to change the culture of their team, it starts with drafting players with the right mentality. Jurco fits the bill.
Stuart Percy, Defense, Mississauga (OHL)
6'1'', 186 Pounds, Shoots: Left
With a terrific showing at the 2011 Memorial Cup, Stuart Percy has moved himself into late first-round consideration.
He's incredibly poised with the biscuit on his stick. Percy has no issue retrieving the puck on dump-ins and starting the breakout.
He would slide in nicely on the defensively challenged Tampa Bay Lightning a few years down the road.
Mario Lucia, LW, Wayzata (Minnesota, High School)
6'2'', 185 Pounds, Shoots: Left
The San Jose Sharks have shown a tendency to draft and develop American-born players.
This year, Mario Lucia fits the bill, as he hopes to get drafted in his home state of Minnesota.
The Wayzata High School standout is still growing into his lanky figure, but could be an even more dangerous offensive weapon when he finally does max out his size.
Christopher Gibson, Goalie, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
6'3", 205 Pounds
The Vancouver Canucks already have one of the best goaltenders 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 someday 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.
Ty Rattie, RW, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
6'0'', 170 Pounds, Shoots: Right
Ty Rattie brings an ideal mentality to the locker room. His aggressive forechecking and nonstop energy on the ice make 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.
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.