NHL Draft 2011: The Five Draft Prospects Most Likely to Play Next Season
While the Bruins fan base still eagerly celebrates and the Canucks fans are still looking to get bailed out of jail for their riotous behavior, the remaining professional hockey followers are chomping at the proverbial bit for the 2011 NHL draft.
The NHL draft is a strange beast, as only a handful of the slated 350+ draftees will ever actually see any ice time in their careers, let alone next season. To that end, I'm going to try and predict the top five individuals being drafted who will actually be major contributors on the ice come next winter.
No. 5: Gabriel Landeskog
As BR writer Tom Urtz, Jr. points out, Landeskog "has some grit to his game." At 6'0" and 200 lbs., he's a true winger whose greatest asset is the confluence of size, speed, and flat out toughness. The combination of these traits allows him the ability to dominate both the boards and the open ice. Moreover, considering that Landeskog is only 18 years old, he's only going to get bigger and faster.
Check out some of the hits he lays in this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtVG7KMhjxc.
Look for Landeskog to be a major contributor next year.
No. 4: Adam Larsson
Adam Larsson is legit. The 6'3", 215 lb. defenseman plays a physical, no holds barred game. He has no compunctions whatsoever about throwing himself in front of a shot, which makes him tantamount to blood pressure meds for any NHL goalie.
The best part of Larsson's game is what he does behind and in front of the net. When the action is in his end, Larsson is great at clearing as well as intercepting any pucks that float in front of the crease.
On top of being a great skater, Larsson is also a great shooter, especially from the attacking zone inside the blue line.
Whether or not Larsson sticks around in Sweden for another year or so remains to be seen. However, if he does opt to join the NHL next season, you'll see him on the ice.
No. 3: Dougie Hamilton
With an older brother drafted into the NHL in 2010 and parents who competed for Canada in the 1984 games, Hamilton comes from good stock. Moreover, at 6'4" and 200 lbs, Hamilton has an NHL worthy frame at only 18 years of age.
As he gets more experience in the league and starts to focus more on strength and conditioning, don't be surprised if you see him bulk up to 240 lbs.
Hamilton is a dynamic and skilled player who not only drives the puck well, but as evidenced by this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goOj2sv0oho), can also lay a shot down from the attacking zone inside the blue line. I definitely think Hamilton will earn some time on the ice come next winter.
No. 2: Jonathan Huberdeau
I like Huberdeau's style of play. He's physical, fast, and fearless.
What Huberdeau does best is play close to the goal. Nearly all of his goals are the result of driving to the goal or wrapping around it from behind. Of all the players I've considered for this article, Huberdeau is far and away the best at navigating a puck through traffic.
Moreover, he's a second chance skater, meaning he pursues rebounds like a dog chases cars. Unlike the dog and car metaphor, though, Huberdeau knows what to do when he gets hold of a rebound: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCN34D02V24.
Like our No. 1 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Huberdeau is also somewhat undersized at 171 lbs. However, he demonstrates a style of play more immediately translatable to the NHL. Once Huberdeau, who already likes playing in traffic, gains 25-30 lbs, he'll be comparable to a freight train powered by a Ferrari engine.
No. 1: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Canadian center, is slated to go as the first round pick in just about every mock draft Google could throw at me. And there's good reason for this.
Nugent-Hopkins plays a mental game commensurate with someone who is an NHL veteran. The marriage of this with his natural ability makes him a surefire contributor next year. A lot of younger players, including big names like Sidney Crosby, played somewhat impulsively in their first season.
On the other hand, Nugent-Hopkins is a player who calculates his every move: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g01t5z_OFn0. In the very first highlight clip, if you listen carefully, you can hear Nugent-Hopkins' age: 15.
The only hitch is that Nugent-Hopkins is a little undersized at 6'0", 160 lbs. With that said, he's just a kid, so there's no doubt in my mind that he'll grow and get bigger.
Look for Nugent-Hopkins to make some big contributions next year; however, it may take him a year or two before he starts delivering on the level people are expecting. Nonetheless, he's the hands-down number 1 for this article.