The 2011 NHL Draft is considered to have a deep talent pool, so teams selecting in the first round will be expecting to land prospects who possess the potential to play in the NHL in the near future.
Teams selecting near the top of the draft are, for the most part, organizations in the midst of rebuilding processes, so their goal is to get players who will be building blocks for the future. Conversely, teams picking near the end of the first round are more likely to be selecting prospects who will fill supporting roles somewhere down the line.
Drafts are difficult to predict, especially with the NHL, because players are selected from so many different leagues. However, with the needs of each team in mind, here are the selections I would make if I were to play the role of general manager for each team picking in the First Round of the 2011 NHL Draft.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are in need of offensive talent, especially at the center position, but hopefully they'll address that with their first selection in the First Round. With their second first round pick, obtained from Boston, they should consider taking Mario Lucia, son of University of Minnesota bench boss Don Lucia.
Lucia is considered a high-risk, high-reward type of prospect, because he's only played at the Minnesota high-school level, save for a brief stint with the U.S. Under-18 team last season. He put up 54 points in 27 games for Wayzata High and will play at a top Division I school in the Fall. Leafs general manager Brian Burke lived in Minnesota growing up, and may opt to go with one of the state's top high school players with the last pick of the first round.
While he could end up being a second round pick, Lucia's untapped potential could entice a team like the Leafs to select him at the tail end of the first round.
The Vancouver Canucks have a pressing need for talent on the blue line, seeing as three of their top defensemen are up for unrestricted free agency on July 1.
The team could begin to address that need by selecting Scott Mayfield, the towering defenseman from Youngstown of the USHL. At 6'4", Mayfield has the size to play in the NHL and appears to have all the tools to do so as well. Scouts see him as a strong skater who hasn't fully reached his potential offensively.
While he's likely a couple of years from playing for Vancouver, he'd be a nice addition to the team's blue line and would alleviate some of the management's pressure to retain all three of their departing defensemen.
Seeing as the San Jose Sharks have an embarrassment of riches up front, they can afford to take a gamble with their first round pick in the 2011 draft by selecting Rocco Grimaldi from the U.S National Development Team.
Grimaldi is undersized by NHL standards, standing just 5'6", but his offensive talent is undeniable. In 50 games with the U.S. Under-18 team, Grimaldi put up 34 goals and 62 points, solidifying himself as one of the best American talents available for the draft. He's strong on his skates, and his low center of gravity make him surprisingly difficult to knock off the puck.
He'll be attending North Dakota in the fall, and he'll likely need a year or two to develop there, but there's no reason to believe Grimaldi won't be producing big numbers there as well. If he continues to progress at the rate he's been going for the last two seasons, San Jose will be pleased with this selection a couple of years down the line.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are in need of depth in between the pipes, as ageless wonder Dwayne Roloson is on the wrong side of 40 and Mike Smith continues to be inconsistent, so Steve Yzerman may opt to select a goaltender with his pick late in the first round.
John Gibson of the U.S. National Development Team is widely considered one of the best, if not the best, goaltending prospects available, so he may hear his name called by the Lightning late in the first round. Gibson is a big netminder whose confidence has grown during his two seasons in Ann Arbour and appears to be capable of being a starting goaltender in the NHL.
Goalies are hard to read as prospects, but Gibson has the size and skill to play in the NHL, so it's a good bet that he'll be the first netminder selected in the draft.
The Washington Capitals have a host of talented offensive forwards up front, but they're relatively thin down the middle after Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. The Capitals would be wise to add a solid two-way pivot with their first round selection, and Boone Jenner fits that bill perfectly.
Jenner put up decent numbers as a member of Oshawa in the OHL, notching 66 points in 63 games, but it's his all-around game that has made him a coveted prospect entering the draft. He is good on faceoffs, and plays a solid physical game, so he'd be a perfect fit on the Capitals' third line a couple seasons down the road.
While Jenner may not end up being a second line center at any point during his career, he's a good bet to be a very dependable third line pivot at the NHL level.
With the Maple Leafs desperate for some depth at center, Brian Burke will likely use one of his two first round selections on a center, and the best available at number 25 will likely be Russian Vladislav Namestnikov.
While Burke hasn't been known to be overly eager to select European prospects (outside of the Sedin twins while with Vancouver), Namestnikov isn't just another Russian honing his skills in the KHL. Instead, he's playing for the widely respected Hunter brothers with London of the OHL. The Hunters are known for developing players of all backgrounds, and Namestnikov progressed during his first season with the Knights in 2010-11.
He posted 68 points in 68 games, and while he may be a slightly risky selection based on his lack of size at this point in his career, he could blossom into the scoring center the Maple Leafs so badly need.
The Detroit Red Wings are known for their ability to successfully develop Swedish-born players, which is part of why it would make sense for them to take Rickard Rakell with their selection in the first round.
Rakell would fit in seamlessly with Detroit's style of play, as he's a solid two-way forward who can basically play on any of a team's four lines. He's a tireless forechecker, and has the skill to play the puck-possession style that Mike Babcock stresses in Detroit.
While his offensive numbers in the OHL weren't overly impressive, as he posted 43 points in 49 games, he has shown he's capable of scoring when put with the right players. Rakell may not blossom into the next Henrik Zetterberg, but he has the potential to be a key supporting player for the Red Wings in the future.
With so many talented centers on the roster, it's time for the Pittsburgh Penguins to add some offensive help on the wings. If that's their game plan entering the first round, the Penguins may choose to select Matt Puempel of the Peterborough Petes.
Puempel projects to be a goal scorer at the NHL level, as he's proven he can put the puck in the net in the OHL, registering back-to-back 30-goal seasons. He dealt with injuries and playing for a terrible Petes team last season, which caused his stock to drop significantly over the course of the year.
He's got good size and a nice set of hands, so if he materializes into the player people expected him to a year ago, Puempel will turn out to be a steal at number 23.
With the Anaheim Ducks' blue line just a shell of what it was four years ago, the team will be looking to acquire some talent for the future with their first pick in the Draft.
One player that would make sense for the Ducks is 6'4" David Musil, who looks to be one of the best defensive prospects available. Musil is a stay-at-home defenseman who loves to play the body, which is why he would be a nice fit alongside Ducks' blue chip rearguard Cam Fowler.
Musil won't light up the scoreboard at the Honda Center like Chris Pronger did, but he'll keep other teams from intimidating the Ducks physically.
The Senators are in need of some scoring help up front, preferably a winger to ride shotgun with franchise center Jason Spezza. They could be acquiring just that by selecting Slovak Tomas Jurco with their second selection in the first round.
Jurco has spent the last two seasons with Saint John of the QMJHL, which won the 2011 Memorial Cup. Though sometimes overshadowed by his more well known teammates, Jurco was a dazzling offensive force in 2010-11, and some scouts believe he's one of the most skilled players available in the Draft.
His consistency remains a question, but with his size and elite level puck skills, he has all the tools to be a scorer in the NHL.
The Phoenix Coyotes have managed to be a playoff team for the last two seasons, though they continue to deal with uncertainty regarding their ownership situation. Since they can't spend freely on free agents, it's imperative that the Coyotes draft wisely in 2011. With their first selection, the Coyotes should attempt to address the need for scoring help, as they continue to lack a bona fide offensive talent.
Power forward Tyler Biggs of the U.S. Under-18 team would be an intriguing option to the Coyotes, as his size and scoring abilities would fit the team's needs well. Biggs posted 28 points in 48 games for the Under-18 team last year, but many scouts believe the best is yet to come for the 6'2" right winger.
Not only is he capable of putting the puck in the net, but Biggs is also a physical presence on the ice who has shown a willingness to drop the gloves as well. While he's likely a year or two away from playing for Phoenix, he'd fit in nicely with the Coyotes gritty, defense-first style of play.
The Edmonton Oilers will probably look to add a scorer with their first selection, so their second pick could be used to add a big, stay-at-home defenseman like Jamie Oleksiak.
Oleksiak is an absolute giant on the blue line, as he stands 6'7" and weighs in at just over 240 pounds. He really wasn't considered a top-flight prospect until this season, but after seeing how well he transitioned from the USHL to Northeastern University, scouts have been high on Oleksiak.
While Oleksiak is capable defensively, scouts would like to see him play a more physical game, which would serve him well at the next level. Ultimately, his skill set for such a big man is exceptional, which is why if he's available at pick 19, the Oilers would be well-advised to snatch him up.
After having to dismantle part of their roster following the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup Championship, Chicago will be looking to add pieces that could help the team in the not-so-distant future.
A player who fits this bill is Nathan Beaulieu, the star defenseman from Saint John's 2011 Memorial Cup win. Beaulieu has progressed nicely over the course of his three seasons in Saint John and has proven that he's capable of putting up decent offensive numbers. He's got the height (6'2") and skating abilities of an NHL defenseman; now he just needs to add some weight to his frame over the course of the next year in order to be physically ready for the rigors of the big league.
He's a good bet to return to Saint John for at least the next season, but he's a nice defensive prospect who could blossom into an offensive rearguard a couple of years down the line.
In general, the Montreal Canadiens have a group of skilled, fleet-footed forwards, but have an obvious lack of size up front. They put a premium on size when it comes to their blue line, including at the draft, as they picked monster defenseman Jarred Tinordi with their first round pick 2010, so now it's time they do the same on offense.
One of the better power forwards in the draft is Joel Armia, who would perfectly fit in with Montreal's fast-paced offense. Armia is a power forward who has been playing in the top professional league in Finland for the last year. With Assat in the Finnish league, Armia posted 18 goals and 29 points, which are very encouraging numbers for a kid who just turned 18.
Armia's got size, skill and a knack for scoring goals, which would make him a welcome addition on a Canadiens team that lacks a pure goal scorer.
The Buffalo Sabres appear just one or two pieces away from being able to make some serious noise in the playoffs, and they now have an owner who is willing to spend on the free agent market.
The reason they've been able to stay competitive while being a team on a tight budget is the fact that the Sabres have drafted extremely well, and they'll look to continue that trend this year. One name who may be available when Buffalo comes up to the podium is Duncan Siemens, an intriguing prospect out of Saskatoon in the WHL.
Siemens has the size and skill to play in the NHL, as he's 6'3" and posted 43 points last season, which are big numbers for a 17-year old. If the Sabres are able to get Siemens this late in the first round, he may end up being the steal of the draft.
One of the most interesting prospects available in the draft is Nicklas Jensen, a Danish winger who suited up for Oshawa in the OHL this season.
Jensen previously played in the Danish professional league, but quickly proved he'd be destined for bigger things when he put up 26 points in 34 games as a 16-year-old. With Oshawa this season, he tallied 58 points in 61 games, but many scouts would like to see him use his body more, as he's 6'2". He's got the skill and shooting abilities to play in the NHL, but his skating will likely have to get better in order for him to be a premier goal scorer when he gets there.
However, Jensen possess great talent, and with another year in Oshawa, he could be ready to make the jump to the NHL. The Rangers could use the help up front, and he may have the highest upside of any forward available at this stage in the draft.
In recent years, the Dallas Stars have had a knack for picking power forwards in the draft, and some have gone on to become regulars with the big club already.
This year, one of the best power forwards available is Mark McNeill, a hard-working centerman who plays for Prince Albert in the WHL. McNeill has progressed immensely over the course of the last two seasons, as his point totals jumped from 24 a year ago to 81 in 2010-11. He's good offensively and is physically ready to compete in the NHL.
At 6'1", 205 pounds, McNeill will likely be dominant in the WHL next season if he returns, and he may be one of the most NHL-ready forwards in the draft.
With the Calgary Flames up against the cap, they'll be on the lookout for players that can help them in the immediate future, as opposed to long-term projects.
Zach Phillips of Saint John in the QMJHL is a center who has done it all at the Major Junior level, and may be ready sooner rather than later for the jump to the next level. Phillips was an integral part of Saint John's Memorial Cup Championship and tore the league apart offensively in the process.
Phillips posted 95 points in 67 games, which is a huge increase from the 44 he put up in 2009-10, so he's still progressing offensively. He isn't the prettiest skater, but his hands and shot more than compensate, which is why many scouts believe he'll be an offensive contributor at the next level.
The Carolina Hurricanes hit a home run with their first round pick in 2010, as they plucked All-Star forward Jeff Skinner at number seven overall.
This year, they may elect to take talented Russian center Alexander Khokhlacev from the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. Khokhlacev isn't as big as many of the other centers available, but he's proven he can put up big numbers while playing a solid two-way game.
Khokhlacev, like most Russian forwards, is very skilled with the puck, which is why he put up 76 points in 67 games for Windsor this season. Carolina has a first line center in Eric Staal, and Khokhlacev could develop into a second line pivot that would provide much needed secondary scoring.
With two talented centers up front in Denver, the Colorado Avalanche should be selecting a winger who can compliment them.
Brandon Saad is one player who the Avalanche should consider taking with the 11th pick in the draft because he has the size, skill and speed to play in the NHL in the near future. He's almost impossible to knock off the puck and appears able to put up more than the 55 points he did in 2010-11 with Saginaw in the OHL. As a 17-year-old, Saad notched 26 points in 24 games in the USHL, quickly proving he needed to move up a level for the following season.
While scouts expect more out of Saad next season, he still looks to be very much capable of being a top-six forward in the NHL, and most expect him to be there sooner rather than later.
With the trade rumor mill spitting out talk of Cam Barker and Brent Burns' days in St. Paul being numbered, the Minnesota Wild may be looking to add an offensive defenseman with their first selection in the 2011 draft.
The best offensive defenseman in the talent pool is probably the Kitchener Rangers' Ryan Murphy, who has put up huge numbers in the OHL. Last season, Murphy notched 79 points in 63 games, cementing his status as one of Major Junior's top offensive rearguards. While Murphy's defensive play has been questioned, his offensive skills are simply too great to ignore, especially at age 18.
If he returns to Kitchener next year, a 90-point season isn't out of the question, and Murphy appears capable of manning the point on Minnesota's power play in the near future.
The Boston Bruins have a great deal of depth on the offensive side of things, so it's natural that they'd try to add to their defense corps with the ninth pick in the 2011 Draft.
The best all-around defenseman available at this slot may be Niagara's Dougie Hamilton, a big but skilled rearguard who has been honing his skills in the OHL for the last two seasons. Hamilton stands 6'4", and while he needs to add some muscle to his frame, he has the size and instincts to play at the next level. In addition to being solid in his own end, Hamilton has demonstrated a high level of offensive talent as well, posting 58 points for Niagara in 2010-11.
Hamilton will undoubtedly play in the NHL, and if he continues to develop, he'll be a top-four defenseman within the next three to four seasons.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are, as always, in need of talent up front, specifically with regards to the center position.
If Niagara's Ryan Strome is available when Columbus makes its way to the podium, he should be selected in a heartbeat. Strome is one of the most offensively gifted players in Major Junior, as he showed this season when he notched 73 assists and 106 points in just 65 games. He has great hands and instincts in the offensive zone, and is a hark-working two-way center.
Strome is a pass-first type of player, so he'd look good alongside a pure goal scorer like the Jackets' Rick Nash. If Columbus can get Strome at the eighth pick in the draft, they'd be wise to do so, because he's far from done developing.
With the Atlanta Thrashers pending sale to True North near complete, Winnipeg will be home to a first round pick for the first time since 1995.
As the franchise begins a new chapter in its young history, new general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will be looking to add a significant building block for the future with the seventh selection in the Draft.
With that in mind, it would make sense for Winnipeg to tab Portland's Sven Bartschi, one of the most talented forwards available. The franchise has lacked a true offensive star up front since Ilya Kovalchuk left town, and Sven Bartschi could be the solution to that problem. Bartschi proved he's capable of playing the North American style after leaving his native Switzerland for the WHL last season, where he put up 34 goals and 85 points.
Bartschi is not fully developed physically, but in what's believed to be the most physical junior league in Canada, he was able to more than hold his own. He played a full season of professional hockey in Switzerland prior to leaving for Portland, so he may be ready for the NHL in a year.
With Daniel Alfredsson's career slowly coming to a close, and departures of many key forwards, the Ottawa Senators will be on the market for some help up front at the 2011 draft.
Seeing as Jason Spezza is the team's number one center, they could use a pivot for the second line, as they're particularly weak up the middle. Swedish born centerman Mika Zibanejad could be the answer to the Senators troubles, as he's considered one of the most NHL-ready players available in 2011.
Zibanejad appears physically ready for the rigors of the NHL, as he stands 6'2" and almost 200 pounds, in addition to the fact that he played a full year in the Swedish Elite League last season. While his numbers weren't overly impressive, he plays a solid two-way game and looks like he'd be a nice fit as a second line center at the next level.
It's unclear where he'll go in the draft, but he's been a hot prospect as of late, so it wouldn't be overly surprising to see him squeak into the top five.
The New York Islanders thought they'd found their franchise player when they took John Tavares with the top selection in 2009, but it may be that they end up finding their man here in 2011, in Jonathan Huberdeau of the Saint John Sea Dogs.
Huberdeau had a magnificent 2010-11 season, as he scored 43 goals and 106 points for the QMJHL Champions, and finished it off by being named MVP of the Memorial Cup. He's got good size and he's lethal in the offensive zone, thanks in large part to his great hands.
He may not be the two-way player that some scouts would hope he'd be, but his offensive upside is undeniable. He may take a year or two to develop, seeing as he's about 170 pounds, but there's no questioning the fact that Huberdeau has the talent to be a star in the NHL.
In many other years, Gabriel Landeskog could have ended up being the top pick in the draft, but seeing as this is considered a very deep draft class, he'll have to settle for number four.
The New Jersey Devils are in need of help up front, as they're up against the cap and have a host of aging or underachieving forwards. Landeskog would be a perfect fit with the Devils' defense-first mentality and style of play, as he's widely considered the best two-way forward available in the Draft.
He's a born leader, as he became the first non-North American to captain the Kitchener Rangers and is capable of being a top-six forward in the NHL. At 6'1", 207 pounds, Landeskog is not only skilled enough to be a force in the near future, but he's big enough too. Though he tallied 66 points in 53 games last season in the OHL, he could be capable of being an even bigger contributor at the NHL level.
The Florida Panthers have had a miserable last 10 seasons, missing the playoffs each year. They'll look to change that by taking a potential franchise center in Sean Couturier with the third pick in the draft.
Couturier is an offensive dynamo, as he's tallied back-to-back 96 point seasons for Drummondville of the QMJHL. However, there's more to his game than just goals and points, as he's a solid two-way pivot who is responsible in his own end. As the only underaged member of Canada's silver medal-winning team at the 2011 World Junior Championships, Couturier didn't look out of place, notching three points in seven games.
Scouts love his 6'4" frame and the way he uses it to create opportunities. While Couturier may not end up being the superstar center that Florida is hoping for, he'll almost assuredly be a productive top-two line pivot in the very near future.
The Colorado Avalanche acquired one franchise cornerstone defenseman in Erik Johnson at the 2011 trade deadline, so now it's time for them to add a second in Adam Larsson with the second pick in the draft.
Larsson is widely thought to be the hands-down best defenseman available in the draft, and for good reason. For starters, he's 6'3", 200 pounds already, so he has the size to play in the NHL today. More importantly, he's proven he's ready for professional hockey, as he's played three seasons in the Swedish Elite League.
Larsson cemented his status as a top-five prospect in the draft with his performance at the World Juniors, and some even consider him to be the best defensive prospect since Nicklas Lidstrom. He'll definitely be an NHL defenseman; the only question now is whether he'll simply be a top-four rearguard or blossom into a star.
For the second consecutive year, the Edmonton Oilers hold the top selection in the NHL Draft. And for the second consecutive year, the Oilers will select a wildly talented forward, this time in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Nugent-Hopkins has quietly solidified himself as the top prospect available, though he may not be ready for the NHL next season, as he's just 170 pounds at 6'1". Size aside, Nugent-Hopkins tore the WHL apart, posting 106 points in just 69 games. He's the most electrifying player in the draft and has the highest upside of any prospect in the talent pool.
What sets him apart are his hands, vision and willingness to go into high-traffic areas to make a play, despite his smaller frame. These attributes have forced some scouts to liken his game to that of former number one pick Patrick Kane, though Nugent-Hopkins will be much more physically imposing.
Nugent-Hopkins is a playmaker who creates opportunities for his teammates, which is precisely why Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini is drooling at the prospect of having him line up next to last year's first overall pick, Taylor Hall.