With the 2011 NHL Draft coming up on Friday, and the New Jersey Devils holding the fourth selection, now is a good time to do a quick guess as to who might be available for the Devils to take there, assuming they do not trade up or down.
As most Devils fans know, this will be the first time the Devils are drafting this high since 1991, when they took the great Scott Niedermayer third overall. It's fair to say that pick worked out exceptionally well for the Devils, and if they are anywhere near as fortunate with their pick on Friday, the Devils and their fans should have a lot to look forward to.
Before we get too excited, I feel the need to point out that picks like Scott Niedermayer certainly don't grow on trees, so it will be hard for the likes of David Conte and Lou Lamoriello to obtain a player like that, but they obviously will do the best they can. Without further ado, let's take a look at who I predict will be the first four picks of the 2011 NHL Draft.
The Edmonton Oilers currently hold the first pick, but there has been a lot of chatter they may look to trade down, with the Florida Panthers rumored to be interested in moving up from the third slot. Without any trade completed as of yet, I will assume the Oilers keep the pick and select forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a very skilled center out of Red Deer and the Western Hockey League.
At 6'0" and 164 lbs, he might be a little undersized, but at age 18, there's still some room for Nugent-Hopkins to grow. He's hit the weight room hard since his season has ended, allegedly putting on up to eight pounds already to help fill out his frame. Assuming he can maintain his skill and speed with extra muscle only makes him that much more appealing to be taken first overall.
His play-making skills and production are a great potential fit for Edmonton to put between the likes of Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, and give the Oilers a potential long-term option in the middle. Even if he will stay at the junior level for 2011-12, the upside potential is too good to pass up at the first pick.
If the Oilers trade down to the third spot, I think they may look to select Adam Larsson, but if they stand pat, I think Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is their pick.
The Colorado Avalanche have been linked through the rumor mill to potentially taking Jonathan Huberdeau and Gabriel Landeskog, but lately they have been linked to taking Adam Larsson, a defenseman from Sweden who finished his second season with Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League. Larsson had become just the third defenseman to make his Elite League Debut at the age of 16, following Calle Johansson and Victor Hedman who came before him at such a young age.
Larsson, at 6'3" 200 lbs, has already shown the ability to play alongside men and to hold his own. Many have pegged him as the most NHL-ready of the defensemen—if not all the draft eligible players—meaning he could step in and contribute right away for whatever team takes him. However, there are many that think Larsson will spend one more year in Sweden before coming over to North America.
His skating ability is what sets him apart from the pack, and he is a good passer and stick-handler, as well. With the size he has, he brings pretty much the entire package. His biggest weakness (and I use the term loosely) is his shot, which he has admitted can use a little fine tuning and work. At age 18 (will be 19 in November), he definitely has time to work on that.
When it's all said and done, I expect the Colorado Avalanche to select Adam Larsson with the No. 2 pick in Friday's draft.
The Florida Panthers select third and are definitely a team that has a lot of needs to fill, and as a result, is likely looking for a star to build around. The best candidate I can think of is the fast rising Jonathan Huberdeau, who starred for the winning Saint John's Sea Dogs squad that won the Memorial Cup this season with Huberdeau earning MVP honors.
Huberdeau is the player who has gained the most in stature in recent weeks, as his performance in the Memorial Cup vaulted him well into the top five. His scouting reports say he isn't always the flashiest guy, but he simply is a complete package.
His head coach Gerard Gallant says,
"He's still not the fastest, but I'd certainly label him the craftiest on our team. He's a quality, character kid. He competes both ways, battles for those goals around the net and competes hard in every situation. I can put Jonathan on the ice in any situation…the last minute of a game when we're behind by a goal or ahead by a goal. He comes to play every time. His vision is outstanding, he has great puck skills and I think he's the complete package."
He definitely sounds like the type of player a team like Florida would want to help build a new nucleus. They currently don't have a real identity, we have seen recent stars like Jay Bouwmeester and Nathan Horton leave the team and it seems like goalie Tomas Vokoun will be the next to depart. What better way to help the team make strides than to bring in a guy like Huberdeau, who will not only improve the talent level of the team with his presence, but also bring the play of his teammates to a higher level.
With the third pick in the 2011 NHL draft, I'll predict the Florida Panthers select Jonathan Huberdeau.
The New Jersey Devils are coming off their first non-playoff season since 1996, in what amounted to perhaps the most disappointing season in the team's history. After suffering through the Summer of Kovalchuk, the team seemed to suffer one distraction after another, until they had hit rock bottom and it was realistically too late to recover.
The one major positive from their disastrous season is the rare top 10 draft pick (originally No. 8), which was further enhanced by their winning the NHL Lottery, and gaining them the No. 4 spot. While the general consensus and house money would be on Gabriel Landeskog for this pick, I'm going to throw a bit of a curveball, and say the Devils will choose Dougie Hamilton, a defenseman from the Niagra Ice Dogs of the Ontario Hockey League.
Yes, it's a bit of a curveball, but the Devils, led by the likes of David Conte and Lou Lamoriello for the draft, sometimes come in a little off the radar and bring in a player they like, which doesn't always necessarily agree with the Central Scouting Rankings. In this case, Hamilton is ranked as the No. 4 North American skater, so it isn't a far drop from the expected. If Jonathan Huberdeau is there, I think the Devils take him, but if not, I think they go for the 6'4" 187 lb defenseman who just turned 18 earlier this week.
According to NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards, Hamilton "moves the puck well and makes good outlet passes, he does make good decisions with the puck, moves it very well out of his zone. He's a big guy, he'll take the body. He uses his size well. He can muscle people off the puck."
While he would likely be ticketed for another season in junior hockey for 2011-12, he sounds like a great potential long-term fit on the Devils backline, and could potentially be teamed with top prospect Jon Merrill to eventually form a very talented 1-2 combo the Devils haven't seen since Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski all left the team in the last 6-8 years.
If it turns out to be correct, I'll look pretty smart, but I have the New Jersey Devils taking Dougie Hamilton with their fourth pick in the 2011 draft.