Well the day has finally arrived for the have-nots in the NHL—the NHL Draft is here. After months of scouting the top prospects in this draft, a fairly deep draft I might add, teams finally have the chance to go out and pick up a major building block for their future.
Teams looking for a future center or defenseman are in luck as those positions are the deepest in this class.
Names like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, Sean Couturier, and Gabriel Landeskog have been discussed endlessly all year, but they won't be the only ones who walk the stage early on at the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota.
While the lottery picks are not the only place to find the next superstar in a draft, its a good place to start, so here is a look at the top 14 picks in this draft.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins- Center, Red Deer Rebels (6'0", 170 lbs)
Final Scouting Rank: 1 (among North American Skaters)
Pretty much the only surefire lock of a pick in this draft is at No. 1 overall, where Edmonton is all but guaranteed to select Nugent-Hopkins. RNH is easily the best center prospect in this draft- his vision, passing ability, and offensive upside will ensure that he becomes a true No. 1 center in the NHL sooner rather than later.
Ironically the biggest knock on Nugent-Hopkins is his small stature. His weight has been listed anywhere from 150 lbs to 175 lbs, and if he would like to avoid be tossed around like a rag doll on the next level, RNH would be wise to bulk up to the 190 lbs area. Because of this, it might be wise for Nugent-Hopkins to spend another year in the minors before jumping to the NHL.
An idea has been tossed around lately that Edmonton may want to select defenseman Adam Larsson No. 1 overall instead because of the lack of depth at that position in the Oilers organization.
However, a top line of RNH, last year's No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall, and rising young star Jordan Eberle will be too much for the Oilers to pass up. If Ryan Nugent-Hopkins pans out like he is expected to, that line will be one of the most dangerous in all of hockey within a few years.
Gabriel Landeskog- Left Wing, Kitchener Rangers (6'0", 207 lbs)
Final Scouting Rank- 2
Possibly the most NHL-ready player in the 2011 draft, Gabriel Landeskog is a born leader and a budding young power forward. The Swedish winger was the youngest captain of the Kitchener Rangers in 30 years and the first ever to be born in Europe.
Landeskog has been compared to stars Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Richards, and if his talent level is anywhere near either of them, he is well worth the No. 2 pick. A solid two-way player, Landeskog will put up solid offensive points (think 60-80 points per season) and he won't be a liability in the defensive end.
Colorado has needs all over the ice, and once again Adam Larsson is a popular pick at this spot in many mock drafts, but the Avalanche just traded for a young franchise defenseman in Eric Johnson, and they need all the leadership they can get on their young team. Landeskog will step in and fill the hole left when they traded Chris Stewart, and he has all the talent to be a first line winger for years to come.
Jonathan Huberdeau- Center/Left Wing, St. John Sea Dogs (6'1", 170 lbs)
Final Scouting Rank- 3
Yet another team passing on Adam Larsson? Unfortunately for him, yes- Florida already has two young stud d-men in Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson, but they have little depth at the forward position.
That is where Jonathan Huberdeau comes in. At this point last year, Huberdeau was not on anyone's radar for the draft, but after a 105-point season (70 more than the previous season) and a Memorial Cup championship with St. John's, he has skyrocketed up draft boards.
A good skater and an excellent playmaker, Huberdeau will be a welcome addition to a Florida Panthers franchise that has consistently lacked elite offensive talent over the past decade. Huberdeau has a good chance of making the Panthers roster next season, but one more season in the juniors would only help his development.
Adam Larsson- Defenseman, Skelleftea HC (6'3", 200 lbs)
Final Scouting Rank- 1 (among European skaters)
The wait is finally over for the most talented player in the draft. Talent finally trumps need as the Devils would be ecstatic to grab Adam Larsson with the fourth overall selection.
Larsson is a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman with great puck handling ability. The term "franchise defenseman" is not thrown around loosely, but it certainly applies to Larsson, who is as NHL ready as anyone after playing against grown men in the Swedish Elite League for the last three seasons.
For a team that has lacked elite defensive talent since Scott Stevens retired, Adam Larsson can be the cornerstone for the Devils franchise to build around for the next 10-plus years.
Dougie Hamilton- Defenseman, Niagara Ice Dogs (6'4", 193 lbs)
Final Scouting Rank- 4
After years of dwelling at the bottom of the NHL, the New York Islanders are finally on the rise. After cultivating young offensive talent such as Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, and John Tavares, GM Garth Snow finally turns to the defensive side of the ice.
After Adam Larsson, Dougie Hamilton is the most talented and NHL-ready defenseman. Hamilton has great size which he uses to his advantage, and he can make a great first pass.
Posting 58 points in 67 games shows that Hamilton also has a good offensive touch to his game, but don't be mistaken—if Hamilton can add some weight to his frame, he can be a terrific shut down defenseman in the NHL.
Mika Zibanejad- Center, Djurgårdens IF (6'2", 191 lbs)
Final Scouting Rank- 2 (among European skaters)
Another great, young Swede, Mika Zibanejad is not as well known as his countrymen Larsson or Landeskog, but he could end up being every bit as talented. Zibanejad is a powerful young center who, like Adam Larsson, has faced grown competition in the Swedish Elite League which has only made him more prepared for the NHL.
His stats may not be eye-popping (five goals, four assists in 26 games) but Zibanejad uses his vision and size to make plays and open up space for his smaller teammates. His soft hands and passing ability will give him the chance to be a No. 1 center one day in the NHL, but he will at least be a very solid No. 2.
Behind Jason Spezza, Ottawa has minimal depth at the center position which makes the Zibanejad pick even more enticing.
Sean Couturier- Center, Drummondville Voltigeurs (6'4", 197 lbs)
Final Scouting Rank- 6
Sean Couturier was the only undrafted player added to the Canadian Junior National team this past fall, but his less-than-stellar performance during the tournament in Buffalo sent his stock falling. Once seen as a potential No. 1 overall selection, Couturier is now more likely to be selected somewhere between picks 5-10.
Despite his slight fall in the prospect rankings, Couturier is an excellent prospect whose combination of size and playmaking abilities will be hard to pass up at the No. 7 spot. Couturier is a very smart player who sees the ice well and can make good passes. While he does not do any one thing spectacularly, he does everything well and will be a good No. 2 center in the NHL.
Winnipeg has a good young center in Alex Burmistrov and a solid veteran in Nik Antropov, but their prospect pipeline is filled with wingers and defensemen, so a center like Sean Couturier would be a welcome addition.
Ryan Strome- Center, Niagara Ice Dogs (6'0", 175 lbs)
Final Scouting Rank- 8
After the Philadelphia Flyers dropped a bomb on their roster yesterday afternoon trading away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, they are suddenly in need of some depth at the center position. Don't get me wrong, Brayden Schenn is going to be a great player and could be a No. 1 center, but after getting rid of your top two centers, you can't rely on one (relatively) unproven prospect to replace them.
At No. 8, Ryan Strome is the best center available and would be a strong No. 2 center down the road. Strome has excellent speed and is pretty tough for his size, even though he is on the small side.
Even if Philly is gearing up for a run at UFA center Brad Richards, Strome would still be a good pick because he needs another year or two of seasoning in the minors before he is ready to start in the NHL.
Ryan Murphy- Defenseman, Kitchener Rangers (5'10", 160 lbs)
Final Scouting Rank- 9
The Boston Bruins are still reaping the reward of one of the most lopsided trades in recent NHL history, getting two top 10 picks for an overvalued Phil Kessel. After winning the Cup this year, this pick is a luxury pick that could go in a number of different directions.
However, Ryan Murphy makes the most sense at No. 9. Tim Thomas was excellent in the playoffs, but he did not get much help from his defense, outside of Zdeno Chara. Ryan Murphy is an excellent offensive defenseman who put up a stellar 79 points this past season.
Murphy's forte is quarterbacking the powerplay, which just happened to be Boston's biggest weakness during the 2011 playoffs.
At such a small size, Murphy is still a little ways off from the big league, but if he can fill out, he can be a huge addition to an already stacked team.
Nathan Beaulieu- Defenseman, St. John Sea Dogs (6'3", 174 lbs)
Final Scouting Rank- 5
Much like the defensemen drafted before him, Nathan Beaulieu possess a combination of a strong offensive and defensive game.
Many scouts seem split on Beaulieu, with some believing he should be a top five pick, and others seeing him go at the end of the first round. This is due in large part to some inconsistencies in his game and some degree of immaturity.
Beaulieu is a very strong skater and doesn't make too many mistakes in his own end. Beaulieu would be a great addition to a weak defensive class of prospects in Minnesota. In time, he could make a good pairing with star Brent Burns.
Duncan Siemens- Defenseman, Saskatoon Blades (6'3", 192)
Final Scouting Rank- 10
After filling a big need at winger, the Avalanche can spend their second 1st round selection on the toughest, grittiest D-man in the draft.
Duncan Siemens is a big, strong, tough player who is very solid in his own end and is not afraid to drop the gloves (as you can see in his picture).
The Avalanche are predominantly a smaller, speedy team, so a big, tough fighter who is defensively sound and can lay out some big hits would add some much needed grit to the roster. Siemens is a perfect fit here.
Sven Baertschi- Left Wing, Portland Winterhawks (5'10", 180 lbs)
Final Scouting Rank- 7
A very skilled finesse player, Sven Baertschi proved his offensive prowess this past season by putting up an impressive 85 points in his first season in the WHL. Baertschi has great speed and incredible stamina, two things that are crucial in building a prototypical winger.
Baertschi seems destined for at least one more season in the minors, but when he is ready, he will be an excellent complement to Eric Staal or Calder trophy winner Jeff Skinner.
Mark McNeill- Center, Prince Albert Raiders (6'2", 210)
Final Scouting Rank- 14
The Flames need to get bigger and more talented in the middle, plain and simple. Olli Jokinen is a solid No. 1 center, but after him, the Flames are filled with journeymen and weak prospects.
Mark McNeill is an excellent remedy to this situation- he has the size and the skill to center the Flames second or third line relatively soon. McNeill is a very good two-way player whose offensive skills do not overshadow his strong defensive game. Awareness and hockey sense are two things that are repeatedly mentioned about McNeill in a positive manner.
NHL-sized now, look for McNeill to break into the NHL this upcoming season, something that most 1st round picks cannot do.
Zack Phillips- Center, St. John Sea Dogs (6'1", 178 lbs)
Final Scouting Rank- 15
Yet another member of the Memorial Cup champion St. John Sea Dogs goes in the lottery. The logic behind this pick is simple—Dallas is losing their No. 1 center (and best player) Brad Richards.
Without a suitable replacement on the roster, the Stars take the best center available to try and remedy the situation.
Zack Phillips is a solid center prospect with good vision who probably does not have No. 1 potential, but does everything well enough to justify his selection in the top 14 picks.