NHL Draft 2011 Grades: Grading Each Pick from the First Round
The First Round of the 2011 NHL Draft was a time of change for all 30 teams in the league, as each added talent for both the future and present via selections and trades.
Each pick in the First Round represents an opportunity for a team to add a prospect who could blossom into an impact player, which has become increasingly important since the institution of the salary cap in 2005.
This year's Draft is considered to be one long on talent but short on superstar players, so outside of the top-10, there were vastly differing opinions on the remaining prospects.
Each team entered the First Round with specific needs, so here are pick-by-pick grades for how well each selection addresses the needs of the team that chose them.
1. Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
As expected, the Edmonton Oilers used the first overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels.
After selecting goal scorer Taylor Hall with the top pick in 2010, the Oilers opted to pick the best playmaking center available in this year's talent pool. Nugent-Hopkins posted 106 points for the Rebels in 2010-11, and demonstrated elite skating and puckhandling abilities.
Ultimately, Nugent-Hopkins has the highest upside of any player in the Draft, and while he may not be a lock to be an NHL star, he has the potential to be a first-line center.
He may not be wearing an OIlers jersey in 2011-12, but that may be beneficial to his development because he'll need to add weight to his 164-pound frame.
You can't fault the Oilers for taking the top-rated forward in the Draft, so they receive top marks for this selection.
2. Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog
Most analysts believed that the Colorado Avalanche would select Adam Larsson, the top-rated defenseman in the Draft. Instead, Colorado opted to pick Swedish winger Gabriel Landeskog, the swift skating captain of the OHL's Kitchener Rangers.
Landeskog is probably the most NHL-ready prospect in this year's talent pool, not only because of his size and strength, but also in large part due to his tireless two-way play.
He's skilled enough to put up points, as he posted 66 in 53 games with the Rangers last season, and also plays a physical style of hockey that will endear him to Avalanche fans.
Though it was a surprising pick by Colorado, Landeskog is probably the most complete forward available in this year's Draft, and he's likely ready to step into the team's lineup next season.
The only reason this isn't a full 'A' is that Adam Larsson was widely believed to be the best player available, but there's no question the Avalanche got a quality player in Landeskog.
3. Florida Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau
With the third pick, the Florida Panthers took Jonathan Huberdeau of the 2011 Memorial Cup Champion Saint John Sea Dogs.
Widely believed to be the second-best offensive talent available in this year's Draft, Huberdeau is big, fast and more than skilled enough to be a first-line center in the NHL.
Huberdeau tore apart the QMJHL with 105 points in 2010-11, and finished the season off by winning the Most Valuable Player Award at the Memorial Cup.
He's got great hands and skating abilities, and has good hockey sense at both ends of the ice. The Panthers, desperate for size and skill up front, acquired the player with the greatest game-breaking abilities that remained in the talent pool.
The Panthers picked up their first high-end forward prospect since Nathan Horton, and they may have found the franchise center they've needed for the last decade.
4. New Jersey Devils: Adam Larsson
The New Jersey Devils were shocked to see Adam Larsson available when they were called to the podium, and snapped the talented Swedish defenseman up.
Larsson is the undisputed best defenseman available this year, as he possesses the size, speed and skill to be an elite rearguard in the NHL. At 6'3", 200 pounds, Larsson is ready to play in the NHL next season, after spending three years honing his skills in the Swedish Elite League.
Having lost the services of high-end defensemen like Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski, Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya over the course of the last decade, the Devils have acquired the franchise's next great blue liner.
While he only posted nine points in the SEL last season, Larsson has the potential to be a threat offensively while being a roadblock defensively.
The Devils got the steal of the first round in Adam Larsson, so they get top marks for their selection at No. 4.
5. New York Islanders: Ryan Strome
The New York Islanders got a sniper with the first overall pick in 2009 with the selection of John Tavares. This year, they picked up a playmaker to feed Tavares for years to come.
Ryan Strome is likely the best setup man in the 2011 draft class, as he notched 73 assists and 106 points for the Niagara IceDogs in 2010-11.
Strome has great hands and a soft touch with the puck, but it's his vision that makes him so dangerous in the offensive zone.
He improved immensely last season, jumping from 27 points in 2009-10 to 106 this year, so he's still developing as a player. He may require another season in juniors, but he certainly has the potential to be a high-end playmaker in the NHL.
The Islanders could have used a strong two-way center like Mika Zibanejad or Sean Couturier, but they got a great offensive prospect in Ryan Strome.
6. Ottawa Senators: Mika Zibanejad
The Ottawa Senators addressed one of their most pressing needs by taking Sweden's Mike Zibanejad with the sixth overall selection in the 2011 Draft.
The Senators are desperate for help down the middle, as the cupboards are relatively bare after franchise pivot Jason Spezza. Mika Zibanejad is a big, talented center who is capable of being a game-changer at both ends of the ice.
He put up nine points in the Swedish Elite League in 2010-11 and appears to be ready to step into the Senators' lineup next season.
While he isn't as dangerous offensively as some of the other prospects available, Zibanejad is capable of being a top-six forward at the NHL level, which is exactly what the Senators need.
The Senators needed help at the center position and got it with possibly the most NHL-ready pivot available.
7. Winnipeg Jets: Mark Scheifele
After announcing that Winnipeg's newly-acquired franchise would be named the Jets, the team took the Barrie Colts' high-scoring forward, Mark Scheifele.
Scheifele was somewhat of a surprise at No. 7, because there were a couple of centers who were thought to be more NHL-ready prospects. However, Scheifele blossomed into a superb playmaker in the OHL, tallying 53 assists and 75 points in 2010-11.
Winnipeg needs to add talent to their roster up front, and Scheifele could be the high-end offensive player who is so obviously missing. At almost 6'2", Scheifele has the size to play at the next level, but he'll probably need a year or two longer to develop.
Winnipeg made a gutsy move by taking Scheifele at the seventh slot, but Scheifele has undeniable potential.
8. Philadelphia Flyers: Sean Couturier
One day after dealing two franchise cornerstones in forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the Philadelphia Flyers selected a potential franchise centerman in Sean Couturier.
Though not as highly touted as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jonathan Huberdeau in the weeks leading up to the draft, Couturier was the only member of this year's draft class to be chosen for Canada's World Junior team.
He's a strong two-way player who is probably capable of playing on any of the Flyers' top three lines, though he was an offensive dynamo in the QMJHL with two 96-point seasons.
Couturier may turn out to be a steal at No. 8, as he could be a key contributor for the new-look Philadelphia Flyers going forward.
Couturier was the best player available when the Flyers approached the podium, so they did the right thing by selecting him.
9. Boston Bruins: Dougie Hamilton
The Boston Bruins were fortunate that Dougie Hamilton was available when the ninth overall pick rolled around, because he's the best North American rearguard in this year's draft class.
Hamilton is a 6'4" monster on the back end, but he's very dangerous offensively as well, as he notched 58 points in 67 games for Niagara of the OHL.
He will add another physical presence to the Bruins' already intimidating blue line, and is a capable puck-mover who will help jump start the offense.
While he needs to add some weight to his tall frame, Hamilton will undoubtedly be an impact player at the next level.
The Bruins got the best defenseman not named Adam Larsson in this year's crop, so this pick makes sense for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
10. Minnesota Wild: Jonas Brodin
In their own arena, the Minnesota Wild picked up the second-best Swedish defenseman in this year's draft class in Jonas Brodin with their first selection.
The Wild are cutting ties with Brent Burns and potentially Cam Barker, so they're in dire need of a top-four defenseman. Brodin spent last season playing for Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League, and posted four assists while helping the team win the league championship.
He's got the skating ability and hockey sense to play in the NHL, but needs to add both weight and a physicality to his game in order for him to be a top-four rearguard.
The Minnesota Wild did the right thing by taking a defenseman, but should've used it on offensive defenseman Ryan Murphy.
11. Colorado Avalanche: Duncan Siemens
After opting to select Gabriel Landeskog instead of top-ranked blue liner Adam Larsson, the Avalanche used their second pick of the first round to take Duncan Siemens of the Saskatoon Blades.
At 6'3", Siemens has the size to be a shutdown defenseman at the next level, but also possesses offensive potential. He registered 43 points for the Blades last year, but will likely be more of a stay-at-home defenseman in the NHL.
The Avalanche addressed two of their biggest needs by adding Landeskog and Siemens to their organization, and both could be major building blocks for the team going forward.
The Avalanche took the best defensive rearguard available, which fits their needs perfectly.
12. Carolina Hurricanes: Ryan Murphy
After hitting a home run with their selection of Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner in 2010, the Carolina Hurricanes were able to get the best offensive defenseman in this year's fraft with the 12th overall pick.
Ryan Murphy has easily the highest upside offensively of any blue liner in this year's Draft Class after dominating the OHL with 79 points in 63 games with the Kitchener Rangers in 2010-11. Murphy isn't the best rearguard defensively, but if he continues to develop he could be a Mike Green-like threat in the NHL.
The Hurricanes were lucky to get Murphy as late as they did, and he could be the offensive presence on the back end that they're missing.
The Hurricanes were fortunate that 11 other teams passed on Murphy, and made no mistake by taking him at No. 12.
13. Calgary Flames: Sven Bartschi
The Calgary Flames have tried to find a scoring threat to complement franchise player Jarome Iginla for the last decade, and may have finally found one in Sven Bartschi.
The Swiss winger was one of the best offensive talents in the Western Hockey League last season, as he tallied 34 goals and 85 points. Bartschi has a knack for getting into open areas in the offensive zone, and has the scoring touch to finish when he gets the opportunity.
Calgary's General Manager Jay Feaster said that this draft had to be an exceptional one for the organization, and they've taken a step in the right direction with the selection of the highly skilled and fleet-footed Bartschi.
The Flames took one of the better scoring threats available in this year's draft, but Bartschi isn't exactly a lock to be an impact player.
14. Dallas Stars: Jamie Oleksiak
The Dallas Stars made one of the more surprising selections of the first round by taking Jamie Oleksiak with the 14th pick in the draft.
Oleksiak is massive at 6'7", 240 pounds, and blossomed into a two-way defenseman this season at Northeastern University.
After three seasons honing his skills in the USHL, Oleksiak transitioned well to the fast-paced style of college hockey, posting 13 points along the way.
Deceptively quick, Oleksiak has the potential to be a top-four defenseman for the Stars in a year or two, but he needs time to develop.
After losing franchise center Brad Richards, the Stars needed a high-end forward up front and Oleksiak is a high-risk, high-reward type of prospect.
15. New York Rangers: J.T. Miller
The New York Rangers have had a tough time getting their hands on impact forwards through the draft in recent years, and they've tried to reverse that trend by taking J.T. Miller of the U.S. National Developmental Team.
Miller is a big, strong center who performs well at both ends of the rink. Miller is a skilled player offensively, and projects to be a second or third-line center at the next level.
He was a bit of a surprise at 15th overall, but Miller is a character player who could be an impact player for the Rangers in a couple of years.
For a team that's starved for offense, the Rangers did the right thing by taking a forward, and a responsible two-way one at that.
Miller has the potential to play in the NHL, but he isn't quite the offensive talent down the middle that the Rangers need.
16. Buffalo Sabres: Joel Armia
No team has been more successful at the NHL Draft than the Buffalo Sabres in the last 10 years. Their scouting staff has the uncanny ability to identify future stars, even though they rarely pick in the top ten.
They looked to continue that trend by taking talented Finnish forward Joel Armia with their top selection in this year's Draft.
Armia is thought to be one of the best goal scorers in the talent pool, and Buffalo could use a sniper to take some of the pressure off Thomas Vanek.
Armia put up solid numbers while playing in Finland's top professional league last year, so he may be ready to terrorize NHL goaltenders in the very near future.
As usual, the Sabres got good value out of their selection, as they grabbed a player with a lot of upside in the middle of the first round.
17. Montreal Canadiens: Nathan Beaulieu
The Montreal Canadiens selected offensive defenseman Nathan Beaulieu of the Memorial Cup Champion Saint John Sea Dogs with their first pick in the Draft.
While the 'Habs are relatively small in stature up front, they've become known for icing behemoth lineups on the blue line in recent years, and it appears they'll continue that trend as they picked the 6'3" Beaulieu at No. 17.
Beaulieu is skilled at both ends of the rink, and he anticipates the play well, which allows him to jump into rushes on occasion.
With a number of talented blue liners in the system, Beaulieu will be given time to develop, which is ideal. He likely won't be a star in the NHL, but he could blossom into a top-four defenseman.
Though the Canadiens need to find some size up front, Beaulieu isn't a bad pick at 17.
18. Chicago Blackhawks: Mark McNeill
After dealing winger Troy Brouwer to Washington, the Chicago Blackhawks took one of the best power forwards in the Draft in Prince Albert's Mark McNeill.
McNeill is one of the strongest prospects of the draft class, and standing 6'2", he looks to be nearly ready physically for the NHL. In addition to his physical presence, McNeill is talented offensively, as he posted an impressive 81 points last season in the WHL.
Judging by his size and strength, McNeill could surprise many and make the Blackhawks' roster out of training camp.
McNeill is one of the best power forwards available, who is capable of filling the hole created by Brouwer's departure.
19. Edmonton Oilers: Oscar Klefbom
After tabbing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the first pick, the Edmonton Oilers grabbed talented young defenseman Oscar Klefbom from Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League.
Klefbom is solid on both sides of the puck, in large part due to his elite skating abilities. A smooth skater, Klefbom makes a good first pass coming out of the defensive zone, which is a valuable skill to have on a team stocked with quick, elusive forwards.
Ultimately, Klefbom will likely play at least one more year in the SEL, but when he decides he's ready for the North American game, he'll be given a long look by the Oilers.
Klefbom is an intriguing prospect, and Edmonton was in dire need of talent on the back end.
20. Phoenix Coyotes: Connor Murphy
The Phoenix Coyotes are known for selecting high-risk, high-reward prospects in the first round, and they continued that trend by taking Connor Murphy of the U.S. Developmental Team.
At 6'3", Murphy has the size to become a shutdown defenseman in the future, but needs to fill out physically before he'll be ready for the NHL.
As a member of Team USA, Murphy didn't put up overly impressive numbers, but if he continues to develop he could materialize into a top-four defenseman for the Coyotes in the future.
Murphy is a long-term project, but that's best for him anyways, as he has a lot of developing to do while at college.
The Coyotes' need for scoring help up front is pressing, so they would've been better suited to take a forward with this pick.
21. Ottawa Senators: Stefan Noesen
The Ottawa Senators grabbed two-way center Mika Zibanejad with the sixth overall selection in the Draft, and took high-scoring right wing Stefan Noesen with their next pick.
Noesen has the size to play in the NHL, as he's 6'1" and 195 pounds, and he's demonstrated an ability to produce offensively that made him too good to pass up at the 21st pick.
In terms of upside, Noesen's is as high as any other forward still available at this stage in the first round, but he won't challenge for a spot on the Senators for a couple of seasons.
Even if he doesn't make the cut in the NHL as a scoring winger, he has the size and skills to be a solid third-line winger for Ottawa in the future.
Noesen was one of the best offensive prospects available, but he's not as complete as some of the others.
22. Toronto Maple Leafs: Tyler Biggs
After dealing two second-round picks in order to obtain Anaheim's first-round selection, the Toronto Maple Leafs picked up Tyler Biggs, the captain of the U.S. National Developmental Team.
Biggs is one of the most physical high-end prospects in this year's talent pool, and perfectly embodies the attitude and style that Brian Burke is trying to instill in the Maple Leafs.
Biggs has decent potential offensively, but even if he doesn't materialize into a top-six forward, he'll be a solid energy-line player for Toronto.
Biggs is a good addition to the Maple Leafs' organization, as he's got the size, skill and toughness needed to be a top-nine forward in the NHL.
Biggs is a nice pickup at 22, and Brian Burke clearly knew the tough winger wouldn't be around much longer.
23. Pittsburgh Penguins: Joe Morrow
The Pittsburgh Penguins have put an emphasis on speed and skill since selecting Sidney Crosby first in 2005, and they continued that trend by selecting defenseman Joe Morrow of the Portland Winterhawks.
Morrow is among the best skaters in the draft, and is more than capable of jumping up in the play when the opportunity arises. He's got good size at 6'1" and almost 200 pounds, and showed an ability to contribute offensively as he posted 49 points in 60 games.
He's a good two-way blue liner, and Pittsburgh could end up with a steal in Joe Morrow, simply because this draft was so deep as far as defensemen go.
Morrow was probably the best defenseman still available when Ray Shero approached the podium, but it may be a while before he dons a Penguins jersey.
24. Ottawa Senators: Matt Puempel
After taking two forwards with their first two selections in the Draft, the Ottawa Senators added another offensive prospect to their organization by taking Matt Puempel of the Peterborough Petes.
Puempel had a tough 2010-11 season, as he underwent a major hip surgery, which may have caused him to slide down the draft rankings.
He did still manage to score 34 goals and 69 points, and projects to be a goal scorer at the next level, and may be the best pure sniper in the Draft.
While it's unclear how Puempel will bounce back from a tough season, he certainly has the potential to be the triggerman for playmaker Jason Spezza.
Puempel is a good selection because he has the potential to address one of the team's most pressing needs, which is scoring.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs: Stuart Percy
With their second pick of the First Round, the Toronto Maple Leafs selected defenseman Stuart Percy of the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors.
Percy is a skilled, smooth-skating defenseman who has the size and poise to play in the NHL some day.
With the Majors, Percy put up a very solid 33 points in 2010-11, displaying good hockey sense and instincts in the process.
While he's probably a couple of years from playing in the NHL, that's just fine with Toronto as they have a relatively young defense corps. He'll be given time to develop.
With not much else available as far as high-end defensive prospects go, Percy was a solid choice for Toronto.
26. Chicago Blackhawks: Phillip Danault
The Chicago Blackhawks have become one of the best teams in hockey, not only due to the contributions of their superstars, but also those of their skilled, defensively responsible two-way forwards like Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer and Tomas Kopecky.
They may have found another top-nine forward who is capable of contributing at both ends of the ice in Phillip Danault of the Victoriaville Tigres. Danault served as the team's captain last year, and put up 67 points for the Tigres while playing in all situations.
At 170 pounds, he's a couple of years away from cracking the Blackhawks' lineup, but once he does, he'll be given the opportunity to play with some talented forwrads.
After trading Troy Brouwer, the Blackhawks need to add a top-nine forward for the future. Danault fits that bill.
27. Tampa Bay Lightning: Vladislav Namestnikov
The Tampa Bay Lightning already have an impressive stable of North American offensive talents, so General Manager Steve Yzerman decided to diversify the team's depth chart by taking center Vladislav Namestnikov with the 27th pick in the draft.
Unlike many Russian prospects to come before him, Namestnikov spent his Draft year playing in North America, with the OHL's London Knights.
The Knights, coached by former NHL player Dale Hunter, are one of the most respected organizations in junior hockey, so Namestnikov is in good hands.
He's a highly skilled offensive pivot, as he scored at a point-per-game pace last season, and is capable of being the best player on the ice when he chooses to be.
He needs to add weight to his 170-pound frame, but he has the skill to play at the next level. Whether he has the desire, though, remains to be seen.
Namestnikov has a good amount of upside, and at the 27th pick, it's a win-win situation for Steve Yzerman.
28. Minnesota Wild: Zack Phillips
The Minnesota Wild are in dire need of offensive help, as they don't have a go-to scorer up front (unless Martin Havlat finds consistency), so they decided to take one of the best scorers on the best team in junior hockey.
Zack Phillips, a talented center from the 2011 Memorial Cup Champion Saint John Sea Dogs, was one of the most prolific point producers in the QMJHL last season, notching 38 goals and 95 points in 67 games.
Phillips isn't considered a high-end skater, but he more than compensates with his elite level hands and shot.
He has the offensive instincts and skills to be an impact forward at the NHL level, but Minnesota has to let him develop at his own pace. He may need another year in Saint John.
The Wild got good value out of this pick, as Zack Phillips was thought to be a top-15 pick just a few weeks ago. He has the potential to be a goal scoring top-six forward in Minnesota in the near future.
29. Vancouver Canucks: Nicklas Jensen
The Vancouver Canucks managed to get a top-end prospect at the end of the first round in power forward Nicklas Jensen.
Jensen, who hails from Denmark, spent last season playing for the Oshawa Generals of the OHL, and made waves during his first year in North America.
With Oshawa, Jensen put home 29 goals and 58 points in 61 games, and displayed the potential that suggests he's capable of much more.
He's got the speed and skill on the puck to be a power forward at the NHL level, and more importantly, has the size (6'3", 190 pounds) to play that role.
Some thought Jensen would be a top-20 pick, so the Canucks are happy to scoop him up at No. 29.
He could be the big, skilled forward up front they could've used during the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
30. Anaheim Ducks: Rickard Rakell
The Anaheim Ducks closed out the first round of the 2011 Draft by taking Swedish forward Rickard Rakell of the Plymouth Whalers.
Though Rakell wasn't the offensive presence that many others in the Draft were, he's a two-way player who could be a nice fit on any of the Ducks' top three lines.
He's got NHL-calibre size and skating abilities, and did post 41 points in 43 games in the OHL last year, so it's possible he could be a second-line winger in a couple of seasons.
With their top line together for the next few years, the Ducks added a player who could be ready to challenge for a spot on the bottom three lines by 2012-13.
There were some players with more upside available, but the Ducks made a safe pick in Rakell.