For the 30 NHL franchises, as well as the rest of the hockey world, the 2011 NHL entry draft is upon us.
Thirty teams, 26 of whom enter the draft holding at least one first-round pick, will have the choice of a season to make. Will it be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Gabriel Landeskog? Adam Larsson or Doug Hamilton? What about between Sean Courturier and Ryan Strome?
While we'll certainly be seeing all of six of those top prospects chosen this evening, a great deal more will also find their way onto the draft board. For the long run, though, the big question isn't which players are chosen; it's who chooses the players. Which team will land the biggest steal of the draft? Which team will make the riskiest decision? Which team will be the most active on the trading front?
Live as the draft goes along, we'll be offering up grades for each and every NHL team as they make their picks and deals. We'll be continually updating the media-prepped slideshow every four or five selections as more teams make their mark in Round 1.
How will your team fare? Stay tuned as the grades roll in.
They might not've been sold from the start, but who else, other than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, would you have expected them to pick? Not surprisingly good, but simply expectantly good. Solid No. 1 pick for Edmonton, especially when coupled with Oskar Klefbom, their 19th choice, who's also underrated in this first round.
Nugent-Hopkins can score—we all now that—and Klefbom can hit. The Oilers might've finished last in the league for back-to-back seasons, but these two are likely going to help turn that trend around!
On the other hand, Ryan Smyth is not what the Oilers need. He may add a little bit of offense to a struggling scoring team, but he's too old and too much of a contract to be a smart acquisition for Edmonton. Brule and a fourth-rounder isn't a big pay, but we're simply not happy with this deal.
We are really, really fond of Landeskog. He has everything—great hands, great record, great size and better than great potential. We could see him as the Jeff Skinner of 2011-12, pushing close to 30 goals. He's a fantastic choice.
Then, complemented with Duncan Seimens, one of our favorite blueliners, the Avs have an excellent multi-faceted double-punch between the two top-15 choices. It's always hard to fail with both the second and 11th overall selections, and the Avalanche didn't let us down with two brilliant, top-notch adds.
For a disgruntled player with a huge cap hit and mediocre performance, getting Gilbert Brule in return is a fantastic deal on its own. The 2005 sixth overall pick, now 24, has been inconsistent but has the talent to be a solid second-line center for L.A. Add in the fourth-round pick that seems to have been thrown in just for kicks, and, even without holding a first-round pick at the moment, the Kings are one of the winners of the evening.
Who needs a draft pick to be a draft winner?
To tell the truth, the Panthers just needed somebody. They have a skeleton of a team at the moment after the massive trade deadline rebuilding project, haven't made the playoffs since 2001 and simply need talent everywhere. Jonathan Huberdeau is the youngster that they were looking for. Brian Campbell is the veteran that can help them move out of the NHL cellar.
Jonathan Huberdeau isn't any better than where he's been touted up to this point, but he's a solid player who can make a difference; a fine third overall choice for Florida and GM Dave Tallon, even with Adam Larsson still available at the time.
For Campbell, who was acquired in a deal at the end of the first round that sent Rostislav Olesz to Chicago, it's more about defense. The 32-year-old has never hit the double-digit goal plateau but was a career-high plus-28 this past season and provides plenty of stability to the Cats' D. All in all, a victory in that trade, too.
Adam Larsson's fall didn't last long, but the New Jersey Devils still appreciate it. He fits everything on our quality checklist—talent, potential and a niche to fill in N.J. Larsson can generate points, crush his opponents and become a staple at the NHL level without having to receive too much more development at the junior hockey level.
Will we see the Devils go after more established talent, though, on Saturday? It's quite possible that the trading block might open up for them.
Ryan Strome can be versatile and we have no problem with him, yet the Islanders already have so many like him—see John Travares, Kyle Okposo, Matt Moulson, etc. We would've liked a defenseman, which were plentiful at this point of the first round. Still, his 106 points this past season are hard to pass up.
The Islanders will look for depth in the later rounds. Even with the odd positional choice, there's no denying they took one of the best players around.
Zibanejad is a bit risky to us, yet he's worth the risk with the upside. He'll work out very, very well in Ottawa, who could use just about anyone young but especially someone like Zibanejad. We could see a slow first few seasons before picking up as he gets into his early 20s as he gets used to the rigorous and tough NHL format and competition.
Later, the Senators added the second side of the one-two scoring punch at 21st overall in Stefan Noeson, who we're very keen on. While balancing Kibanejad with a defenseman might've been advisable, Noesen, despite being quite a few seasons off from the NHL, is a potential steal after scoring 34 goals and 77 points for the prestigious Plymouth Whalers.
To cap off the night, Ottawa was able to shed two more second-round picks—No. 35 and No. 47—to get their third first-round pick of Friday, No. 24, which soon became known as Matt Peumpel, who we anticipated to go several picks earlier than he did. Puempel, from Peterborough, can be a sniper and a playmaker if he can work on his skating.
All in all, the Sens accomplished what they wanted tonight; they got the rebuilding process started in a big way for the summer.
We're supportive of Winnipeg. We really are. But this was not a good pick.
It's not just that he wasn't rated highly. Scheifele was a huge risk at seventh when Hamilton and Courturier remained on the board. There's a decent change he'll never become a reliable player in the league.
To rub some salt in the wound, the Jets/Thrashers might have a number of defensive prospects, but, with the caliber of D-men available in the draft, they could've found a youngster good enough to bypass all of them and become a brick wall in their currently weak blue line.
Poor start for the Jets. They're really going to need to rebound on Saturday to fix up this first-round shortfall.
What Courturier lacks in skating, he can make up in shooting and passing. The latest Canadien taken had 36 goals and 60 assists this past season and, despite our uncertainties about his top-five ranking, is definitely a worthwhile selection at eighth.
For Philadelphia, he's an even better choice. With Jeff Carter now gone, center is a priority, and Courturier can step in immediately and perhaps even take over his role within two or three seasons. This is a fantastic pick and creates a good first round for the Flyers on its own.
Boom; there it is. The Bruins were the champions of the 2011 playoffs and are now the champions of the NHL draft, too.
Doug Hamilton has everything. Defense, physicality, aggressiveness, mentality, preparation for the NHL and even offense are all cards in his deck of tricks. The Bruins will absolutely reap the benefits for years to come from this kid.
The Wild had so many choices for defensemen: Seimens, Murphy, Oleksiak. Yet, through all of that, they choose Brodin, with no hitting, no scoring and no size? Well, I guess they made a poor choice just so they could balance it out with an excellent one only a couple hours later.
Brodin, who's anticipated to have a lot of potential but not much immediate skill at least now, may not ever peak. Minnesota has a mistake in him. On the flip side of things, though, getting Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and the No. 28 pick, eventually turning out to Zach Phillips, is a massive bounty.
The 24-year-old Setoguchi has now hit the 20-goal plateau for three straight seasons, including 22 scores and 19 helpers this past regular season before racking up seven more goals and 10 more points in three rounds of the playoffs. Coyle, though underperforming up to this point, has plenty of potential, too.
As far as Phillips, his 95 points with Saint John are way higher than any of the other forwards that were ranked around him, and he could turn out to be a big steal after scoring 38 goals and 95 points in '10-11. Phillips will fit in Minnesota, and certainly is a more worthwhile pick, for his number, than Brodin.
The Hurricanes and GM Jim Rutherford, always hesitant to draft defensemen, made the right choice in taking one this year and found a nice player to fill the needed role in Ryan Murphy.
Though it's improbable that he will step into the NHL this upcoming season, Murphy could eventually fill the role that Joni Pitkanen once had and become comparable to another 'Cane, Joe Corvo, in just two years. He has the ability to score, but can also play defense, as his position proclaims.
For the Hurricanes, more activity over the course of the evening may not have been required, but at least upping the ante in activity tomorrow is needed for the 'Canes.
Bartschi's 34 goals and 86 points are good numbers for a player at 13th, and, while he's no steal, the Swiss native is a solid player. He has potential to turn out well but also the weaknesses that might bury him in the talent of NHL prospects.
The Flames, however, having gone two straight years without making the postseason, needed to make more of a splash than simply Bartschi if they wanted to have their first round turn out successful, and they fell short on that front.
Even though he's not a perfect peck in Dallas, Jamieson Oleksiak is one of our favorite and most underrated players of this draft. Humongous Oleksiak might be the third-best defenseman in our book, and, like the TV announcers were saying, would be very likely and very happy to develop into a "few years later" version of Tyler Myers.
In the end, day one is a "check" for Dallas. Day two?
We're all for taking risks, but the Rangers are beginning to overuse the tactic and passed up on some clearly superior talent in J.T. Miller. With only one miss of the playoffs over the past five years, there's no desperate need for first-round picks to turn out well in the Big Apple, but Miller won't open any eyes after scoring just 50 points and not showing a top feature in any big offensive category at the U.S. National Development Team.
Even with the C+, anyhow, the Rangers are still looking up. A promising young draft pick to add to the fold could've perhaps added a third dimension, but we still have a good outlook for New York next season.
The Sabres, who have had plenty of great choices in the draft over recent years, elect to trust Joel Armia with filling the role of their only first-round pick for this June. Armia has the tendency to be a roller coaster, but he can score and will have a role from day one in Buffalo.
This isn't going to be the selection that will keep our jaws dropped all through the summer, but Armia is a respectable pick and the Sabres get a good grade for the first round by choosing him.
Our biggest consideration for making each team's grades, the Canadiens go right out and fill their biggest hole—young D-men—in Nathan Beaulieu, who should've been taken top 10, doubtlessly.
It's an impressive slide by Beaulieu but also a fortunate one for Montreal, who comes out a winner in the first round by grabbing him at 17th. He can play defense and also put in a scoring flair, something the Habs lack from their aging defense.
Washington got a long haul without any deals at all to end by acquiring Troy Brouwer from the Chicago Blackhawks for their first-round pick, 26th overall.
Brouwer, 26, is a decent player, don't get us wrong. He had 22 goals and 40 points during the regular season as well as four goals and eight points during the playoffs of the 'Hawks' 2010 Cup title, and then saw his production drop only slightly to 17 goals and 36 points this past regular season.
But was the former seventh-round pick, No. 214 overall in 2004, really worth a first-rounder—even a late first-rounder—this soon after? No. Brouwer can be a mid-range forward for the Capitals and has the winning experience that much of the team lacks, but Washington overpaid here.
To make it two relatively major deals in a very short span, the Sharks released a whopper by trading Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and their 28th overall choice to the hometown Wild in exchange for bullet-unloading defenseman Brent Burns and a 2012 second-round pick.
Setoguchi, who was re-signed to a three-year, $9 million contract just yesterday, in addition to the Sharks' only pick of the opening round and a former first-round pick in his own right, Coyle, is quite a large price to pay for Burns and the selection for next season.
Burns, also a former first-round choice, is 26 and made the NHL All-Star Team for the first time this past January before finishing off a 17-goal, 46-point campaign from the blue line for the Wild, one of the best statistical records for any defenseman. Don't forget, though, that he's a combined minus-25 over the past two seasons.
So, while Burns will be a huge addition as the Sharks hope to complete and perfect their roster for a 2012 playoff run, they simply gave up far too much to get an equal balance on the trade and on their only activity of the day.
Mark McNeill is, most definitely, a Chicago Blackhawk kind of player.
He had 32 goals and 81 points this past season for Prince Albert, but also brings size, physicality and an on-ice attitude that made most expect him to go earlier than 18th. Still, Chicago will take him as a replacement for Troy Brouwer, who was traded to Washington for another first-round pick—26th overall.
McNeill will then be joined by 26th pick Phillip Danault from Victoriaville, a nice playmaker with poise on the ice. Danault had 44 assists and 67 points this past season and, with some rounding over to finish off his development, can become a good NHL winger.
The one damper moment of the evening will be the departure of Brian Campbell to Florida for Rostislav Olesz, a deal that will not go down as one of Chicago's best. Despite the age difference—32 for Campbell compared to just 25 for Olesz—we can't see much more coming out of the 2004 seventh overall choice. Olesz has never been able to get out of a merry-go-round of injuries (he played only 44 games in '10-11), and hasn't even been that much of a factor when fully healthy, either.
To summarize it all, however, the talent of McNeill and Danault simply override the ill-advised trade. We could be seeing a lot out of those two youngsters very soon for the Blackhawks.
He has repetitive injury problems. He's not even begun attending college. And he's drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes, who need difference-makers to put them over the top right now. Connor Murphy is not a smart choice at all.
The 'Yotes get the 2011 draft started off on a bad foot with defenseman Murphy, who hasn't shown too much scoring ability and doesn't have enough experience to be reliable in his own end, either. It's a bad move for Phoenix looking to get over that fourth/fifth-seed hump.
Getting the 22nd pick from Anaheim for the 30th and 39th, not the 30th and 25th, is a win for the Maple Leafs in its own right. Getting Tyler Biggs, presumably the player they were targeting, with that pick is just as smart as the trade.
Biggs can beat people up and, at times, light them up, too, from the right wing position as he sports decent hands as well.
To add to their successes is the 25th choice, Stuart Percy, one of the most one-sided defensemen of the first round but also one of the most defensively solid ones. This is a player that deserves trust and we could see turning out to be a huge late-night grab for the Leafs.
The Penguins find a solid defensive and budding offensive blueliner in Joe Morrow at 23rd overall of the first round. They only need a few touch-ups for now on the prospect front, but Morrow would help down the road and is as well-rounded of a player as they could've found at that point.
Though it's not a shocking choice, Pittsburgh can be satisfied for the evening with simply Morrow and a clean sheet on the rest of the draft.
Center Vladislav Namestnikov will be the one name, pardon the pun, that will headline the Bolts' first round. He's better than the typical Russian in terms of devotion to the NHL but also carries the typical Russian talent, with 30 goals and 38 assists this past season. Namestnikov is a pretty good low-risk, high-upside choice for the late first round.
Our issue, though, is the Lightning's seeming lack of attention to their goalie issue. As Dwayne Roloson and Mike Smith hit the UFA market this summer, we somewhat thought they would take a goalie or trade the pick for a goalie. Since that didn't turn out, what exactly are their future plans going to look like?
The Canucks get their forward that they wanted, though it was more of a lack of need for defensemen than a need for a forward, at No. 29 with Nicklas Jensen. Jensen is a decent player for this late into the night, but he has underperformed at times and may be lacking some composure.
The next couple seasons will be very decisive for the fate of Jensen. Vancouver leaves the draft without doing too much but managing to stick to their game plan for their one moment in the spotlight.
Anaheim, who originally held the 22nd pick, end up with their only selection coming as the last pick of the first round after getting it from Toronto along with the ninth pick of the second round. The selection ended up being Rikard Rakell, the last Swede chosen in a very nice night for the nation. Rakell had only 19 goals this season, but is one of the most responsible and defensively talented forwards of the round.
The Ducks should be happy with their brief but worthwhile choice.