The future is at stake tonight.
During the opening round of the 2011 NHL Draft, the potential stars and potential busts of the upcoming seasons are hearing their names announced in St. Paul, Minnesota.
While all of them are starting off with great expectations, not all of the selections made tonight will live up to their first-round billings.
On the other hand, there will be several that deserved higher slots than where they ended up. Some will seem like perfect fits with the clubs that selected them, while others will make no sense at all.
Stay tuned to this slideshow as we break down each pick in tonight's draft, providing reaction and analysis:
*The Bleacher Report's Travis Hunter was also a major contributor to this slideshow
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was widely considered the top talent in this year’s NHL draft.
A center known for his smarts and vision with the puck, Pro Hockey Talk compares his game to that of Joe Sakic and Pavel Datsyuk.
With the Red Deer Rebels of Canada’s Western Hockey League, Nugent-Hopkins tallied 31 goals, 106 points, a plus-30 rating and a league-leading 75 assists.
He joins an Oilers team that certainly had a need for a young center and told the Washington Post that he would love the chance to play in Edmonton, but acknowledges the possibility that his time in junior jockey isn’t over.
When he does get to Edmonton, he’ll line up alongside last year’s first-round pick, left wing Taylor Hall.
This Swedish left winger is a complete package-type of weapon on the attack.
Equal parts solid passer and capable scorer, Landeskog is only 17 years old and could prove to be one of the best wings in the NHL for the next two decades for the Colorado Avalanche, which snatched him up with the second overall pick on Friday night.
But he's more than just a threat to help light the lamp. Here's what he said about his own game, according to the New Jersey Devils-dedicated Fire & Ice blog:
“I think today in the NHL, you’ve got to be able to play in both ends of the ice. I’ve always taken pride in my defensive zone (play) first and, being not the most skilled guy out there, I’ve got to rely on my work ethic and take care of my own end first and let my skill take over in the offensive zone.”
That is a surprisingly humble and mature statement from such a young prospect.
Huberdeau, an 18-year-old center with a penchant for winning hockey games and putting pucks in the net, saw his stock rise after a sensational playoff campaign with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He had 16 goals and 14 assists in 19 playoff games as the Sea Dogs took the title.
He tallied three goals and three assists in the Memorial Cup tournament, which his team also won.
Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant told CBC Sports that Huberdeau’s character helped him improve as a player.
“He just keeps getting better, playing harder and he’s a stronger kid now, getting bigger," Gallant said. "That’s what you want to see in young kids. He’s a character kid and is more confident in himself now.”
He’ll join a Florida Panthers team that could use his scoring touch.
A thick-framed, gifted defenseman, the 6'3”, 220-pound Larsson is just what the doctor ordered for one of the NHL's worst teams in 2011, as the New Jersey Devils took him with the fourth overall pick.
The best player available in the draft according to RotoWorld's mock draft, apparently Larsson's skills are so striking that they remind some of one of the best defensemen of this generation, Nicklas Lidstrom.
The young Swedish sensation will be key to the Devils' rebuilding efforts after a largely awful season in 2010-11.
A teammate of Dougie Hamilton with the Niagara IceDogs, Strome was not hurting for his share of the spotlight despite playing side-by-side with a fellow top-10 pick.
His best attributes are probably his abilities to skate and handle the stick. Plus, he is particularly dangerous as a passer, almost as much as a scoring threat.
Here is what Strome said about his own comparisons, according this profile from Fire & Ice:
“I try to draw from different games. I like Joe Thornton, how he can slow the game down, but at the same time, I like Patrick Kane and how he’s very elusive and creative. I like Daniel Briere too. He puts the puck in the net and he’s a big-game player. I try not to draw from just one guy. I like to play gritty and smart and have a skill game, too.”
Strome should get a chance for heavy minutes with the lowly Islanders in the near future.
The Ottawa Senators had the second-fewest goals of any team in the NHL last year, and the 18-year-old Stockholm, Sweden, native should be able to help that problem in a hurry.
Zibanejad is considered very close to being NHL-ready, as well as being extremely versatile—he’s been mentioned as able to play both center and right wing at a high level.
The 6’2”, 191-pounder spent the last two years with Djurgardens IF in Sweden. He’s considered a physical, fearless player, but also comes with the speed and skills to do damage on the scoreboard.
The Canadian born-and-bred Scheifele stole the show in the Ontario Hockey League, finishing fourth in the league with 75 points en route to a second-place finish in the league's rookie of the year voting.
This story in The Barrie Examiner provided insight into Scheifele's journey to this point in his young career. He was originally bound for Cornell before being drafted by the Barrie Colts of the OHL, where he quickly became an impact player en route to consideration for an early-round pick.
He became the first pick, No. 7 overall, of the Winnipeg franchise that just arrived from Atlanta, meaning he will be one of the building blocks around which the framework is built from his center position.
Couturier is a big player at 6’4” and 195 pounds and who has been a big name among prospects watchers for some time now. He was considered, alongside Adam Larsson, perhaps the top prospect in the entire draft heading into the 2010-11 season.
A center for the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Couturier notched 36 goals and 96 points last season, adding 11 points in 10 playoff games. He struggled just enough so that he fell a bit from his original lofty perch among prospects.
Still, he posted back-to-back 96-point seasons, and has good size and what is considered to be a complete skill set at both ends of the ice.
He joins a Philadelphia Flyers team that is suddenly in the midst of a youth movement after trading Jeff Carter (a deal that landed Philly this pick from Columbus) and Mike Richards.
Philly had to be pleasantly surprised to find Couturier still on the board at No. 8.
A big, nasty (and apparently goofy) defenseman, Hamilton also owns the skills to be a potent option scoring the puck.
According to this article in The Calgary Herald, his game is similar to that of NHL stars Rob Blake and Jay Bouwmeester.
Those are pretty lofty comparisons for anyone, let alone an 18-year-old kid who is described as something of a goof by his assistant coach for the team he played for last year, Mike Van Ryn of the Niagara IceDogs.
Here is what Van Ryn told The Calgary Herald about Hamilton: “He's got a real goofy side to him. He's always got a big smile on his face. He's got a little bit of warrior in him, so he's got a little bit of everything.”
Largely believed to be a top-five pick, the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins took him No. 9 overall in one of the early steals of the draft.
This 6’1”, 169-pound defenseman is not considered to be a physical presence, but is extremely smart both in his positioning and handling of the puck.
Brodin also has almost no scoring touch, but could help an offense with his distribution from the back.
Minnesota is a team already boasting an abundance of physicality at the back, so the Wild should be able to cover up Brodin’s weaknesses while reaping the benefits of his skills.
Siemens is a 6’3” defenseman who stood out in the WHL. He’s known as a tough, rugged defender who patterns his game after famed NHL enforcer Scott Stevens.
Hockey Canada scout Kevin Prendergast told Saskatoon’s Star Phoenix: “He’s coming after you. If he’s teams losing, he’ll whack you with a two-hander somewhere along the way.”
Colorado will hope he’s able to strike fear into opponents without racking up too many penalty minutes along the way.
Murphy is a classic offensive defenseman. There’s no doubting his production on the offensive end, after he put up 26 goals and 53 assists for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.
His main question mark is his size—5’11”, 160 pounds. But that weakness is mitigated by his exceptional skating ability: he won the OHL’s Best Skater Award last season.
A prospect out of Switzerland, the diminutive Baertschi (at just 5'10”) made a huge splash last season with Portland in the Western Hockey League, claiming WHL Rookie of the Year honors after posting 85 points in only 66 games.
And you've got to love the fact that he knows his old-school hip-hop, as he chose Notorious B.I.G.'s smash-hit “Juicy” as his “pump-up song.”
The Calgary Flames took on an infusion of offensive ability with the No. 13 pick.
At 6’7”, 244 pounds, whatever the Dallas Stars are getting with Jamie Oleksiak, they’re getting a lot of it.
But Oleksiak is more than just a big body. He’s considered to be a player who uses his size intelligently, as well as moving smoothly on the ice.
The first college player selected in the 2011 draft (out of Northeastern) isn’t expected to provide much offensively, but has the raw tools to perhaps add to that facet of his game over time.
He’s often compared to Zdeno Chara—a comparison Dallas will hope he lives up to.
A member of the United States' Under-18 team, Miller is expected to eventual grow into becoming a reliable, if not incredibly prolific, offensive player.
The kid the New York Rangers selected with the No. 15 pick (which seemed somewhat high, considering the bulk of mock-draft listings for Miller) has a checklist that includes high-caliber speed and an aggressive nature.
Here is what The Hockey Writers think of Miller, a University of North Dakota commit: “Miller should turn into a good American power forward in the likes of a Brandon Dubinsky. He is a project pick, however, and may take the full four years at college to fully develop his game.”
The Buffalo Sabres must have really liked Joel Armia, choosing to overlook the forward’s subpar performance—in Buffalo—at the World Junior Championships for Finland. He recorded just one assist in six games in the tournament.
Beyond that slipup, Armia is considered a masterful puck-handler with a terrific shot.
His output of 18 goals and 11 assists in 48 games for Finnish club Assat is more indicative of his skill level.
Buffalo will count on him to help increase its team scoring output from the right wing position.
Yet another defender expected to be picked in the top 10, Beaulieu owns great patience and unusual maturity for a player his age, according to Rotoworld.
Somehow, he slipped all the way to No. 17, where the Montreal Canadiens pulled the trigger on this great value pick.
While his offensive game is still developing, several sources believe he already appears prepared to contribute in his main role as a shut-down defenseman in the next few years.
Here is NESN's summary of what Beaulieu was able to put together last year as a member of Saint John in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last year: “Beaulieu had 12-33--45 totals in 65 games...then was named to the Memorial Cup all-star team as he helped the Sea Dogs become the first team from the Maritimes to win Canadian junior hockey's top prize. Beaulieu has good size at 6-foot-2, though he'll still need to fill out his 174-pound frame. He's more of a well-rounded defenseman, but still sees providing some offense from the back end as one of his primary responsibilities.”
A powerful top-line center, Mark McNeill excelled last year for a subpar Prince Albert squad in the WHL, scoring 81 points in 70 games.
According to the Prince Albert Herald: “The physically charged forward loves to mix it up in the corners, never shying away from battling in the trenches. While discipline is essential, McNeill said he never backs down from skirmishes.”
That hard-nosed attitude should help McNeill, who is also noted for excellent vision, fit right in with Chicago.
After snagging talented center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the top overall pick in the draft, the Oilers turn to Oscar Klefbom with the No. 19 pick to address their weakness in defense.
Klefbom is said to have much in common with fellow 2011 draftee Jonas Brodin, including the same Swedish hometown.
But the 6’4”, 200-pound Klefbom is more NHL-ready physically and, with his smoothness on the puck, he is believed to have untapped offensive potential.
Connor Murphy's skills are not in question.
At 6'3” and 185 pounds, he is excellent with the puck, and his skating abilities as a defenseman at his size are among the best in this class.
The issue with Murphy seems to be a severe back injury that has hampered his ability to stay on the ice the last few seasons. That did not scare the Coyotes away from grabbing him with the No. 20 selection on Friday night.
This could end up being a great pick if he is able to stay healthy. Or it could end in disaster if his back injury continues to linger.
A native of Dublin, Ohio, he is the son of a former NHL player.
The rare Texas prospect to be drafted to the NHL, the Plano native heads to the Ottawa Senators, joining their earlier pick on the front line, center Mika Zibanejad.
Noesen had a strong season for the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, tying for the team lead with 77 points on 33 goals and 44 assists.
Whalers coach Mike Velluci told the Plano Star-Courier that "(Noesen is) a player who competes all the time and hates to lose. That's a big factor as to why teams are interested. He's our leading scorer and it shows his character."
Toronto GM Brian Burke has been known to appreciate nasty, intimidating players, and he gets one in Tyler Biggs.
The 6’2”, 207-pound right winger has been described as “belligerent” by USA Today. Immediately after drafting Biggs, Burke told Versus commentators: “We like hostile players, and he’s a hostile player.”
As USA Today noted, the main question mark around Biggs is his ability to score in the NHL, as he only scored 12 goals in his last season with the U.S. Under-18 Development Team in 35 games, to go along with 90 penalty minutes.
Something of a project pick as he still needs a lot of polish, Morrow does not jump out at you when watching his film.
He's a reliable puck handler and a gritty, physical presence from his spot on the ice. Plus, he's a quality fighter.
Morrow is able to orchestrate the offense efficiently and, while he will never be an overwhelming scoring threat, he could become a key role player for the Ducks in several years.
According to Rotoworld, he was originally tabbed as a defenseman.
A member of the Portland Winterhawks last year, here is how OregonLive.com described Morrow's season:
"Morrow is a rugged, mobile defenseman who can move the puck quickly from his own zone into the attacking zone. His offensive skills often were overshadowed last season by Portland's high-scoring forwards, but he still had nine goals and 40 assists and played a key role in the Winterhawks' run to their first Western Hockey League regular-season division title in nine seasons."
As a member of Petersborough of the OHL last year, Puempel posted 69 points, including 34 goals. And the year before, Puempel was the CHL Rookie of the Year.
Perhaps his biggest assets are his instincts while on the ice, making him a dangerous option with the puck on his stick.
He doesn't have an overtly impressive physical build, but he's another safe pick due to his steady demeanor.
Here is a quick blurb on Puempel from the International Scouting Services Draft Guide: “Pure goal scorers are a highly sought-after commodity come draft day, and Puempel may just be the best sniper in this draft. Has good speed with quick acceleration. He makes a lot of smart touches with the puck and makes pretty solid decisions. He is at his best in the offensive zone, especially below the top of the faceoff circles.”
He's a low-risk, high-reward type pick for the late stages of the first round, meaning the Senators made a strong choice at this point.
The 6’1” defender for the OHL’s Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors helped his team to the best record in the league with a 33-point season, then had two goals and 10 assists in 20 playoff games.
He’s considered extremely reliable on the defensive end who almost never making costly errors.
He’s also not afraid of a little scrap, as the video suggests.
Danault proved himself in the clutch during the playoffs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, totaling 15 points in just nine games, and 67 points in 64 games for the duration of the entire QMJHL season for his hometown team, Victoriaville.
The Blackhawks, the winners of the Stanley Cup two years ago, made a shrewd move in snatching up Danault, as he could develop into the sleeper of the entire draft from his left wing slot.
Here is what Hockey's Future had to say about Danault's potential: “Named team captain as a 17-year-old, that fact alone speaks to the quality of character of Danault. A leader both on and off the ice, Danault's effort level can never be questioned. Whether it's scoring a goal, finishing a check or killing a penalty, he plays an all-weather, two-way game. Though he might not be naturally skilled enough to be a scoring forward at the next level, his work ethic should guarantee a future in the NHL.”
A 5'11”, 170-pound attacking Russian center, Namestnikov is lethal given room to maneuver.
Check out this profile from the Bleacher Report's own Matthew Fairburn, who had the following to say about Namestnikov's odds of playing a role for any NHL team in the near future:
“The two main concerns with Vladislav Namestnikov are his strength and whether or not he will sign to play in the NHL. If a team is confident that they can get him under contract and in the weight room, he is a safe bet towards the end of round one."
Phillips joins his Saint John Sea Dogs teammate Jonathan Huberdeau as a first-round choice. He’s considered a solid two-way player who put up 95 points in 67 games in the regular season.
Comparing Phillips to his former linemate Huberdeau, Kim Houston of the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau told Hockey’s Future: “Phillips is a much more cerebral player, not quite as a physical, he's more a playmaker-type guy, but he can shoot the puck too. If given the opportunity, he can put the puck away quickly."
He adds an offensive piece to a Minnesota draft class that already included defenseman Jonas Brodin.
The 6'3” Denmark product has serious scoring prowess but battles inconsistency and, according to The Hockey Writers, he could prove to be the best player ever out of his homeland.
Here is what that site said about him: “Jensen has a sizeable frame and the natural hockey qualities that scouts look for: soft hands, great shot and a good hockey sense. Jensen lacks that elite top end speed but is capable of finding time and space with his slick hands and elusive playing style.”
He will eventually become a sweet impact player for the Canucks, a franchise that can allow him several years to develop his substantial skills.
Rakell is a Swedish right winger with average size—6’0”, 192 pounds—but has an appreciation for the physical North American style of hockey.
“Getting dirty is what it takes to score a goal here,” Rakell told NHL.com.
He put up 43 points in 49 games in an injury-shortened season for the Plymouth Whalers, a rate of production the Anaheim Ducks would love to see him carry over to the NHL.
Here is what The Hockey Writers had to say about Rakell:
"(...)Rakell is a kid that teams and coaches will love. Always working hard, and playing bigger than his body would suggest, he’s a real hockey player who does it all."