The first round of the 2011 NHL Draft saw all the top prospects with all the media attention get picked early.
But there are always a few hidden gems that certain teams sleep on and perhaps don’t get the attention they deserve.
Call them sleepers or steals, but these are the ones who don’t get the attention they deserve. Whether that attention isn’t given to them by the scouts who determine their pre-draft rankings, the analysts that choose to ignore them, or the teams that pass them by on draft day, there are always overlooked prospects who end up being great players because someone took a chance on them.
Often these players are taken later in the draft, but even in the first-round certain prospects can be forgotten about or passed by when they shouldn’t be. Here is my list of nine potential sleepers from Friday’s first round of the 2011 NHL Draft:
He was the best offensive defenseman in the 2011 NHL draft. However, because of the risks he takes and his apparent lack of responsibility in his own zone, four other d-men were picked ahead of him and he slipped to No. 12.
It may be a mistake to sleep on Ryan Murphy though, because it’s been proven that offensive defensemen can make it in the NHL. Mike Green is the most recent example of this, as he was a Norris Trophy nominee just last year.
A great current NHL player to compare Ryan Murphy to is Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks because of his excellent skating and his ability to jump up in the play.
If Murphy’s career turns out to be anywhere near as good as Dan Boyle’s has, the General Managers who passed up on him for a different defenseman won’t be too happy.
Many scouts and analysts think that Armia may be the best goal scorer in the 2011 NHL Draft. He has a tremendous amount of skill and if you don’t believe me, then look at the stick-handling talent he demonstrates to score this goal in the Finnish Elite League.
I’m not too sure how he was slept on and why he wasn’t higher in the European central scouting rankings, but that's in the past now. The Buffalo Sabres snatched him up at No. 16, which is much later than he should have gone.
Beaulieu is one of the many stud prospects from the Memorial Cup-winning Saint John Sea Dogs. The fact that his teammate Jonathan Huberdeau was so highly publicised may have contributed to Beaulieu’s lack of media attention, and thus he slipped to No. 17.
But stats don’t lie and Beaulieu’s are ridiculous, especially for a defenseman. Scoring 45 points in each of the last two seasons has him drawing comparisons to the likes of P.K. Subban, Mike Green and Dan Boyle, much like fellow first-round sleeper Ryan Murphy.
He could definitely be a steal for the Montreal Canadiens.
McNeill is a great two-way center who has drawn comparisons to Ryan Kesler and Manny Malhotra of the Vancouver Canucks.
Most scouts say his offensive game will improve, although it may need some time. However, McNeill put up 81 points in 70 games for the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL, so if it looks like he already has a pretty good grasp on providing plenty of offense.
His stats are great and his scouting report was nearly flawless, so it’s a wonder why Mark McNeill wasn’t ranked and drafted higher.
Oscar Klefbom may have been slept on because he was overshadowed by his teammate in the Swedish Elite League, 10th overall pick Jonas Brodin. Also, he only put up two points in 23 games during the Elite League season.
But a lack of points can be deceptive with young players in the Swedish Elite League. Firstly, Klefbom plays defence. Secondly, he’s playing with full-grown men in the second best professional league in the world.
A better display of Klefbom’s potential is the four points and 24 shots he put up in six games at the Under-18 World Championships with Team Sweden. He was also the captain of that team, which shows he has great leadership skills.
The Oilers hope Klefbom pans out because they desperately need to improve their defence.
This player may be the ultimate first-round sleeper because of his injuries. He barely played at all in the last two seasons, but he finished this past season strong and was picked by the Phoenix Coyotes as a result.
His dad Gord also played in the NHL, which is traditionally a good sign for a young prospect. Sam Gagner and Paul Stastny are two examples of that.
Connor Murphy may be a few years away from the NHL, but don’t forget about him, because he is a true sleeper. Many General Managers slept on him in the first round because of his injuries and that could end up being a mistake.
A side note: In case you're wondering, Connor is no relation to the No. 12 pick Ryan Murphy.
Stefan Noesen rounds out six straight first-round draft picks that I believe are sleepers.
The Ottawa Senators like Noesen’s toughness, his high hockey I.Q., and his two-way game. His 77 points in just 68 games in the OHL this past season doesn’t hurt either.
There doesn’t seem to be any flaws in Noesen’s game and, according to his junior coach, he also has the ability to rise to the occasion in big-game situations.
Everything points to Noesen being a strong NHL player very soon, and that doesn't always happen with late first-round picks.
Matt Puempel is another sleeper who was picked by the Ottawa Senators just three picks after Noesen. Due to an injury that ended Puempel’s season, his speed has been questioned.
However, his goals and points per game were among the best in the OHL last year so he has a lot of potential.
He has been compared to Patrick Sharp, who ironically enough was also slept on in his draft year (95th overall).
He is another example of a player being slept on because of an injury, but he may be a steal by the Ottawa Senators.
Like I mentioned earlier in my analysis of Connor Murphy, you should never question the son of a former NHL player.
Vladislav Namestnikov’s dad John once played in the NHL (mainly for the Vancouver Canucks) and his uncle is Slava Kozlov, a former Stanley Cup champion with the Detroit Red Wings.
It’s a wonder why he wasn’t picked any higher than 27th overall with those hockey roots. Another good sign for the Tampa Bay Lightning is that he is already playing in North America, so his command of the English language is good and there is little chance of a contract dispute with a potential European professional team.
Namestnikov is the last of the first-round sleepers of the 2011 NHL Draft. Are there any I missed? Let me know what you think.