At the end of each NHL season, the Entry Draft presents all 30 teams with exciting possibilities for the future.
Though this year's draft was light on superstar-caliber prospects, there were at least 70 players who were considered potential first-round selections, indicating that there were a wide range of opinions on a variety of prospects.
Though it is difficult to predict how prospects will fare at the next level in all of the major North American professional sports leagues, the NHL draft is particularly tricky because, for the most part, the players being selected are younger than those eligible for the NBA, NFL or MLB.
Forecasting a drafted player's ability to contribute at the NHL level is tough because generally prospects aren't fully developed physically, and because they come from a wide range of leagues.
While there are some players, such as 2010 first rounders Jeff Skinner and Taylor Hall, who display their brilliance on the ice during their first season of professional hockey, many others like fellow 2010 first rounders Tyler Seguin and Ryan Johansen who need more time to develop.
With that in mind, here's an early look at the top 12 NHL players from this weekend's draft, with regards to where they'll be five years from now.
Over the course of the last decade, the Buffalo Sabres have been the most successful team in the NHL when it comes to the draft.
In particular, the team's scouts have a knack for finding impact forwards like Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford, Derek Roy and Jason Pominville outside of the top 10, and they appear to have continued that trend in 2011 with the selection of Joel Armia.
Overall, the Sabres have a collection of skilled but diminutive forwards, so the addition of the 6'3" Armia is a welcome one. In addition to size, Armia is a natural goal scorer, as he scored 18 goals as a 17-year-old in Finland's top professional league.
The Sabres have solid depth up front in terms of speed and skill, so Armia will get the opportunity to play with talented linemates right from the start. With Thomas Vanek as the only true sniper on the team's roster, Armia gives the Sabres two legitimate triggermen, and he could be among the Sabres top six forwards within the next two seasons.
Five years from now, Armia will be a vital part of the Sabres' offense, and many teams will be left to wonder how they could've missed out on the gifted Finnish winger.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a number of talented defensemen on their roster, and with the 23rd selection of the 2011 draft, they were able to add another in Joe Morrow.
Morrow is a tough, mobile defenseman who has been putting up surprisingly impressive numbers while patrolling the blue line for Portland of the WHL. Once thought to be a stay-at-home defenseman, Morrow posted 49 points in 2010-11, demonstrating that he has the abilities to be a solid puck-moving rearguard at the next level.
At 6'1" and almost 200 pounds, Morrow has the size and instincts to be a force for the Penguins soon, but considering how much depth Pittsburgh has on the back end, it's more than likely that he'll get a year or two to further develop.
Either way, Morrow could prove to be the most complete defenseman taken in the draft, and he'll be a vital part of the Penguins' defense for the next decade.
Five years from now, he'll be playing on one of Pittsburgh's top two pairings, with the capability to contribute at both ends of the ice.
Since assuming the role of general manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brian Burke has put an emphasis on acquiring players who take pride in making life difficult for the opposition.
On the first day of the 2011 NHL Draft, Burke continued that trend by taking gritty winger Tyler Biggs with the 22nd pick in the first round. While playing with the U.S. National Under-18 Team, Biggs posted 19 goals and 31 points in 55 games, demonstrating a willingness take the body and agitate opponents along the way.
As an assistant captain on the United States' Gold Medal-winning team at the World Under-18 Championships, Biggs was also the most penalized player in the tournament, indicating he'll be a shift-disturber at the next level.
Biggs is a very versatile prospect because he has the skills to play on one of the Leafs' top two lines, but also the grit to be an effective third-liner. Either way, the Maple Leafs were able to find an impact player for their lineup outside of the top 20.
Biggs is a perfect fit for the Maple Leafs going forward, and with his skill set, he'll be a top-nine forward in Toronto by the time the 2016 Draft rolls around.
Though Mika Zibanejad's offensive numbers won't be as impressive as many other first-round selections from the 2011 Draft, he will provide support for the Ottawa Senators in a variety of other ways.
Widely considered to be one of the most NHL-ready prospects available in the draft, Zibanejad may ultimately be the first player from the 2011 class to suit up in the NHL. At 6'2" and nearly 200 pounds, Zibanejad is physically prepared for the gritty North American style of play, and has the skills to be a contributor at both ends of the ice.
He'll be counted upon to center Ottawa's second line, providing both strong defensive play and secondary scoring that the Senators need desperately. With Jason Spezza anchoring the top unit, Zibanejad will be given the chance to play in every situation, much like Mike Fisher did during his time with Ottawa.
Ultimately, Zibanejad will be a hard-working, two-way center at the NHL level. The only question that remains is whether he'll ever be more than a 40-50 point man offensively. He'll be well on his way to realizing his potential with the Senators in 2015-16. It's also possible that he'll be playing between fellow 2011 first-round picks Stefan Noesen and Matt Puempel, though they'll each likely take longer to develop.
The Colorado Avalanche made a gutsy call in taking forward Gabriel Landeskog over highly touted Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson, but clearly they had a plan in mind.
After taking Landeskog with the second overall pick, the Avalanche opted to select big Duncan Siemens of the Saskatoon blades nine spots later. Siemens, like Larsson, is considered a top-end two-way blue liner, who has the size, skill and skating abilities to be a top-four defenseman in the NHL.
With Adam Foote now retired and J-M Liles heading to Toronto, Siemens will be given an opportunity to step into a top-four role within the next couple of seasons. He's got all the tools to be an effective shutdown defenseman, but also possesses the skill required to be a puck-moving rearguard for Colorado.
Siemens will continue to develop next season, but by the time the 2013-14 NHL campaign opens, he'll be a regular in the Avalanche's lineup.
Just before trading away gritty Troy Brouwer to Washington for the Capitals' first-round pick, Chicago added a power forward to their organization who could fill Brouwer's role in a season's time.
Of all the North American forwards in the draft, Mark McNeill may be the most fully developed physically, which is why he may be one of the first from the 2011 Draft class to make an impact at the NHL level.
He has the hands and hockey sense to be dangerous in the offensive zone, and the strength to create space for himself and his teammates. After an 81-point season with Prince Albert in 2010-11, McNeill could even challenge for a roster spot this season.
The Blackhawks have a host of skilled forwards, so the 6'2", 200 pound McNeill will get chances to play with elite talents once he cracks Chicago's lineup.
Now that Troy Brouwer, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien are gone, the Blackhawks lack a true power forward on the wing. Mark McNeill will be there to fill that role within the next three seasons.
Five years from now, we could be hearing about how McNeill was the missing piece that helped Chicago hoist their second Stanley Cup of the decade.
The Florida Panthers have been in need of a top-flight center since the team began playing in 1993, and they think they've finally solved that problem by nabbing Jonathan Huberdeau with the third pick in the draft.
First and foremost, Huberdeau is an offensive dynamo, as he scored 105 points for the Saint John Sea Dogs in 2010-11, and that's why the Panthers had no choice but to take the 6'1" pivot. However, he's also a responsible defensive player, which is just as important for a team that's in the middle of a decade-long rebuilding phase.
Huberdeau has the skill to post 70-80 points in the NHL, and because Florida is so weak up front, he'll get prime opportunities to prove himself early on. After winning the Memorial Cup this Spring, Huberdeau is heading to a team that hasn't qualified for the postseason since 2001, so it's unclear how he'll adapt to playing for a basement dweller like the Panthers.
All that aside, Huberdeau has the size and scoring touch to be the Panthers' first-line center for the next decade. He'll be well on his way to helping turn Florida into a playoff team by the time the curtains open on the 2015-16 NHL season.
Of all the players who were chosen in the first round, no prospect fits the style of the team that drafted him quite like Dougie Hamilton.
Hamilton, a big, physical defenseman, was lucky enough to be chosen by the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins, who happen to play a style best suited for big, physical skaters, at ninth overall.
The Bruins were lucky to get Hamilton at ninth overall, as 6'4" defenseman who can play at both ends of the ice don't come around often. After tallying 58 points for Niagara of the OHL last season, Hamilton has demonstrated that he has all the tools to be a puck-moving defenseman in the NHL, though he may need up to two seasons to fill out physically.
Whenever Hamilton gets to the NHL, he'll be a top-four defenseman for the Bruins, and he'll quickly become a fan favorite in Beantown. Five years from now, Hamilton will be a regular on the Bruins' blue line, getting 30-40 points a season along the way.
Just one day after parting ways with star center Jeff Carter and captain and de facto face-of-the-franchise Mike Richards, the Philadelphia Flyers may have found their next star center in Sean Couturier.
Once thought to be the best player in the draft, Couturier's stock fell a little after failing to improve on his offensive numbers from 2009-10. However, that shouldn't be a huge concern for the Flyers, because Couturier still managed to post 96 points for the second consecutive season.
On paper, Couturier has everything a coach could want in a center. He's got great hands, vision and passing abilities, and for a 6'4" forward, he skates well too. However, Couturier's game is about more than just offense, as he's very responsible defensively, and is a leader in the locker room. As the only draft eligible player to be selected for Team Canada's squad for the World Juniors, Couturier demonstrated an ability to thrive in a defense-first role, indicating that he's a versatile center.
The Flyers are deep up front, but Couturier likely won't return to juniors next season, as he has nothing left to prove there. Instead, he may be destined for the AHL, but don't be too surprised to see him cracking the Flyers' lineup before the end of the year. He could fill any of the Flyers' top three center roles, and if his offensive game continues to progress, he'll be a 60-70 point scorer in the NHL.
Five years from now, we'll be talking about how Sean Couturier made fans in Philadelphia forget about how they lost two superstars the day before the draft. He'll be a top-two line center by then.
After drafting a sniper with the first selection of the 2010 NHL Draft, the Edmonton Oilers decided that a setup man for Taylor Hall was at the top of their wish list in 2011.
That's why the Oilers took playmaking wizard Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the first overall pick in this year's draft. Nugent-Hopkins is the closest thing to a superstar talent in this draft class, and he has all the tools to be a first line center at the NHL level, once he adds weight to his 170-pound frame.
Nugent-Hopkins is sublimely talented, possessing silky smooth hands, an innate ability to create space for himself and speed to burn. He has a quick release, but his vision may be his greatest weapon, as he's capable of seeing opportunities generating a split-second before anyone else on the ice. After a 106-point season in 2010-11 with Red Deer, it's clear he needs another challenge.
Though it's not a lock by any means that Nugent-Hopkins will be in the NHL next season, he likely won't be back in Red Deer, as it's unclear what he would gain by posting another triple-digit point total in the WHL. He'll be in the NHL by 2012-13, and rest assured, the Oilers will be doing everything in their power to foster chemistry between Taylor Hall and Nugent-Hopkins.
The only reason he isn't higher on this list is because he isn't as physically ready for the NHL as Gabriel Landeskog or Adam Larsson, so he may take a little bit longer to develop.
Five years from now, Nugent-Hopkins will have posted at least two seasons of 60 points or more, and will be well on his way to teaming up with Hall to form the most dangerous partnership Edmonton has seen since the days of Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri.
The Colorado Avalanche know a talented Swede when they see one. 20 years ago, the franchise (then based in Quebec City) traded away the most highly touted prospect since Mario Lemieux for a package of picks and players that centered around a young Swede named Peter Forsberg.
As they say, the rest is history, as Forsberg helped the Avalanche to two Stanley Cups and Sweden to two Olympic Gold Medals, becoming the first Swede to win the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP along the way.
On Friday, the Avalanche used their highest draft pick since that fateful day in 1991 to pick another talented Swedish forward, taking Gabriel Landeskog second overall. While they play different positions up front, there are a number of similarities in terms of their style of play, which has to have the Avalanche feeling quite confident about their selection.
Like Forsberg, Landeskog is an extremely gifted player at both ends of the ice, combining speed, skill and a tireless work ethic on every shift. While Landeskog may not be the offensive weapon that Forsberg was, he's certainly capable of being a game-changer on any given shift. However, the most striking similarity between the two is their physical style of play, which generally isn't common among European players.
Forsberg became known as the most complete forward in the game at his peak, and Landeskog is on the right path towards gaining that distinction as well. He's the perfect two-way forward to play with a speedy center like Matt Duchene, which is a role he may be ready for as early as this season. He's physically ready for the NHL, as he stands 6'1", 204 pounds, and his willingness to play the body will be a welcome addition to the Colorado lineup.
Five years from now, Landeskog will be among the Avalanche's best forwards offensively, posting 60-70 points annually, while also being among the most responsible defensively. Landeskog, the first European captain in the history of the Kitchener Rangers franchise, is also a proven leader, so there's a good chance he'll be wearing an 'A' on his sweater by that time as well.
The New Jersey Devils should be thanking the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers for passing on Adam Larsson, because otherwise they'd still be searching for their next franchise defenseman.
At 6'3", 200 pounds, Larsson is physically ready to take on the world's best on a nightly basis, which is why he'll probably be patrolling the Devils' blue line four months from now. From a mental standpoint, Larsson's hockey sense is off the charts, which is why many scouts believe he's the best defensive prospect of the last three years.
In addition to his mental game, Larsson has all the skills to be an elite level defenseman in the NHL. He's mobile for a big man, and has good hands to make a solid first pass out of the defensive zone. Having spent the last three seasons playing in the Swedish Elite League, Larsson is used to lining up against much older players, and has proved he's more than capable of holding his own.
With nothing left to prove in Sweden, Larsson is ready for the NHL, and may be a top-four defenseman for the Devils by the time his rookie season's over.
Five years from now, Larsson will be the Devils' best defenseman since Brian Rafalski left town, posting 30-40 points while playing a strong two-way game. Seeing as the Devils have spent freely on offensive players, an inexpensive top-pairing defenseman like Larsson is exactly what they need. He'll be a franchise defenseman within three seasons' time.