As the NHL becomes a younger man’s league, it’s inevitable that players in their late teens will be given a better chance than ever to crack the lineups of the big clubs that draft them.
Most scouts suggested that the first half of round one was deep, and from there, it was a lot of interchangeable parts at the 2011 NHL draft. That fact is likely reflected by the number of first-rounders seen in the list that follows.
Beaulieu was one of the best defensemen available in the draft and had top-five justification from many scouts. He slipped to No. 17, where the Habs snapped him up, anxious to add another long-term piece to their backend puzzle alongside PK Subban.
He’s a phenomenal two-way defender who is incredibly consistent and calm under pressure. While he may be a year away from full-time duty in the NHL, he’s likely no further off and should see at least a nine-game trial run so the Canadiens can get a good look at how he washes out at the moment playing against the best in the world.
The monstrous blueliner will come to camp in Big D as one of the biggest players in the NHL, and he won’t even technically be in the NHL at the point.
At 6’7”, 244 lbs., Oleksiak is an overwhelming force on the backend who likely needs to work a little on his footspeed to play a regular shift at the highest levels. That said, Dallas is high on him and aren’t married to their bottom three D, plus they’ll be looking for cheap answers as they attempt to manage the cap until new ownership can be located.
Working against him will be the pull of Northeastern University, where he played last season and would like to return, and also the fact that he’s a late December birthday and may not be mentally ready to make the jump to the big stage.
Still, look for him to at least break camp and get some minutes in the regular season.
Brodin is a slick Swede who has spent time in Farjestad the past two seasons, playing against men in that country’s top league.
While he didn’t fill the net there, European prospects playing at that level rarely do, and many believe him to be as NHL-ready as any defender that was on the board at the draft.
With Brent Burns having been moved and Minnesota now lacking in pure puck-moving defensemen who can quarterback the powerplay, Brodin will be given every chance possible to show he belongs.
His success may be linked to how much faith the Wild have in the injury prone Marek Zidlicky as well, but if he plays well, he’ll probably be looking for an apartment by the time November comes around.
Ottawa doesn’t have a great track record with recent draft picks, but being a young team with an absolute dearth of talent down the middle will likely push them to give Zibanejad a fair shake.
Like Brodin, he’s been playing against men and holding his own in Sweden, and scouts are suggesting he’s NHL ready with a chance to become great with some seasoning.
Expect some growing pains, as players of his ilk generally stumble from time to time, but Zibanejad will be given every chance to become the answer to the question that Ottawa has had for almost a decade now: who plays centre after Jason Spezza?
Strome is known as much for his end-to-end highlight reel goal in the OHL as he is for being the next big prospect on Long Island, but with the general lack of depth the Islanders have and the desire they’ve got to let their young talent grow and learn the NHL together, there’s almost no way Strome isn’t with the big club in October.
With a young punch down the middle that will include John Tavares, Josh Bailey and Strome, one of those guys will probably have to move to the wing.
Expect it to be Bailey, who’s spent time there to this point in his young career anyway, making way for Strome to centre the second line.
Michael Grabner coming of age and Kyle Okposo being healthy could mean New York has one of the better young top-six groups in the NHL, which will be vital to their long-term success.
Larsson slipped to the Devils in one of the bigger surprises of the draft, and they couldn’t be happier. A big, NHL-ready defender who already has the tools to play on the powerplay and take care of his own end is every team’s dream, and that’s what Jersey has in the young Swede.
The Devils turned it around in the second half after a disastrous start last year and will probably be back in the playoff mix this year.
Larsson should crack the top four and see special teams time as the season goes on and he acclimates to the league. By Christmas, expect Florida to regret their decision to pass on him.
Huberdeau flew up draft boards after a great playoffs and a stand as Memorial Cup MVP, so much so that he jumped Adam Larsson to crack the top three.
Still, Florida has a long history of drafting hyped forwards who become average NHLers, and this pick definitely has that scent to it.
Given how high the team is on him though, Huberdeau will likely start the year in the NHL and they’ll play it by ear from there. If he’s put on muscle and has maintained the shiftiness and skill that he’s become known for in the QMJHL, he’ll stick around.
If he’s getting banged around or having trouble adjusting to the NHL game, he’ll spend another year in Saint John. Either way, he’ll spend some time in the Florida sun this season.
Heralded as the guy most ready to play in the NHL out of the class of 2011, Landeskog will 100 percent play this season for the Avs.
He can play the wing or centre, but his home will likely be flanking Matt Duchene in what could be the most exciting young pairing in hockey.
He’s physically and mentally mature and played major junior like a man among boys in terms of his brute force and skill. He’s very poised, and teams who interviewed him at the draft marvelled at his personality and confidence.
Going into the year, he’s probably the odds-on favourite to win the Calder as rookie of the year.
It’s a no-brainer that a team with nothing at centre will take the centre they drafted first overall and play him in the NHL this year.
He’s undersized, but expects to get to 180 lbs. for training camp, which should be the magic number for him to survive the grind of the world’s top league.
While comparisons to Gretzky are insulting to The Great One, Nugent-Hopkins is a great playmaker and a hard guy to time on the ice.
His vision is excellent, and some combination of he and Taylor Hall and/or Jordan Eberle is bound to be a cornerstone of the team this year. Expect him to get most of his points on the powerplay and look a lot more comfortable with more minutes this season.