The 2011 NHL Entry Draft brought us many new faces, with the likes of Ryan Nugnet-Hopkins, Adam Larsson and Gabriel Landeskog. However, most of the draftees will need more time to develop into NHL-ready players, and we will probably not see them next season.
Nevertheless, a whole new batch of young players either from the draft or from other leagues will make the jump to the NHL. Here, we count down NHL's 11 hottest prospects.
Drafted: second round, 61st overall in 2011 Entry Draft by the Ottawa Senators.
Prince played for the Ottawa 67s last year, notching 25 goals and 88 points in the OHL. He is undersized at 5'11", but he has great speed, attitude and natural hockey sense.
“He was always our peanut. But his stick skills were second to none,” said Scott Montagna, Prince’s coach. “He understood competition. I felt he was a test case on how far a kid can go if he worked hard at the game. He worked out like a fiend.”
Prince will have to improve his plus-minus rating, as he was last on his team in that category. However, his terrific speed should get him very far at the NHL level.
Drafted: second round, 43rd overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks.
Even though he was drafted in the second round, Brandon Saad already has plenty of achievements under his belt. He was the NAHL Rookie of the Year in '08-09, and scored the most points with 26 on the United States Development Team in '09-10. Lastly, he won the gold medal with Team USA in the 2010 IIHF World U18 Championships.
"I've seen Saginaw [Saad's team in 08-09] a couple times and Saad stood out every time as far and away the best player on the ice. He has a great combination of size and speed—a couple times every game he showed some slick moves stickhandling into the zone and fired off a hard, accurate shot that really impressed," says ginnungagap of HF Boards.
At 6'2", Saad is more than ready physically to compete at the NHL level, and he knows his quality attributes.
“I think my read of the game and playmaking,” Saad said. “I play both ends of the ice.”
Drafted: 21st overall, first round in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Ottawa Senators.
Noesen's first OHL season was an unremarkable one (just 8P in 33GP), but he broke out in his second year, scoring 34G and 43A for 77P in 68GP, as well as 11P (6G, 5A) in 11 playoff games, and has been compared to Corey Perry.
The 6'1" right-winger says his biggest strength is his size. "Most teams I have been on, I've tried to become the spark. When things are going down for us, I feel like I can make a big play, a big hit, a nice play or score a goal to give us a lift
" ... My game is like a mix. I would say a little bit like [the Detroit Red Wings'] Johan Franzen, with a bit of [the Dallas Stars'] Brenden Morrow—big in the corners, a known presence on the ice, always trying to make the key play."
Strengths: competitive, has some jam, likes throwing hits, smart playmaker with effective shot arsenal. Sees the ice well, uses linemates sagely, effective along the boards and in physical situations, protects the puck well, good hands. Good hockey sense, only scratching the surface of his upside.
Noesen may need a year or two to fully develop, but he could come up and produce at the NHL level next year.
Drafted: 14th overall, first round in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Dallas Stars.
At 6'7", Jamie Oleksiak is a physical and aggressive defenseman. Scouts say Oleksiak has soft hands for such a big man and has the potential to fill an offensive roll in the future. Jamie made the jump to the college level with Northeastern last season and scouts were pleased with his seamless transition.
Oleksiak skates well for such a big man and has excellent lateral agility, which is very similar to Zdeno Chara.
“Chara’s a big guy, but he’s very mobile and has a great ability to get pucks through to the net,” Oleksiak told the News@Northeastern in February. “I like to carry the puck out of my own zone and make smart plays by passing to the forwards.”
Drafted: 77th Overall, third round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo Sabres.
Catenacci played for the York Simcoe Express Minor Midget club, scoring 42 goals and adding 45 assists for 87 points in 39 games. He was chosen in the first round, first overall, of the 2009 OHL Priority Selection by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
“You’re getting an all-around player who you can play in any situation of the game,” said Express assistant coach Peter Higley. “His speed and his ability to create is incredible.”
Catenacci is likely going to be a prominent voice in the dressing room.
“He’s a leader,” Higley said. “Year after year, he’s the guy. We let our players choose our captain and they chose him.
“He has a bubbly personality. It’s like talking to an older man.”
Drafted: 12th Overall, first round in the 2011 Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes.
“On our list, we had him rated much, much higher than the 12th selection,” Canes' GM Jim Rutherford said. “We were expecting Ryan to fall that far. We thought he was going to be picked in the top 10.”
“He’s a highly skill guy,” Rutherford said. “To be a great defenseman in the league, skating is important. And he’s a great skater.
“A guy who can really move the puck, shoot the puck. It will be a matter of a young guy adjusting to the NHL game, but he has all the tools to do it.”
Murphy is a small defenseman (5'10", 166 lbs) who relies on his quick feet and skating ability to beat defenders one on one, offensively. He is a highly-skilled puck-handler with hands as quick as his feet, which is hard to find in most players. It is those skills that give Murphy the confidence to take the puck end-to-end and set up teammates for scoring chances. His shot is NHL-ready.
Drafted: ninth overall, first round in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins.
Hamilton comes from a sports family, with both his parents participating in the 1984 Summer Olympics and his brother being drafted by the San Jose Sharks in last year's draft. So, it's just natural for him to be one of the future stars of the NHL.
The 6'4" defenseman is physical and has good hockey sense.
“I think I’m a big, complete defenseman,’’ Hamilton said. “I can skate well, am pretty physical, make good passes, and contribute offensively as well.’’
Hamilton, a Toronto native, played for Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League the last two seasons. In 2010-11, Hamilton had 12 goals and 46 assists for 58 points in 67 games and finished third in OHL Top Defenseman voting. Hamilton made a significant leap from his first year in the OHL, when he totaled three goals and 13 assists in 64 games.
“Tremendous skater,’’ said Bruin's GM Peter Chiarelli. “Good offensive instincts. Good stick. He’s a very smart player on the ice. Good range. Has a good physical side to his game.’’
Drafted: second overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Colorado Avalanche.
"If I was Edmonton, I would have taken him," said Kitchener Ranger's coach Spott, referring to Oilers, who instead took Red Deer center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the No. 1 pick. "He's going to help take Colorado back to where they used to be. I think I've seen the last of Gabriel as a coach. He's going to stay in Colorado out of training camp."
"I'm a power forward that works really hard, but I do have skill in my game and know how to put the puck in the net," Landeskog said. "I'm not too worried about (having enough skill), but it's up to me to work even harder for my dream now."
Landeskog, 18 years old, scored 36 goals with Kitchener last season, with 30 assists in 53 games.
Landeskog has already been compared to the great Peter Forsberg.
"I remember having Peter Forsberg up on my wall when I was a little kid, and I also had the 2001 Stanley Cup- winning team poster up in my room," Landeskog said. "That's my goal to be in that picture one day and to be there with the Colorado Avalanche. I'm very excited."
Drafted: first overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is perhaps the best player in the draft, but may need to develop some more. However, there is no doubt that he will produce consistently, even if he joins the Oilers this season.
"Obviously the pace is a lot faster," he told Steve Kouleas on That's Hockey. "I think I've really had to pick up my pace a lot and I mean everybody's a good player here so it's just good being out here with such good players."
The agile young centre is a gifted passer and led the WHL with 75 assists last season for the Red Deer Rebels. However, while his natural tendency is to look for the pass, Nugent-Hopkins is still confident in his ability to put the puck in the net.
"When given the opportunity to score I feel like most of the time I can bury," he said.
While his goal is to play in the NHL next year, Nugent-Hopkins knows that if he doesn't crack the Oilers roster he has a good situation to go back to in as a junior.
"My goal right now is to make the Oilers," he said. "But if I don't it will be another good developing year for me and also we should have a good year in Red Deer."
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Drafted: eighth overall in the 2011 Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers.
After the Flyers traded away Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, they handed over the reins to Sean Couturier, who may just be the most NHL-ready player in the draft.
Described as a young Jordan Staal, the 6'4", 200-pound Couturier said he has every intention of playing for the Flyers next season as an 18-year-old rookie.
"I think it's going to be up to me to work hard this summer and show what I've got," Couturier said. "I can't control the decision after that. But my main goal for sure is going to be part of the team."
"My hockey sense and my two-way game is solid," he said. "I'm pretty reliable defensively and I can control the puck. It can be up to me and my work ethic going to be up to able to prove myself."
A combination of size and skill, Couturier is a solid and safe contributor at both ends of the ice. Perhaps his on-ice vision is his greatest asset, with a knack for finding an open teammate and threading a pass across the rink.
Drafted: fourth overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey Devils.
Larsson, who played the past two seasons for Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League, had been mentioned as a possible first overall pick. A two-way defenseman capable of playing a physical game, Larsson going at No. 4 has some suggesting he may be the steal of the 2011 draft.
“I think we’re all excited because of the type of player he is and the positional player he is as far as his upside,” says Devils GM Lou Lamoriello. “Our scouts are ecstatic. I don’t think we were surprised he was available. We were happy. Everybody has different thoughts as far as what their needs are.”
Larsson is a calm, two-way defenseman who models his game after Nick Lidstrom. He plays a fairly cerebral game and should be able to step into the NHL right away.
“He’s much better now than Lidstrom was at the same age,” Tommy Boustedt, the Swedish hockey federation’s national director of development, said in a phone interview from Sweden. “If he hadn’t played for our under-18 team in April he would have played on our men’s national team in May, he’s that good.
“I think he will be, in the end, one of the best defenders our country has ever produced.”