The NHL Entry Draft takes place on Friday June 24. While the first eight players seem, to be relatively the same in most experts estimations, the order is definitely not set.
The real challenge will be the rest of the first round as most seem to think that picks 9-45 could be interchangeable. Look for lots of trading on the draft floor as teams move up and down depending on what is still available according to its draft list.
This draft has talent at the top of the list but every player with the exception of Adam Larsson is a project at this time and needs to develop. The class is weak in comparison to some previous years and there could be a lot of third and fourth line players to come out of the 2011 Draft so it could be a good move for teams to look for players with size who are able to fill their needs as bottom six players.
Scouts look for the four S's, skating, speed, skill and smarts. Every player is evaluated based on these qualifications.
If you have all four you are a superstar a la Sidney Crosby
If you have three you are a star like Adam Larsson is projected to be.
If you have two or less, then you are a project and it really depends on how you develop.
Rotoworld will have a live chat starting at 7:00 ET on Friday for the Draft and well as up to the minute coverage on the first round. Please join us. Special thanks to Michael Leutner, Jared Ostroff, Jesse Rubinoff and Marc Lapierre for all their fine work with the commentary.
Adam Larsson (D). The Oilers definitely need a top defenseman and as much as they could also use a playmaking center like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
, we think that Edmonton will go with the stud defenseman. A very impressive stint at the world juniors assured scouts that Larsson is the real deal. NHL scouts have gone as far as comparing the young Swede to future Hall of Famer and fellow countryman Nicklas Lidstrom
. The youngster certainly has a skill set reminiscent of the Red Wing's captain. Factor in his massive six foot, three inch, 200-plus pound frame and you have the standout defenseman in this year's draft. The highly intelligent, puck-moving Larsson now has three years experience playing in the Swedish Elite league. The high level of competition has readied the young defenseman to enter the NHL next season. The young Swede represents a can't miss franchise defenseman for years to come.
2. Colorado: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
(C). Nugent-Hopkins is a brilliant playmaker who sees the ice extremely well. He also possesses an underrated shot that he gets off both quickly and accurately. In 2010-11, he finished the season tied for third overall in league scoring with 106 points including 75 assists. He doesn't have any glaring weaknesses but will probably struggle at first to handle the physicality of the NHL over a grueling 82-game season because of his small frame. However, he is gritty, throws hits and is willing to battle in traffic. Defensively, he is reliable and has become a dangerous takeaway artist capable of stripping the puck off the sticks of unsuspecting players and quickly counter-attacking. Nugent-Hopkins possesses a very high-end skill set that is arguably the best in the entire draft. The Avalanche also covet Larsson and may attempt to trade up to get him. Nugent-Hopkins is likely the top fantasy player in this draft although he may need to go back to junior hockey and fill out a bit.
. Gabriel Landeskog (LW). The Panthers pick third overall for the second year in a row and could luck out with the most draft-ready player in 2011. Landeskog is not your typical European. While the majority of Swedish prospects remain in their homeland until at least their draft year, Landeskog took a different approach, playing for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. Landeskog is a terrific all-around talent who can both distribute and snipe. The hard-nosed Kitchener captain (at age 17 yet!) has a great package of competitiveness, offensive talent and leadership. He has the size, skill and toughness to do it all and makes others around him better.
4. New Jersey
Sean Couturier (C). Couturier is a smart offensive player who has excellent size, is a good stick-handler and has a creative touch. Couturier was thought to be a top-two choice heading into this past season but struggled at times. He had 96 points in each of the last two seasons, but more was expected last season, He is a complete player at both ends of the ice. Couturier could use some extra work with his skating skills and that might prevent him from gainful employment in the NHL next season. The Devils have very little in their farm system and could be persuaded to flip the pick with Ottawa as the Senators have the sixth pick overall and another first round selection to go with three picks in round two.
5. New York Islanders
Dougie Hamilton (D). The Islanders draft fifth overall for the second year in a row as they took Nino Nieterreiter in 2010. They really need a blueliner and Dougie Hamilton nicely fits the bill. Many teams in the NHL covet right-handed defensemen that can shoot the puck, especially those as big and physical as Hamilton. Although he currently weighs in at a trim 193 pounds, expect the Toronto native to grow into his massive frame. Hamilton demonstrated the offensive side of his game, registering a remarkable 58 points with Niagara this past season. Hamilton also has excellent leadership skills and could be a major offensive force in the NHL if his game continues to grow.
Jonathan Huberdeau (C). There's a lot of buzz about Huberdeau's dynamic offensive play. His skating and balance are extremely unique and he has this ability to shift forward, backward and sideways on his skates that is reminiscent of Corey Perry
. He is also feisty and has no hesitation to go to ugly spaces in the crease to jam home a puck. The Memorial Cup MVP was one of the most dangerous players in Major Junior hockey all season and has an explosive dynamic that few others in this class can match. He's a terrific, imaginative player who is at his best when the pressure is at its highest. Should the Senators select here and not trade up, they have their number one center of the future.
Ryan Strome (C). At the time of this writing it is still officially the Atlanta Thrashers but that should change on June 21. The first pick for the Winnipeg franchise will be Ryan Strome. Strome is a highly skilled forward with a great pair of hands. Strome has the ability to create a scoring chance out of little. His skating is strong and he works hard in both ends of the arena. Strome played in 65 games for the Niagara Ice Dogs in 2010-11, scoring 33 goals and adding 73 assists. He's may be the best stickhandler in the draft and a human highlight reel at times, capable of taking the puck end-to-end at any moment even making good defenders look foolish. He's also a gamebreaker, reminiscent of Jordan Eberle, as he can score clutch goals. Strome needs to bulk up as he can be moved off the puck without a lot of effort. He will probably need at least another year in the OHL to add some strength before he makes the jump and may need a year in the minors to continue filling out.
8. Columbus Ryan Murphy
(D). The Blue Jackets need an offensive defenseman more than any other team in the NHL and hopefully they finally get the player that they need at pick number eight. As an undersized offensive-defenseman with a right hand shot, Murphy has drawn many comparisons to Nashville prospect Ryan Ellis
. As with Ellis the knock on Murphy is his undersized frame. Yet NHL scouts believe Murphy to be a stronger skater than his counterpart. His excellent skating ability warranted his selection as the OHL's Western Conference "best skater" award. Considered second prize behind Adam Larsson, any team would relish the 79 points Murphy produced from the blue line this past season. Expect Murphy to continue lighting the lamp from the blue-line for many years to come.
(via Toronto) Nathan Beaulieu (D). In 65 games for the Sea Dogs in 2010-11, Beaulieu potted 12 goals and added 33 assists. He has good vision and is able to make the all important first pass. Scouts have drooled over the patience he portrays in his game as he has the ability to buy time for himself and make good decisions with the puck. Over the past couple of months, he has done a better job of picking his spots when looking to jump into the rush and play an offensive style. He will be a key contributor to the Sea Dogs' defense corps for the next few seasons and does have the ability and skill set to take it to the next level. The issue is that he doesn't have an overly dominant aspect to his game which raises some questions about what his role will be at the next level. Boston is looking to improve on the blueline and have the time to wait to allow Beaulieu to develop. He will return to Saint John and spend some time in the minors before he sees regular NHL action.
Mika Zibanejad (C). The Wild need a lot of pieces on their team and really need skilled players so if Mika Zibanejad is still around at number 10, look for him to land in Minnesota. Zibanejad has had an astronomical rise through the draft rankings this past season. He is a very skilled center with great hockey sense and hands. The versatile Swede is a rugged power forward with size and a big-time shot. He goes into heavy traffic without thinking twice and will initiate physical play. He combines speed with power and plays both ends of the ice equally well. He is also a terrific face-off man. At worst, he could be a third line grinder with good offensive skills, but has the potential to become one of the best two-way centers in the NHL.