Each spring the NHL draft comes into view in small steps. The first CSS lists give everyone the road map and Bob McKenzie’s pre-season and midway lists offer clarity and structure. By the end of the season, fans usually have a good handle on the CHL kids, with top flight American high school and college kids coming into focus. It’s the Euro kids we can’t slot, probably because NHL teams haven’t held their meetings with both NA and Euro scouts giving their input.
Later this week, Bob McKenzie will post his final list (it’s on Monday) and that will give us the best guideline for the first round. I’ve posted two top 30′s over at ON, and this one closely resembles the previous one at the Nation. I wanted to put one here for reference, so apologies if this reads like a repeat.
- C Ryan Nugent Hopkins: I think the separation comes down to things like first step quickness, ability to make plays and anticipation. The numbers suggest there are four forwards in a tight group at the top, but the “saw him good” group have all reached the same conclusion: he’s the BPA. I’m impressed that so many scouts and scouting services mention his 2-way game. I think the Oil Kings playoff series and his performance in the Top Prospects game (where he made a sweet Doug Weight pass to Sven Bartschi on one shift and then broke up a play while hauling ass on the back check on the next shift) cemented RNH as the class of this year’s graduates.
- C Sean Couturier: Never let it be said by Oiler fans that the big #1 center with a wide range of skills was never available to them in the draft. He’s right here, waiting. Sean Couturier has a complete tool kit and delivered a wonderful season (including a WJC appearance) while suffering from mono and a crazy schedule.
- D Adam Larsson: I’ve been back and forth with Larsson all year, but believe this is the best place to slot him. The evidence is overwhelming now, he played against men in the SEL, played well and did it against good hockey players at the most important times in his club’s season. An outstanding NHL prospect.
- L Jonathan Huberdeau: Great hands, absolutely lethal. Has that Steve Shutt ’6th sense’ around the net and can play center or wing. Like Couturier, owns a complete skill set with first step quickness being the only real separation between he and RNH.
- C Ryan Strome: I’ve spoken to a few people with connections to NHL scouts over the last week, and was surprised to find that Strome is the guy they don’t (apparently) see going high in the draft. It might come down to the fact that the three forwards listed above have been credited with at least some 2-way ability and this kid is seen as one dimensional, but if he slips past #7 then he’s being undervalued.
- L Gabriel Landeskog: A mature kid, nice range of skills, gritty and an outstanding puck handler. He’s the first prospect on this list with an injury asterisk and it could cost him some on draft day. Along with Larsson, he’s an absolute plug and play winger who won’t get past Boston at number 9 but she be gone long before that point.
- C Mika Zibanejad: Reason number one why you have to pay attention to what scouting services and scouts are saying right up to draft day. Zibanejad was not ranked on Bob McKenzie’s pre-season top 15, and was 19th on the McKenzie mid-season list. Now, he’s the guy who is going to break up the “top 8″ we’ve been discussing for a couple of months now. ISS loves the kid, comparing him to Jarome Iginla.
- D Ryan Murphy: Resembles RNH in that he’s a unique offensive talent. Although not a complete player, Murphy’s ability to impact an offense is exceptional. Great with the puck, excellent speed and the kind of puck handling ability we associate with only the best (say Zubov) offensive defenders, he’ll play 20 years if he can play defense.
- D Dougie Hamilton: Anyone who watched the SCF knows the value of a big, mobile defenseman and Hamilton has a nice range of skills. ISS says he can jump into the play, win board battles and has a mean streak. Appears to be an outstanding value at #9.
- R Joel Armia: Size, speed and skill. He played last season in the SM-LIIGA and fared well. ISS compares him to Johan Franzen and says “dynamic player with excellent power elements in his game.” Love the Finns.
- L Sven Bartschi: I love his skill. Bartschi would be my choice for this season’s Jeff Skinner. Hard working winger with soft hands, he scored 85 points in the WHL as a rookie in that league. ISS says he’s an “intelligent and determined offensive player.”
- C Mark McNeill: PF with grit and skill. McNeill is one of the strongest players available in the draft, and despite being a little shy offensively (NHLE: 82g, 11-17-28) should be able to help his team’s win because of his overall game. Could go anywhere in the top 20, but impressed at the combine and can play the middle.
- D Nathan Beaulieu: I have him this high because of a nice range of skills and that all important size/speed combination. Kirk Luedeke says “always looking to initiate contact and plays a rugged game. Quick stick and exhibits good gap control. An underrated, even nasty fighter.” I don’t know how much offense he’ll bring, but can say that he’ll be in the mix when the run on defenseman begins.
- C Mark Scheifele: The kid is rocketing up the charts and for good reason. Aggressive skill center who drives to the net with authority, Scheifele has a buzz about him as we enter draft week. ISS compares him to Dustin Brown.
- D Joe Morrow: Nice range of skills. I think teams should draft Joe Morrow’s whenever they’re available, because if a couple turn out then you’re set for a generation. Wide range of skills, including solid defense, nice headman pass and a heavy shot, he’s improved in leaps and bounds over the last two WHL seasons. His ranking is spotty and he could slide, making him an exceptional value.
- L Alexander Khokhlachev: Undersized skill winger with all kinds of talent. Highly skilled player, he represents high draft value for the math group. Under the radar from the saw him good group, he might slide but with no good reason.
- L Matt Puempel: Has scoring ability and that means he’ll be taken early. He might be the best pure scorer in the draft, and his offensive numbers no doubt suffered because he played for a subpar Petes team.
- D Duncan Siemens: The first pure stay-at-home defender on my list, he’s described as tough and dependable. He can close a gap in a heartbeat, is one of those size/speed defenders and at the WHL level he reads the play well. Siemens has been compared to Kevin Bieksa.
- D Jamie Oleksiak: 6.07, 244. Wow.
- F Zack Phillips: Can play center or wing, he’s a very good offensive player with footspeed issues. He’s also described as a perimter player, but the skill is going to be too good to pass over.
- R Rikard Rakell: Skilled agitator with a nice range of skills.
- C Viktor Rask: Weird year. He entered the season highly rated, struggled some and fell off the map. Has improved in the 2-way aspects of the game and may now be underrated. Center with size, turned heads at the World Junior’s.
- C Daniel Catanacci: Undersized skill player with plus speed and an abiliy to agitate opposition..
- D Oscar Klefbom: Big, two-way defender. Raw skill set, ISS compares him to Ryan Whitney.
- D Jonas Brodin: Excellent skater, I have him lower than most because of size concerns (listed at 6.01, 165). He is considered a finesse defender, very intelligent and effective in positioning himself on plays.
- D David Musil: A fine defensive prospect who is rated below guys like Siemens and Oleksiak but may end up being the best player in the group of DD we’re discussing.
- C Vladislav Namestnikov: Quick forward with skill. Not big or fast, he has a nice wrist shot and is an aggressive forechecker.
- L Shane Prince: Risk/reward pick, his tools aren’t exceptional and he’s average in size and speed. However, Prince posted 88 points in his draft year and that’s a helluva number.
- R Ty Rattie: The WHL version of Prince, size/speed issues but man there’s a lot of talent. Exciting player with the puck, we just don’t know how much he’ll have it in the NHL.
- L Brandon Saad: Big winger with speed and hands, but the results have been lagging. Still a quality prospect.
Nation Radio hits the airwaves at noon on the Team 1260. Scheduled to appear:
- Mark Lamb, coach and GM of the Swift Current Broncos. We’ll talk about his Stanley Cup finals experience, his draft experience and some of the Broncos who are draft eligible.
- Scott Reynolds from Copper and Blue. Scott’s been doing brilliant work lately and we’ll talk about the draft, with specific attention paid to recent articles about RNH and Adam Larsson.
- Matt Bugg from Dobber Hockey. Matt is as well versed as anyone about the draft from first pick to last, and will be a wonderful resource for the Nation Radio show next weekend (he’ll be live at the draft).
- Kent Simpson from Team 1260′s Oil King broadcasts. We’ll talk about the draft, some draft stories from his past and also look at some of the WHL’s best draft eligibles.
- Jason Gregor from Team 1260 and Oilers Nation. Jason has been looking closely at the draft in the last couple of weeks, and we’ll discuss what might happen and try to pry as much information as possible from him.
- Kirk Luedeke from Bruins Draft Watch. I’ve relied heavily on Kirk during the leadup to the draft, because he’s the best and his blog is the best spot on the internet for information and commentary. One more look at the draft, and a chance to touch base on a great day for Boston.
Plus we’ll read some of your top 10′s that have been flooding in for our first Nation Radio contest. You still have time to enter by sending your top 10 prediction for the 2011 draft to firstname.lastname@example.org and your comments and questions are welcome.