2011 NHL Draft Prospects — Part I

Easily the top pick in the Hyphen Draft, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press

***UPDATE***
In a cruel twist of fate, it was just learned the EJ McGuire, vice president of Central Scouting and probably the most knowledgeable human being on the planet about NHL Drafts and prospects, passed away at the age of 58 this morning. Thoughts are with the McGuire family — and the extended hockey family that will mourn the loss of a great man.

Now that the season is winding down and the only thing left to battle for is playoff seeding, it’s time to begin looking toward one of the best times of the years: THE OFF-SEASON! As a general rule, I don’t start analyzing next season’s roster or salary cap until the Red Wings’ season is over (it’s mostly a superstition thing), but it’s never too early to start looking at the prospects for the upcoming NHL Draft.

As many of you know, I’m a giant Draft nerd. I won’t claim to know as much about each of the prospects as Kyle from Babcock’s Death Stare does, but I have a fairly impressive track record with mock drafts and evaluating talent (based on video) and whatnot. If you’ll recall, I covered the Draft for Winging it in Motown last year, and took part in SB Nation’s Mock Draft. Of all thirty first round mock picks, only three ended up being correct: #1 Taylor Hall, #2 Tyler Seguin, and #21 Riley Sheahan.

Obviously, it’s nearly impossible to get the mock draft correct from top to bottom, but usually you can tell which players — or the bulk of them — are going to be in the Top 30. Last year, I had 24/30 pegged and my best is 29/30, a year that I correctly picked 1-12.

I’d like to present Part I of what will be a multiple-part feature over the next couple of months. The Red Wings will be picking in the mid-to-late 20’s (hopefully 30th) again this season, so the following players are young men that you can bet WON’T be putting on the winged wheel at the podium this year in Minnesota. However, as we get closer to the big day in June, we should be able to identify the mid-to-late first round prospects that are in the Red Wings range, and Parts II and III will introduce you to a handful of guys that could have a future in Motown. Last year, we knew a few things about both Riley Sheahan and Teemu Pulkinnen. The year before, Landon Ferraro and Tomas Tatar.

Reading as many reputable lists and pundits as possible (ISS, Central Scouting, Bob McKenzie, NHL.com Mock Drafts, The Hockey Writers, THN, etc.), gauging their past efficiency, merging notes, and keeping tabs all season long, we start to see a trend and the cream rises to the top, so to speak. In years past, they’ve tried to pull a “WHO’S IT GOING TO BE” on us, when it was always clear (to me, anyway, thanks to researching and the hard work put in by folks in the know) that it was going to be Taylor, not Tyler; Tavares, not Hedman; Stamkos, not Doughty.

This year, however, there are legitimately a handful of guys that could go #1 overall, and I sincerely don’t have any idea which it’ll be. If you asked me during the holidays, I would have been CONVINCED it was Sean Couturier, but now he seems to be the consensus 4th pick, and the other fellas have climbed over him.

I’m confident that the first 8 guys will be top 10 picks. But I was also confident that Cam Fowler would go 3rd or 4th last year… so you never know what could happen. Without further ado, the first part — which we have to get through before we can explore potential Red Wing picks (stay tuned in May and June…)

1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Red Deer Rebels (WHL), 6-0, 170
Earlier in the season, Bob McKenzie sent a tweet that — and I’m paraphrasing here — there are four guys that legitimately could be the top pick, but he knew which one “it wouldn’t be.” I was sure he meant Nugent-Hopkins at that moment. Since then, Nugent-Hopkins has secured at least a share of the top prospect slot — if he doesn’t own it outright. The Oilers are likely to pick first again, and here’s a young man that has said publicly that he’d like to play in Edmonton. Seems like a no-brainer, but with Taylor Hall already in the fold, you’d think they’d like a stud defenseman. Like, say…

2. Adam Larsson, D, Skelleftea (SEL), 6-2, 200
If I were picking first, this is my winner. He’s been compared to Nicklas Lidstrom, already has a man’s body, and always has the word “steady” in front of other adjectives to describe his prowess. The lowest he’s ranked on any list is #2, and — like Hedman — if he’s not taken #1, it’s a fair bet to assume he’s going to Colorado at two (pending the outcome of the NHL Draft Lottery, which takes place next Tuesday).

3. Gabriel Landeskog, LW, Kitchener Rangers (OHL), 6-0, 207
A future Best Name Nominee for whoever selects the Swede playing Canadian Junior, Landeskog is another large kid, and is expected to grow a bit more — like all 18-year-olds. I watched some video on him (and the others), and he’s pretty impressive. He’s a talented skater and clearly a leader: he’s the first European-born captain of the Rangers, and was named an alternate captain for Team Sweden at the World Juniors (but only played one game before spraining an ankle). He moved — by himself, no less – to Canada when he was 16 to pursue a Junior career, instead of staying in the Swedish leagues like Larsson. Suck on that, Hat Trick Dick.

4. Sean Couturier, C, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL), 6-4, 195
Every year at the World Juniors, there’s a clear thermometer of your status as an NHL Draft prospect: the one or two draft-eligible kids that make Team Canada? Yeah, they’re good. This year, only Sean Couturier made Team Canada, and while he may not have blown the doors off in the way that Taylor Hall did, his inclusion on the roster is usually reason enough to be a Top 5 pick.

5. Ryan Strome, C, Niagara IceDogs (OHL), 6-1, 183
He’s quick and he’s worked his way up the rankings this year. That’s usually a good sign for June. I like a lot about Ryan Strome, but perhaps nothing more than how he reacted to being traded to Niagara in a deal featuring current St. Louis Blue Alex Pietrangelo. Former Red Wing scout Ed Burkholder has this to say about Strome: “Ryan is a dynamic, offensive hockey player with a strong commitment to the defensive side of the game. He has tremendous vision which enables him to excel at moving the puck and continue to be a dangerous player around the net.” Two-way. Book it.

6. Ryan Murphy, D, Kitchener Rangers (OHL), 5-10, 160
“Exceptional talent,” “quarterback,” and “best player on the ice” have been used to describe him lately. I’m always wary of the second-best prospect from a single Junior team, as Murphy is for Kitchener (let’s call it the Fowler Effect). You’re left to wonder if he’s benefitting from being a good team with great teammates. But Murphy’s been one of those kids that — if you follow hockey prospects — we’ve been hearing about since he was a child prodigy heading into the OHL Draft.

7. Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL), 6-1, 170
Like Strome, all Huberdeau has done is increase his Draft stock. Some folks that watch the Q much more closely than I do think Huberdeau is better than Couturier — the one-time de-facto #1 pick. Huberdeau might also have the nastiest YouTube clip of this draft class.

8. Dougie Hamilton, D, Niagara IceDogs (OHL), 6-4, 193
For the second time, we have a team with two players in the top ten. Strome’s teammate, Dougie “Teach Me How to” Hamilton is the younger brother of a 2010 San Jose Shark Draft Pick and will almost certainly be picked higher than big bro. He grew another inch and put on some more pounds this season, to go with his solid D and offensive ability. Also, he goes by Dougie. And that’s awesome.

9. Brandon Saad, LW, Saginaw Spirit (OHL), 6-2, 200
The first American kid on the list is from the suburbs of Pittsburgh. He’s a “classic power forward” whose skill set should translate into competent scoring at the NHL level.

10. Tyler Biggs, RW, US National Team Development Program, 6-2, 202
Homey has no problem dropping the gloves and/or rocking dudes out of their skates. He’s been asked to scale the fighting back, because losing a player of his calibre for five minutes isn’t how you win hockey games, but he’s kept the edge in his game. Expect Red Wings fans to lament not having Tyler Biggs on the roster in ten years.

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