Thursday, June 23, 2011

2011 NHL Entry (Mock) Draft

1. Edmonton Oilers- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is exactly who the Oilers need, given that they've already drafted a couple of fantastic wingers in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi.

He's a fantastic playmaking center, which should be a tremendous boost to his linemates, his passing ability will allow Hall and Eberle more goal-scoring opportunities.

The Oilers could still use a blue-chip defensive prospect, and Steve Tambellini, who was part of the Islander dynasty teams, knows what can happen when you build from the net out (Isles rebuild started with Denis Potvin). But they're also missing a pivot who can get the puck to open teammates, call the shots in the offensive zone and orchestrate scoring chances.

Nugent-Hopkins is the best offensive player in the draft, bottom line. He'd be a phenomenal addition to this Edmonton Oilers hockey team and a huge asset to their rebuilding efforts.

2. Colorado Avalanche- Gabriel Landeskog, LW

A natural successor to Peter Forsberg in Colorado, Landeskog is an excellent power forward, ripe with playmaking ability and leadership skills.

He's a tough competitor and, considering the Avs recently traded away one of their more physical forwards (Chris Stewart) they now have the chance to add a significant upgrade to their depth chart in that category.

Landeskog is exactly the kind of player the Avs need right now, from multiple standpoints.

I particularly love the way he'd complement the team's budding young core of talented forwards, such as Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny and Ryan O'Reilly. He adds that physical dimension, and I think he and Duchene could be a fantastic duo on a line together.

They're still ways away in terms of re-building this team, but the addition of a player like Landeskog would represent a huge step in the right direction.

3. Florida Panthers- Sean Couturier, C

Most, if not all of you are probably thinking "what about Jonathan Huberdeau?
No doubt, Huberdeau's going to be a great player, but I still think Couturier will be better, and, I think it makes more sense to pick him based on team needs.

Both are listed as Centers, but Huberdeau played the Wing several times this season, which probably gave him some extra scoring chances, and Couturier scored 96 points with nowhere near as much talent surrounding him in Drummondville as Huberdeau has on the Sea Dogs.

He also has a size advantage over Huberdeau, which should help him at the NHL level. Huberdeau is a faster skater, but there are players in this league that find ways to produce, even if they don't have a tremendous set of wheels.

The Florida Panthers are a team completely devoid of talent, so they need someone who can step into that type of situation and be a star.

Couturier strikes me as that kind of player. Huberdeau does not.

It was definitely a tough call between those two players, but ultimately, I believe that Couturier will not only have the better NHL career, but is a better fit in Florida than Jonathan Huberdeau.

Sean Couturier will help jumpstart Dale Tallon's reconstruction of this Panther offense, joining a forward corps that features two capable point-producers in Stephen Weiss and David Booth, but is otherwise lacking in that regard.

4. New Jersey Devils- Adam Larsson, D

Lou Lamoriello doesn't mess up when the Devils pick in the 20's, and he's not about to do that with the fourth overall selection.

New Jersey has won three Stanley Cups, in large part because of their defensive-depth. Scott Niedermeyer, Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko all played vital roles for the Devils, but since that era, the team has yet to restore that dominance at the blueline. Adam Larsson will help change that.

I'm not comparing him to those three players, but I am saying that he's one heck of a defenseman. He's got size and plenty of offensive ability. His vision and passing ability should help New Jersey's powerplay, as will his knack for launching rockets from the point.

Having played (and succeeded) against grown men in the Swedish Elite League, Larsson is likely NHL-ready, so he can step in right away and make an impact.

The Devils have to start somewhere, and in this case, that somewhere is with Adam Larsson.

5. New York Islanders- Dougie Hamilton, D

A lot of Isles fans are clamoring for GM Garth Snow to take a forward in the first round. I'm hoping he picks a defenseman.

I'm sure any one of those forwards could help the Isles, but I really believe that, unless the player you're drafting is expected to play in the NHL right away, you look at your depth chart and address the areas that are lacking.

The Isles have some solid depth up the middle, and even though any of those forwards you mentioned would be great for this team, this team's primary concern (in my opinion) needs to be defense. The Isles had 5 20-plus goal scorers, 2 30-plus goal scorers and a 67 point producer in Tavares.

Niederreiter is on the way, Kabanov not long after. Offense is no longer the issue. It's their defense that failed to hold leads several times this season that led to many of those losses. Hamilton's a very good player, he's got size and he'll compliment the PP boys.

My pick for the Islanders (assuming Larsson is off the board) is Dougie Hamilton. He's exactly the kind of blueliner the Isles lack in their depth chart, because unlike Calvin de Haan and Aaron Ness, Hamilton has size. He also has tremendous hockey sense and leadership qualities.

Dougie Hamilton packs a combination of size and offensive ability that the Islanders simply cannot pass on. At 6"4, Hamilton can be physical and play shutdown hockey, but he also has the mobility and puck-moving skills of a smaller, offensive defenseman. He know when to play tight defensively and when to join the rush.

I think the Isles would get tremendous value by picking Hamilton fifth overall.

6. Ottawa Senators- Jonathan Huberdeau, C/LW

Ottawa's offensive corps have been depleted over the last couple of years, something that would show in the form of Win/Loss totals.

They've started to fill out the back end, drafting defensemen like Erik Karlsson, who looks to be a keeper for sure, and Jared Cowen, who's still a few steps away but is expected to become a strong NHL blueliner.

That's all fine and good, but at the same time, their offense more closely resembles a train wreck. Erik Condra and Peter Regin might develop into solid forwards, but other than that, there isn't much to smile about right now.

If you think about it, outside of Jason Spezza, who hasn't been nearly as productive as in past years, and an aging Daniel Alfredsson, there aren't many guys on this team who can step in and create offense.

Enter Jonathan Huberdeau. The star of the 2011 Memorial Cup, Huberdeau knows how to score goals. Lots of them. He also happens to have a great set of wheels, another aspect of his game that will only help the Sens going forward.

I envision Huberdeau playing the wing on a line with Jason Spezza. That could prove to be an excellent combination, one that could help jumpstart Huberdeau's career and revive Spezza's.

7. Winnipeg Unnamed Franchise- Ryan Strome, C

Prior to the recent sale of the franchise by Atlanta Spirit to True North, this team started to rebuild, and they've done a fine job thusfar.

There are a number of quality young players in the organization, such as Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov, Zach Bogosian, and so on. Established skaters, like Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, Andrew Ladd and Nik Antropov, to name a few, are also part of the team's makeup. Ondrej Pavelec appears to be a star goaltender in the making as well.

Honestly, there's a lot to like about this Winnipeg team, and I really don't think they're far from being a playoff contender. What they are missing, is a capable, playmaking center who can also score goals. What they're missing, is Ryan Strome.

Strome would be an excellent addition to this burgeoning team, and I think he'd really complement the other young players already in the lineup.

8. Philadelphia Flyers (from Columbus)- Ryan Murphy, D

The Flyers need a pure offensive-defenseman, a guy who can quarterback the powerplay and fire lasers from the point.

Ryan Murphy is the real deal, and though he's rather smallish for a defenseman, he's incredibly mobile and has the tools to adjust and succeed at the NHL level. I think he'd be a nice addition to this Flyer team. I see Murphy as a Brian Rafalski type, in that both are undersized but resourceful.

Murphy will be the anchor of Philly's powerplay for years to come. He's simply too good for Flyers GM Paul Holmgren to pass up.

9. Boston Bruins- Sven Bartschi, LW

Some people might think it's unfair that a team that just won a Stanley Cup now has the opportunity to add yet another talented stud to their prospect pool. I'm sure Brian Burke is real excited for the Bruins, given how well (sarcasm) the Phil Kessel trade has turned out.

Boston GM Peter Chiarelli has to be on Cloud Nine these days. He has a top-10 pick to work with, just days after celebrating a league championship.

I think he's going to use the pick to snap up Sven Bartschi. He's not as big as Nino Niederreiter, but he's a goal-scoring machine and has great hands. Bartschi will be a fine addition to this Bruins team, and he need not rush; Boston is loaded with depth, so he'll be able to take his time and refine his skills before hitting the NHL ranks.

10. Minnesotta Wild- Mika Zibanejad, C

The Wild are another team trying to rebuild into a contender, and they've begun taking the necessary steps to achieve that goal.

Mikael Granlund is the top prospect in the organization right now, and he could conceivably become Minnesota's next Marian Gaborik, not just because they share the same initials, but because they both have speed, hands and a knack for finding the back of the net.

Of course, the best way to get a goal-scoring winger to do just that, is to provide him with a pivot who knows how to get the puck to him.

Mika Zibanejad, though perhaps not as well-known as some of the other top-tier prospects in this year's draft pool, is a fantastic playmaker who sees the ice well and thinks the game better than most in his age group.

He's also playing in Sweden, going up against older, wiser hockey players, something that perhaps makes him more NHL-ready, though I do believe another season abroad would be in Mika's best interest.

11. Colorado Avalanche- Nathan Beaulieu, D

Now that the Avs have begun to assemble a group of talented forwards, it's time for them to shift their focus to defense. Adam Foote has retired, leaving a gap on the Colorado blueline. Former 1st overall pick Erik Johnson was acquired in a blockbuster trade last season, and whether or not he proves to be a better fit than Kevin Shattenkirk, who was sent to St. Louis in exchange for Johnson's services, remains to be seen.

Outside of Johnson, there isn't a whole lot to be impressed with, with the exception of John-Michael Liles, who, at just 5"10, is not an imposing presence. He's strictly an offensive-defenseman.

Nathan Beaulieu, who has spent the last handful of seasons with the uber-talented St. Johns Sea Dogs, is 6"3, also has good offensive skills, but he also packs a mean streak. He's very responsible at both ends of the ice, and he's the kind of all-around defenseman that helps teams win championships.

12. Carolina Hurricanes- Duncan Siemens, D

The Hurricanes would have liked to select Nathan Beaulieu, but since he's just been snapped up by Colorado, the 'Canes make the logical decision to go with Siemens, a bruising defenseman who knows how to use his body effectively and win all the tight battles, in the corners and along the boards.

His ability to play shutdown defense reminds me of Luke Schenn. Both are lauded for their strong defensive play, and both are said to be underrated in terms of their offensive skills.

Siemens's got a cannon from the point, and he makes a good first pass. He does need to work on that aspect if he is to be successful at the NHL level in all areas of his game. As we have seen with Schenn, the transition to the Pros is not an easy one, and even more so when you're a defenseman.

Carolina doesn't exactly have a strong defense, though a young hockey player by the name of Jamie McBain appears to be developing into a strong rearguard. Duncan Siemens would certainly help out on the back end, and I think he'd be a great choice for the Hurricanes.

13. Calgary Flames- Zack Phillips, C

The Flames have almost always lacked depth at the center position, and several attempts to address this issue have been made, via free agency and through trades. Needless to say, things haven't been working. And that's something that's affected this team's playoff chances recently, as well as in past years.

Zack Phillips is a guy who can come in and become a top pivot in Calgary. Perhaps his stats are slightly inflated, having been surrounded by some incredible talent with the St. Johns Sea Dogs, but his skills are unmistakeable.

He finished second on the team (to Jonathan Huberdeau) in points, racking up 95 of 'em, as well as 24 in the QMJHL playoffs.

Phillips has excellent hands and sees the ice well. He's also not the fastest skater, but he makes up for his lack of explosiveness with hockey sense and puck-handling finesse. Zack knows where to be at all times, he knows to get to the scoring areas to make goals happen.

He'll need to bulk up and work on his defensive game before he takes the next step. Phillips was used by Sea Dogs' head coach Gerard Gallant on the penalty kill though, so he does have some experience in that area of the game. I don't see that as something he'll be able to replicate in the NHL, but it's definitely been beneficial to his overall development as a player.

14. Dallas Stars- Mark Scheifele, C

Brad Richards is headed for the free agent market, which leaves a huge void on the Stars' offense. They are in need of a long-term replacement at center, and Mark Scheifele could be that player.

Scheifele isn't the next Steven Stamkos, but he definitely has the potential to become a strong NHL player. His offensive upside is high; Scheifele has solid vision, a strong release on his shot (especially through traffic) and playmaking ability. He lead Team Canada in scoring at the Under-18's this past season, a testament to his offensive skills.

He's also been working on his two-way game, and he's proven to be a tough competitor, even though he's not as strong as someone who's 6"3 should be. Scheifele will need to bulk up before he's ready to compete at the NHL level.

He also needs to improve his skating, something he'll have to do if he's going to take the next step. Mark doesn't need to be the best skater out there, he just needs to be a little better than he is right now. Scheifele's not the fastest guy on the ice, but he finds ways to slip through high-traffic areas to create offensive chances that otherwise wouldn't exist.

At best, Scheifele can be a first or second line center in this league. Otherwise, he'll likely become a strong two-way pivot. Either way, it's hard to imagine Dallas going wrong by selecting Mark Scheifele. It's a bit of a gamble, but one worth taking.

15. New York Rangers- Vladislav Namestnikov, C

The Rangers have yet to find a center for Marian Gaborik, and they really haven't been able to find a long-term top pivot since one Mark Messier last circled the ice at Madison Square Garden.

Petr Nedved was productive in New York for about five minutes, Michael Nylander enjoyed success on a line with Jaromir Jagr for one season, and Scott Gomez and Chris Drury did not play like Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, to say the least. Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan are going to be good NHL players, but I'm not sold that either will become a top center.

Vladislav Namestnikov is a Russian center, playing in the OHL with the London Nights. He enjoyed an excellent rookie season in 2010-11, finishing with 68 points in 68 games, a point-per-game pace on a London team that was anything but high-scoring this year. It was also his first season in North America, so you have to believe that also affected his consistency and production.

In terms of skill, Namestnikov is up there with the best in this draft class. The guys has a ridiculous set of hands, can really shift into high-gear on his skates and has an excellent shot.

There have been some scouts who think he's the next Pavel Datsyuk, as, in addition to his high-end offensive skills, Namestnikov has been able to play well in his own zone as well, at least at the OHL level. He will have to add considerable muscle and body strength if he wants to be able to hold his own at both ends of the ice in the NHL. If he does that, then we will see if he can live up to those type of projections.

In all likelihood, Vladislav Namestnikov will be a top-two pivot in this league. Of course, there's always the risk that he bolts to the KHL at some point, as was the case with Alex Radulov, who was in the middle of his first contract with Nashville. That being said, there's a similar risk with virtually any player these days. Even Jaromir Jagr could not resist the contract offered to him by Avangsgard Omsk of the KHL.

I think the Rangers should take Namestnikov. If he pans out, this team's offensive struggles won't last long.

16. Buffalo Sabres- Joel Armia, RW

The Sabres have drafted a nice group of centers and defensemen. It's time to focus on the wings and give Pominville, Vanek some support.

Joel Armia is 6"3 and combines size with high-end offensive skills. He's not a pure marksman, but Armia's shot is certainly his biggest strength. He's not NHL-ready just yet, and he'll have to make the adjustment to the North American game. He's also a tad inconsistent but has plenty of time to develop. If/when he puts it all together, Armia will be a fantastic addition to Buffalo's stable of forwards.

17. Montreal Canadiens- Tomas Jurco, RW

Montreal could use a bit of everything right now, so there really are multiple ways they could go with this pick. But Tomas Jurco is simply too good to pass up at 17th. I think he could be one of the steals of the first round.

He's got a YouTube-ready set of hands, size (6"2) and strong skating ability. Jurco's a wild card because his game is predicated, almost exclusively, on skill. Some scouts don't think he'll be able to pull of some of his moves at the NHL-level, but don't tell that to Tomas Jurco. The kid's a competitor and he'd be a nice complement to the young scrappy forwards (Lars Eller, David Desharnais, Louis Leblanc) Montreal has added in the last couple of seasons.

18. Chicago Blackhawks- Marty McNeil, C

The 'Hawks need a second-line center, and a Jonathan Toews- Mark McNeil 1-2 punch would look spectacular.

McNeil's a very good passer, he always seems to know where his teammates are on the ice and how to get pucks to them. He's also a strong kid, at 6"2 and 201 lbs, and he uses that strength to play well in the defensive zone. McNeil's a two-way forward, and his offensive game has, and should continue to improve. He finished this past season with 81 points in 70 games, thanks to a second-half turnaround.

19. Edmonton Oilers- Jamie Oleksiak, D

The Oilers have used their first round pick to help solidify their offensive unit. They now have an opportunity to reinforce the defense.

Jamie Oleksiak is a towering rearguard, at 6"7, 244 lbs. He's a shutdown defenseman who won't drop any jaws with his offense but will prevent opposing forwards from doing so. Oleksiak is the quintessential stay-at-home blueliner.

He's not particularly fast but already has an NHL-caliber frame and, with some more seasoning, should develop into a stronger all-around player. The Oilers would do well picking Oleksiak at #19.

20. Phoenix Coyotes- Boone Jenner, C

Boone Jenner is possibly the best two-way center in this draft.

He's so tenacious along the boards and in the corners. Whenever there's a battle for a loose puck, Jenner will come away with it almost 9 out of 10 times.

The Coyotes have drafted some skill forwards in the last few years, so Jenner would be a nice addition. He'll add grit and determination to a team that's thrived on those qualities. When all the pieces come together, Phoenix will have a strong offense that features Kyle Turris, Mikael Boedker, Viktor Tikhonov and Jenner. He's a good pick for them at #20.

21. Ottawa Senators- Brandon Saad, LW

I'm sure Brian Burke would have loved for Saad to still be on the draft board four picks later (Leafs pick 25th), but he won't be, because Ottawa GM Brian Murray isn't about to let this kid get away.

The Senators have already drafted Jonathan Huberdeau, a guy who can also play a two-way game but who's biggest strengths are his speed and offensive skills. Now Murray can add a true all-around player in Brandon Saad.

At 6"1, 208 lbs, Saad's a power forward and can be effective at both ends of the rink. He posted 55 points in 59 games for Saginaw (OHL). The Senators have lost two of their best defensive forwards this past season (Mike Fisher, Chris Kelley), so now that they have a chance to draft a player like Saad, they should jump straight at it.

22. Anaheim Ducks- Nicklas Jensen, LW/RW

The Denmark native is highly-versatile, he can play any style you ask him to. Jensen's responsible in his own zone, and he also has great vision and playmaking ability. If you need him to fill the net, Jensen can do that too. He packs a great wrist shot with a quick release and accuracy. He fits in well with Anaheim's forward group. I think it's a good match.

23. Pittsburgh Penguins- Alexander Khokhlachev, C/LW

Pittsburgh's been struggling to find wingers for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and though the acquisition of James Neal from Dallas should help, it's not enough.

Alexander Khokhlachev could become a fantastic wingman for either of the Pens' top two pivots. He's the prototypical skilled Russian forward, good hands and a fantastic shot. He had an excellent rookie season in the OHL and led all first-years in postseason scoring. Khokhlachev could be Crosby or Malkin's go-to guy for years to come.

24. Detroit Red Wings- Jonas Brodin, D

Yup, Ken Holland will take a Swedish defenseman (where have we heard this before?).

Cliche? Perhaps, but I honestly believe the Wings would have taken Brodin if they had the 14th pick, never mind at 24th. Nick Lidstrom isn't getting any younger and Brian Rafalski just retired. Detroit needs to find long-term replacements on their back-end.

Jonas Brodin's a smart, agile blueliner with great mobility and hockey sense. He makes good decisions with the puck and is effective all over the ice, especially in one-on-one situations. Brodin's not prone to committing turnovers and he thinks outside the box before just ramming the puck around the glass. He doesn't necessarily have tremendous offensive upside, but he'll never let you down in the defensive zone and he'd be a fine addition to this Red Wing team.

25. Toronto Maple Leafs- Matt Puempel, LW

Maple Leafs' GM Brian Burke isn't able to pick the strong two-way forward he wanted in Brandon Saad, and the next best guy on his list will be available at the end of the first round (Toronto also has the 30th pick).

Matt Puempel, a player with loads of offensive potential, likely won't be.

Puempel could be this year's version of Brett Conolly. His offensive instincts are highly-evident and he does a good job setting up teammates. He already has an NHL-caliber shot. However, Puempel's a liability in his own zone, a -33 player on the season this past year. He'll have time to work on that aspect of his game. It's his offensive talent that makes this pick worth the gamble.

The biggest reason he's slipped this far down in the draft is because of health concerns, but the hip injury he suffered is not considered to necessarily be a long-term issue, which would work to Toronto's benefit. They could use another talented winger and Puempel will be one.

26. Washington Capitals- Scott Mayfield, D

The Caps continue to round out their defense (John Carlson, Karl Alzner), and Mayfield will add a physical dimension. He's strong on the puck, makes a good first pass and can play at both ends. At 6"4, he's a hulking presence, that's for sure. Mayfield's stock has dropped because some think he's been unable to fully-develop by playing in the USHL, but he has the talent to succeed at the next level and Washington GM George McPhee is too smart to pass on this kid.

27. Tampa Bay Lightning- Jonathan Miller, C

Miller's a strong two-way center who can compliment Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier nicely. He's agile, athletic and a strong skater. Steve Yzerman knows the importance of those players, having played alongside the Kris Drapers and Kirk Maltbys in Detroit.

28. San Jose Sharks- Joseph Morrow, D

Morrow's not the stay-at-home, shutdown type. But he'd look great playing the point with Dan Boyle on the Sharks' PP. He can skate and pass well. San Jose is plenty deep on offense, it's their defense that needs help. Morrow will provide just that.

29. Vancouver Canucks- Ty Rattie, RW

Vancouver's still the deepest team in the NHL, but they could still use some help on offense. The Sedins tend to disappear at times, and during those instances, it's up to the supporting cast to carry the load. Ty Rattie is a skilled offensive forward with creativity and playmaking ability. The problem is, he's also inconsistent. I think, given the Canucks situation, Rattie will have plenty of time to refine his game and become a consistent point producer.

30. Toronto Maple Leafs- Seth Ambroz, RW

Brian Burke loves the strong, two-way forwards with size, snarl and skill. Seth Ambroz is 6"3, 202 lbs at just seventeen years of age. He's also a phenomenal shooter and can make some great passes. Ambroz uses his size to make goals happen in the dirty areas around the net. He'd fit in nicely with Toronto's burgeoning group of young forwards.

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