The New Jersey Devils walked away the big winners at the 2011 NHL Draft lottery, moving from the eighth spot to fourth. How does this change the complexion of the Draft?
1. Edmonton Oilers- C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Red Deer, WHL)
While Adam Larsson has steadily held down the position in our lists as the top player available for the 2011 Draft, it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore both Hopkins and the buzz building about him in Edmonton. While it could be a pick mired in debate for years to come, adding a high-end playmaking center- no matter his size- to a burgeoning core loaded with finishers like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi would be an inspired choice.
2. Colorado Avalanche- LW Gabriel Landeskog (Kitchener, OHL)
The Colorado Avalanche likely couldn’t be happier to remain firmly in the #2 spot. After all, cleaning up the left-overs leaves the team with a desirable talent either way. Want to supplement Erik Johnson with another hulking but skilled defender? Adam Larsson fits. Need to replace the hole left by trading power winger Chris Stewart? Kitchener Rangers forward Gabriel Landeskog is a great choice. For now, Landeskog appears to be the top player on Colorado’s draft board, and it’s likely little changes between now and the combine to alter that decision.
3. Florida Panthers- C Sean Couturier (Drummondville, QMJHL)
With talk strong in Florida that the team’s first round selection will be a forward regardless of who is available, options are limited for those who wish to prognosticate the affair- especially if the first two picks also happen to be forwards. Drummondville’s Sean Couturier is the right player in this scenario.
A solid 6’4 and over 190 lbs, Couturier has shown at every level this year- QMJHL regular season, WJC, playoffs- that he is willing to take advantage of his frame in order to win games. And he does it the right way: although initially a lackadaisical player in minor hockey, Couturier has become something of a jack-of-all-trades, crashing the net, winning board battles and playing strong defensive hockey in addition to packing a hard shot and a soft pair of hands.
4. New Jersey Devils- D Adam Larsson (Skelleftea, Elitserien)
So, what’s New Jersey’s reward for going on one of the most incredible runs in NHL history? Well, the same pick they likely would have had had the Devils never enjoyed such a streak in the first place. The victors of the 2011 lottery, the Devils have a unique opportunity at hand to finally replace the series of All-Star defencemen lost to retirement and free agency. Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski and even Paul Martin helped the anchor sequentially successful bluelines, but New Jersey had hit something of a dry spell. Well, until now.
Regardless of whether it’s Larsson or one of the next few names on this list, it’s quite likely GM Lou Lamoriello uses his first-ever lottery pick as GM in 24 seasons on a rearguard. Wait, did we say first? The Devils had the 3rd overall selection in 1991, but acquired it from (snicker) Toronto. I guess some things never change.
5. New York Islanders- D Dougie Hamilton (Niagara, OHL)
Set at wing with Kyle Okposo, Nino Niederreiter and Matt Moulson among others and now solid at center thanks to the 2008 and 2009 Drafts, like their Eastern Conference cohorts, the New York Islanders are in a position to finally add a premier blueliner after years of frustrations.
However, despite not winning the lottery, the Isles have a chance to select the player who- when all is said and done- may very well be the best defenceman from the 2011 class.
A staggering 6’4 and 193 lbs, that Hamilton was a forward until Bantam should surprise no one who has seen the behemoth rearguard play. Frequently used as a screen on the powerplay thanks to his size, offensive zone positioning and soft hands, Hamilton has all the tools to play an elite game in both ends of the ice.
6. Ottawa Senators- C Jonathan Huberdeau (Saint John, QMJHL)
While TSN’s now-annual lottery broadcast was a tepid affair thanks to the relatively early spoiling of the proceedings, it was perhaps worth it for the look on GM Bryan Murray’s face after he learned the Senators had dropped one place from #5. Already publicly in the hunt for Gabriel Landeskog, not even a neutral conclusion to the lottery would have ensured them a chance at the multi-faceted Swede.
What’s Plan B? Lacking significant center depth thanks to the trades of Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly, a highly-skilled but perhaps individualistic center with skating deficiencies could be the perfect partner for a... highly-skilled but perhaps individualistic center with skating deficiencies. Extraordinarily gifted with the puck, it may take time for Jonathan Huberdeau to successfully translate his game to the NHL, but whether he does it at center or wing, there are few players in the class with Huberdeau’s level of pure ability.
7. Atlanta Thrashers- C Ryan Strome (Niagara, OHL)
So close, yet so far. That’s sort of been the motto for the Atlanta Thrashers their entire existence, be it playoff appearances that were one-sided in favor, playoff runs that ended with the team on the outside looking in, and finally tanks that left the Thrashers in an awkward place.
Unlike many of the teams in the top ten, however, the Thrashers have no significant needs and can console themselves by taking the best player available. That player has a good likelihood of being Ryan Strome. Able to turn it on at a moment’s notice- whether “it” is his excellent skating ability, fine playmaking ability or silky-soft stickhandling, coaxing a consistent effort out of Strome offensively was a problem until this season. However, with 106 points- the same number as Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall last season- that no longer appears to be an issue.
Physically rather weak and thus unable to win many battles for possession, Strome’s heart is now in the right place. He can only improve from here.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets- D Duncan Siemens (Saskatoon, WHL)
Like Atlanta, disappointment is something Columbus Blue Jackets fans have had to become accustomed to in their relatively short history. An expansion team that has never truly taken the next step, the Jackets will once again try their lucky via the Draft. Unbelievably, Columbus has only picked once outside of the top ten in their history, a fact that is likely to be front and center and GM Scott Howson’s mind.
Thus, while a hard-nosed but mobile rearguard like Duncan Siemens likely holds a great deal of interest to the Jackets, acquiring “now” talent may have more appeal- especially since Howson is likely on a hot seat that continues to get warmer and warmer. Don’t be surprised if the selection finds a new home on or even before Draft Day.
9. Boston Bruins (from Toronto)- D Ryan Murphy (Kitchener, OHL)
No matter what happens leading up to the final weekend in June, the Boston Bruins likely have one position written in pen: defence. Barring an unexpected event like Sean Couturier dropping out of the top five, the Bruins are in desperate need of a potential franchise talent to replace the aging Zdeno Chara and largely ineffective rental Tomas Kaberle.
The solution? A dynamic puck-mover who can control and set the pace and tempo of a game, Kitchener phenom Ryan Murphy may not have the physical tools to be a #1 defender at first blush, but his hockey sense rates in the same stratosphere as Nugent-Hopkins’. Given as strong a forward group- young and old- as the Bruins have assembled, Murphy should have no trouble finding ample targets to set up should be find his way to Beantown.
10. Minnesota Wild- C Mika Zibanejad (Djurgården, Elitserien)
The biggest surprise on TSN guru Bob McKenzie’s lottery edition of his annual scout poll, Swedish center Mika Zibanejad has perhaps done the most with a single-digit draft year in the Elitserien as anyone before him. Seriously: although Zibanejad has played a key role in the penalty kill and was receiving greater and greater ice-time as the season went on, the 6’2 center had only two points and was an abysmal 39% on the draw as Djurgården dropped a seven-game quarterfinal series to Luleå HF.
Zibanejad has plenty of gifts, but does his offensive game have enough punch to be make him a premier NHL player? If Minnesota has any doubt... well, they’ll probably draft him anyway. They are the team that thought highly enough of Benoit Pouliot, James Sheppard and Colton Gillies to select them 4th, 9th and 16th respectively.
11. Colorado Avalanche (from St. Louis)- LW Brandon Saad (Saginaw, OHL)
Lose. That was St. Louis’ best course of action down the stretch this season following the much-debated Erik Johnson/Chris Stewart swap. With a top-ten protected pick headed Colorado’s way, the worse scenario for the Blues ended up being... well, exactly what happened. Finishing 19th in the league and shut out in the lottery, the Blues must now surrender their first round draft choice to the Avs in what is already looking like a one-sided trade in early returns.
So what will Colorado do with the extra bullet at the draft table? Well, how about pick up another power forward? 6’2 winger Brandon Saad may not have Landeskog’s physical game or two-way presence, but the speedy winger can be a damn good pro in his own right. Tied with a whack of players for 2nd in playoff points on the Spirit, the versatile winger has transformed from a scorer to a playmaker thus far in the OHL post-season.
12. Carolina Hurricanes- RW Ty Rattie (Portland, WHL)
The Carolina Hurricanes have proven they know how to make the worst teams- some of whom have the best scouts in the business- look dumb. After schooling the draft board at the 2010 affair by selecting eventual 30-goal, 30-assist forward Jeff Skinner, the Canes will be closely watched as June approaches. Never a team to take defenders nor Europeans high, the next two selections on this list are likely not on their radar. Thus, Rattie- a gifted winger who has shown a propensity for both scoring goals and setting them up- appears to be a favorite by default.
Although weaker both physically and defensively than Skinner, despite the former’s success, no one is expecting Rattie to contribute right away. But if he can translate his game to the NHL, the Canes will have yet another feather to add to their cap.
13. Calgary Flames- C Mark McNeill (Prince Albert, WHL)
With their highest first-round selection since 2003 and Dion Phaneuf, the Calgary Flames appeared headed for a well-timed rebuild that could allow them to keep pace in a talent arms race that’s so far one-sided in favor of their northern rivals. So how big a coup would it be if they could secure one of 2011’s top power forward prospects, a player who also happens to be an Edmonton native?
Enter Mark McNeill. A favorite of DobberHockey since his minor hockey days, the 6’2, 210 lbs center fits everything the Flames and former GM Darryl Sutter love in a hockey player and a hockey team: size, heart, grit. Blessed with tremendous vision and decent mobility to top it all off, it’s likely McNeill is a player high on Calgary’s internal draft board as of today.
14. Dallas Stars- LW Sven Bartschi (Portland, WHL)
Need, it turns out, can be a tricky thing. Although 2010 World Junior hero Jack Campbell may have found a way to vanquish Canada on home ice, the 6’2 goaltender had a much more difficult time playing in a Canadian league. A relatively mediocre campaign that saw Campbell post a 3.80 GAA and 0.884 save percentage was still good enough to “help” Windsor into the OHL post-season, but Dallas must be worried about staking their franchise’s future between the pipes on the mercurial talent.
So in Minnesota, will the Stars seek to meet need once again by adding a defender to a weak prospect pool? You decide. Although some intriguing options will likely remain on the board as the first half of the first round comes to a close, a return to drafting skilled but hard-nosed forwards may get the Stars back to the playoffs quicker. 5’10 Sven Bartschi is a good fit; capable of making a highlight-reel rush on one shift and a bulletin board-worthy quote the next.