Editor’s Note: Updated to reflect the Flyers’ pre-draft trades.
In the next 48 hours, the NHL’s 30 clubs will finalize their draft boards in advance of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Edmonton Oilers once again pick first overall, and have multiple first round picks (No. 1 and 19) to work with, as do the Colorado Avalanche (No. 2 and 11), Ottawa Senators (No. 6 and 21), and Toronto Maple Leafs (No. 25 and 30).
This year’s draft is quite deep, with a handful of legitimate candidates for the first overall pick and a large swath of future NHL regulars expected to fill out the rest of the first round. It probably won’t be as deep as the epic 2003 Draft, but there’s plenty of very compelling talent to go around.
Here’s a look at who will go where in Round One…
1. Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (C)
The Oilers could definitely use some help on the blue line, with Swedish rearguard Adam Larsson a distinct possibility, but the more likely scenario is that they’ll draft a supremely talented playmaking center – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – to complement 2010 first overall pick Taylor Hall.One caveat: Nugent-Hopkins is slight of build (6-feet, 170 pounds), which could potentially scare the Oilers away. The NHL is a copycat league, and the sight of the burly Bruins taking down the talented Canucks might just have been enough to push the Oilers in Larsson’s direction.
2. Colorado Avalanche: Adam Larsson (D)
Adding the burly Larsson (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) to a blue line corps that already includes Erik Johnson and John-Michael Liles would be a huge coup for the Avs. The smooth-skating Swede acquitted himself nicely at the World Junior Championships, and though his production slipped a bit this season, he remains without question the top defense prospect available. If the Oilers take Larsson, look for the Avs to choose Nugent-Hopkins, which could potential alter their decision-making process at No. 11 (where I currently have them picking a forward, Mika Zibanejad).
3. Florida Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau (C)
The Panthers’ needs are many, but their biggest hole – on the NHL roster and in the organization – is at center. Look for Huberdeau to immediately become the Panthers’ first line center of the future. His performance at the Memorial Cup was extraordinary – he led the Saint John Sea Dogs to victory – and he represents a great opportunity for the Panthers to fill a hole while at the same time drafting the best available player.
4. New Jersey Devils: Sean Couturier (C)
It wouldn’t be a surprise in the least if the Devils went with Swedish winger Gabriel Landeskog here, but the smart money’s on GM Lou Lamoriello looking to add a legitimate first line center to the organizational depth chart. Thoughts of Couturier pairing with dynamic Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk will generate plenty of excitement, and though the Devils typically don’t rush their prospects, Couturier’s strong play for Team Canada at the WJC’s is a good indication that’s he’s ready to at the least battle for an NHL roster spot this fall.
5. New York Islanders: Gabriel Landeskog (RW)
In some ways, this represents the worst possible scenario for the Isles, who would most like to add either a top-tier blueliner (Larsson) or a talented center to place behind John Tavares on the second line. While it’s possible that they’d go for one of the blueliners still on the board (Dougie Hamilton and Nathan Beaulieu are the most likely choices), the Isles would do better to take the player with the greatest potential, and at this point, that would be Landeskog. A gritty goal-scoring forward would be a nice addition for the Isles, who are also expecting 2010 first round pick Nino Niederreiter to stick with the Isles this fall.
6. Ottawa Senators: Nathan Beaulieu (D)
Dougie Hamilton is also certainly a strong possibility here, but Beaulieu’s all-star performance for the Sea Dogs in the Memorial Cup (and a strong effort at the CHL Top Prospects Game) might just have been enough to convince GM Bryan Murray that he’s got the big-game pedigree needed to help turn the Sens’ fortunes around. Beaulieu’s recent growth spurt also adds to his allure, and the smooth-skating offensive defenseman could be a mainstay on the Sens’ power play for years to come.
7. Winnipeg (formerly Atlanta Thrashers): Dougie Hamilton (D)
A big strong rearguard with a nice combination of grit and skill, Hamilton is a future top-pair defenseman in the making. He’d be a fantastic first pick for the Winnipeg franchise, and though they’d probably be wise to give him some more time to develop in the OHL, Hamilton shouldn’t take too long to mature into an NHL-ready contributor. Should Hamilton already be off the board when Winnipeg’s turn comes up, Beaulieu and Niagara IceDogs forward Ryan Strome are also strong possibilities.
8. Philadelphia Flyers: Ryan Strome (C)
Following the trades of both Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, look for GM Paul Holmgren to restock the cupboard with this pick. The best player still on the board is center Ryan Strome, who tallied 106 points in 65 games for the Niagara IceDogs in 2010-11. A hard-working, talented forward who offers an inviting combination of top-tier skills and a willingness to compete, Strome is both a great value pick in this spot and a terrific fit for the Flyers’ organization after today’s wheeling and dealing.
9. Boston Bruins: Ryan Murphy (D)
If the Bruins have a glaring weakness, it’s their power play. And if there’s an elixir likely to be available when the Bruins’ turn comes up at No. 9, it’s Murphy. An exceeding talented puck-moving defenseman, Murphy draws comparisons to the Predators’ Ryan Ellis and the recently retired Red Wing Brian Rafalski. Though some scouts question whether he’s a legitimate top-ten pick due to his lack of size, the 5-foot-11, 176-pound Murphy would fill an important need in the Bruins’ organization. And if he’s able to ascend quickly, the speedy Murphy could provide some power play punch while the Bruins are still legitimate Cup contenders. Murphy’s not necessarily a great value pick here, but he’d be a very good fit in Boston.
10. Minnesota Wild: Sven Bärtschi (LW)
Last year, a strong performance by Nino Niederreiter for the Portland Winterhawks (WHL) spurred the Islanders to select him with the fifth overall pick and make him the highest-drafted Swiss player in NHL history. This year, Bärtschi followed his countryman to Portland and acquitted himself nicely for the Winterhawks, putting together a very solid regular season (85 points in 66 games) and following that up with an excellent postseason (27 points in 21 games). It’s possible that he won’t slip this far, but if he does, look for the Wild to pounce. If Bärtschi isn’t still on the board, look for the Wild to target Strome, Hamilton, Beaulieu or Swedish forward Mika Zibanejad.
11. Colorado Avalanche: Mika Zibanejad (C)
Zibanejad would be a nice fit in Colorado, joining top prospect Joey Hishon to provide great depth behind first line center Matt Duchene. A strong skater with a powerful shot, Zibanejad is versatile enough to be used as a winger on one of the top two lines of Duchene/Hishon don’t leave room for him at center.
12. Carolina Hurricanes: Joel Armia (RW)
Goal-scoring power forwards aren’t easy to come by, and the ‘Canes should jump if Armia’s still on the board at #12; he’d provide the perfect complement to Jeff Skinner. While he failed to carry the Finns at the WJC’s, he handled himself well enough in the Finnish Elite League to make it clear that he’s got a very bright future ahead.
13. Calgary Flames: Duncan Siemens (D)
The Flames are in need of an influx of youth on their blue line, and the big, talented and competitive Siemens (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) would be an excellent place to start. An excellent skater, Siemens could easily emerge as a top-pair rearguard for Calgary by 2013-14 if not sooner.
14. Dallas Stars: Zack Phillips (C)
The Stars are weak at center, especially with the anticipated departure of Brad Richards via free agency. Phillips has top-tier offensive skills, but much like the Isles’ John Tavares, his skating needs work. If he can overcome that, he’d be a great value pick here.
15. New York Rangers: Alexander Khokhlachev (C)
The Rangers don’t typically worry much about “signability” where Russian prospects are concerned, as the allure of New York City is enough to overcome the competitive dollars offered by the KHL. Given that he’s already playing in Windsor (OHL), it’s clear that Khokhlachev wants to be in North America, and the hard-working playmaker would be a nice fit on a Rangers team severely lacking in high-end offensive skill.
16. Buffalo Sabres: Oscar Klefbom (D)
A big blueliner with plenty of projection, Klefbom’s body of work is fairly limited at this stage, largely because he wasn’t given very much ice time with Farjestad in the Swedish Elite League. Already 6’4″, 200 pounds, Klefbom is solid in all areas with plenty of room to grow and improve. His stock has risen dramatically over the past few months, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he comes off the board in the first ten picks when all is said and done.
17. Montreal Canadiens: Jamie Oleksiak (D)
Though some refer to Oleksiak as “a poor man’s Tyler Myers,” the 6-foot-7, 244-pound rearguard is quite solid on his skates and got his college career (at Northeastern) off to a very strong start. Given the Habs’ pressing concern to provide some much-needed protection for star netminder Carey Price, this would be a perfect example of need and value colliding. If Oleksiak falls to the Habs, he shouldn’t fall any further.
18. Chicago Blackhawks: Mark McNeill (C)
A hard-working power forward with plenty of skill, McNeill played very well for the Prince Albert Raiders in 2010-11, tallying 81 points in 70 games (including 32 goals) to go along with 53 PIMs. He’d provide some valuable sandpaper to complement talented ‘Hawks forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, helping to make up for the offseason losses that derailed their attempted Cup defense.
19. Edmonton Oilers: John Gibson (G)
Olivier Roy demonstrated decent potential at the World Junior Championships, but the Oilers don’t have a goalie on their roster or in their system who screams “future starter.” Enter Gibson, the top goaltending prospect in the 2011 Draft. A Pittsburgh native, Gibson is cool as a cucumber between the pipes, and with some more seasoning could quickly ascend the Oilers’ organizational depth chart. Getting the best forward and the best goalie in a deep draft would be a dream come true for the Oilers.
20. Phoenix Coyotes: Brandon Saad (LW)
Another Pennsylvania native, Saad already has an NHL-ready physique (6-foot-1, 208 pounds). He scored 55 points in 59 games for the Saginaw Spirit in 2010-11, including 12 power play goals (second-most on the team). The Coyotes’ off-ice future is in serious doubt, but adding Saad certainly wouldn’t hurt their on-ice prospects for 2012-13 and beyond. While it’s possible that he’ll earn a roster spot in the fall, his long-term development would probably be better served with at least another year in the OHL.
21. Ottawa Senators: Nicklas Jensen (RW)
A big, skilled winger, the knock against Jensen is that his game doesn’t offer much grit. But given his unquestionable scoring ability, it would seem a nice fit for him to join a Senators team that’s long on grit and short on skill. He scored 58 points in 61 games for the Oshawa Generals (OHL) and the best is likely still to come.
22. Anaheim Ducks: Dmitri Jaskin (RW)
A big, strong Czech winger, Jaskin is unafraid to traverse the more highly-trafficked areas of the ice. His skating needs work, and though he competed well in the Czech Elite League, he’d do well to relocate to Calgary and play for the Hitmen in 2011-12. Adjustment to the North American game shouldn’t come too difficultly for Jaskin, and he could turn out to be one of the steals of the Draft when we look back in a few years’ time.
23. Pittsburgh Penguins: Christopher Gibson (G)
This might be a good time for the Pens to develop a goalie behind de facto starter Marc-Andre Fleury. Half-British and half-Finnish (as well as half-black), Gibson was absolutely fantastic for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in 2010-11. He stopped 92 percent of the 1,000-plus shots he faced, and as his technique improves and he develops a book on opposing shooters’ tendencies, he should only get better. Though the goalies aren’t getting much attention in this draft, Gibson’s looking like a terrific late first round option.
24. Detroit Red Wings: Jonas Brodin (D)
A skilled, strong skater who’s cool and collecting when possessing the puck, Brodin sounds like the prototypical Red Wing. Should he still be on the board at No. 24, look for the Wings to pounce, as they’ve consistently done quite well mining the talent pool in Sweden. Though he’s probably at least 2-3 years away from earning an NHL roster spot, the opportunity to spend a training camp learning from countrymen Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall would certainly accelerate the young Swedish rearguard’s development.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs: David Musil (D)
The son of former NHLer František Musil, Musil is a gritty blueliner who would give the Leafs some valuable snarl. He won’t offer much on the offensive end, but at this point in the first round, getting a near-certain future NHLer would have to be considered a nice success. If the Leafs look instead to draft a forward, the next five players listed would all be nice alternatives.
26. Washington Capitals: Vladislav Namestnikov (C)
The presence of Alexander Ovechkin has made the Caps a popular projected destination for virtually every Russian prospect, and Namestnikov certainly fits the bill. The nephew of Slava Kozlov and the son of former NHL’er John, Namestnikov scored 68 points in 68 games for the London Knights (OHL) in 2010-11. If one of the aforementioned rearguards slips this far, the Caps might instead look to fortify their shaky defense corps, but they’d be better off drafting for talent than need and (when the time comes) finding a trade partner with blue line depth to spare.
27. Tampa Bay Lightning: Tyler Biggs (RW)
The son of former AHL superstar Don Biggs, Tyler has one important thing his father didn’t: size. The elder Biggs was 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, and no amount of skill would have enabled him to compete at the NHL level in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Biggs is a power forward with terrific potential. If he’s able to channel some of his father’s exception offensive skill (the elder Biggs scored 138 points in 78 games for the 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers), he could emerge as a legitimate top-line forward.
28. San Jose Sharks: Stefan Noesen (C)
A hard-working forward who emerged from the shadows in Plymouth following the ascendance of Tyler Seguin to the NHL, Noesen is a speedy, talented player whose stock has risen considerably in recent months. Already 6-feet and 195 pounds, he will have the size to succeed in the NHL, and it’ll be interesting to see which team ultimately lands him. It’s unlikely – but possible – that he could go as early as 14th overall to the Stars, but if Dallas has targeted this Texas native, they’d probably be able to trade down to get him.
29. Vancouver Canucks: Mark Scheifele (C)
A typical glass half empty/full debate surrounds Scheifele, who put together a fine season for the atrocious Barrie Colts. Sometimes, players’ draft stock rises because of the contributions of their teammates, but in Scheifele’s case, the question is whether his production is a factor of the gobs of quality ice time he received or whether he should be lauded for succeeding in far less than ideal conditions. The answer is likely somewhere in between, making Scheifele a good value play at this stage in the first round.
30. Toronto Maple Leafs: Tomas Jurco (RW)
If Jurco slips this far, the Leafs would be wise to snag the YouTube sensation. After surrendering what turned out to be two top-10 picks (plus a second rounder) for Phil Kessel, Leafs GM Brian Burke would be wise to swing for the seats with this pick, choosing the player with the highest upside rather than going a safer route. The Leafs have needs all over the ice, but their biggest need is giving their fans reason for excitement, and on that front, Jurco is a solid bet to deliver.