The 30 Best Players in the 2011 Entry Draft

From the Top Prospects game through season’s end, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins separated himself from the rest  of the 2011 draft pack. The top 30 has seen a lot of change since the last time we talked about it.

This is my top 30. I’m a fan, not a scout and while not a blind follower of math there’s a lot of attention paid to the crooked numbers in the game. This updated version sees a lot of Euro’s arriving and moving up the list, some of the math crowd settling in and the checking forwards and stay-at-home defenders take a hit.

  1. C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: I’d say there’s a 90% chance he’s an Oiler by the end of the month. There’s something about him that goes beyond math and "saw him good"–maybe it’s "projected him good" that causes scouts to wax poetic about him. A Colorado scout was quoted as saying he hadn’t seen this kind of offensive talent in the WHL for 20 years, and Central Scouting’s Peter Sullivan told us this spring that some scouts whispered 99’s name (as in "the best since….") when discussing his ability to read the play and make creative decisions. Number 1 on the May list.
  2. C Sean Couturier: There’s just too much to drop him below number 2. I spoke to his coach Mario Duhamel on Nation Radio a few weeks ago and he had this to say: "He’s an efficient player on the ice and a quiet leader off the ice. He’s very efficient offensively and defensively. Sean is the kind of a guy you want on the ice at the end of the game, or if you need a goal or to deny a goal. He’s good on faceoffs and will block shots, he can do it all."  In regard to SC’s skating, Duhamel said "when he’s in movement he’s very good, but for his first three steps he needs to improve."  I think that is probably the difference that makes RNH number one and SC just a hair below: first step quickness and the governor that was mono for this young man. Number 2 on the May list.
  3. C-L Jonathan Huberdeau: Moved up my list courtesy that terrific Memorial Cup (call it the Taylor Hall bump) and the fact that more and more reports tout his play away from the puck. I do question some of the hype–although similar in size to RNH, I’ve read a few places that Huberdeau is a physical player. He may enjoy the physical side more than Nugent-Hopkins, but there’s no evidence I can see that he’s going to be a physical center. Number 6 on the May list.
  4. D Adam Larsson: If Larsson had delivered a better offensive season–similar to his 16-year old boxcars in the SEL–I believe he would be a lock for first overall. Larsson has a wide range of skills and an enormous number of scouts in his corner, but there are some who believe there are cracks. Kyle Woodlief: "I think that he’s going to be a really strong, solid defenseman in the NHL for a long time. But I don’t know if I would ever see him as a true number one defenseman." We know the Oilers love him, and we also know that he’s among the most NHL ready players in the draft. I don’t know that he gets by NJD and David Conte at number four overall, but if he does my bet is the Oilers move heaven and earth to trade into the fray and grab their man. Number 4 on the May list.
  5. C Ryan Strome: I have Strome higher than most of the draft publications and predictions for two reasons: first his NHL equivalencies are the best in this draft class and second he performed very well offensively at even strength. His coach didn’t use him on the PK, implying that he might be slightly more one-dimensional than the very best of this draft class. Still, an outstanding offensive prospect who should land in the top 10. Number 3 on the May list.
  6. L Gabriel Landeskog: Landeskog begins the group of forwards whose offense–while good–stops short of exceptional. I think he could end up being the Jeff Skinner of this draft, in that if he finds the right NHL home and linemates this young man could pas the group above for Calder consideration. Has a nice range of skills and delivered 36 goals in 53 OHL games; Desjardins NHLE suggests that means we can expect 16 or 17 goals from him as an NHL rookie next season. Number 5 on the May list.
  7. D Ryan Murphy: Murphy’s NHL equivalency (10-21-31) is better than Cam Fowler’s (4-21-25), a perfect match for Viktor Hedman’s and trails only Ryan Ellis (9-29-38) among recently drafted blue. He’s a one dimensional player, but is so good in that important area (scoring goals is a tough thing to do) that some NHL team will no doubt reach up and grab him inside the top 10. ISS compares him to PK Subban, and I think he might have that kind of offensive impact when he arrives in the NHL. On yesterday’s Nation Radio broadcast, Kirk Luedeke told me the Bruins were very strong on Murphy but that another team above them also rated him highly. Number 7 on the May list.
  8. D Dougie Hamilton: This young man could be a key factor for the Oilers on draft day. If he’s available this late, it might behoove ST to make a deal and grab a future cornerstone along the blue. He turned heads at the combine and offers a nice range of skills, notably that very difficult to find size/speed combination for defensemen. I’m not sure how much offense he’ll bring with him to the NHL, but his resume looks very good. Number 8 on the May list.
  9. C Mika Zibanejad: Moving up all of the lists as we near draft day, with an outside shot at going in the top 6. Zibanejad is exactly the player type that teams sometimes overdraft: nice range of skills and plenty of potential despite not delivering at a high level during their draft season. Zibanejad played in the pro SEL, but his NHL equivalency (82gp, 12-10-22) suggests he’s a little shy of the other forwards I’ve listed in the top 10. ISS compares him to Jarome Iginla, saying "extremely explosive technical skills combined with great power and a determined work ethic." I’m not quite sure what it means, but it sounds good. Number 14 on the May list.
  10. C Mark McNeill: Big 2-way center has been moving up the draft list since the new year. Showed impressive offense and then opened eyes at the U18’s and then the combine. He’s an ideal player-type for the Oilers, and might be a target for the club if they do trade up into the top 10 (from 19). Has a nice range of skills, including surprising offense and dediction to the checking and physical side of the game. McNeill is an emerging power forward in a draft that has a few of them at the top end. Number 10 on the May list.
  11. L Sven Bartschi: A very interesting skill player. ISS says he’s an "intelligent and determined offensive player with very good technical skills."  Has a sixth sense around the net that might be compared to Jordan Eberle, and he could be this year’s Jeff Skinner with some breaks. I give him a lot of credit for scoring 85 points as a "pure" WHL rookie. Could be an outstanding NHL player in a few years. Number 9 on the May list.
  12. R Joel Armia: Size, speed and skill. I wish we had Armia’s time-on-ice numbers for the Finnish league, because he could be an outstanding player. His boxcars (48gp, 18-11-29) don’t roll out on NHLE in spectacular fashion but those Finn kids often don’t play heavy minutes. ISS compares him to Johan Franzen and that’s a helluva hockey player. Number 11 on May list. UPDATE: LK found his TOI (15:02) and that he scored about 68% of his points at EV strength (LK posted it, comment #6 in the Nation Radio thread below): Joel Armia is an outstanding prospect.
  13. D Nathan Beaulieu: ISS says he’s a dynamic defender with a great offensive skill set, and they compare him to Mike Green. I believe he might go this high because his defensive resume is also very strong. 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 think he could slip into the top 10. Number 15 on May list.
  14. C Mark Scheifele: His performance at the World U18’s ignited the bump up the list. He was very consistent and displayed a power forward’s skills. The thing about PF’s is that most can’t deliver consistently in the offensive zone, but Scheifele might be that player. ISS compares him to Dustin Brown, and if he can deliver 20 goals while playing a strong PF game, any NHL team would love to have him. Number 21 on the May list.
  15. D Joe Morrow: Two-way defenseman with a nice range of skills. Had a breakout season in 10-11 and the scouting community is strong on him. I think he’ll be drafted in the first round because he can play defense, has a plus shot and is a capable puck mover. In other words, he’s the prototypical modern day NHL defender. Number 13 on the May list.
  16. D Duncan Siemens: Big defenseman with a mean streak. Younger player for this draft, I don’t think he’ll bring a lot of offense to the NHL but he should be a very effective defender. The first of the pure "saw him good" group, math isn’t going to like Siemens as a player. Number 16 on the May list.
  17. L Matt Puempel: Offensive winger who scored 34 goals in 55 games on a poor Peterborough (OHL) club. He has good size, speed and skill, plus scouts rave about his quick release. I don’t think he’ll go higher, but he could surprise because those offensive numbers came without a lot of help. Number 18 on May list.
  18. L Alexander Khokhlachev: Slick Russian is skilled and small. Somewhat one dimensional, but his one dimension (offense) is the toughest thing to do. No fear. Number 19 on May list.
  19. R Zack Phillips: Talented offensive winger with some skating issues. ISS rated him as just average in skating, physical play and defensive play, which could mean he falls right out of the first round. I don’t think it’ll happen, offense has high value on draft day. Number 12 on May list.
  20. D Jamie Oleskiak: Enormous wingspan and King Kong size make him an impossible prospect for many teams (Rangers, anyone?) to pass on. His move down the top 30 has more to do with offensive players passing him than anything Oleksiak has done wrong. I’d bet money he’ll go in the first round. 6.07, 244 are the only numbers you need to know about Oleskiak. Number 17 on May list.
  21. R Rikard Rakell: Skilled agitator with speed and some skill. He should be considered a safe pick even if his offense doesn’t come with him to the NHL. I’ve read some concerns about his size, but at 6.01, 190 he should be able to compete in the NHL. Number 29 on May list.
  22. C Viktor Rask: Skill center with size, Rask improved his play away from the puck this season. He also impressed at the World Juniors, the only time all year he played against kids his age. He could be a draft sleeper, as he entered his draft year highly touted but didn’t get much of a chance to show his abilities. Number 27 on the May list.
  23. C Rocco Grimaldi: The second coming of Pat Verbeek? Small, speedy dynamo. Not ranked in May. 
  24. C Daniel Catenacci: Undersized skill player with plus speed and an abiliy to agitate opposition. ISS says he might be the fastest and quickest player in this draft and compares him in style to Steve Ott. Not ranked in May.
  25. L Shane Prince: Scouting reports are all over the place in regard to Prince, but there’s a lot to like. 88 points in 59 games, he played on one of the CHL’s best lines all year long. A January shoulder injury forced him out of the lineup for several games and it appears to have had an impact on his draft number. Math says he’s a player. Number 24 on the May list.
  26. R Ty Rattie: A good, safe pick toward the end of round one. Lacks size and has only average speed, his stick handling ability and touch around the net make him an attractive prospect. Number 23 on the May list.
  27. D Oscar Klefbom: Swedish defender with size and mobility. Not ranked in May.
  28. L Brandon Saad: Speed, size and hands should have him much higher on the season ending lists. His results were meh, but there’s a lot of talent. Number 26 on May list.
  29. D David Musil: Remember his Dad? Same deal. He entered this season as a top 10 pick, but Musil doesn’t bring much offense so many feel he’s been disappointing. Should have a long career making good defensive decisions just like Dad. Number 25 on May list.
  30. D Jonas Brodin Lanky defender whose calling card is foot speed. Swedish scout Par Larsson:"Looks tiny around net and corners, but never shies from contact and his fine positioning and timing allow him to handle the added physicality. Smart and makes heady plays with the puck, finding breaking wingers on the tape."  Number 30 on the May list.
  • OilFan

    LT, I really don’t get the love for Rakell. You have him ranked quite a bit higher than any list and I can’t figure the reason for it. Noesen is a similar type player with waaay more offense. Jurco has a ton more offensive talent and he’s not even within 10 spots of Rakell. He has fewer tools than Saad.

    I like the list, enjoy it every year and although I disagree with some other rankings I can see why you have them where you do. Except for this kid. I suppose I could make a case for Rakell where you had him last but how do you make a case for moving him up 6-7 spots?

    This seems like a hunch pick.

  • CanaDave

    I think the #31 pick is in some ways more valuable than #19, since teams will have all night to pester Tambellini with trade proposals if a player they really like didn’t go in the top 30. What would everyone consider to be a offer you can’t refuse for that pick? Something like a later 2nd, a 5th and a 3rd in 2012? More?

  • Action Jackson

    As you look at the names and third-party assessments of these players it makes me wonder which of these guys will arrive in the NHL and be there 10 yrs from now. Somewhere outside of the 30 players is a player who is going to be a league stalwart who is on no one’s radar right now.

    Who will draft this phantom star player whose name will be on everyone’ lips a dozen years from now. Which GM and organization will look like geniuses.

    If any team’s scouting staff has the potential of accomplishing this it is ‘The Magnificent Bastard”. After all of the fireworks and hubbub has settled down I will be looking forward to the 3-7 round selections taken by TMB. Those selections can be just as critical for a building team and the 1st overall picks.

    That speculation and opinion will keep ON going for years to come.

  • Edmonton shouldn’t trade Paajarvi, but he’s the guy most GM’s would want in return for a top 5 pick. Which is why I don’t see the Oilers moving up better than 8th.

    Oilers value chart: Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Paajarvi, 2012 #1, Hemsky, Whitney ?

    Trading either of the last two all but locks up another lotto pick.

    I’m alright with drafting 1, 19, 31, this year and something like 3, 15, 33 next year…

    Fans need to be patient for at least one more season before having expectations for real improvement.

    • Action Jackson

      All I want next season is for management to demonstrate that they want to win games. Draft well, sign free agents that can be good role players, and look for trades that improve our hockey team. While I do not expect to win now, it would be nice to put the kids in a position where they have enough of a supporting cast to potentially exceed expectations and push for the playoffs. As long as we try to win this year I am fine if the results aren’t there yet and we draft high again next year.

      • DieHard

        I know, we all want to win hockey games. I don’t see a top 6 FA coming our way maybe a trade but that might send a HOPE away. Are you looking for a bottom 6 FA or trade and then who would you send away or limit their minutes of NHL experience. I’m looking forward to 3/4 line call-ups next year. See what we got. Keep stocking and we’ll be just fine.

  • gr8one

    I actually would be really interested in a blog about which player[s] could be that potential 31st pick for the Oilers this year.

    Really curious to see who this years Pitlick is going to be…

  • Zimmy

    So just out of random luck i was going through the 1st pick of the second round and here are the names iv found.

    2010 Pitlick
    2009 Mikko Koskinen
    2008 Jacob Markstrom
    2007 T. J. Brennan
    2006 Tomas Kana
    2005 Brendan Mikkelson
    2004 Garrett Leslie
    2003 Danny Richmond
    2002 Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers
    2001Matthew Spiller
    2000 Ilya Nikulin
    1999 Michal Sivek
    1998 Ramzi Abid
    1997Ben Clymer
    1996 Cory Sarich

    Lowetide i have always thought the first pick of round two should be a keeper seeing as you get the pick of any player who slipped out of the first round. But once i started to look closer the rate of finding a player let alone an impact player is remarkably low. Any idea why? Should this info change the opinion of trading the #31?

  • Here’s the problem with numbers: Ryan Strome scored more EV points than RNH did, so he should be picked ahead of the Nuge, correct?
    Relying on numbers only is not the only ticket.
    I have my doubts about Nuge too, but with so many scouts ranking him #1, including possibly the wise Stu M, I’m willing to yield to their professional opinion.

  • Lowetide

    Zimmy: I think you should be able to get a very good player at 31. I remember the year Edmonton took Niinimaki in the first round, but then added Deslauriers, Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene in round two.

    I don’t think the 31st overall pick has a lot more real value than picks 32-40, but as mentioned above you get a chance (to borrow an NFL phrase) re-set your board overnight and listen to offers from other teams.

  • SuntanOil

    Unless Tambo is able to trade into that top 6, I am not in favor of him trading up from 19 at all. There are two reasons for this; first, it is quite likely that the player we trade to move up to that spot is better than the player we acquire with that pick, and secondly there is not going to be a lot of difference between the talent level you acquire at 19 versus at 10. It is quite possible, in fact, that the player drafted at 31 is going to be someone the Oilers had ranked in the 10 – 18 range and a better player than the one you move up to draft.

    Personally, I like Oleksiak and Klefbom and think that one of them will be available at 19. Oleksiak is a physical phenomenon, while the more I read about and hear from Klefbom (who speaks excellent English), the more I want to draft him. The kid has size and skills, and described as a “winner.” (Any idea if he is on the Oilers radar LT?)

  • SuntanOil

    Lt you have Phillips listed as a wing and didnt he play most of the year at center with Huberdeau on his wing??
    Kind of like oiler fans looking for Pitlick to play center when he hasnt played that position since high scool

  • Lowetide

    Of note for the math types, Shane Prince is #1 in terms of even strength scoring amongst CHL prospects. 1.068 EV ppg, just ahead of Huberdeau.

    Stacked team, I know, but still.

  • VMR

    I saw this quote from a QMJHL scout on Sean Couturier over at Copper and Blue.

    “Some guys look at [Couturier] and see [Vinny] Prospal, a guy who is very good when he’s good but not great and won’t ever be a franchise guy. [Couturier] is never going to pile up points like [Joe] Thornton, but he is a complete player, [unintelligible]*, an all-around player, a goal-scorer. I liken him to [Jonathan] Toews if you correct his footwork, [Mikko] Koivu if he struggles to score. He’s a complete player. If he struggles to score and [with] his skating, the downside is that he will be more like Prospal and rely on good players around him.”

    I know a lot of people, including you Lowetide iirc, were high on him earlier in the year but that makes it pretty clear to me why he’s fallen so far in the draft. Would you waste a #1 overall pick on Vinny Prospal? Toews sure, Koivu maybe but Prospal? Not a chance.

  • VMR

    Couturier sounds like the second coming of Patrice Bergeron. I would love to have him as a 2nd line centre in Edmonton, BUT, you need a 1st line centre first and foremost. RNH.