Early 30

On the day he was drafted, Ales Hemsky was 6.00, 170. The WHL site lists Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as 6.0, 164. The two players–both highly skilled and perhaps not physically mature enough to face the rigors of an NHL season–are a likely match in terms of early career path. The biggest difference? Hemsky was a reach at #13; RNH is the de facto top prospect on the planet for his draft year. The early 30 after the jump.

This is my personal early top 30. It isn’t a mock draft, it does rely heavily on statistics and Desjardins’ NHLE but is not married to it. There are more CHL players and fewer high school, college and European players on my list at this time. That usually changes as we get closer to the draft and find out more about these kids (the combine impacts things a lot), but is an attempt to slot the 30 best players.

Sources: I’ve borrowed a lot from Kirk Luedeke this season. His Bruins Draft Watch provided me with many of the scouting reports that you’ll read below. A thumbnail sketch is required to fill in the blanks and most of the descriptions come from Kirk. In past seasons I’ve borrowed from hf board folks like Hiishawk and Blue Bullet, but am hopeful those characters and more will join me and publish their own top 30.

The top 10’s

In Gare Joyce’s wonderful scouting book Future Greats and Heartbreaks, he describes exactly what a "top 10" looks like: "an eighteen year old who should develop into a first line NHL player, maybe an All-Star, definitely someone who can contribute to a winning team." Not every season has 10 top 10’s (2003 had more than 10) and last year I suggested there were only 7 (here). Hindsight suggests there were in fact 8 (Jeff Skinner) top 10’s a year ago. That’s the same number as this year:

  1. C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. 6.00, 164. Bob McKenzie says 6 out of 10 scouts have him at #1, Ken Hitchcock raves about him and Craig Button told me "you can’t trade for these guys and they don’t show up in free agency." I’ve long held Couturier is the best prospect in the draft and can find no math reason to elevate RNH. However, with the understanding that it’s a close call and with the stated worry about his EV/PP number, I believe this is the best player available at number one
  2. C Sean Couturier 6.04, 195. Huge center had a wonderful season (again) and delivered eye popping numbers compared to the rest of his team (along with Ondrej Palat).Size, skill, impressive wingspan and a long resume of results. Here’s what Kirk Luedeke wrote about him at Bruins Draft Watch about his skating:  it’s not a major flaw and is correctible with some work on mechanics. He has the size and power to be a legitimate power forward and top-six player for years in this league.
  3. C Ryan Strome 6.0, 183. A dynamic offensive player with a motor that won’t stop took a massive step forward this season. Excellent skater, soft hands, sees the ice well and he has decent size. Doesn’t have a lot of flaws to his game and it’s ridiculous how much he improved season over season.
  4. D Adam Larsson 6.03, 220. Big defender is already a seasoned pro in the SEL. I have him at #4 because it’s likely Larsson won’t be a major offensive contributor based on how he’s being used in the SEL. Despite having a lot to recommend him defensively, I don’t think he’s as valuable as the men above him.
  5. L Gabriel Landeskog 6.01, 205. The one guy in the draft I’m having a hard time slotting. Landeskog has a nice range of skills and that’s high value in my opinion. Landeskog is a difficult player to play against, a leader. He’s tough and because of the wide range of skills he’s certainly worth a lottery pick. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him taken in the top 3, especially after what should be an impressive combine.
  6. L Jonathan Huberdeau 6.01, 168. I have him lower than many of the mock drafts or seedings, but Huberdeau is on an exceptionally talented team and his offensive numbers may have been inflated quite a lot courtesy the quality of team. He’s a talent, no doubt. I just like the other 5 kids better.
  7. Ryan Murphy 5.10, 168. He’s one dimensional but man what a dimension. Murphy is an exceptionally talented puck mover, his lack of size for the position he plays and some questions about his strength are the only real negatives. He could be the best defenseman in this draft.
  8. D Dougie Hamilton 6.04, 190. Big man can skate very well and has a major impact on his team’s powerplay. I’m nicking him a little because his offense is inflated via the powerplay and it’s very unlikely he’ll bring that to the NHL for some time (if at all). Still, a terrific player.
  9. LW Sven Bartschi 5.10, 185. Undersized winger with terrific skill is being undervalued by some. He is a pure WHL rookie and delivered an exceptional season. His impressive showing during the WHL playoffs appears to have cemented his status as a top 10 pick in this year’s draft.
  10. C Mark McNeill 6.01, 204. He’s big, plays center and has 2-way skills. That’s a lot to like. A very disciplined player, on the right side of the puck a lot and pays attention to detail. Under the radar for most of the year, he impressed enough at the U18’s to be considered a legit top 10 selection.
  11. RW Joel Armia 6.03, 191. Has size, speed and skill, a deadly combination. Armia is a load, highly skilled with great anticipation. Needs to add strength, and is never going to be a physical winger despite his being 6.03.
  12. R Zack Phillips 6.01, 181. Impressive offensive prospect, he gets nicked a little bit because of the team and line he plays on. He’s clearly talented, but isn’t an explosive skater. His scoring ability will get him taken earlier than a lot of people believe.  
  13. D Joe Morrow 6.01, 200. Morrow is an interesting prospect in that he brings a nice range of skills. Size, puck moving ability and he can play the position. The one thing that held him back a little was footspeed but that’s apparently improved this season.
  14. C Mika Zibanejad 6.02, 191. Big C improved late. At the 2010 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Timmins, Ont., the 6-foot-2, 191-pound centre led Team Sweden with five goals and nine points in six games en route to a bronze medal. Talented and a hard worker. 
  15. D Nathan Beaulieu 6.02, 195. Big defender with a large wingspan and the ability to make an effective headman pass. A good skater, he’s physical and has a mean streak. I don’t think he’ll be an offensive defender, but he does have a nice range of skills. 
  16. D Duncan Siemens 6.03, 200. Huge kid is one of the youngest players available in this draft. Has a nasty streak and some offense, although he is unlikely to produce big offensive numbers in the NHL.
  17. D Jamie Oleksiak 6.07, 244. A good skater for a guy his size, and his wingspan is enormous. He won’t bring a lot of offense but is probably at the top of the group of defenders who could be considered shutdown prospects.
  18. L Matt Puempel 6.0, 190. A dangerous offensive winger. He played for a very poor Peterborough team and scored over 30 goals, so there’s definitely a player there. Quick release, offensive players always go early.
  19. C Alexander Khokhlachev 5.10, 188. Undersized skill Russian played for Windsor in the OHL. Fast and slick, he is also a puck wizard and is one of those players who is always getting a lot of scoring chances. Among the more one dimensional players at the top of the draft.
  20. L Niklas Jensen 6.02, 188. Has a nice range of skills. Size, good speed and offensive ability, his big question mark is consistency. His “compete level” has been questioned by scouts and his overall offensive impact isn’t enough to get him into the top 20.
  21. C Mark Scheifele 6.02, 177. Impressed a lot of people with his U18 performance and has a nice range of skills. Slick puck skills and good motor make him a player that teams looking for compete level will probably take off the board quickly. His skating might be a little shy, but he’s an excellent prospect.
  22. G John Gibson 6.03, 205. Huge goalie with quick feet and glove. He’s one of those “block out the sun” goaltenders and is already pretty famous. He could go earlier than where I’ve slotted him, but should be chosen a little shy of Jack Campbell (Gibson is often compared to Campbell).
  23. R Ty Rattie 6.00, 167. Undersized skill winger showcased his talents during the WHL post-season. Just average foot speed, but he’s one of those players who always seem to be around the puck and possesses a lot of skill.
  24. C Shane Prince 5.11, 185. Coming off a very good season with Ottawa where he played on one of the best lines in the CHL. One of the older prospects at the top of the draft (Nov. 1992), it’ll be interesting to see if he gets a push coming out of the combine.
  25. D David Musil 6.03, 200. He’s fallen down the draft because Musil didn’t deliver offensively, but I don’t know that there was ever a lot of evidence that he’d be that player type. Musil may end up being a similar player to his father, and that’s certainly a player of value.
  26. L Brandon Saad 6.02, 210. Fell a long way during the season after being projected as a top 10 pick early on. He has size, a quick release an impressive offensive instincts. That combination should get him drafted on day one.
  27. C Viktor Rask 6.01, 194. Big offensive center with some skating issues. Something of a draft wild card in that his skill set is much better than his overall performance. Could go anywhere from late 1st to late 2nd round.
  28. C Boone Jenner 6.01 193. Kirk Luedeke from Bruins Draft Watch quotes an NHL scout saying Jenner “just skates his bag off” and that will get scouts’ attention. Not a great skater (one of several projected to go in round One), not flashy, but he’s tough and can handle himself. Might be one of those wingers who ends up playing on a skill line while also helping in an enforcer role.
  29. R Rikard Rakell 6.01, 190. Skilled agitator. Scouts like his skating and offensive potential, and he should be able to play a role on an NHL team even if his offense doesn’t come with him to the pro game.
  30. D Jonas Brodin 6.02, 172. 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."
Many of the things stated in this ranking have been borrowed from Kirk Luedeke at Bruins Draft Watch. His exceptional blog remains the best available source for information that is readily available. My thanks to him for providing such an enormous amount of information on the 2011 draft.
  • Lowetide

    Hmm… I think there’s a pretty good chance that Couturier goes 2nd or 3rd, the Devils take Larsson (who they need a good deal more) and he will make everyone rue the day they passed on him.

  • SumOil

    Hey LT,

    Why knock Huberdeau down a few steps when Hall’s team was just as (if not more) stacked?

    Also, do you think scouting fatigue plays into the Couturier rankings the way it did with Fowler?

    • Lowetide

      Re: Huberdeau. I admit nicking him is somewhat arbitrary but his regular season numbers don’t lap the field. I do think he could go in the top 3, though.

      Re: Couturier. Probably. I think Couturier is going to end up in New Jersey, where he’ll make everyone rue the day they passed on him.

      • I don’t think Couturier makes it past Florida as long as RNH goes in the first two picks. They are in scorched earth mode and may as well start with a center. Huberdeau and Strome would probably both make better wingers than centers in the bigs.

  • Lowetide

    While it would be nice to get a guy like Puempel who can really snipe at 18, I wonder if it might be advantageous to take an existing D pairing like those two Farjestad kids at 18 and 31. One has smarts and great D, the other has size and nice O, and both are strong skaters. They can develop together over the next couple of years.

    Waiting till next season to draft a Dman to me pushes the window for compete back even further.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    I think some of the scouts are wrong on Larsson. Scotty Bowman likes him more than RNH according to Matheson. His WJC performance as a 17 yo while hurt was outstanding offensively. He’ll get more PP time next year and I think we will see a big difference statistically.

    I think some of the Europeans have been nicked too much. I have Zib considerably higher, and Brodin over 10 spots higher. They say he can think the game like Lidstrom. Hockey smarts off the charts.

    • Lowetide

      Yeah, I think the Euro’s are probably underrated on this list. As we get closer we’ll know more about the kids who played in Europe this season (combine, etc).

  • SumOil

    Interesting list LT. Why no Tyler Biggs? Anything you nicked him for specifically? Math? Seems like he’s on most peoples list from 15-25. Haven’t seen the kid play, but from what I’ve read sounds like Brandon Saad has fallen more than he has, in terms of power forwards prospects.

    Keep up the good work, chief.

    • Lowetide

      From what I’ve read on him Biggs was miscast as a first round pick in the first place. It doesn’t look likr he has the kind of offensive potential one usually associated with first round picks.

  • SumOil

    I think the reason why RNH has taken the lead over Couturier is because he projects higher. Parsing the reports, scouts seem to think that RNH has more elite potential. That is, none of these kids are elite “for sures” but RNH appears the most likely. I can’t blame the Oil for taking a whirl at him, if that’s the difference.

  • SumOil

    What scares the hell out of me about RNH is (on top of the much talked about EV vs PP totals) is streakiness. If I remember correctly he went almost 20 games without a goal before Christmas. I don’t know if this a huge concern to the masses, but I really would like to guarantee that I’m picking Kane or Datsyk and not Turris.

    I’ve seen Couturier live and while he got two points in the game he didn’t really stand out in any one way. I mean he protected the puck well, used his size, but he didn’t carry the play or anything.

    With Larsson, while he obviously is a defensive marvel, his point totals don’t blow you away by any margin.

    This year’s #1 overall is very tough to analyze. As a die hard fan I just hope we pick the right one

  • Marc

    The Oilers need to get an elite player with the #1 pick. Not just a good player, an elite one. The safest bet is the top rated forward going in to the draft. In every year since 1997, with the exception of 1999, the top rated forward has turned into an elite player.

    There may be other elite players in this draft, and some of them may be a better fit for the Oilers, but the most important thing is that they don’t screw this up. Maybe all the losing has got to me, but at this stage I don’t want the Oilers to swing for the fences. I want them to play the percentages and just get on base. That means going with the safe pick, which at this point seems to be RNH.

  • bleedingoil

    you can say that he is on a stacked team, but check stats last year to this year…..the biggest improvers were his linemates. The rest of the team were pretty much even from prior year. Huberdeau, Phillips and Jurco lit it up. This guy is the real deal. He is the youngest ( not by much) of the top few draftees and had he been in an ohl or whl team would probably be going 1st overall……hands down.

  • R.A. Slapshotzky

    Couturier is no Eric Lindros. That’s the kind of skill one could only dream of when drafting the big man, but unfortunately they don’t come along very often. Imagine a Lindros that could keep his head up. If Couturier could somehow be Lindros then you’d have to consider drafting him over Hopkins.

  • misfit

    Great list, LT.

    I’ve never seen him play, but everything I’ve read tells me that Brodin will be taken well before 30th and could even end up going in the top 15.

    I also think Prince could fall to the 2nd round even though his numbers are what they are.

  • R.A. Slapshotzky

    Lowetide, If RNH ceiling is Datsyuk and Couturier’s is Thornton why would you yourself rate Couturier higher on your list? Pavel Datsyuk has a better resume and is more valuable to his team, no?

    • Lowetide

      My reasons behind putting RNH #1 are twofold: first, there is growing evidence (by that I mean everything and I read and everyone I talk to) that the hockey world as a group thinks RNH is the better man. I do confess to not knowing why, but pride myself on knowing which way the wind blows. 🙂

      Second, Couturier’s skating. I don’t know that he’s Jack Valiquette but it must be enough to flush some of the math.

        • I totally understand why you put RNH ahead of SC on the list even though, like myself, think SC is a better fit.

          If I was starting an expansion team, I’d pick RNH, if I was the Oilers I would pick Couturier. I understand the concept of BPA, BPA, BPA, but the Oilers aren’t a normal NHL franchise. They have a tough time filling holes on their hockey even though there are a vast number of hockey players in the world. Its like trying to put a Jenga puzzle together while cooking supper. It may not be perfect, but you are trying to get things done.

          Just because RNH is the best player doesn’t mean he is the best player for the Oilers. Is this team going to forge a plan and move ahead with the players they have soon or are they ust going to continue to accumulate players the Oilers can use down the road (hopefully).

          • R.A. Slapshotzky

            Why is he a better fit? Are you under the impression that RNH is a prima donna and that he would not play here? Who’s to say that Couturier would want to live in the west…in Alberta? We know RNH can pull that off. Not too sure what you meant, but I’ve been called slow before…lol.

        • Lowetide

          Yeah, I honestly didn’t want to because Couturier makes so much sense for the Oilers. But when you’re selecting #1 overall (and really any time) it should be best player available.

          The evidence–at least the “saw him good” evidence–is very certain. Math thinks they’re all about equal. With those things understood, RNH makes sense.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Great stuff LT, as much as I like RNH I’m still kinda partial to Coutrier because of his bigger frame, I won’t complain on either player as long as its 1 of those 2 the Oilers draft at #1.

    I hope if the Oil can’t trade the LA pick for a NHL ready dman they take Musil, might b a reach at 19 but don’t think he’ll b there at 31.

  • R.A. Slapshotzky

    My favourite line from that Bourne Blog on Datsyuk was: “If we give him space, well, then we’ve just given Pavel Datsyuk time and space in the offensive zone, which is just about as petrifying a concept as watching Gretzky with it, the father of the jam-packed arsenal.”

    HAHAHA love it. Hope and pray he’s half the player Pavel is.

  • paul wodehouse

    …and further LT…when i saw the draft day lead picture of #83 on this piece i thought you might have been drawing a worrisome comparison to RNH in that he might turn out to be as fragile as Ales toward the mid point of his career…might we want to rethink our realistic choice on June 24th ? i know…probably NO WAY!

    OR/SO we go in knowing that by the time we want to be winning a Stanley Cup with RNH centering 4 and 14 he may only be playing 55-60 games a season due to injury.

  • paul wodehouse

    Great compilation of the first round LT …the birds’ eye view at a glance…Mark Seidel of Central Scouting had his final list showing RNH dropping to 4th behind Ryan Strome and Landeskog…Larsson the #1

    …any surprise?

    y’think it effects anything? namely MBS?
    many pardons if you spoke at length on your show that i didn’t catch re: this list of yours…

    signed
    still in shock over Derek Boogaards’ death

    • Lowetide

      I agree, the Boogaard death is very sad.

      As for MBS, the one thing about the Oilers group is that they’ve had some success and are confident. I don’t think anyone will sway them.

      I can see why Seidel has RNH at 4; the top 5 are basically even.

    • Lowetide

      I have had the pleasure of watching beaulieu and phillips play in my hometown and either one of those players will fit nicely. I would rather see a forward taken first and beaulieu would be a great dman for us in the years to to come. He had the size and sense we need on the blueline. The kid has strong legs when he hahas opportunities to carry the puck out or back check. He is developing a real stinger from the point and can see the holes for great passes. He can hold his own in scrums and no need to sorry