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.
  • Lowetide

    Lowetide:

    I know you’re not doing a mock – that’s why I’m saying I think you undervalue guys that have intangibles and projectable players and qualify that with saying I perhaps overrate those type of players.

    Its kind of weird too because I know you’re a huge Horcoff guy so I’m surprised that Boone Jenner isn’t in your top 20.

    You’re right, its all fun.

    • Lowetide

      Yeah, I can see your point. With Jenner, I just like a couple of those guys around 30 a little more, but as mentioned earlier he’s certainly a guy who is in the range.

      Our conversation actually may be a reflection of this draft: once you get outside the top 10 or so, a strong case can be made for about 40 guys being first round picks.

      As an aside, have you published your list? I’d like to read it.

      • Action Jackson

        If there are about 40 guys who could be first round picks, the #19 pick could be a pretty terrible spot to pick. If we cannot trade up to get a second pick in the top 10, do you think the best move would be to try to drop back to pick up additional picks? Consider possibly trading #19+ to Toronto for #25 and #29/30.

        • Lowetide

          I’m absolutely certain that it’s possible, and think it’s a good idea if the scouting staff says getting two seconds is better than drafting at 19.

          I think we’ll see a lot of that; the guy you like is taken off the board and all of a sudden #19 isn’t what you thought it would be.

          • That said, if Oleskiak is there at 19 it would be tempting to take the Incredible Hulk with that pick. If the Oilers do that they can try to spin RNH’s slight frame to the fans by saying that the average height and weight of their 1st round selections is still well above average 😉

          • John Chambers

            There is something awfully comforting about a future that boasts two 6’6″ + monsters on D. And maybe it will shut people up about how small Gagner is.

          • I wonder if his size alone doesnt move a guy like Oleskiak up a few spots.

            I for one am perfectly fine if the Oil dont make any draft day moves and just use their 3 selections in the top 31. RNH, Oleskiak, and one of the kids that falls from the 1st round. Thats a good day (two days actually but whatever) for the Oilers.

  • DieHard

    Lowetide:

    It seems you bump up Scheifele because of an impressive U-18’s but Miller was one of the most dominating players in the tournament. He he’s a complete player that competes like Ryan Kesler.

    I have a hard time questioning Jensen’s desire condidering he left home to play in a foreign country to help raise his stock.

    Biggs doesn’t have dynamic skills but neither did Dylan McIlrath. He doesn’t make it past Toronto.

    Mayfield hasn’t put up huge numbers but he’s had more buzz around him than John Carlson did. Seems like the type of defender that Pat Quinn would champion.

    • Lowetide

      I’m not attempting to predict the top 30, but rather offer my opinion. I’m certain some of these guys will go higher than they are rated here, but that’s the fun of it.

      Right?

  • Lowetide

    Notables missing from your list and where I had them on mine:

    JT Miller (14)
    Boone Jenner (18)
    Nicklas Jensen (24)
    Tyler Biggs (25)
    Scott Mayfield (26)
    Adam Lowry (30)

    Looking at the list, it seems you undervalue two-way players, players with intangibles, and players that are projectable.

    Or perhaps I overvalue them.

    • Lowetide

      I can give you my reasons on each player.

      Miller is a guy Redline is high on but he’s neither fast or terribly skilled based on the scouting reports I’ve read.

      Boone Jenner I had at 28 on my previous list, he just fell off this one.

      Niklas Jensen I had at 20 on my previous list, but I have read a couple of things about him in regard to work ethic and desire. Call it “Bonsignore worry” but that’s a giant red flag for a kid in his draft year.

      Biggs I don’t have anywhere near the top 30. I think he was miscast as a potential first rounder early by someone (ISS?) and he remains on some lists but no sale from me.

      Mayfield’s scouting report doesn’t jive with his numbers. I think in the first round a team should look for a good scouting report and a guy who delivered.

      Lowry is a good prospect but I don’t have him in the top 40.

  • Lowetide

    Anyone think MPS should be given a chance at center? Too late now, but would have been interesting to see, like Hall, for a few games last year. Accelration and top end speed are incredible, always the first guy back anyway. If you like what you see, then frees the team up a little more in terms of draft day approach.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Duncan Siemans is the guy I would target in the 19th spot or sooner. Size, grit and mean as dirt. I want that. As a 5-6 dman he would be right at home. Kinda like Don Jackson.Give me a dman who’s willing to put up 10 to 15 fights a year and be able to protect the skill guys when needed.You take a guy like Peckham. add a Petry and a Siemans along with Marincin,Whitney and possibly Dougie Hamilton. I like that blue line going forward. . Size, grit, and skill.

  • John Chambers

    Landeskog has the highest volatility IMO. Colorado could grab him at #2 as they need to add size on the wing, or he could very well be my neighbour on Wellington Crescent in Winnipeg.

    I’m always interested to see who becomes the biggest dud of the draft. Everyone sounds like they have tremendous upside ex ante. Ex post my bet is that Couturier doesn’t have much runway left in his development. I’ve been calling him Chris Gratton for months. Just a hunch tho.

  • Breakerdog

    Reading over at Bruins Draft Watch. Surprised at how much he likes Grimaldi and Morrow. He has Rocco over second tier guys like Scheifle, McNeil and Bartschi. He has Morrow as the best defenceman behind the top group of Larsson, Murphy and Hamilton.

    These both seem a little high to me. I notice you agree on Morrow ahead of Oleksiak and Siemens. Any thoughts on Grimaldi?

    • Lowetide

      I like Morrow because he has a wide variety of skills. He could lose one on the way to the NHL (say his slap shot doesn’t get used on the PP) and still be a worthwhile player.

      Rocco is a guy I don’t know a lot about (except for Kirk’s blog). Gabriels Desjardins has written about USHL and US High School NHL equivalencies:

      http://www.hockeyprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=192

      but we don’t really know how much offense he’s going to bring to the next level.

      Tough to say. I believe his Desjardins NHL equivalency would be about 22 points, but that’s probably a low number. Of the forwards listed above, NHLE’s for Grimaldi and Zibanejad are the ones that lack a full photo.

  • Lowetide

    I really like Morrow if he is still around at 19, and I think Edmonton brass would love Oleskiak, but I think that size alone will move him into the teens. For 31 I am a huge fan of Saad or Kelfbom, but I have to figure the rest of the NHL is too.

    • justDOit

      Yup, I do that trade in a heartbeat, but Boston would probably want something for Seguin’s year of development. Going forward without Savard, they have a need at center for next year, and I doubt RNH is ready for that. Oh well, might have to throw in Cogs.

    • Lowetide

      I would make that trade. The downside is that you’d have FOUR elite or close to elite young forwards on their entry level deals at the same time, but that’s just a monster cluster moving forward. I mean a piss cutter group.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Only possible deal i’d include Paajarvi is the Florida deal. If this doesn’t happen we’ll either watch him surprise or disappoint in an Oiler jersey for the next couple yrs.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Thanx Lowtide, I agree i hope Tambby doesn’t trade any of the HOPE kids that would be cause for an instant and swift pink slip.

    I’d be sad to see Hemmer go, yes he can be injury prone but if he can stay healthy and play at least 70 games for the next few years til the kids are more ready to take this team to the playoffs yr after yr I think its to early to give up on #83, the Oilers need his points right now.

    Cogs and Gilbert can go anytime, but thats just me.

  • LT,

    You wouldn’t swap MPS for Couturier or Larsson?

    Hall & Eberle are untouchable right now, but is Paajarvi?

    It would be tough to make that move, but other GM’s would need equal talent/upside in return if Edmonton wants in the top 5.

    I don’t think Hemsky or Gagner + excite other teams as much as Edmonton fans would like to believe.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Great read LT, i like how you you give a bit of detail into each player going into the draft.

    Im still hoping Musil is still around at 31 so the Oilers can draft him, i was a big fan of his dad while he was with the Oilers, IMO a team can never have too many players like Frank Musil and presently Peckham.

    In regards to drafting RNH at #1 and then “moving heaven and earth” to grab Larsson in the top 5 what do you think it would take to get him? I’d have to think a Gilbert or Whitney +19 and 31 picks would have to be involved to grab Larsson and that might be a little steep.

    • Lowetide

      I think Steve Tambellini has a few things of value to offer, including #19, #31, Cogliano, Gilbert, Hemsky.

      I don’t know that he’d trade any of the gifted trio up front, and I do worry that maybe they don’t know what they have in Omark.

      • OilFan

        Gotta agree, I also do worry that Oilers Management dont know what they have in Omark..call me silly, but I see Pavel Datsyuk in his game..maybe the defensive side isnt there yet..but Omark is always trying everything he can to get the puck back from the other team..it wont be long before his defensive positioning is on target, he is willing to learn any side of the game so I wouldnt worry about him not learning the defensive side…
        Here is a question..
        What does Gagner have that Omark does not???