Monday, May 16, 2011

2011 NHL Draft: Who's No. 1?

The 2011 NHL Draft is 40 days away, June 24 at the XCel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Last year, we saw some (to an extent, manufactured) debate over who would be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin. At no point did I have much doubt that Hall should be the top player. He ended up going No. 1 overall, as he should have, and Boston got a nice consolation prize in Tyler Seguin, who has been almost criminally underutilized during these playoffs.

This year, we're not going to have a clear-cut No. 1 like we did last year. It's not that easy. Depending on what direction the Edmonton Oilers decide to go, there are a few good candidates and no easy answers.

For now, it appears No. 1-ranked center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the consensus top player among scouts. From the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, Nugent-Hopkins seems to me to be a good choice for Edmonton, despite their glaring need for help on defense. The reason? For starters, it's best to take the best player in the draft when you're picking No. 1. Don't be the team that selects a specific position because you think you need to pick a player from that position No. 1, and don't be the team that picks a player only for his ability to help your crappy franchise sell tickets (Hi, Cam Newton!).

While I tend to lean toward Nugent-Hopkins as the No. 1 player, there is an argument for mid-season No. 1 Gabriel Landeskog, as well as fellow Swede Adam Larsson, a defenseman. Landeskog played this year for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, and Larsson stayed home to play in the Swedish Elite League.

Saint John (QMJHL) center Jonathan Huberdeau is an emerging prospect who could get some play for a high pick, though I don't think he'll pass Nugent-Hopkins as the top center on the board. Huberdeau does have a bit of an edge, as he is helping lead the Sea Dogs into the prestigious Memorial Cup tournament, which starts Friday in Missisauga, near Toronto. It gives him a chance to shine in front of scouts in the most well-known junior hockey tournament on Earth.

As we get closer to the draft, I'll be posting info on all these players, and you'll see my top players ranked on the site. I'm still working on a lot of that stuff, so be looking for it in the coming days and weeks. I'll be at the NHL Draft in St. Paul to provide coverage. The host Wild pick tenth, and it's another important addition to the team's young stable as they try to rebuild the system's depth.

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