Monday, June 20, 2011

2011 NHL Draft: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

The NHL Draft is this week in the Twin Cities. While the big story surrounding the Minnesota Wild will be any potential maneuvering that they may attempt (more on that later this week), other eyes are on the top of the draft board.

At No. 1, the Edmonton Oilers have a tough decision. It's not that there is much question about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' status as the draft's top player. Instead, it's the quintessential question of board versus need.

The Oilers need defensive help, and Swedish prospect Adam Larsson sits there as a very real candidate for the No. 1 pick.

But Edmonton also picks at No. 19, and reports have them trying to flip that pick for a top ten selection, possibly to pick local product Duncan Siemens, a defenseman who has -- to borrow Brian Burke's favorite word -- a lot of truculence to his game. There's also fast-rising Northeastern defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, who is the biggest (6-7) player in this draft.

In the end, I've always been a believer that -- especially in the NHL, where players don't often find their way to the NHL for at least a year or two -- you need to draft the board, not the needs.

It's a mistake I believe a lot of teams made last year, when Cam Fowler inexplicably fell to the No. 12 spot when he should have been picked no lower than fifth. Teams looked at their organizations and didn't think they needed an offensive defenseman who will eventually be able to score 15 to 20 goals a season in the NHL.

And you wonder why the same teams are in the top 10 of the draft all the time.

Anyway, the Oilers need to do the right thing Friday night. And that's not filling the defensive need with the No. 1 pick, unless they truly believe that Larsson is a better hockey player than Nugent-Hopkins.

Here are videos on the two, not that you can tell much from highlight videos. We'll start with Nugent-Hopkins.

Obviously, Nugent-Hopkins has the skills to be a star. He has hands, great hockey sense, and can score goals. His size is a concern, but it's not like he's a munchkin.

(Plus, I think Rocco Grimaldi is going to be a very good pro at some point, and he's appreciably smaller than Nugent-Hopkins. So I'm not buying into that argument.)

Here's Larsson.

Larsson has some advantages, mainly because he's spent a lot of time playing with and against older players. He could be more "NHL ready" than any other draft prospect, but that's not a certainty, and the Oilers probably can get a solid defensive prospect in the first round, even if they have to stay put at No. 19.

In this situation, coming off back-to-back horrific seasons, you simply can't afford not to trust your board. Even if you need someone else more.

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