Here are the preseason Top 50 Prospects for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, based on my observations. These rankings are based on my evaluations of the players, and supplemented with discussions Iíve had with scouts who view these players on a regular basis. There is less detail in this than in my end of year rankings as my notes arenít as in-depth on every player to do a sufficient profile, however I do have a good enough portion of notes to have confidence in these rankings.
Take these rankings with a grain of salt. Aside from the recent Ivan Hlinka tournament and some preseason play, the 93í birthdates (which are a majority of these prospects) have not played nearly enough hockey to be judged in their 17 year old season, which is a critical point in their development. A fair amount can change in between now and June and these rankings are just meant to give people a feel of the top names in this yearís Draft class.
Bullet points on observations from this Draft class:
- There is no standout goalie prospect at the moment in this class. Matt Mahalek is the only guy as of now thatís on my radar, but as Iíve published in past columns you need to be really good to crack my list, never mind my top 50. I had Jack Campbell ranked in the 70ís, even though I love him as a player.
- The top of the Draft is quite strong, and as of right now Iím not sure if Iíd say my top five here is better than my personal 2010 top five (Hall, Seguin, Fowler, Kabanov, Gormley) but itís at least close enough that any team picking near the top in 2011 is going to get a great prospect. I will say though I think Adam Larsson is a better prospect than Taylor Hall.
- I donít see much depth in terms of top defensive prospects right now. Larsson aside, Murphy is an offensive stalwart but has question marks about his defense and physical game. Musilís issues I address below. Clendening and Siemens could both rise as the year goes on and possibly even Forsberg, but at the moment Iím not thrilled with the top defensive guys.
- The depth in this Draft looks much weaker than in 2010, although thatís not a horrid knock as an NHL Front Office exec told me he thought the 2010 Draft was one of the deepest drafts heís ever been a part of. Thereís quite a few question-mark players whose development I will be watching closely (St. Croix, Rieder, Lessio, Rattie, Catenacci, Scarlett, Meurs) as depending on how these players among multiple others do; it could change the depth of this draft significantly in either direction.
1) Adam Larsson, Defense, Skelleftea-SEL: Adam is one of the most advanced defenders in many years to come along at his age, his hockey sense is so polished and when you combine that with his natural tools you get a guy who last year was able to log 17:35 a game for one of the SELís better teams and ended up on Skellefteaís first pairing. Larsson is extremely well-rounded to the point itís hard to find a true weakness at all in his skill set. He can move well, especially for a guy his size, can handle the puck and run a first powerplay unit with the offensive capabilities to distribute and shoot , is physically developed and will use his body. Heís developed exponentially over the last few years and has a very desirable ceiling.
2) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Center, Red Deer-WHL: Ryan has climbed his way up to the top of the 2011 Draft charts thanks to superb skills, mainly his skating and puck skills that make him so hard for defenders to contain. He is extremely agile on his skates and can move laterally very well which helps him evade pressure. Ryan has plus hands which make him dangerous in open space as he can really out-angle defenders as well as being a well above-average passer. He is really lacking in muscle, but makes up for it with a willingness to play through checks not to mention good hockey awareness to be able to make plays under pressure.
3) Victor Rask, Center, Leksand- Allsvenskan: Rask is one of my favorite prospects going into 2011 and it wouldnít be a surprise at all to see him end up a top five guy on many peopleís lists by seasonís end. He is extremely dangerous in the offensive zone with well above-average offensive awareness and puck skills. His passes are crisp and he can thread the needle through small spaces. He uses his big frame well and can be hard to deal with in the corners. His skating isnít high-end, but he accelerates well and has fine balance.
4) Sean Couturier, Center, Drummondville-QMJHL: Sean is a very well-rounded forward who made noise last year after leading the QMJHL in scoring. His puck skills, shot, physical game and hockey sense all project as above to well above average tools as he can do so much on the ice. Sean goes into the boards hard, uses his body well to shield the puck, and he can make above-average passes. He can score goals with a hard wrist shot or by getting cheap goals from the crease area. Sean has also displayed a fine defensive game and was touted as one of the better defensive players in the Q last year. His only weakness is his skating ability which has been a knock on him for a while. He has made improvements though in that department and his stride projects at a pro-average level.
5) Rocco Grimaldi, Center, USNTDP-USHL: A guy who will likely be a topic of debate in this yearís draft class for reasons about his size. Rocco is a very skilled player and heís one of those players who if he was 6í2" people would be talking about him as a first overall pick, but his diminutive frame of around 5í6" 160 is the cause of debate. He isnít good small, like for example from last yearís draft Jordan Weal or Christian Thomas, but rather this kid is high-end small. Roccoís an explosive skater, with great acceleration, speed and balance. His offensive skill set is well-rounded, he can beat guys one on one, has soft hands that allow to him to make subtle to high-difficulty dekes that a large number of players canít make, makes passes of moderate difficulty, has a cannon of a shot and can be featured on the point on the powerplay. His most impressive feature is, believe it or not, his physical game. Heís tenacious along the boards and a very hard battler who finds ways to take the puck off bigger players.
Explanation: Larsson tops my list unquestionably at this point in time due to just how advanced he is combined with an impressive all-around skill set. You donít find prospects like him that often and when you combine his skills with his projected premium value, and his pro-readiness you get a guy who in my opinion is the top prospect at least right now in the 2011 Draft.
Nugent-Hopkins brings a rare combo of well above-average skating and puck skills tools. He didnít have the monster year Couturier had last season, but RNH was several months younger and had one less year of CHL experience. If you had to ask me who was better today, Couturier or RNH I would say Couturier but the Draft isnít about today itís about tomorrow and usually the distant tomorrow. The tools RNH has, mainly his high-end skating and puck skills which are both very hard to obtain and thereby create more value for him, as well as his tools help to project him to be the better player in the distant tomorrow.
Rask doesnít have the explosive skill set that Nugent-Hopkins has, but his combination of puck skills, physicality and hockey sense are very good. It was very hard to decide between him and Couturier, especially since Sean has great offensive tools and is a smart two-way player too. This was just a matter of analyzing the two playerís tools and seeing what they project down the line and Rask has a slight, slight edge.
Putting Couturier at 4 isnít really because I donít like Sean, I think heís a terrific prospect, itís just I really like the three guys above him. Couturierís skating is a concern, especially to anyone whose trying to challenge for a top three spot I like to see above-average skating ability unless itís coupled by high-end tools all-around, but it isnít as much a concern than if we were having this conversation a year or two ago and Couturier does have a desirable skill set to help supplement it. Rask doesnít have plus skating ability either, which was another reason why it was so close in my opinion between the two.
Grimaldi at 5 is off the board but hear me out. Hereís the thing with small players, they can succeed and succeed well in the NHL, given the right set of circumstances. You canít just be good, because if a 5í6 player like Grimaldi is as talented as say Brandon Dubinsky, heís not making the NHL. A player like Grimladi has to be really, really good to overcome his deficiencies. He has to be not only a plus skater, stick-handler and thinker at the least, but he also has to have an ability to handle the eventual pain and physical play that will be directed towards him. You know what though, I believe Grimaldi IS that. He has above-average to well above-average offensive tools across the board and heís a vicious battler. He has not only what it takes to make it in the NHL, but he also has what it takes to succeed.
6) Brandon Saad, Left Wing, Saginaw-OHL
7) Matt Puempel, Left Wing, Peterborough- OHL
8) Ryan Murphy, Defense, Kitchener-OHL
9) Nicklas Jensen, Left Wing, Oshawa- OHL
10) Shane McColgan, Right Wing, Kelowna-WHL
11) Matt Nieto, Left Wing, Boston University- NCAA
12) Michael St. Croix, Center, Edmonton- WHL
13) David Musil, Defense, Vancouver-WHL
Explanation: Musil is here because of my philosophy towards defenders without significant offensive upside, which is to drop them. The reason being how hard it is to develop a defender is that role, albeit Musilís well above-average hockey sense will make the job significantly easier. Also though, there isnít much value to a guy who doesnít contribute offensively from the back-end, at least not enough value to be in the top 5, 10. Musil doesnít have zero offensive upside, as he is a fine puck-mover, but just not enough for me to see a significant two-way skater.
14) Lucas Lessio, Left Wing, Oshawa-OHL
15) Adam Clendening, Defense, Boston University-OHL
16) Alexander Khokhlachev, Center, Windsor-OHL
17) Gabriel Landeskog, Right Wing, Kitchener-OHL
Explanation: I just donít like this guy as much as others. Donít get me wrong, heís a good hockey player, but he doesnít have the offensive upside to be in the upper-half of the first round. Heís a good physical player, with an above-average skating/shot combo but his whole package, especially his play with the puck, doesnít do enough to be at the upper part of this list. He was great in the OHL playoffs last year, but thatís a major sample issue and Iíve seen no indication in his body of work that he projects as a high-end offensive player.
18) Vladislav Namestnikov, Center, London-OHL
19) Seth Ambroz, Left Wing, Omaha-USHL
Report: A guy I think is getting over-hyped due to the size factor. Yes Seth is an absolute physical monster, and when he plants himself in front of the net you canít move him. He also can maul guys in the corners. He has a plus shot and soft touch around the net which lets him gets the puck into shooting position well. However itís his minuses that are alarming and result in this drop, mainly his skating which is a true minus tool and he doesnít exactly bleed puck skills either to help supplement it. Itís nice that heís physically blessed, but you need the package to couple with that to be a top scorer and he doesnít have that right now.
20) Tomas Jurco, Right Wing, Saint John- QMJHL
21) Ty Rattie, Right Wing, Portland-WHL
22) Nathan Beaulieu, Defense, Saint John- QMJHL
23) Boone Jenner, Center, Oshawa-OHL
24) Duncan Siemens, Defense, Saskatoon-WHL
25) Daniel Catenacci, Center, Sault Ste. Marie- OHL
26) Jesse Forsberg, Defense, Prince George-WHL
27) Jonathan Huberdeau, Center, Saint John- QMJHL
28) Markus Granlund, Center, HIFK- Fin Jr. A
29) Reece Scarlett, Defense, Swift Current-WHL
30) Garret Meurs, Center-Plymouth-OHL
31) Scott Mayfield, Defense, Youngstown-USHL
32) Scott Harrington, Defense, London-OHL
33) Tobias Rieder, Left Wing, Kitchener-OHL
34) Robbie Russo, Defense, USNTDP-USHL
35) Joel Armia, Right Wing, Assat- SM- Liiga
36) Oscar Klefbom, Defense, Skare BK- Swe Div 1
37) Dillon Simpson, Defense, Spruce Grove- AJHL
38) JT Miller, Center, USNTDP-USHL
39) Nick Shore, Center, Denver-NCAA
40) JF Leblanc, Center, Val díOr-QMJHL
41) Vincent Trocheck, Center, Saginaw-OHL
42) Anton Zlobin, Right Wing, Shawinigan-QMJHL
43) Austen Brassard, Right Wing, Oshawa-OHL
44) Dougie Hamilton, Defense, Niagara-OHL
45) Xavier Ouellet, Defense, Montreal-QMJHL
46) Joachim Nermark, Center, Linkoping- Swe J20
47) Phillip Danault, Left Wing, Victoriaville- QMJHL
48) Mika Zibanejad, Center, Djurgarden, Swe J20
49) Tyler Biggs, Right Wing, USNTDP-USHL
50) Colin Smith, Center, Kamloops-WHL
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Corey Pronman is an author of Puck Prospectus, runs the statistical hockey site The Hock Project and is a writer for Premium Scouting. You can contact him at CPronman@gmail.com.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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