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NHL Draft - The Top Eleven

by Photo of Kevin Leonard

Who’s making an impact next year?

NHL Draft - The Top Eleven

We took our time with this one (the first round of the NHL Draft happened 3 days ago), but let's face it -- so will these players. In a league that sees very few players leapfrog straight from being picked to an NHL lineup, it's hard for the Draft to pick up the same steam as the NFL or NBA drafts, where selections are immediately relevant.

But the 2011 Draft was engaging for other reason: mostly because of the tons of Winnepeg faithful that made their way down to Minnesota for their city's first Draft since Shane Doan and company were chosen in 1995. A year later, the team headed south to Phoenix to continue its lackluster performance and financial issues (although Winnipeg had a stretch of making the playoffs 11 times in 15 years, the franchise has only won two playoff series since joining the league in 1979).

Although most players selected even in the first round will likely take time to hone their skills or "fill-in" their frames (so overused a phrase), the top ten or twelve players in this talented draft pool have a shot at cracking an October lineup.

So, without further adieu, the first 10 (or 12) picks:

Numero Uno: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Center (Edmonton Oilers)

Nugent-Hopkins was #1 on almost everyone's draft board, and for good reason - the kid can ball. A shifty forward with great playmaking ability and vision, the main knock on him is that he's too slim. Although he might get worn down a bit his first year, it's quite likely that we'll see him skating for Edmonton offensive corps that was 2nd-worst in total goals last season. GM Steve Tambellini insists that there's "no rush", but what GM wouldn't be licking his chops at the prospect of having this guy quarterback and powerplay with last's year's #1 Taylor Hall? These two are gonna tear up Edmonton for a long time.

#2: Gabriel Landeskog, Right Wing (Colorado Avalanche)

With picks at 2 and 11 overall, the recently cellar-dwelling Avalache had to be licking their chops coming in. They took reliable winger Landeskig of the OHL's Kitchener Ranger's, a team a scored 66 points for in 53 games. He also notched an outstanding +27 rating, which speaks to his defensive hustle. A solid two-way player with size (6'1, 207) and scoring ability, Landeskog is regarded as one of the most NHL-ready players in the class. 

#3: Jonathan Huberdeau, Center (Florida Panthers)

Another skilled forward, Huberdeau played for the QMJHL powerhouse Saint John Sea Dogs, a team that saw three of its players go in the first round of this year's draft. Huberdeau was the kingpin of the team's success, racking up 106 points in 67 games and garnering recognition as Memorial Cup MVP when his team won it all, this past season. Obviously a talented scorer, Huberdeau could see some ice in Florida this season.

#4: Adam Larsson, Defenseman (New Jersey Devils)

What a phenomenal pick. Since the days when Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, Brian Rafalski and Scott Neidermayer patrolled the New Jersey blueline, the Devils have lacked a defensive presence. Building from the back with future Hall of Fame tender Martin Brodeur and their stellar defensive corps, the team won 3 Cups ('95, '00, '03). The last four years have seen a decline in the team's performance, with 3 first-round exits and an 11th place Eastern Conference finish in 2010-11, their worst in years -- even after signing scoring star Ilya Kovalcuk. The Devils went back to their roots with this pick, taking Swedish hard-hitting defenseman Adam Larsson. At 6'3, 220, this 18-year-old is a man, and already has two years of pro experience in

the Swedish Elite League.

A lot of people think Gabriel Landeskog is the most NHL-ready prospect from the draft. That title belongs to Larsson. If he's not in the league next season, I'll be


#5: Ryan Strome, Center (New York Islanders)

Strome is a great pickup for a team that's choc-full of 3rd line talent. Strome has great hands and the legimate scoring touch of a top-3 forward - incidentally, he, Huberdeau and Nugent-Hopkins were the only three players in junior last years to break 100 points (no small feat). What's more, Ryan actually seems like he's HAPPY to be on the Islanders. Who's ever heard of that? Tavares, Moulson, and Strome -- the training buddies are gonna be bringing the Coliseum down. Or maybe it's just killing itself because it's the worst building in the league.

#6: Mika Zibanejad, Center (Ottawa Senators)

With the first of 6 picks in the top 66 of the draft, Ottawa chose Mika Zibanejad, the 6'2, 192-pound half-Iranian, half-Finnish Swede. The dude was the 3rd Swede to go in the top 6 of the draft, and has, according to the Senators' GM, the rare combination of size and speed. He also has half a year of pro experience in the Swedish Elite League, and the ability to speak, Swedish, Finnish, English and Pharsi. Zibanejad's strength could help get him an early shot at the NHL, especially in an Ottawa lineup that ranked dead-last in goals scored last season.

#7: Mark Scheifele, Center (Winnipeg Jets)

Scheifele is the first first-rounder to get a Jets jersey on draft day since Shane Doan slipped on the blue red, and white in 1995 – metaphorically of course; due to some ridiculousness, Jets draft picks wore a black jersey donned with the NHL logo. Scheifele's an interesting guy – after being picked in the the 7th round of the OHL draft, it seems like this fella's got something to prove. Slated to go to Cornell this past year, he changed his mind and took on the world's best junior league, scoring 75 points in 66 games. He didn't do too bad for himself, going from 7-rounder in a junior draft to 7 th overall in the NHL draft. This guy could be a late bloomer, and might get sent down for another year of junior to develop. Don't be surprised to see him put up 100 points in his second year in the OHL. Don't be surprised to see him called up to the big squad, either.

#8: Sean Couturier, Center (Philadelphia Flyers)

Couturier's another big dude, standing at 6'4 and pushing 200. With size and skill, he was 5 th in scoring in the QMJHL and won the league's regular-season MVP. He's gonna be an interesting situation in Philly – the team's management has been bold (or clinically insane, depending on who you talk to) this off-season, trading away stars Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. With the youth up-front on this team, it seems that anyone's open for a spot. Couturier would probably fit in perfectly with folks like Danny Briere and Claude Giroux. French Connection, anyone?

#9: Dougie Hamilton, Defenseman (Boston Bruins)

With excellent depth at offense, the Cup-winners (who are the first champs to choose in the top 3 since the '83 Islanders – looks like the Phil Kessel trade is still paying dividends) chose Dougie Hamilton. “We didn't think he'd be here,” said GM Peter Chiarelli. At 6'5, he's gonna have a big body to throw around, and will be learning how to shoot and hit from two of the game's best – Chara and Seidenberg, who helped shut down the Sedins this Spring. With a solid defensive corps and a championship under their belt, it's hard to see Hamilton cracking the lineup his first year out, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him given a shot in the AHL.

#10: Jonas Brodin, Defenseman (Minnesota Wild)

Brodin, in addition to being a teenage pop sensation with his 3 annoying brothers, is a skilled, puck-moving, skating defenseman who will be a 4-on-4 nightmare for years to come. Look for this guy to get bigger – at 170, he's undersized and plays that way. He'll need to use the body a bit more effectively so he has some lasting power in the league against the physical NHL forecheck. No rush, though. He's only 17.

#11: Duncan Siemens, Defenseman (Colorado Avalanche)

Colorado got a good one here. A classic defenseman with a healthy helping of offensive pizzazz, Siemens is going to have NHL success. According to one site, the best thing Siemens has going for him is his “angry disposition.” Siemens isn't afraid to drop the mitts, and often stands up for teammates. I'd like to see him in the league this year, stepping up on a blueline that used to house names like Ray Bourque, Rob Blake, and recently retired Adam Foote. In a city that knows defensemen, Siemens is likely to become a fan favorite.

Excited about the prospect of these prospect seeing some ice next season? Well, you're gonna have to wait like the rest of us. Until then, go watch a pastime – Charged.fm can get you there.

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