***UPDATE: As a result of the trade on Thursday and Dean's presence in Minnesota, we've taken the liberty to make a minor tweak or two to our mock drafts. Dean's two alterations come at the #2 and #4 position while Guy tinkers at #8 and #9.***
The 2011 NHL Entry Draft is on the immediate horizon and it's an event that we have been building up to on The Pipeline Show since September. After nearly 10 consecutive months of interviews with eligible players, coaches, scouts, pro and amateur executive, knowledgeable media and more we have a much clearer picture of what this year's draft could look like.
Of course even the best mock draft can spiral quickly out of accuracy with a single trade or a surprise development on draft day - see Thomas Hickey going 4th overall in 2007 Cam Fowler dropping outside the top 10 in 2010.
Almost anything can occur on Friday and the only thing anyone should be absolutely certain of is that something unpredictable will happen.
That said, The Pipeline Show's annual mock drafts are ready as both hosts have penned their own. Dean Millard's went public yesterday so today it's my turn.
1. Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (C) Red Deer
The Oilers have two glaring holes positionally and although drafting for need is normally frowned on, picking this high you can argue that it's not just possible but responsible. That said, A center or a defenceman make the most sense and with recent history showing the organization's trend towards players from the west, the wizard-like middle man from the Rebels fits all requirements. Although getting any kind of hint from the organization the last couple of years has been next to impossible, the popular opinion in the city is that RNH will be the guy.
2. Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog (LW) Kitchener
Organizational depth down the middle could mean the Avalanche look to the wings or the blueline. With the likes of defencemen Tyson Barrie, Stefan Elliot and Cameron Gaunce already in the system and Colorado's past success with a power forward from Sweden, Landeskog just feels right to me. He's not Peter Forsberg on the ice but might have a similar impact from a leadership and marketability aspect for Colorado. The fact that almost everyone agrees that he can step right into the NHL next season, that helps a team that is a couple of years into its rebuild.
3. Florida Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau (C/LW) Saint John
Last year the Panthers were active on draft day and made three picks in the first round; Erik Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad and Quinton Howden. This rebuilding franchise could add to any position so Adam Larsson could be the guy here although I've chosen to give the Panthers who I think would become their most offensive prospect. Huberdeau's stock has been on a steady rise for the past two months, so much that he goes top 3 for me. I think it's fair to suggest that Dale Tallon had a plan last year to add size to the organization and that offensive skill should be front and center this time around.
4. New Jersey Devils: Adam Larsson (D) Skelleftea
The Devils just signed defenceman Brandon Burlon and have Jon Merrill coming down the pipe but their impact at the NHL level might still be a few years away. I'm not convinced that Larsson will still be available here but if he is, I have a hard time believing that New Jersey could pass on him. It's fair to argue that the team could use a center just as much as a blueliner and I considered Sean Couturier here, but the way this mock has unfolded, Larsson is the best player available and goes to the Devils. New Jersey has looked to Sweden often with mixed results but they have guys in the system and on the roster so their could be a comfort level there for both Larsson and the organization.
5. New York Islanders: Dougie Hamilton (D) Niagara
Sometimes Best Player Available is subjective. The Islanders have been rebuilding for a while and do have prospect depth at forward and the blueline but I'd argue the future defensive corps could be solidified for years with one more big piece to the puzzle. With Calvin De Haan and Travis Hamonic in the mix now with Matt Donovan and Ty Wishart potentially adding depth, dropping in a stud like Dougie Hamilton could set the Islanders up for the next decade. Here's a guy that Ryan Strome told us was playing upwards of 35-40 minutes a night in the OHL playoffs. A workhorse like that would be high on anyone's list.
6. Ottawa Senators: Sean Couturier (C) Drummondville
I would argue that this is a case of both Best Player Available and drafting for need. I agree with those like ISS head scout Ross MacLean who suggest that Couturier has been scouted and dissected for so long that his stock has slipped for no other reason than overexposure. We're talking about a 6'4 power forward center who lead most (if not all) players in points per game scoring and did so while overcoming a bout of mono. He also cracked Canada's World Junior roster as an underager which is commendable. I find it hard to believe that the Sens, or their fans, would be disappointed with this pick.
7. Winnipeg Franchise: Mika Zibanejad (RW) Djurgarden
It's taken me a while to warm up to the hype for this Swedish forward. His 8 points at the U18s were good but that 6 of them came against Norway, that was a red flag for me. However, I've spoken with enough people who tell me that even when he wasn't producing, he was making a positive impact. He might not be the second coming of Teemu Selanne for Winnipeg fans but Manitoba might be a great fit for a team looking to add firepower and a European who can provide just that.
8. Philadelphia Flyers: Ryan Murphy (D) Kitchener
The Flyers acquisition of the #8 pick from Columbus leads to one change on my mock and it comes in back to back selections. I can see the Flyers taking an offensive defenceman to compliment their stable of big strong guys and Ryan Murphy fits that job description. As thier roster is now, the Flyers have the horses to protect late game leads without risking Murphy on the ice so they can certainly hide any deficiencies he may have in his game.
9. Boston Bruins: Nathan Beaulieu (D) Saint John
The Beantowners still look to the blueline in my mind and we know that the team and player are on each others radar. He's not flashy like Murphy but he's reliable and scouts tell me that he can play with some edge. Beaulieu put up good numbers this year in Saint John although we know that team was loaded with talent so there may be some inflation there. I suppose Boston could look to Oleksiak playing in their backyard but Beaulieu isn't exactly a bad choice either.
10. Minnesota Wild: Ryan Strome (C) Niagara
There's always somebody that slides further than expected, the guy a TV analyst will lose his mind over saying things like "I can't believe _____ is still available, somebody has to take this guy!". I am a fan of Ryan Strome's and have been since before we had him on the show back in March so this isn't a knock on him. The Wild have needs in many positions but throw those out the window; if Strome is available at 10 I don't see how anyone would skip over him.
11. Colorado Avalanche: Duncan Siemens (D) Saskatoon
Having grabbed an impact forward with the 2nd overall pick, Colorado has the chance to address their blueline with another cornerstone prospect. Siemens would give them something they lack in their prospect system, size and toughness on the back end without compromising on mobility. There are some who suggest that Siemens' offensive production this year is an anomaly because he played with the top defensive scorer in the WHL, Stefan Elliot. That said, I'd be lying if I tried to deny that the fact Colorado drafted Elliot in 2009 didn't factor a bit into why I have them taking Siemens here.
12. Carolina Hurricanes: Joel Armia (RW) Ässät
This was a tough one but I penciled in the Finnish sniper before our Draft Preview show on Tuesday and then came home and put it in ink. I'm sold on him now and the fact that Carolina has had a positive history with Finns only helps. I don't have any insight on this one from the organization, it just feels like a fit to me. How can you really go wrong with a 6'3, 191-pound forward who, we're told, has the quickest release in the Class of 2011?
13. Calgary Flames: Mark McNeill (C) Prince Albert
The Flames have drafted heavily from the West over the last few years and I don't know how much that will change under a new GM because Jay Feaster had success with WHLers while in Tampa Bay too. Hockey's Future ranks Calgary dead last in terms of prospect depth but I don't think the Flames pool is that shallow. If size, toughness, grit, character, two-way reliability and offensive potential are qualities the Flames could use then Mark McNeill, another WHL forward, would make sense. There are other options here of course, but few would raise an eyebrow if the Edmontonian went to Southern Alberta.
14. Dallas Stars: Jamie Oleksiak (D) Northeastern
The Stars have some interesting and talented prospects on the way but few of them can be found on the blueline. Sooner or later, and I think sooner, a team is going to take Oleksiak based on his frame and his potential, both of them being impressive. He might be somewhat of a project pick but he's come a long way already in a short period of time so perhaps he can make a quicker jump to the NHL than expected, ala Tyler Meyers from 2008. This would be a good fit for the team and the player who may be somewhat inclined to leave college for either the OHL or the pro ranks now that his NCAA coach has joined Toronto's bench staff.
15. New York Rangers: Joe Morrow (D) Portland
The Rangers have the luxury of depth at all positions, perhaps excluding netminders but I'd be stunned if they took a goalie here. That depth should mean Best Player Available as opposed to need, especially considering the player they take here likely isn't a contributor in the NHL for at least a couple of seasons. I expect this choice will not be popular with many Rangers fans but New York could do a lot worse than taking an offensive minded defenceman like Morrow. He was strong all year long but I have been told that he took his game to another level in the WHL playoffs. With Ryan McDonagh, Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto in the system one could argue that Morrow would be redundant but until he's ready for the NHL, he's an asset and offensive blueliners retain their value.
16. Buffalo Sabres: Mark Scheifele (C) Barrie
A blue-collar center for a blue-collar market is maybe cliché but don't sell Scheifele short. He was more than a point per game player on the worst team in the OHL and then turned it up a notch once he had some talented linemates playing in the U18s for Canada. Keep in mind that the opposition was able to key on him every night in the OHL and yet he still found a way and kept producing. This is a solid pick if Scheifele is still available at this point.
17. Montreal Canadiens: Sven Bartschi (LW) Portland
Another case of "I can't believe he's still available". The 85-point WHL rookie is arguably the best player available here and he also fills a hole for the Habs who are thinning on the wings when it comes to prospects. Highly skilled and self-motivated, Bartschi was putting up numbers early in the year before the Winterhawks were replenished by players returning from NHL training camps and he kept it up for most of the year.
18. Chicago Blackhawks: Oscar Klefbom (D) Färjestad
Another organization blessed with prospect depth and able to practice patience, Chicago can take a guy like Klefbom and leave him in Europe for 2 years without batting an eye. They don't need him today with guys like Lalonde, Leddy and Olsen hovering around the edge of the NHL roster but two years from now they might be looking for a guy like him, and he'll then have 3 years of pro experience under his belt.
19. Edmonton Oilers: Scott Mayfield (D) Youngstown
The thought is that the Oilers will attempt to package this pick and move up for a higher ranked defenceman. If that fails, Mayfield may get consideration. He'd be called a reach by many but I've spoken with people who think the opposite and that he'd be a steal in this range. The Oilers are no stranger to prospects headed to Denver as they've had a number of former Pioneers in the past including Hall of Famer Glenn Anderson. If Edmonton is in the market for a big, physical, two-way mobile defenceman then 6'4, 200 lb Mayfield deserves to be in the conversation. I think Edmonton would prefer someone else but they'd have to move up to get him.
20. Phoenix Coyotes: Boone Jenner (C) Oshawa
Character, reliability, consistency and professional; all descriptions I've heard for Jenner. None of them are particularly flashy or exciting but they all add up to one important adjective: winner. Jenner might be cut from similar cloth as Shane Doan in the sense that he'll try and carry a team on his back and lead by example.
21. Ottawa Senators: Matt Puempel (LW) Peterborough
Back-to-back 30 goal seasons in the OHL and hardware as that league's top rookie in 2009-10 are an indication of what Puempel brings to the table. He's one of the best shooters in the draft and would be a terrific compliment to the player I have the Sens taking in the #6 hole. He missed the end of the season and the U18s because of a serious hip injury and I wonder if he'll be ready for the August U20 camp in Edmonton. Told it's not something that should be recurring throughout his career though so it shouldn't affect his draft stock then either.
22. Anaheim Ducks: J.T. Miller (C) US-NTDP
By this point in the draft the Best Player Available could be debated for hours. The Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007 in large part because of their size and toughness. Their top line today follows in the same style and clearly that's become an expected trait of the Ducks which is why power forward J.T. Miller fits in well; He's big a tough but can also play the game. Whether he follows through and goes to North Dakota or ends up in Plymouth, Miller is one to watch for.
23. Pittsburgh Penguins: Zack Phillips (C) Saint John
38 goals and 95 points this past season for the New Brunswick native. The Penguins can add a skilled offensive player to the mix who got better as the year went on and proved his mettle while playing hurt at the Memorial Cup. Pittsburgh could go other ways and it's tempting to play the home card and suggest Pennsylvanian Brandon Saad to be their guy but in my mind, Phillips showed more consistency and put up bigger numbers so gets the nod here. Saint John teammate Simon Despres is also a Pittsburgh prospect.
24. Detroit Red Wings: Connor Murphy (D) US-NTDP
I know the stereotype is to find the highest rated Swede remaining and anoint him as the next Red Wing pick but I'm going a different route. Murphy is a big two-way defenceman who played in Michigan with the US Development Program. He was hurt for most of the season but was impressive before the injury and rebounded in time to score the gold medal winning goal at the U18s in Germany. A fine compliment to Brendan Smith.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs: Tyler Biggs (RW) US-NTDP
Here's a real wild card for the first round. If a team in the teens is in need of a pure power forward and aren't all that considered with getting any offensive production from the same player, Biggs might be long gone by now. One scout in our recent head-to-head series declared that Biggs doesn't and would never have "hands" and if that's true then I have a hard time seeing him go higher than this. However, Brian Burke loves his physical hockey players and few in the Class of 2011 can match Biggs in that department. He's off to Miami to play for the RedHawks, the program that Burke's son was a part of at the time of his death a couple of years ago.
26. Washington Capitals: Brandon Saad (LW) Saginaw
At one point this year Saad was deemed a potential top-1o pick but his development and production seemed to stagnate along the way. He's got the tools to be better than he was this year and at his size his second go around in the OHL is bound to be much more impressive. The Capitals have very few prospects in their system listed as left wingers so a selection of Saad would fill a void as well.
27. Tampa Bay Lightning: Nicklas Jensen (LW/RW) Oshawa
Jensen is from Denmark but his father is a Canadian who played pro hockey in Europe for 15 years. His coming to the CHL was planned for a while before he played his first game in Oshawa. The Generals forward is an all-situations type of player and his 58 points were evenly split with 29 goals and 29 assists. He's skilled and versatile in a bigger than average body with the biggest concern being that he just needs to get quicker... like most 18-year-olds.
28. San Jose: Brett Ritchie (RW) Sarnia
Some will say this is a reach but the Sharks have always been a team that has designated their draft target and then gone our and made sure that they get him (Couture, Setoguchi). Ritchie might be that player for San Jose this year. Considered to be very underrated by those that I have spoken with, Ritchie is big, strong and offensively capable and had 41 points in 49 games. One to keep an eye on for sure.
29. Vancouver Canucks: Jonas Brodin (D) Färjestad
I considered a boom/bust skilled forward like Tomas Jurco in this position but his inconsistency drops him out of my top 30. Instead I have the Canucks happy to select a quality defenceman that is still unexpectedly available. Brodin is the other side of the coin from Oscar Klefbom, his Färjestad teammate, as the former is more defensive while the latter has the greater offensive upside. Brodin's not flashy but he gets the job done and playing 42 games in the SEL as a 17-year-old should not be overlooked. The fact that he's Swedish honestly didn't factor into this decision at all despite how unoriginal it will appear to have the Canucks taking one.
30. Toronto Maple Leafs: Rocco Grimaldi (C) US-NTDP
If he were 4 or 5 inches taller we'd be talking about a top-10, perhaps top-5, prospect. That said, Grimaldi is still 5'6 and the odds of a NHL future will be against him no matter how skilled he is. Those abilities, however, are impressive and going to North Dakota will provide him all the time he needs to get prepared for the next level. The Leafs got bigger and tougher at #25 but here they increase the skill quotient in the franchise even more.