With Taylor vs. Tyler discussed – ad nauseam, and finally settled; and the summer gone and the new season in full swing, we can again turn focus to the next crop of talented future NHLers as they look to impress scouts and NHL executives in countless hockey arenas around the globe.
The 2011 NHL Entry Draft was initially labeled a weak draft as recently as two years ago, fueled by a perceived lack of talent entering the Canadian Hockey League. It isn’t the case two years later, though, as less than spectacular midget aged prospects are rounding into form and correcting some weaknesses heading into their draft years.
2011 should no longer be considered the ‘Prospect Armageddon’ as it once was reported to be, meaning it should no longer be looked at as void of future NHL talent.
Overall, the entire draft looks as though it is rounding out to be at least an average draft class with some high end talent at the head of the class and decent depth throughout.
Goaltending again looks to be weak, with only a handful of prospects holding any real NHL potential, as are the depth contributions from countries like the Czech Republic, Finland, Slovakia, and even Russia.
Areas with some decent talent to offer look to be the USHL, specifically the U.S. National Team, and NCAA College Hockey in the U.S. The normally bountiful WHL has a few promising prospects while the OHL will once again hold much of the drafts depth despite not boasting the top selection as in previous years. The QMJHL also boasts a handful of very impressive prospects this year although any form of depth from that league continues to be non-existent.
The USNTDP has had some strong units the last few years and this season they continue with that trend as they have a handful of prospects that will likely be top two round selections.
Small but an offensively gifted spark-plug, Rocco Grimaldi has shown the ability to be a strong playmaking centre. Though generously listed at five-foot-six, the hard working pivot uses his low centre of gravity and stronger-than-most work ethic to win puck battles along the wall against larger opponents while also possessing the creativity and offensive flair to either set-up a teammate with a quick accurate pass or rifle a shot on net himself.
Other top draft prospects to watch on the NTDP U-18 squad are defenders Mike Paliotta, Robbie Russo and Connor Murphy plus forwards Tyler Biggs and J.T. Miller.
The USHL is quickly becoming a strong alternative to the Canadian Hockey League route for prospects who want to remain college hockey eligible while finishing high school.
Originally intended to join the Minnesota Gophers this year, power forward Seth Ambroz along with Gophers head coach Don Lucia decided it was in the player’s best interest to return to Omaha of the USHL where he is expected to dominate both with his impressive size, hard shot and soft hands. Areas of weakness that must be improved with the big power winger are his slow, choppy skating stride and overall lack of conditioning. Ambroz has decent straight line speed but he is slow off the mark and not overly agile.
Another top USHL prospect to keep an eye on is towering six-foot-four monster defender Scott Mayfield who plays a strong and confident two-way game for Youngstown that also incorporates an intimidating physical edge.
Coming out of the College ranks this year are some talented prospects including a pair that will be debuting for Boston University this fall. Offensively dangerous defender Adam Clendening and skilled California-raised centre Matt Nieto, both of whom starred for the U-18 squad of the National Team Development Program last season, should be bringing in NHL talent evaluators all season to watch the Terriers
Clendening, despite being of just average size, plays with a good amount of intensity and strength. He has great vision and offensive creativity from the backend which help his forwards create scoring chances.
Nieto is a skilled forward who also has nice vision and some quick hands that allow him to carry the puck into the offesnive zone and also set-up for scoring opportunites.
Other potential high end college prospects include big defender Patrick Koudys of RPI, North Dakota freshman blueliner Dillon Simpson, son of former NHLer Craig Simpson, as well as U.S. NTDP alumni, centre Nick Shore, whose brother Drew was a Florida Panthers draft pick two season ago.
Out in Western Canada, where big physical defensemen seem to grow on trees, it is a six-foot lightweight that is getting most of the limelight early on.
Red Deer Rebel centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has jumped out to a very impressive start with dominating showings at the Ivan Hlinka U-18 tournament as well as the NHL’s Research and Development Camp before his season even started. The skilled centre dominates play with great hockey sense and on-ice vision as well as the ability to both set-up teammates and finish off plays on his own with a firecracker wrist shot.
Another top prospects for the 2011 NHL draft coming out of the Western League is Czech born David Musil. The Vancouver Giants giant defenseman is the son of former NHLer Frank Musil and is blessed with immense size and reach.
He plays a sound positional game and although he often looked like a new born deer with his spindly legs on a six-foot-five frame last season, the word is over the summer he has added some much needed strength which should allow him to be one of the top two-way defenders in the entire CHL.
Other top prospects to watch in the WHL are Prince George two-way defenseman Jesse Forsberg, Saskatoon Blades monster defensive defender Duncan Siemens, Swift Current offensive defenseman Reece Scarlett, Kelowna Rockets California-born forward Shane McColgan, Edmonton Oil Kings forward Michael St. Croix and Portland Winterhawks high scoring forward Ty Rattie.
Out in the QMJHL, the early top prospect Sean Couturier for the 2011 draft just came off a season where he led his league in scoring with a modest 96-point season. More is expected this season as the over six-foot-four beast on skates looks to dominate in his draft year with Drummondville. Couturier has the impressive size, a long reach and smooth skating ability along with impressive offensive skills and a sound work ethic to be the drafts hottest commodity next June.
Another high end prospect playing in Quebec, two-way defender Nathan Beaulieu, will be one major reason NHL scouts will be collecting frequent flyer miles enroute to Saint John this season. Beaulieu is a complete defensman as he has size at over six-foot-two, creativity in both offensive and defensive zones, sound vision and a physical element to his game.
Beaulieu’s teammates, skilled forward Tomas Jurco, offensively savy forward Jonathan Huberdeau and tough but talented forward Zach Phillips will keep the scouts attention once in attendance.
One of the top draft eligible defenders will be in a Montreal Juniors uniform as Xavier Ouellet will be making some noise points wise. The average sized rearguard does not have a great skating stride but does make up for it with his incredible vision and passing ability. He will need to show scouts that he can improve his mobility to get a look in the early rounds by next June.
Victoriaville centre Phillip Danault will also garner some attention. Danault skates well and has some real pro upside as a strong two-way playmaking preformer, although he looked the role of finisher at Canada’s U18 camp earlier this summer.
The OHL will again be a big contributor of talent although it would be unexpected to see an OHLer make a run at being selected first overall this season in the same manner as Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares and Steven Stamkos has in recent years.
Leading the charge out of the Ontario Hockey League this season could in fact be a Swede.
Kitchener Rangers power winger Gabriel Landeskog is doing his best to be talked about in the same breath as Couturier in the QMJHL and Nugent-Hopkins in the WHL. While he is of average size, Landeskog plays physical and dominates opponents, especially offensively. He also leads by example. Landeskog was named the Rangers’ captain this season, the first time the honour has gone to a European.
Landeskog will see some competition out of Brandon Saad of the Saginaw Spirit.
Saad has the size, at over six-foot-two and 200-pounds, speed, hockey sense and howitzer shot with goal scoring instincts that NHL teams covet. While he uses his size to his advantage, he does so more in a puck protection and overpowering opponents during battles along the wall more so than bulling people over to get to the net type of power forward.
Joining Landeskog and Saad at the top of what the OHL has to offer will be Peterborough Petes goal scoring winger Matt Puempel. He too has a nice shot, hair trigger release and the natural instincts of where to be on the ice to get a prime scoring opportunity which his thirty-three goals last season, his first in the OHL, can attest to.
Defenseman Ryan Murphy has also garnered significant attention from scouts, long before Don Cherry boasted about the Kitchener Rangers blueliner. Murphy is an offensive juggernaut who likes to go end-to-end al a Bobby Orr or Paul Coffey and makes many defenders look foolish when trying to stop him. Murphy’s offensive creativity and on-ice vision are both off the charts. However, due to his lack of size at just five-foot ten and 167-pounds, Murphy’s lack of overall defensive acumen and the other talent available in his draft class he could slip to the middle of the first round by next June if he does not improve defensively no matter how well he produces offensivley.
Other top prospects who could hear their names called in the first round next June include Oshawa Generals teammates power centre Boone Jenner and Lucas Lessio. Niagara’s towering six-foot-five sturdy two-way defender Dougie Hamilton who also has some offensive upside to his game and his teammate Ryan Strome who has flashed some high end skills early this season for the Icedogs.
As the early season hot topic around the rinks is the CHL’s perceived poaching of the top European talent and its direct influence on the various cross Atlantic development systems and their demise, we see that the two best Russian trained prospects again suiting up for OHL squads this season.
Windsor Spitfires import forward Alex Khokhlachev has been highly impressive in his limited time across the pond. He brings a high skill level, soft hands and quick feet which go a long way to helping ease the blow of losing talents like Taylor Hall and Greg Nemisz to the pros.
The London Knights also plucked a skilled Russian pivot from the KHL’s clutches as Vladislav Namestnikov will be making life difficult for OHL defenders all season long.
In Lewiston of the Quebec Major Junior League import goaltender Andrei Makarov will try to use his size and quickness to impress NHL personnel as well. Gatineau Olympiques will be home to Russian winger Igor Levisky this season while Shawinigan snapped up goal scoring winger Anton Zlobin with the 15th overall pick in the CHL Import draft.
Back home in the Motherland, potential power winger Max Shalunov is the best of the rest for those who have decided against a cross Atlantic journey.
The development powerhouse Swedes again have some nice talent that have the ability to line the seven rounds of the selection process.
Prospect Adam Larsson who patrols the blue line for Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League, is in a heated race for top honors with Canadians Courturier and Nugent-Hopkins. Larsson has been at the top of most draft boards for over two years now due to his incredible maturity and cool-as-a-cucumber ability from the backend.
Larsson, who has played in the men’s league since he was 16, displays a freakishly high panic threshold similar to his countryman and former perennial Norris trophy candidate Nicklas Lidstrom. Keep in mind that is not to say the two are the same or even play a similar game. Larsson does have incredible size and defensive zone understanding; exceptional recover ability in his own zone as well as exceptional on-ice vision and some offensive intriguing upside, although he has been off to a slow start in terms of production in his draft year.
Leksand centre Victor Rask is another high end prospect hailing from Sweden. Rask plays a strong two-way game and creates offence using his outstanding vision, hockey sense and offensive creativity. While he has shown signs of being a capable finisher with a good release and velocity on his shot he tends to be a pass first player because of outstanding vision as his zero goals and six assists can attest to from this summers Ivan Hlinka Tournament.
Other high end Swedes who will hear their names mentioned numerous times over the next eight months include Hlinka leading scorer Joachim Nermark, offensively skilled forward Mika Zibanejad, impressive Jeremy Boyce-Rotevall, pint sized goal scoring winger Viktor Arvidsson, solid and smart defender Jonas Brodin and sizable plus highly skilled offensive defenseman Oscar Klefbom.
Countries like Finland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, while not contributing like glory years past, do have a couple prospects that will hear their names called in Minnesota next June including big time goal scoring winger Joel Armia and acrobatic goaltender Richard Ullberg of Finland.
Guys like the big and skilled winger Dmitri Jaskin, the offensively inclined Michal Svihalek and skilled centre Lukas Kralik out of the Czech Republic and strong physical defender Peter Ceresnak out of Slovakia will likely also be drafted by NHL squads next June.
These are some of the top guys projected as high draft picks for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in the Future Considerations rankings. With over six months to go before draft day it is inevitable that many prospects will rise while others will fall during the course of the season.
Dan Stewart is the scouting director of Future Considerations and can be found on Twitter. For all the latest Future Considerations news and posts, follow FC’s Official Twitter Feed, on YouTube and on Facebook!