Sean Couturier has the inside track as the No. 1 overall prospect for the 2011 NHL draft. (Getty Images)
The 2010-11 campaign has just begun – although American high school and college players are still waiting – but draft talk is already a hot topic. Far from consensus, there is a Big 3 at the top this year and we will be tracking the hopefuls throughout the season to keep you up to date.
One theme that will emerge is size. Even though the post-lockout NHL seems to have evened the playing field (just look at Buffalo’s Tyler Ennis or many of the Montreal Canadiens), it will be interesting to see if large frames with similar skill sets to their smaller brethren come out on top. In the meantime, here’s an initial foray into the 2011 draft class, based on a mixture of upside and what the players have accomplished so far.
1. Sean Couturier, C – Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)
Fought off late-summer mononucleosis and hasn’t missed a beat, putting up 12 points through nine games. Couturier’s size (6-foot-4, 191 pounds) and skill make him the prospect to beat this season.
Scout Says: “He’s a smooth skater and a skilled playmaker. He knows where his teammates are, has a quick release and a tremendous wrist shot.”
2. Adam Larsson, D – Skelleftea (Swe.)
Entering his second full season against adult competition, Larsson is an impressive plus-5 through six games, with two assists to his credit. The offensive production could use more of a boost, but Larsson is a total-package defender with a solid 6-foot-2, 209-pound frame.
Scout Says: “Dominant game; never gets rattled. The physical tools are above and beyond a 17-year-old.”
3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
An exceptional goal-scorer and playmaker, Nugent-Hopkins is always a danger to create something when he is on the ice. At six-foot, 164 pounds, he needs to get bigger, but his seven points through five games puts him on a better pace than his outstanding rookie campaign.
Scout Says: “Tenacious around the puck. Starts a lot of goals and often finds the best option.”
4. Brandon Saad, RW – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Just beginning his first major junior season after playing for the U.S. NTDP, Saad has a great deal of upside and has already put up better than point-per-game numbers for the Spirit. The 6-foot-2, 211-pound power forward is a freight train out there.
Scout Says: “Very good skater with extra gear, which is unusual for a guy his size. Moves the puck through traffic, good positioning, creates space.”
5. Seth Ambroz, LW – Omaha Lancers (USHL)
Ambroz had a great pre-season in the United States League and will have to stand out in that circuit this year. A big, burly kid with a nice release, he was noticeable at the NHL’s R&D camp this summer.
Scout Says: “Good strength. Skating’s not his best attribute right now, but pretty good vision. Tons of upside.”
6. Matt Puempel, LW – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Goal-scoring ace had 33 as a rookie last season and is back on the warpath early on. Puempel sits second in the Ontario League with nine points in five games and has a better Petes team to play on this year.
Scout Says: “His hockey I.Q. is off the charts. Unbelievable touch around the net; very creative.”
7. Gabriel Landeskog, C – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
An import from Sweden, Landeskog has had such an impact in his year-plus with the team that some fans lobbied for him to wear the ‘C’ this season. Off to a great start this year, his all-around play is a trademark.
Scout Says: “He plays a real NHL-style game. He plays hard and in all three zones. Great in the tough areas.”
8. Tomas Jurco, RW – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
The best draft-eligible prospect on a team boasting several 2011 gems, the Slovakian has been impressive in his second Quebec League season, notching 10 points through eight games.
Scout Says: “Slick. He brings the whole offensive skill set and he’s got great hands.”
9. David Musil, D – Vancouver Giants (WHL)
The son of former NHLer Frantisek Musil, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Giant is sturdy in his own zone, where he racked up a plus-33 rating last season. This time out, his offense has taken hold more, with three points through six games and a plus-4 rating.
Scout Says: “He’s such a smart guy and covers so much ice. He’s big and very hard to get around.”
10. Ryan Murphy, D – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
A divisive player because of his size (he’s listed as 5-foot-11, 176 pounds) and an offensive game that can come at the expense of his defense, Murphy plays much like Mike Green. That would explain why he leads the OHL in defensive scoring early on with nine points in four games – also good for second overall.
Scout Says: “He is an unbelievably talented offensive defenseman. Those hybrid NHL coaches, they like to have that fourth forward.”
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays and his prospect feature The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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