Experts say race for No. 1 spot in 2011 NHL Entry Draft is wide open

Variety might be the spice of life, but for sports writers, it’s often a lot more appealing to set one irresistible force versus an immovable object. Sure, the NBA must be delighted by the fact that Kevin Durant is emerging as a big star, but do they want him to muddle the Kobe vs. Lebron picture they’ve been trying to paint for the last few years? (OK, they probably don’t mind, but “Magic vs. Bird” is still the gold standard for the league’s marketing.)

With the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, the top storyline was quite simple: do you go with Taylor (Hall) or Tyler (Seguin)? Everyone else was a rung or two lower on the ladder; just look at how far the supposed third best player Cam Fowler dropped in the actual draft.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie writes that the storyline won’t be as clear for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in Minnesota, with at least three players coming into their final pre-draft seasons with a chance at the top spot.

This year’s battle for No. 1 could not be more wide open, shaping up at the starting line as at least a three-man race. In fact, for the first time ever, TSN’s pre-season ranking of the Top 10 NHL Prospects has produced a dead heat at No. 1 overall.

Drummondville centre Sean Couturier and Swedish blueliner Adam Larsson finished with identical results in the annual survey of 10 NHL scouts by TSN. Remarkably, they each had four first-place votes, four seconds and two thirds. The only other prospect to get top-dog consideration was Red Deer centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was No. 1 on the other two ballots.

It’s the first year in quite some time when there hasn’t been a consensus No. 1 to start the season.

“All three guys have something special,” one scout said. “Couturier is a big, skilled centre, Larsson is a total package defenceman and Nugent-Hopkins is a tremendous offensive talent with elite skill. It’s going to be the most interesting race for No. 1 we’ve seen in a long time.”

While Tyler Seguin isn’t guaranteed to be a member of the Boston Bruins next season, chances are we’ll at least be able to see the first chapter of Tyler vs. Taylor this season. Will one, two or all of Larsson, Couturier and Nugent-Hopkins make a strong case for the top spot this year? It could be an interesting race to watch, especially if a dark horse emerges.

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    Crosby roars, Malkin scores in OT for Penguins win

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    Controversy just seems to find the Pittsburgh Penguins. Credit Sidney Crosby & Co. for responding with a win on Wednesday.

    Crosby generated two pretty goals, including this slam-dunk slapper:

    … While Evgeni Malkin‘s overtime-winner stood as the Penguins managed a 4-3 overtime win against the St. Louis Blues tonight.

    (You can see Malkin’s OT-clincher in the video above this post.)

    Will this win and strong performance from Crosby silence murmurs about his relationship with Mario Lemieux? Probably not, yet it likely turns the volume down in some ways, including killing the “Is he struggling because of distractions” storyline.

    You know, at least for a little while. Maybe.

    Fight video: Claude Giroux vs. Nick Leddy

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    Claude Giroux isn’t the nastiest, most physical captain the Philadelphia Flyers have employed. Even so, he can be feisty at times.

    Wednesday showed that, as he clearly wasn’t happy with an earlier Nick Leddy hit, and eventually got the New York Islanders defenseman to drop his gloves.

    You can see the fight and the check that inspired that scrap in the video above.

    It’s the fourth fight Giroux has been a part of, with his most recent adversary being may his most bitter rival.

    Not a heavyweight bout between Giroux and Leddy, mind you, but sometimes it’s amusing to soak in such a rare sight.

    Carter Hutton gets flipped, stays in game

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    Carter Hutton is getting something that might make fellow Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne jealous: goal support.

    Still, there was at least one moment where Rinne was likely happy to be on the bench, as Hutton was left flipping during this collision with Buffalo Sabres forward Marcus Foligno:

    Remarkably, Hutton remained in the game.

    If you’re the type who loves adding to your “hockey players are tough” files, put this under the goalies section.

    Check out this incredible shot of that moment:

    Update: The Predators held off the Buffalo Sabres to win 3-2.

    Habs win big against Rangers, may have lost big with Price hurt

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    Tonight was supposed to be about a clash of two Eastern Conference titans who sport arguably the two best goalies in the NHL. That mattered to Montreal Canadiens fans for about half the game against the New York Rangers, give or take a few minutes.

    Priorities are now shifting to calling upon higher powers/etc. in hopes that Carey Price is OK.

    Mike Condon replaced Price in the third period and … well, people are concerned.

    Again, people are pretty worried right now.

    Price being replaced isn’t the greatest sign, yet it’s early, so stay tuned for updates. Maybe it will merely be a matter of playing it safe?

    Update: The good news is that Montreal won by a significant 5-1 margin.

    Yes, that probably isn’t much solace for Habs fans. Agreed.

    It sounds like Price re-aggravated his previous injury.