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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    Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

    TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Brian Boyle #11 of the Tampa Bay Lightning reacts after losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final with a score of 5 to 2 during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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    The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

    It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

    Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

    Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

    Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

    Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

    Read more about Game 6 here.

    Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

    TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with his teammates Sidney Crosby #87 after scoring a goal against Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Jason Behnken/Getty Images)
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    The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

    With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

    There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

    What if that offside goal counted?

    Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

    Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

    What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

    The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

    Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

    Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

    Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

    ***

    Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

    More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

    Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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    With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

    Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

    The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.

    Video: Phil Kessel displays incredible hand-eye coordination on goal

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    This has been a tough postseason for Phil Kessel haters.

    The supposed “choker” is on a team that’s in the Eastern Conference Final, but Kessel obviously isn’t just in for the ride with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He scored his 18th point in 17 postseason games by scoring the 1-0 goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6.

    (Watch that goal in the video above.)

    It was a dramatic first period, with a Jonathan Drouin goal getting disallowed and Andrei Vasilevskiy making some huge saves on tough chances.

    Can Pittsburgh protect this slim lead with 1-0 down one period? We’ll see, but either way, what a great postseason for Kessel.

    Update: Here’s the goal Kessel accidentally “scored” for the Lightning:

    Ouch.