Remember when many analysts thought that the prospects in the 2011 NHL Draft weren’t going to be immediately NHL-ready? Taking a look around the league and at the signings as for who is going to break through to start the year, you’d think that this past June’s draft was the best one since 2003.
When you look up and down the first round, and at least a peek at the second round, there are a good number of names that we’ve seen inked to their entry-level deals who will at least get to spend the first nine games of this season in the NHL.
Seven out of the first eight picks in the 2011 draft will get a shot to prove themselves this year while one player in the second round will also be starting off in the NHL. The lone player out of the top eight not getting a shot at the NHL this year is Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau as he’s headed back to juniors, but aside from that the preconceptions that this draft was lacking on premiere talent outside of the top five are looking shaky.
Take a look at the crew of names and teams which will see 18 year-olds getting a chance to play the part of Jeff Skinner this season and make a run at the Calder Trophy.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton), Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado), Adam Larsson (New Jersey), Ryan Strome (NY Islanders), Mika Zibanejad (Ottawa), Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg), and Sean Couturier (Philadelphia), Brandon Saad (Chicago, 2nd round pick).
That’s a lot of green out there and we’re not talking about money. Given all the reports that are going around about all of these guys, you’d have to think that guys like Zibanejad, Larsson, Landeskog and Scheifele are virtually guaranteed to stick with their teams while guys like Nugent-Hopkins, Strome, Couturier, and Saad might not want to start calling their cities “home” just yet.
Is there a Calder winner in this bunch? Perhaps so. Guys like Larsson and Scheifele are going to have the keys to their future tossed to them right away and given every opportunity to succeed immediately. Larsson will have the chance to shine on New Jersey’s blue line while Scheifele becomes Winnipeg’s instant go-to playmaker on offense. Zibanejad will start the season next to Daniel Alfredsson (never a bad thing) and Landeskog should get to play off either Matt Duchene or Paul Stastny.
Much like Jeff Skinner could in Carolina last year next to Eric Staal, having a superstar mentor on a line with you helps a lot. That’s what helps make Brandon Saad’s start up in Chicago so fascinating to watch as he’ll be on the Blackhawks’ top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. No pressure, kid.
We’re still about a month away from seeing if any or all of these kids can stay in the NHL, but the one thing that’s for sure here is that veterans have to be ready to play at all times or else the latest hot prospect might be coming up fast to take their job.