The future is now.
With the trades wins blowing and prospects eagerly awaiting to hear their name called, the NHL Draft is when all 30 teams have the chance to improve for the future. Trades for draft picks, salary dumps, trades for the future, trades for the present– oh, and 30 prospects joining the NHL. It’ll be an exciting night for all hockey fans.
We’ll be here updating this post with instant analysis for the entire first round. You can also find more real-time information at NBC Sports’ NHL Draft HQ!
1. Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Center (Red Deer, WHL): The most dynamic playmaker in the entire draft will be setting up last year’s #1 overall pick Taylor Hall for years to come. There are some questions if he’ll be able to step into the NHL next season, but he’s already added 10 pounds of muscle over the offseason. Every part of his game is NHL-ready today; we’ll see if his body is ready in the fall. Whether he’s in Edmonton this year or next, he’ll be an offensive force in the NHL for a long, long time. Here’s a complete profile for the newest member of the Oilers.
2. Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog, Left Wing (Kitchener, OHL): Colorado adds a player who is generally considered the most NHL-ready player in this year’s draft. He decided to get accustomed to the North American game by playing the 2010-11 season with Kitchener. Landeskog brings a solid overall game to the table and seems like he has the market covered in that beloved buzzword of “intangibles.” TSN compares him to Brenden Morrow, but Landeskog probably hopes to follow his Swedish hero Peter Forsberg’s footsteps by becoming an elite player in Colorado. For more on the Avs’ new Swede, click here.
3. Florida Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau, Center (Saint John, QMJHL): Last year, the Panthers went after a big blueliner who they think will be a defensive cornerstone for the future when they selected Eric Gudbranson. With Huberdeau, Dale Tallon and Co. should have a top flight center for the future. One of the best two-way players in the draft, Huberdeau exploded on the scene as the season went along. As part of the Saint John Sea Dogs juggernaut, Huberdeau was the best player on a team stacked with blue-chip prospects. When the pressure intensified in the QMJHL and Memorial Cup playoffs, he raised his game to another level. After a great draft last season, the Panthers are setting themselves up nicely for the future. For more, check out his draft profile.
4. New Jersey Devils: Adam Larsson, Defense (Skelleftea, Sweden): Could this be the steal of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft? That question probably doesn’t matter much to the Devils, a team whose defensive corps have been decimated by retirement and free agency since the lockout ended. Larsson draws comparisons to Swedish legend Nicklas Lidstrom, but it might be more functional to compare him to 2009 No. 2 overall pick Victor Hedman. He might not be as gifted as Hedman, but he boasts a superior understanding of the defensive side of the game. His extensive international experience and time with Skelleftea indicate that he could jump to the NHL as early as next season, but either way, the Devils have their defenseman of the future. Read more about the big Swedish blueliner here.
5. New York Islanders: Ryan Strome, Center (Niagara, OHL): International Scouting Services had Strome ranked as the 2nd best playmaker in the entire draft and within minutes, pundits were already dreaming about Strome making sweet music with John Tavares on Long Island. He has great hands, can make plays in tight spaces, and has improved dramatically as he’s improved his conditioning and his willingness to go into the dirty areas of the rink.
6. Ottawa Senators: Mika Zibanejad, Center (Djurgarden, Sweden): The Senators wanted a big center so they hope Zibanejad fits that bill. He’s a feisty player who competes at each end of the ice and is noted for being a solid guy in the faceoff circle as well. TSN reports that he has a chance to compete for an NHL job next season, which might not be out of the realm of possibility considering his responsible two-way game and the transitional stage Ottawa is going through.
7. Winnipeg Jets: Mark Scheifele, Center (Barrie, OHL): The Winnipeg Jets’ first pick of their reincarnation was a shocker. Most had the Barrie Colts center going somewhere in the middle of the first round, but the Jets wanted tabbed the potential power forward at the 7th overall pick. He got better as the season went along—mostly because he’s a power forward who likes to use his body on the ice. As he grew, his game grew with him.
8. Philadelphia Flyers (from CBJ): Sean Couturier, Center (Drummondville, QMJHL): The Flyers saved Couturier from the “Cam Fowler syndrome” as Philadelphia picked him up with the 8th overall pick. As early as yesterday, this pick belonged to Columbus and they were looking to improve their young team. Now, the Flyers have added yet another good, young, talented body to go with other gifted forwards like Claude Giroux and James Van Riemsdyk. If Couturier develops like most scouts project, he’ll be mentioned in the same breath.
9. Boston Bruins (from TOR): Dougie Hamilton, Defense (Niagara, OHL): There’s something weird about the Stanley Cup champions selecting in the top 10 of the draft. When Hamilton dropped down to the 9th overall pick, the Cup champs watched the 2nd best defenseman fall into their lap. The big, physical defenseman has a booming slap shot from the point and a long reach in his own zone. If he becomes a little more consistent, he’ll be top pairing defenseman in a few years. That’s a top pairing guy for a team that just won the Cup. That Phil Kessel trade is looking better and better for the Bruins every single day.
10. Minnesota Wild: Jonas Brodin, Defense (Farjestad, Sweden): A smart, young defenseman, Brodin gets it done in his own zone by using his hockey IQ. Think of a player who’s good at reading the play, getting in passing lanes, and using a poke check. On the plus side, he’s a player who already has NHL level poise at only 17-years-old. On the other hand, he won’t be able to contribute for the Wild until he puts on some muscle.
11. Colorado Avalanche (from STL): Duncan Siemens, Defense (Saskatoon, WHL): A true defensive defenseman, Siemens is never going to be the kind of player that dazzles with his offensive ability. But in acquiring the pick from the St. Louis Blues in the Johnson/Stewart trade, Siemens is the type of player who could fill the Adam Foote void when the Avs bring him up to the NHL level in a few seasons. He’s big, physical, and has a knack for annoying the opposition. Perfect qualities for a potential shutdown blueliner.
12. Carolina Hurricanes: Ryan Murphy, Defense (Kitchener, OHL): When watching Kitchener play, Murphy is the kind of player who would absolutely jump off the screen. He is as offensively talented as any other player in the draft—and certainly the most dangerous offensive blueliner in the draft. The only question about Murphy is his defensive ability. Regardless, with his skating ability and the post-lockout rules limiting obstruction, Murphy will be the quarterback of an NHL power play one day.
13. Calgary Flames: Sven Bartschi, Left Wing (Portland, WHL): The Swiss-born forward doesn’t bring much size to the table (he’s listed at 5-11, 175 lbs.) but Bartschi is a skilled player who excelled in the WHL because he was willing to go to tough areas of the ice anyway. In a post-lockout NHL that demands skill as much as – if not more than – size, he could be a nice asset for a Flames franchise that hasn’t been able to stock up on many first round picks.
14. Dallas Stars: Jamie Oleksiak, Defense (Northeastern, H-East): With the last lottery selection, the Stars opted to help out their defensive corps with a guy who’s big enough to cover the entire blueline by himself. The 6’7” blueliner could probably touch the boards on either side of the ice if he stood in the middle of the ice. Translation: he’s going to be tough to skate around when he has a hockey stick in his hand. Even though he’s a huge physical specimen, he’s a much better skater than people expect. Size and skating ability will translate into a promising prospect every time.
15. New York Rangers: J.T. Miller, Center (U.S. Under-18): Miller is an example of the “Mario Lemieux effect,” one of those Pittsburgh-area (Miller was born in Ohio) players who was probably inspired to play the game by the Penguins legend. He was considered one of the three best players for Team USA at the 2011 Under-18 World Championships.
16. Buffalo Sabres: Joel Armia, Right Wing (Assat, Finland): Darcy Regier hasn’t picked a European since 2006 — a streak that ended when Buffalo selected the offensive-minded Joel Armia from the Finnish Elite League. He’s been playing with men and was still able to put up 18 goals in 48 games; his hard, accurate shot will translate to any league in the world. The 6’3” has enough skill to have scouts wondering just how high his upside can be.
17. Montreal Canadiens: Nathan Beaulieu, Defense (Saint John, QMJHL): One of the most important rules for ever Montreal Canadiens’ GM to remember: if there’s a good prospect available from Quebec, pick him. In Beaulieu, the Habs picked up a very good defenseman on a great junior team. The great skater has size, intelligence, and skills all rolled into one package — a combination that doesn’t fall to the 17th overall pick very often. If he can eliminate any questions about his consistency, then bleu blanc et rouge will be happy with their pick.
18. Chicago Blackhawks: Mark McNeill, Center (Prince Albert, WHL): The Blackhawks are stockpiling prospects (they just traded Troy Brouwer for Washington’s 26 pick) but McNeill might be the best they get for some time. McNeill is a fast player with some promising upside; he went from scoring 24 points in 09-10 to 81 in 10-11. He’s a big, strong center who could end up being a nice pick for the ‘Hawks.
19. Edmonton Oilers (from LA): Oscar Klefbom, Defense (Farjestad, Sweden): Klefbom is an interesting prospect because the respect he’s earned is almost all on potential. He didn’t play very much last season in the Swedish Elite League as he was on one of the best (and deepest) teams in the league. But despite only two points last season, scouts love his skating and offensive potential. Some people even say he has the highest ceiling of any Swedish player in the draft. While we don’t think he’ll ever be as good as Adam Larsson, he’s still an intriguing prospect with daunting physical tools. The selection adds to the defensive depth the Oilers started to rebuild when they acquired Colten Teubert in the same trade (Dustin Penner).
20. Phoenix Coyotes: Connor Murphy, Defense (Kitchener, OHL) – Murphy is considered a “project player” who might not be ready for NHL action for some time. TSN notes that Murphy didn’t get to play very often in the last couple seasons, dealing with a serious back injury. It seems like a gamble for the Coyotes, but let’s be fair: we’re in the gamble zone now. Murphy’s father is former NHLer Gord Murphy.
21. Ottawa Senators (from NSH): Stefan Noeson, Right Wing (Plymouth, OHL): The Senators used the pick they acquired in the Mike Fisher trade to draft another defensive-minded forward with offensive upside. Noesen ended up leading his team with 34 goals, but the competitive winger will make his money by developing into a well-rounded pest.
22. Toronto Maple Leafs (from ANA): Tyler Biggs, Right Wing (U.S. Under-18): Instead of picking at #22, the Anaheim Ducks traded their first round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 30th and 39th picks in the 2011 NHL Draft. In Biggs, the Leafs selected a big, mean nasty player—it shouldn’t be a huge shock that Brian Burke trade up in the draft for the opportunity to acquire him. He can grind on the boards and drop the gloves with the best of them. All he’ll need to do is work on his quickness.
23. Pittsburgh Penguins: Joe Morrow, Defense (Portland, WHL): Ray Shero is a fan of defensemen who can skate well, play defense and score a bit. Morrow might not be that far above average when it comes to scoring ability, but he improved his skating ability and was already known as a capable defensive defenseman. It might be a while until he makes the NHL, so a spotty junior career shouldn’t hurt his chances too much.
24. Ottawa Senators (from DET): Matt Puempel, Left Wing (Peterborough, OHL): The Senators were able to acquire their third pick of the first round by trading their 35th and 48th picks to acquire #24 overall from the Red Wings. Matt Puempel has the skills to be a pure sniper with his excellent (and accurate) shot. He’ll still have some work to do with the Petes as he rounds out the rest of his game, but if he can skate better and learn to back check a little smarter.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs (from PHI): Stuart Percy, Defense (Mississauga, OHL): Percy is a steady, responsible defenseman who helped Mississauga St. Michael’s make it to the Memorial Cup final. Percy also has a solid sense of humor, apparently.
26. Chicago Blackhawks (from WASH): Phillip Danault, Left Wing, (Victoriaville, QMJHL): The Blackhawks sent Troy Brouwer to the Washington Capitals for the opportunity to select Danault in the first round. Danault is a gritty, in-your-face forward who can do work on the PK and will succeed by working harder than his opponents. The major question surrounding him is his offensive upside. If he can make the transition to center, he may just end up growing into a Troy Brouwer type player when his potential reaches its peak.
27. Tampa Bay Lightning: Ladislav Namestnikov, Center (London, OHL): Well, a Russian player finally went in the draft … sort of. Namestnikov has played for Russia before but also grew up in Michigan, where he made some roots with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. He has some slick skills but might take some time to adjust to the North American game. Want another sign that there were some Red Wings/Russian connections involved? Slava Kozlov is his uncle.
28. Minnesota Wild (from SJ): Zack Phillips, Center (Saint John, QMJHL): The Wild used the first round pick they acquired in the Brent Burns blockbuster to land talented center Zack Phillips. The grinding center had been pegged to be a higher draft pick at the beginning of the season, but questions about his skating are the concerns that made him drop to 28th overall. He had great hands, he’s not afraid to crash the net, and knows how to find the soft spots in the ice for scoring opportunities. His hockey IQ is there—he’ll just need to keep working on his feet.
29. Vancouver Canucks: Nicklas Jensen, Left Wing (Oshawa, OHL): Jensen draws comparisons to two mercurial scorers: Jussi Jokinen and Michael Grabner (Grabner being the most obvious comparison now that Jensen will be a player in the Canucks system like Grabner once was). Much like Grabner, he seems known best as a speedy skater with some questions about his willingness to go into the dirty areas. That worked out pretty well for Grabner, but the Canucks hope that Jensen does that damage for Vancouver rather than another team.
30. Anaheim Ducks (from BOS, then TOR): Rikard Rakell, Right Wing (Plymouth, OHL): The Ducks moved down by trading their 22nd overall pick for the 30th pick tonight and the 39th overall pick in the 2nd round on Saturday. With the pick, the Ducks drafted another Swede who chose to take his talents to Plymouth, Ontario to improve his draft stock. His two-way play and penalty killing ability will give him a chance to stick at the NHL level in a bottom-six role.