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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

THN publishes top-10 for 2011 Draft online

For those of you like me with a subscription to the Hockey News, you've seen their major junior/2011 draft eligibles preview issue, which deals with the top-10 players in each of the major junior leagues in the CHL.

Now, Ryan Kennedy has taken it a step further with THN's top-10 for the entire draft, which takes all leagues and the European pool into account.

You can read the story here.

A few observations:

This is a solid top-10...as with any list, especially one this early in the season, there are going to be quibbles about where the players are ranked, but the top dogs are all here, and if you look over to the right, B2011DW has a little something on every single one of them. Some more than others, but as the season progresses, the goal is to provide information overload. After all, that's what I do.

Sean Couturier is at the head of the class right now, and he's done little to dissuade the notion that he could be the first top overall pick out of the QMJHL since Sidney Crosby in 2005, and the first player of French Canadian heritage to get the call since Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003 (both interestingly enough to the Pittsburgh Penguins). The scout's quote is interesting-- he characterizes Couturier as a "smooth skater." Based on what I have heard and seen in limited viewings on TV (Memorial Cup, video) his skating is what needs to be addressed the most in his game. Of course, it's a minor flaw in the grand scheme when you consider that his hockey sense is off the charts and that he has the size/hands to be a danger to score every time he's out on the ice. But "smooth" skater? I would reserve that comment for the guys who are effortless and truly adept at the mobility aspect of the game. This just goes to show that everyone has a different opinion when scouting and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

You hate to level the kind of expectations that comparing Nicklas Lidstrom to any 18-year-old kid will generate, but Adam Larsson has the similar tools package and Nik's grace under fire. As the No. 2 overall candidate right now according to THN, I'm just going to say that by the time June, 2011 rolls around, Larsson will be the top pick in the draft. He's playing against men for the second consecutive year and was Sweden's best defenseman on their WJC Under-20 team last year...at age 17. I just feel that in the end, barring a total collapse or severe injury, NHL scouts for whichever club is the bottom-dweller in 2011 are going to see having a franchise-caliber/cornerstone defender as being a better value than a big, skilled center. This is going to be one great race-- much like the Taylor/Tyler competition was last year.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a pure scorer who may be on the slight side, but with his explosiveness, high-end offensive hockey IQ and dynamic, game-breaking ability, he's going to be in the mix for top consideration all year. The Red Deer Rebel put on a clinic in Slovakia last August, outperforming the CHL Rookie of the Year Matt Puempel by a pretty significant margin according to a couple of NHL scouts I spoke to in attendance there.

Pennsylvania power forward Brandon Saad is in the top-four thanks to a solid start in the OHL with Saginaw this year. He was studly last year in the USHL with the U.S. NTDP, and his developmental curve seems to be almost vertical. With his natural size, excellent skating ability, hands and work ethic, he's going to go off the board high in Minnesota.

Omaha Lancers power forward Seth Ambroz rounds out the top-five, and the giant Minnesotan and Golden Gophers recruit is an interesting pick here, because I've gotten more mixed reviews and assessments of this player than any other. He's been a physically dominant player for three years now, and some are concerned that he might have plateau'd in that regard, but at the same time, he had a pretty strong Ivan Hlinka, in helping Team USA to the silver medal, so he's a winner. He's off to a slow start offensively in the USHL season after one week, but rest assured-- the scoring drought won't last long. He could get 50-60 goals in that league given that this is his third year there.

I like the trio of forwards that are 6-8-- Puempel, Gabriel Landeskog (Kitchener) and Tomas Jurco (Saint John). All of these players are pretty well known in hockey circles and Landeskog, especially, is a fun guy to watch because he's such an atypical player from Sweden. Imagine a cross between Mats Sundin and Brendan Shanahan, and you'll start to gain an idea of how coveted this player will be on draft day. I think he'll move into the top-five when all is said and done, and whomever lands him will be getting one heck of a talent with some real snarl.

A pair of defenders round out the top-10, and if you're a Bruins fan hoping for a defenseman and believe that the Toronto Maple Leafs will have another bottom-10 finish in 2011, then one of these two may be the player to key on for Boston's draft.

David Musil is your prototype NHL defenseman of the modern era: big, skilled with athletic bloodlines and all the physical attributes you want in a player. But, and I'll be honest here-- he concerns me a little bit from the standpoint that what I've heard about his intensity and effort levels isn't ideal. Maybe it's a case of a kid needing to mature or that things have simply come much too easy for him up to now, but it will be real interesting to see how he progresses this year and what Vancouver coach Don Hay tells NHL scouts about Musil off the record. Hay is one of the most able and respected coaches in amateur hockey and he's not going to brook any lack of effort from anyone on his Giants squad...this may be the best possible thing for Musil, as good coaching can often make a player's draft year. Musil is without question a top-end talent on defense with the natural instincts to go with the size and skills. If he goes out and proves he can bring it with consistency, then he'll go in the top-five. I'd say that Kennedy's ranking of him reflects the same kinds of whispers I've been hearing.

Finally, there's the little big man on 'D'-- Kitchener offensive dynamo Ryan Murphy, whose blistering start to the OHL season is making believers out of a lot of people, some of whom knew he had tremendous scoring potential, but weren't sold on his defense. Thus far, he's been on the ice for only one goal allowed and is playing an effective game in all zones. Although only 5-11 and needing to get a lot stronger, you simply cannot argue with this kids blazing wheels, powerful shot, feather-touch on the puck and this preternatural ability to find chinks in opposing defenses and move the puck through bodies at will.

Although the Bruins have an abundance of defenders who stand under 6-feet, Murphy is going to energize the team's war room all season during their mid-season meetings and all the work they do leading up to the draft. He's such a prolific talent offensively, which is the one true dimension in their organization that the Bruins lack. On the face of it, you'd think that Murphy's size would scare them off, but if that Toronto pick puts them in the position to select this player, it would be hard to imagine them passing purely based on the size aspect. The key question Murphy has to answer is whether he can project as a No. 1 in the NHL.

So far, he's doing it.

Kennedy has done good work and it certainly helps to get the juices flowing on this young hockey season. The NHL regular season start is just around the corner and before we know it, we'll be having the standings updates and begin the 2011 draft watch in earnest.

Climb on board and join me for what should be a fun ride!

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