***MOCK DRAFT COMING TOMORROW***
While it’s difficult to say exactly who the top-10 players will be in this year’s NHL draft, most scouts have no problem telling you who the top 9 available prospects are. They include 6 forwards – Nugent-Hopkins, Huberdeau, Landeskog, Couturier, Strome, and Zibanejad; and 3 defencemen – Larsson, Hamilton, and Murphy. With an eye to the top-10, here is a small scouting report on all the potential top-10 selections (grouped by position) in this year’s draft.
Sure-fire top-10 selection
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: The most skilled player in the draft. He’s a classic playmaker who makes all those around him better. His vision and hockey IQ are off the charts, drawing some comparisons to #99. The only knock on him is his size, as he’s around 6’, 170 lbs. However, he’s extremely quick and shifty, with an unbelievable ability to avoid ever being hit. He has the rare ability to do incredible things with the puck at high speed. He looks a bit like Blackhawks star Patrick Kane when handling the puck; and while he prefers to set up teammates, he has no problem scoring either. His offensive game could be compared to Avs great Peter Forsberg, minus the power-forward type of approach. Overall, Nugent-Hopkins is a near-sure bet to be a first line centre, if not a franchise centre.
Jonathan Huberdeau: In my opinion, the next-most skilled player available. Like Nugent-Hopkins, he does everything at high speed. An all-around offensive player with good acceleration, he is equally good at scoring goals and setting up teammates. His slick hands and quick release draw some comparison to Joe Sakic. He led the Saint John’s Sea Dogs to both the QMJHL championship and a Memorial Cup Title, being named MVP in both. At 6’1, 175, he’s a bit underdeveloped, but his size shouldn’t be a concern once he fills out. He currently plays centre, but like many young players, he may be shifted to wing once he gets to the NHL. Looks like a 1st line NHL forward capable of putting up 35+ goals and 80+ points.
Gabriel Landeskog: This Swedish forward who plays for the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers consistently draws comparisons to former Kitchener Ranger Mike Richards for his leadership, heart, and two-way game. However, in reality, they’re very different players. Landeskog is a power forward who is strong on the boards and goes hard to the net to score dirty goals. Landeskog doesn’t have the same skill level as many of the players who surround him at the top of the rankings, but he hits, fights, kills penalties, and does many other things that don’t necessarily show up on the scoresheet. Rather than Richards, (a smaller, two-way centre who’s more of a playmaker), a better comparison may be King’s forward Dustin Brown, though Landeskog may have a bit more upside. He projects to be a 30-goal scorer and a potential team captain.
Sean Couturier: Ranked #1 by many scouting services at the beginning of the year, this 6’4 centre dropped a bit as the year went on. However, there are lots of things to like about this player. He has great reach and a good set of hands, putting up 192 points in his last two seasons in the QMJHL. He’s also a great two-way player – rare for a player with his type of skill, and evidenced by his +117 rating over the last two seasons. A good NHL comparison might be Pens centre Jordan Staal – though Couturier may have more offensive creativity. The main thing holding him back is his lack of foot speed. He doesn’t have the upside of Nugent-Hopkins or Huberdeau, but his two-way ability make him a safe pick even if his offensive game doesn’t quite pan out.
Ryan Strome: One of the toughest players to project in the draft. He has good speed, agility, puck-handling ability, and creativity. He had as many points as any draft eligible player with 106 (tied with Nugent-Hopkins). Why isn’t he ranked higher? Well, he doesn’t have blazing speed. He isn’t really a goal scorer. He doesn’t have fantastic vision or playmaking ability. He also doesn’t have great size at 6’, 175. The way he carries the puck and dangles at high speed reminds me a bit of Phil Kessel before he turned pro, though Strome isn’t a sniper. He probably has the most upside of any forward after Nugent-Hopkins and Huberdeau, but is also the riskiest pick of the players ranked so far. He could be anything from a first liner to a journeyman, as he may have trouble finding a niche if his offensive game doesn’t translate to the NHL level.
Mika Zibanejad: This Swedish power forward his made a lot charge up the rankings. He played in Sweden’s top men’s league (the Elitserien), posting 5 goals and 4 assists in 26 games – leading all under-18 players in scoring. He has good size at 6’1, 190, and plays a physical, well-rounded game. Because of his nationality, high skill level and physical style of play, some have compared him to Peter Forsberg, though that may not be a fair comparison. He’s really impressed scouts of late, and completely shot up the rankings in the last few months. While his stats don’t pop out at you, that’s mainly due to the limited ice-time that 17 year olds receive in Swedish pro hockey. It’s tough to project his offensive upside, but it’s safe to say that he’ll be a well-rounded, second line centre.
Potential top-10 selection
Sven Bartschi: Bartschi is the last highly skilled forward available in the draft. He has great puck skills, creativity, and vision. But at 5’10, 180, his size is at best average; nor does he have great speed to compensate. However, he is a determined player with a strong work ethic, and these type of players have a way of maximizing their potential. A good NHL comparison would be Minnesota Wild forward Pierre Marc Bouchard – a solid second line winger with slick hands who looks like a first liner but doesn’t quite have that extra bit of size and/or speed to bring it to the next level.
Mark Scheifele: A virtual unknown at the beginning of the season, Scheifele debuted in the OHL as a 17 year old and put up solid numbers, with 75 points in 66 games. (Rookie year of junior is usually at age 16). Then he really impressed scouts by leading Canadian forwards in scoring at the Under-18 World Championships, with 6 goals and 2 assists in 7 games. Scouts don’t necessarily believe he has first line potential, but see him as a good second line centre with a very good work ethic and two-way game. However, it’s also possible that he’s just gaining steam and has more untapped offensive ability. Either way, expect him to approach the top-10.
Sure-fire top-10 selection
Adam Larsson: The top defenceman available in the draft. He has great size at 6’3, 215, great mobility, a hard shot, and soft hands. He isn’t terribly physical for his size, but often prefers to make use of his quick stick to break up plays. Past comparisons to Nick Lidstrom were unfair, (Lidstrom’s hockey IQ is probably the highest of any defenceman in NHL history), but Larsson is the most well-rounded Swedish defenceman to be drafted in quite some time. While most scouts think he’ll go in the top-2, many question his ability produce high point totals at the NHL level. Regardless, his downside appears to be a Jay Bouwmeester – another minute-munching defenceman who plays in all situations but doesn’t dominate offensively.
Dougie Hamilton: Hamilton is the most well-rounded defenceman in the draft after Larsson. He has good two-way ability, as evidenced by his 58 points in 67 games for the Niagra Ice Dogs of the OHL. (Teammate of Ryan Strome). He also led his team in playoff scoring with 16 points in 14 games. He has a good frame at 6’3, 180, but has a lot of filling out to do. The thing that sets him apart from many defencemen ranked below him is his maturity and intelligence both on and off the ice. He was named CHL scholastic player of the year, and his coaches say he displays incredible dedication to the game. He should become a very valuable defenceman for whomever has the fortune of selecting him.
Ryan Murphy: With 26 goals and 79 points in 63 games, he’s the best offensive defenceman in the draft by a mile. In fact, he may be the most talented player in the entire draft after Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The reason he isn’t the top ranked defenceman is all due to his size. At only 5’11, 175 (and who knows if that’s entirely accurate), scouts question whether he’ll be able to handle big NHL forwards in a top-4 role. However, there’s no doubt ability his ability to run a powerplay. A good NHL comparison is Lubomir Visnovsky – a small defender with a great shot, excellent vision, slick hands, and overall tremendous skill who can play 20 minutes per game. Murphy also has a tremendous amount of poise and self-assuredness, bordering on cockiness, which may endear him to a number of teams. He could go as high as #4 or as low as #9.
Potential top-10 selection
Nathan Bealieu: A solid two-way defenceman and Memorial Cup winning teammate of Huberdeau in Saint John’s, Beaulieu brings a very good combination of size, speed, and offensive ability. He built on good season numbers (45 points in 65 games) with 17 points in 19 playoff games, leading all Sea Dogs defencemen in scoring. He doesn’t have the upside of the defencemen ranked ahead of him, but he has the skill-set of a top-4 NHL defenceman and appears to be a pretty safe pick.
Jonas Brodin: Opinions diverge as to how good this player will be, but most agree that he has a few very advanced skills – exceptional vision, awareness, and anticipation. These are all things that can’t be taught, and explain why some scouts are very excited about this player. He is also an exceptional skater. The downside is side – at only 6’1, 170, he has a lot of filling out to do. And despite his on-ice awareness, he doesn’t have exceptional puck skill, and thus may not be able to put up big numbers. However, smart defencemen that can skate tend to have long NHL careers, and I’ll take one any day of the week over a hulking defenceman with questionable hockey IQ.
(D) Oscar Klefbom: Plays with Brodin on the same D pairing, Klefbom brings many things that Brodin doesn’t (and vice versa). He has great size at 6’4, 200, and a good shot. However, many scouts question his hockey sense, and say that if he had Brodin’s level of awareness, he’d be as good a prospect as Adam Larsson. All that being said, he has risen in the rankings, particularly after captaining Sweden’s Under-18 team at the World Championships and being named the team’s top player. Has a shot at the top-10, but most scouts put Brodin and the rest ahead of him.
(D) Duncan Siemens: Good size, skating, and aggressiveness are his marks. He plays a very physical game and relishes the role of a shut-down defender. He was once widely considered a top-10 selection, but now rests just outside the top-10. (Due more to the rise of other prospects than any condemnation of his play). Despite pretty good junior statistics, scouts don’t believe that offence will translate to the NHL. Safe bet to go in the top-15.
(F) Matthew Puempel: Is a very good goal scorer, but scouts are unimpressed with the rest of his game. Started the year ranked in the top-10 but has since fallen further down the list. He reminds me a bit of Jeff Skinner – another goal scorer who wasn’t particularly big or fast. However, Puempel is unlikely to go in the top-10 or be as good as Skinner. Could be a solid second liner, scoring 25+ goals. Michael Ryder is a good comparison.
PLAYER STATS (Potential Top-10 Selections)
|F||Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||93||6’1||170||69||31||75||106||51||WHL||Red Deer|
|F||Jonathan Hubderdeau||93||6’1||170||67||43||62||105||88||QMJHL||Saint John|
|D||Nathan Beaulieu||92||6’3||190||65||12||33||45||52||QMJHL||Saint John|