While nothing should ever be engraved in stone, there's a strong possibility that either Red Deer's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Kitchener's Gabriel Landeskog will be the first forward taken at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
The super-skilled Nugent-Hopkins supplanted Landeskog at No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters in April. Landeskog, who was atop the list on the mid-term report, comes in at No. 2.
NHL.com recently caught up with Central Scouting's Jack Barzee to discuss those little differences that create the makeup of each player. Barzee was obviously impressed with what each forward had in their arsenal.
"Do you want (Peter) Forsberg or (Joe) Sakic?" asked Barzee, referring to Nugent-Hopkins as Sakic. "I know that's pretty extreme because they were two superstars, but here are two guys that have a lot of similarities. They remind you of those players when they've got the puck, when they're skating, when they're playing and when they're executing."
Nugent-Hopkins finished tied for third in the Western Hockey League with 106 points, led the league with 75 assists, and his 31 goals (11 on the power play) were third on his team. He also posted a team-best plus-30 rating.
"Watching Nugent Hopkins … when he put that pedal to the metal and would just come up and snap that shot off or see someone out of the corner of his eye, you say how does he do this? How does a guy do this at top speed? You look at Sakic, who was the same way. Nugent-Hopkins is a little taller than Sakic was in his draft year but is probably 10 pounds lighter than Sakic."
The 6-1/2, 207-pound Landeskog had 36 goals, 30 assists, a plus-27 rating and 61 penalty minutes in 53 regular-season games as captain for the Rangers this season.
"When I watched Landeskog in Kitchener, I was amazed with his play in all three zones on the ice … the way he
Barzee was asked how he's able to enter each season with a solid grasp of those top prospects on the board.
"We always look for benchmarks to start," he said. "Who was best player last year? If you see a kid who looks just like him, then he's your benchmark. Now that's easy to do with experience, but it's the only way I can do it. I'm amazed sometimes how I can walk out of a rink and get so much and then leave another game and get nothing -- hockey will do that to you. The complexity of the game, the travel, the number of players and games all coming together all play a part of it.
"But when you see someone special, it hits you."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale