Now that the NHL conference finals are set and the invitations have been sent to the top prospects for the NHL Scouting Combine later this month, it's time to take one more crack at predicting the opening round of the 2011 Entry Draft, which will be held June 24-25 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
All 30 NHL teams have been hard at work since the release of NHL Central Scouting's final rankings of the top draft-eligible players last month. They're making their own lists and preparing accordingly with the hope of finding that diamond in the rough.
How will the teams decide to use those valuable picks? No one knows for sure, but NHL.com is willing to take a guess.
NHL.com's three draft experts -- Mike Morreale, Adam Kimelman and Steven Hoffner -- once again have taken their crystal balls out of storage to predict how the first round might turn out.
The draft order for this exercise is not what the final draft order will look like. The first 14 slots were set by the NHL Draft Lottery, which was held April 12. The next 12 spots set by teams eliminated in the first two rounds of the playoffs -- non-division winners in reverse order of points, followed by division winners the same way. The final four teams will be set following the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final, but for now we're listing them in inverse order of points.
All three of our prognosticators remain in agreement that the Edmonton Oilers will select Red Deer Rebels center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- Central Scouting's No. 1-ranked North American skater -- with the top pick. The 6-foot, 164-pound center led the Western Hockey League with 75 assists and was tied for third with 106 points. After the top pick, however, things start to go in different directions.
"I think any time you're selecting at the top of the draft, especially No. 1, these players are there for a reason," Edmonton General Manager Steve Tambellini said. "They have the ability to emotionally handle something; they have the obvious skill, so whether they develop into that player, you don't know. But these top players have the ability to, one day, be franchise players."
How do the NHL.com prognosticators think the rest of the first round will play out? Well, you'll have to check out all three drafts for yourself.
You can check back in a little less than two months to see how astute our experts really are.