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Craig Button reveals Top 5 draft-eligible prospects

by Mike G. Morreale
Now that NHL Central Scouting is completing its final draft list of the top 210 skaters and 30 goalies in North America this week, no better time than for NHL Network analyst Craig Button to unveil his top five overall 2011 draft-eligible prospects.

Button released his updated list on Monday during 'NHL On the Fly'. While his top two players remained unchanged in center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Red Deer in the Western Hockey League and left wing Gabriel Landeskog of Kitchener in the Ontario Hockey League, there was some movement among the bottom three.

Back in March, Button had Kitchener defenseman Ryan Murphy rated fifth, Saint John center Jonathan Huberdeau fourth and Swedish defender Adam Larsson of Skelleftea third. Murphy was left off Button's most recent list and replaced with Niagara IceDogs center Ryan Strome of the Ontario Hockey League. Larsson was moved to fourth overall and Huberdeau to third.

When NHL Central Scouting released its top five North American skaters in January, Landeskog was considered the No. 1 prospect, followed by No. 2 Sean Couturier of Drummondville, No. 3 Nugent-Hopkins, No. 4 Huberdeau and No. 5 Tyler Biggs of the United States National Team Development Program. Larsson was the top-ranked international skater, following by No. 2 Joel Armia of Finland's Assat in Finland and Mika Zibanejad of Sweden's Djurgarden. Zibanejad, who is moving up the ranks following his promotion to the Elite League, has been said to have better upside than current Devils forward Jacob Josefson.

Central Scouting will release its final draft list on April 12 and will have complete coverage. The 2011 Entry Draft will be held in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24.

Here's what Button had to say about each of his top five prospects.
Ryan Strome, Niagara IceDogs

5-Ryan Strome, Niagara (OHL), center: "He's one of those guys who needs some time to physically mature and that will come. He's a guy who's smart, instinctive and can skate and handle the puck. It looks like he has all the ability to take those skills and be a real productive offensive player in the NHL."

4-Adam Larsson, Skelleftea (Swedish Elite League), defenseman: "Is there one area where he's really dominant or flashy, probably not. But he does everything so well. He can get the puck out of the zone, he can shoot the puck from the point, he has size and range and those types of defenseman are extremely rare. When you can get that type of a player who can play a lot of minutes and play all the different situations in the game, they are much coveted."

3-Jonathan Huberdeau, Saint John (QMJHL), center: "He has a chance to wind up being the best player in this draft and that's saying a lot. Huberdeau, to me, has it all. He has the determination, he has the skill and I'm going to go back to physical maturity; when he physically matures and is able to carry his weight with confidence and strength, he is going to be a force because he has the combination of skill and will. There has never been a great player in the League who didn't possess that combination.

2-Gabriel Landeskog, Kitchener (OHL), left wing: "He's a force with skill. He is a hungry player. If they made the rink smaller, he would have no problem because he loves to play in those tight areas and in those areas around the net. He loves physical contract and initiates it. With his skill, he can make a difference as well. He's a real complete player and if there's one guy who might be closest to being NHL-ready, it might be Landeskog."

1-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Red Deer (WHL), center: "He makes everyone around him better. I say this in the most complimentary way, and not as a comparison to make unrealistic or unfair expectations on this young man, but he reminds me of Joe Sakic in this thinking and ability. Sakic was one of those guys where it didn't matter what type of game you were playing. You always knew you could count on Joe Sakic and you knew he'd made a play and make a difference, and I feel exactly the same way about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. If the Edmonton Oilers have the first pick in the draft, and they want a player who can make Hall an even better player, then Nugent-Hopkins is that guy. It will take an enormous effort by another prospect to unseat Nugent-Hopkins in my mind because I think he's a star in the making."
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