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Wide-open race for top spot at 2011 Entry Draft

by Mike G. Morreale
The 2011 Entry Draft might be seven months away, but after getting a look at NHL Central Scouting's preliminary rakings Tuesday, a few brave souls at have decided to dust off the crystal ball and project the opening round at Xcel Energy Center, to be held June 24 in St. Paul, Minn.

While the ratings certainly will change by the time Central Scouting releases its mid-term report in January, who doesn't enjoy a good mock draft? So, let the debating begin.

Unlike last season, when it was a two-player race for No. 1 between Windsor Spitfires left wing Taylor Hall and Plymouth Whalers center Tyler Seguin, there figures to be a three-way battle this season among Drummondville Voltigeurs center Sean Couturier, Red Deer Rebels center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and defenseman Adam Larsson, who stars for Skelleftea AIK in the Swedish Elite League.

Right now, the scouts say there's no clear-cut favorite.

After the top three, who goes next? It could be another one of the top forwards on the board -- perhaps Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers or Brandon Saad of the Saginaw Spirit. Maybe a team is looking for defense first -- Niagara's 6-foot-4, 193-pound Dougie Hamilton is an attractive choice if Larsson is off the board. Saint John Sea Dogs offensive-defenseman Nathan Beaulieu is another intriguing pick. The Sea Dogs, incidentally, could have as many as seven players drafted in June.

The draft order in place for this mock draft was based on inverse order of the standings as of Nov. 18. The order will surely change before it is finalized in early June.

As of now, the Bruins are the only team with multiple first-round choices -- their own, plus the Maple Leafs' pick obtained in the Phil Kessel deal.

Also, the New Jersey Devils may or may not have a first-round choice -- as part of the penalty for circumventing the League's salary cap in the offseason, New Jersey was told to forfeit a first-round pick in one of the next four Entry Drafts. They have to advise the League of their decision by the day after the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Final in the calendar year of the pick.

Now, on to the mock drafts.

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