I'm starting to feel a little bit left out because everywhere I turn, another pundit has a "Mock Draft" ready to be scrutinized! So, today, I offer you my take on how the upper echelon of the 1st Round should play out on Friday night. Now, keep in mind that I say "should"; this list is the order that I would rank the players in, not the order I necessarilly think they'll be chosen by the teams that actually hold these picks.
#1 - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
There's no question in my mind that the Red Deer Rebels star has elevated himself to a different level relative to the rest of the forwards in this draft. The more I talk to scouts and other various hockey types around the game, the less I worry about his size.
The elite hockey sense that he possesses, combined with excellent skill with which to execute the plays makes him a slam dunk to me. He skates well, passes brilliantly from both sides of the stick, pivots easily in and out of corners, has an under-rated shot and a championship work ethic. I'm convinced he'll be a 1st line center in the NHL. #2 - Adam Larsson
Like Nugent-Hopkins, Larsson has distinguished himself at his position in this draft. He's the most complete package out of all the defensemen and, as a bonus, is ready to play right away.
He's got elite skill at both ends of the rink, anchored by an excellent sense of position and an ability to read plays quickly. He lets the puck do most of the work and isn't a player you'll see rushing it up himself very often. His shot is pretty good, but I don't think he'll ever be known as a big goal scorer on the back end; on the powerplay, as an example, I see him as more of a setup man.
Defensively, he's got excellent size and seems to be really starting to figure out how to use it.
This season, we saw a player who had an edge to him and, at times, was even willing to drop the gloves. I'm not positive that we'll ever hear this player in Norris trophy conversations, but I'm confident that he's a long-term defenseman in someone's top pairing. #3 - Sean Couturier
For some time, the heavy center out of the QMJHL was the projected top pick in this draft. After being sidetracked by a late off-season bout of mononucleosis and being heavily scouted (read: nitpicked) all season, his stock has fallen.
ISS and Hockey News have him at No. 44, Bob McKenzie has him at No. 5 and Central Scouting at No. 6. I have him at No. 3 because I think he's the complete package. He has size, hockey sense, offensive skill, defensive awareness, the ability to make his teammates better and a drive to succeed.
He's not quick, but that's a drawback with many larger players. If this player would have had the type of season he did coming from off the radar, he would have rocketed up the charts instead of dropping as he did. I think he was overscouted, nitpicked and might be the victim of a late push by a couple of other players. For me, though, he's the next best forward after Nugent-Hopkins. #4 - Jonathan Huberdeau
This is one of the players that I mentioned above as having had a late push to rocket up the rankings. It's well deserved, of course, as he posted excellent regular season and playoff numbers en route to become the MVP of the QMJHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup.
He's a tenacious player with excellent creativity and playmaking ability. He's not big by any stretch, but he's a pesky kid who isn't going to quit. He's better in his own zone than a player like Nugent-Hopkins, but not as quick. He didn't show well at the scouting combine, displaying a definite need to increase his strength. He's a surefire player, and an attractive option because of his defensive play, but I'm a bit wary of the sudden skyrocket. #5 - Dougie Hamilton
This rearguard really has it all, starting with an excellent pedigree as his older brother (Freddie) has already been drafted (San Jose, 2010, 129th overall) and his parents are both former Canadian Olympians.
He's a big player who uses his size well, skates as well as anyone his size and moves the puck sharply. A very intelligent young man, he'll bring excellent communication and leadership to the table as well. He'll play in all situations and be a top pairing NHL defenseman. #6 - Gabriel Landeskog
I like this player a lot, and struggled to place him as low as sixth. He's got "future captain" written all over him and is, by far, the most NHL-ready prospect in this draft.
He's already filled out his body and has elite physical tools. Work ethic, leadership and all of the "intangible" elements make this player a safe choice to play a large role on any team. The reason I had to slide him a few spots is that I don't see that same high-end offensive upside that the three forwards ahead of him have and I'm not convinced he'll ever be a prolific scorer.
His shot is very good, his drive to the net is excellent and his defensive awareness is as good as any upper tier forward in the draft. I view him more as a second or third line player than a top line scorer. #7 - Ryan Strome
Coming from almost completely off the radar, Strome posted a stunning 106 points this year in the OHL for Niagara. Much like Nugent-Hopkins, Strome is very quick and adept at making plays under pressure.
Most of the points he gets won't be goals, but rather goals that are set up by his elite hockey sense and decision making. He's at seven because there's really only one year worth of pedigree to put him high in the draft, but if he continues where he left off last season, he'll be a top line NHL center. #8 - Nathan Beaulieu
OK, this is my slightly off the radar selection inside the Top 10. Bob McKenzie has him at 11, ISS has him at 14 and Central Scouting at 18. I like Beaulieu because he's the complete package, and though he doesn't possess the same offensive skill as Ryan Murphy, I think he'll project out to be capable of handling more minutes in more situations.
And, don't get me wrong, he can produce offense. This player can carry the puck exceptionally well, distribute the puck at the same level and is stronger than Murphy in his own zone. He has a large frame that he needs to fill out a bit more, and when he does, I think he'll be a physical force. He plays the game very hard, very intense and has excellent character. #9 - Mika Zibanejad
One of the wild cards of the first round, Zibanejad is a prototypical power forward. I've got questions about his true finishing ability, but he puts enough pucks in the net out of sheer will to defer most of those.
With size, strength and a bulldog-ish attitude, Zibanejad is a fearless player. He skates extremely well and, as a big bonus, is very strong in the faceoff circle. He's also got a solid grasp of defensive awareness and ethic, and I view him as an excellent 2-way center down the road. #10 - Ryan Murphy
I saw an interview on TSN with Ryan Murphy when host James Duthie asked him about his perceived deficiencies. He responded with an eloquent answer about wanting a team to draft him for who he is, and that teams should recognize the value in a puck-moving, offensive defenseman.
He doesn't pretend to be the whole package, instead accentuating his world class skill in one direction. And, you know what? Somebody is going to be really happy to get him.
Easily the best defenseman in the draft when it comes to offense, Murphy is a treat to watch with the puck. He'll need to learn to let the puck do more of the work when he jumps up a level, but there's no questioning his ability to produce offense. If he can get a handle on his gambling (on the ice decision making, I mean) and earn the trust of his coaching staff, he'll wreak havoc on opposition teams for years.Author: Dan Tencer