1. Edmonton – Taylor Hall, LW, OHL
Though the big winger wasn’t the top ranked skater in the NHL’s Central Scouting rankings (he was second), he is seen by most as a sure bet to be the best player in this draft. Not only is he talented (280 points in 183 junior games, plus 76 points in 44 career playoff games), he is a clutch performer and winner. His junior team won back-to-back Memorial Cups, and Hall won back-to-back Memorial Cup MVPs – the first time it has ever been done. Born in Alberta, he is the perfect player to lead the Oilers out of the league’s cellar.
2. Boston (from Toronto) – Tyler Seguin, C, OHL
Don’t consider it a knock on Seguin when it is mentioned that the Central Scouting rankings got it wrong by putting him first ahead of Hall, it is more an ode to Hall’s outstanding abilities. Seguin himself is a fantastic prospect and considered more of a 1A in this conversation, and won the OHL MVP award with 106 points (tied with Hall) in 63 games. Once thought of as just a playmaker, Seguin upped his goals from 21 a year ago, to 48 this year. He came to the combine with added muscle, suggesting he could be almost as NHL ready as anyone else in this class. Will Boston attempt to deal some of their excess centres to make room for him, or try him on the wing?
3. Florida – Eric Gudbranson, D, OHL
Gudbranson was ranked the second best defenseman for the first half of the season, but proved to be the better player in the second half. He separated himself with a better physical game, in addition to his extremely heavy slap shot. At 6’4″, the physical defender projects to be a top-pairing D-man with shutdown capabilities.
4. Columbus – Cam Fowler, D, OHL
Fowler was ranked the top defenseman at the start of the season, and still projects to be a very good offensive defenseman (55 points in 55 games last year). A teammate of Hall in Windsor, Fowler has fantastic skating ability and will be a top puck moving defenseman for a long time. He reminds me of Duncan Keith.
5. NY Islanders – Brett Connolly, RW, WHL
Last season Connolly was viewed as a challenger for first overall, but he spent so much time injured this season that everyone became uncomfortable with him. He came back and finished the season strong (10 goals, 19 points in 16 games), and checked in completely healthy at the combine. The Isles have needs all over the place, and don’t have the best cast of prospects ready to step into the lineup, but he possess All-Star offensive ability and would look great beside Tavares.
6. Tampa Bay – Jack Campbell, G, USHL
Campbell is tough to peg to one particular draft slot, but he will surely be the first goalie taken in the draft. Another casualty of Central Scouting (2nd ranked goalie behind Calvin Pickard), the 18-year-old backstopped the USA World Junior team to gold over the favoured Canada squad. He also won gold at the 2009 and 2010 Under-18 tournaments, and in 2010 was named the best goalie in the tournament. With a building block up front (Steve Stamkos) and on defence (last year’s second overall pick Victor Hedman), this is the perfect opportunity to nab the goalie of the future for new GM Steve Yzerman. Campbell has committed to play with powerhouse Windsor in the OHL next year and could see professional time starting in 2011.
7. Carolina – Brandon Gormley, D, QMJHL
Gormley doesn’t rank that far behind the first two defensemen in the draft, but far enough ahead of next wave of blueliners. He’s a good skater, solid if unspectacular both offensively and defensively, and a very intelligent player. Carolina needs some young talent on the blueline, but their GM has been notorious for shying away from drafting defenseman because he believes they take too long to develop. It’s time to stop that line of thinking.
8. Atlanta – Ryan Johansen, C, WHL
If Atlanta is set at one position, it’s defence, where they have a number of quality young blueliners. I can see them nabbing Campbell if Tampa doesn’t take him, but since he is off the board here they can’t go wrong with Johansen. The big centre (6’3″, almost 200lbs) still hasn’t filled out physically, but possess very good two-way abilities and has a game reminiscent of Jordan Staal (or his brother Eric if he increases his offensive game).
9. Minnesota – Jeff Skinner, C, OHL
There is a better chance that I am struck by lightning than there is coming up with a valid reason for Skinner’s Central Scouting ranking (32nd among North American skaters). Though teams prefer players over six feet tall, there is no way the 5’10” centre slips past ten in the draft. Skinner is the best pure goal scoring prospect since perhaps Ovechkin, as he had 50 goals and 90 points in 63 regular season games, and then poured in 20 goals in 20 games in the playoffs. Minnesota is in dire need of offensive help, and Skinner is a great fit.
10. NY Rangers – Nino Neiderreiter, LW, WHL
Nino has a chance to become the first ever Swiss star in the NHL. The bruising winger is over 200lbs already, and compliments his physical play with above average goal scoring ability. Scouts love a good power forward, and the Rangers would love an infusion of a young offensive forward.
11. Dallas – Derek Forbort, D, USHL
The Stars traded for and signed Keri Lehtonen to be their goalie of the future, and have a number of nice young forwards to move forward with. Aside from Stephane Robidas, though, they don’t have much strength on the back-end. There is a couple of very solid USHL defensemen that Joe Nieuwendyk can choose from, but the 6’5″ Forbort is believed to have greater potential than his teammates.
12. Anaheim – Dylan McIlrath, D, WHL
Though I had him here prior to Scott Niedermayer announcing his retirement, there is an even better chance now that the Ducks look for a defenseman with their first of two first round picks. Later in the round they can nab a quality forward, but with the 12th pick the 6’4″ McIlrath would fit right into Anaheim’s blueprint. He is a beast on the ice and nearly impossible to play against.
13. Phoenix (from Calgary) – Mikael Granlund, LW, Finland
Unlike the North Americans in the draft, Granlund played professionally last season in Finland and racked up 40 points in 43 games against much older competition. He is smallish for a winger at 5’10”, but is a very good playmaker with a great hockey sense. Phoenix is a team in dire need of offensive help and would love for him to fall here.
14. St. Louis – Alexander Burmistrov, C, OHL
The Blues have drafted three defensemen in the first two rounds of the last two drafts, and are due for an impact offensive player (especially after trading former first rounder Lars Eller to Montreal in the Jaroslav Halak trade). Burmistrov had 65 points in 62 games for Barrie last season, but needs to fill out or be at risk of serious injury (he is 6’0″ and only around 160lbs). He has dynamic puck handling skills though, and a knack for the puck.
15. Florida (from Boston) – Emerson Etem, C, WHL
New GM Dave Tallon just obtained this pick in the Nathan Horton trade, and looks to build his new club much like his old one (Chicago): through the draft. Etem is one of, if not the fastest skater in the draft. But the 6’0″ centre also has a dangerously hard shot that led to 37 goals in 72 games.
16. Ottawa – Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, KHL
Tarasenko combines exceptional offensive ability with a very fit 200+lb frame (at 5’11”). On talent alone he could be a top-10 talent, but teams are growing ever more concerned about top Russian prospects fleeing for familiar territory back in their homeland. He could drop even farther than this, but someone has to take a gamble and Ottawa could use offensive help.
17. Colorado – Jonathon Merrill, D, USHL
Merrill is another hot prospect on the blueline out of the US Development Team, and this 6’3″ gifted defenseman could be a can’t miss prospect this late in the round. Rumors of immaturity could cause him to drop, but if he is committed, he could be a great addition to the young core of Avalanche forwards.
18. Nashville – Nick Bjugstad, C, Minnesota HS
Nashville is a strong defensive club short on goals, and trading Jason Arnott doesn’t help that any, so look for them to nab a forward here. Can’t go wrong with Bjugstad here, as the Hobey Baker award winner (for top Minnesota high schooler) notched 29 goals and 60 points in 25 games. He also brings size, and at 6’5″ tested very favourably at the combine.
19. Los Angeles – Austin Watson, RW, OHL
The 6’3″ Peterborough Pete had 54 points in 52 games and brings everything to the table that you want from a top-6 winger: size, speed, strength and ability. With Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson on the back end, look for the Kings to look for a forward here.
20. Pittsburgh – Mark Pysyk, D, WHL
At 6’1″ and around 175lbs, Pysyk isn’t physically intimidating, but plays intelligently and is a solid two-way player. As Gonchar nears his end (whether this year or in a couple of years), Pittsburgh could use a good blueline prospect in the system.
21. Detroit – Evgeny Kuznetsov, C/LW, KHL
Kuznetsov’s low ranking across the mock boards is more to do with his contract situation, as he is locked into a deal in the KHL. But Detroit is the perfect team to take a gamble on him, as their prospects usually take a few years to make it through their system as their players are locked into contracts at the NHL level. After a couple of years in the KHL, Kuznetsov could be persuaded to play with fellow countryman Pavel Datsyuk.
22. Phoenix – Charlie Coyle, RW, EJHL
Probably a very charitable ranking here for Coyle, but I think he is a sleeper. 72 points in 47 games is good no matter what league you are in, and at 6’2″ and over 200lbs he is built for the pro game.
23. Buffalo – Tyler Pitlick, C, WCHA
Buffalo has went on record recently indicating that their draft lists are heavily favoured toward North American skaters for fear that Europeans will flee to their homeland if they don’t find immediate success. Pitlick fits the bill, and had 11 goals as a freshman at Minnesota State. Freshmen typically don’t get a lot of chances to shine in college, so he could be far more talented than we are led to believe.
24. Atlanta (from NJ) – Quinton Howden, C/LW, WHL
This is the pick Atlanta received in the Kovalchuk trade, and the Devils surely thought this was going to land closer to 30. The Thrashers would be thrilled to see Howden fall to them, as the speedy forward was a point per game player last year and is also solid defensively.
25. Vancouver – Jarred Tinordi, D, USHL
Vancouver desperately needs blueline depth, as they have been exposed by the Blackhawks’ forecheck in the last two playoffs. The 6’6″ giant has shut-down potential.
26. Washington – John McFarland, C, OHL
The Capitals should have two solid rookie defenders in their lineup next year (John Carlson, Karl Alzner), so they could look for a forward here. He had a fantastic combine that turned a lot of heads, and almost overshadowed a subpar offensive season. Still, he is speedy with a good shot, and would fit right into Washington’s system.
27. Montreal – Riley Sheahan, C, CCHA
It has been well documented that Montreal lacks size, and the 6’2″ Sheahan could be a great remedy for that. He is thought to be a skilled offensive player, but playing in the defensive-heavy Notre Dame system didn’t showcase that.
28. San Jose – Calvin Pickard, G, WHL
There aren’t many who believe that two goalies will be taken in the first round, but with news out that the Sharks won’t bring back Nabokov, this is a great opportunity for them to nab their goaltender of the future. After Pickard, there is quite a drop in goalie talent.
29. Anaheim (from Philadelphia) – Jaden Schwartz, C, USHL
This pick is from the Chris Pronger trade last offseason. Only 5’10”, Schwartz isn’t physically imposing, but he is a gifted offensive player. He had 33 goals and 50 assists in 60 games last year.
30. Chicago – Beau Bennett, RW, BCJHL
Bennett is a polarizing figure in the draft. He is 6’1″ but less than 180lbs. He scored 120 points in 56 games last season, but in a weak league. He could go anywhere from 12-45. With Chicago poised to deal a couple of forwards this offseason, look for them to draft one here.