The World Junior Championship is past us and the CHL Top Prospects game is this week, so the timing is perfect to once again delve into the hottest names available for the 2011 draft in Minnesota. Even though not all the players made the cut for the world juniors, the tourney did shed some valuable light.
1. Adam Larsson, D – Skelleftea (Swe.)
As the world juniors went on, Larsson got stronger and stronger. The big defenseman was easily the Swedes’ best player in the medal round and showcased some nifty offensive panache on top of his usual stellar defensive play. The fact some of the worst teams in the NHL right now (New Jersey, Edmonton, the Islanders) could use a blueliner more than a forward also work in his favor for the top spot.
Scout says: “He’s pretty complete. Offensive skill, defensive skill, size…he never panics with the puck.”
2. Sean Couturier, C – Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)
The fact Couturier made the cut for Canada’s world junior team is a great checkmark on his resume and balances off the fact his projected weight gain over the summer was slowed by mono. Couturier had an up-and-down tourney in Buffalo, but his ability to dominate with the puck thanks to his big frame is undeniable.
Scout says: “He can create a scoring chance from anywhere in the offensive zone and he makes his linemates look better.”
3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
Nugent-Hopkins has been steadily increasing his numbers this season and his WJC cut shouldn’t be agonized over. The key to ‘The Nuge’ is his potential and upside. The creativity, the hands, the vision – it may take a few years to hone, but it’s undoubtedly there. Filling out his frame is job No. 1.
Scout says: “It’s his pro potential you want. That upside is so big. The criticism of him is how fragile he looks, but I’ve seen him throw some big hits.”
4. Gabriel Landeskog, RW – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
When you’re drawing comparisons to Flyers captain (and former Ranger) Mike Richards, it’s safe to say people like your game. Landeskog is captain of his team, despite being an import from Sweden, blocks shots, fights for teammates and puts up numbers. A high-ankle sprain limited him to one WJC contest and he will miss some time because of it.
Scouts says: “He plays a real NHL-style game. He plays hard in all three zones and he’s great in the tough areas.”
5. Jonathan Huberdeau, C – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Sits second in Quebec League scoring with 67 points in 43 games, ahead of Couturier. Huberdeau has been a star on a loaded Sea Dogs squad and isn’t afraid to fight through traffic in order to get his points. Had an insanely good December with 20 points in 11 games.
Scout says: “He’s getting better all the time. Great hands, great speed, increasingly greater upside.”
6. Ryan Strome, C – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
One of the most creative and entertaining players in the draft this year, Strome has a lacrosse background and YouTube highlights loaded into his stick. He has five multi-point games in seven January outings and sits fourth in Ontario League scoring with 65 points in 42 games.
Scout says: “He competes hard on pucks. He’s crafty. When he loses the puck, he works hard to get it back.”
7. Brandon Saad, LW – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
The big-bodied power forward didn’t make Team USA’s world junior squad, but no 2011 skaters did, so he shouldn’t take it personally. Saad has developed a very nice two-way game in Saginaw and his offensive upside has always been a known entity. He’s tough to stop once he gets control of the puck and moves well for a big player.
Scout says: “You get excited about the points that you hope will come from him in the future.”
8. Dougie Hamilton, D – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
One of the top scorers from the blueline in the OHL, Hamilton also boasts a robust plus-29 rating. A great passer with a 6-foot-4, 193-pound frame, Hamilton moves well and has excellent vision on the ice. Definitely a two-way threat and he also has loads of character.
Scout says: “Has the offensive ability and skill set to contribute and the size, composure and toughness to be a shut-down guy.”
9. Joel Armia, RW – Assat Pori (Fin.)
More was expected from Armia at the world juniors, as he registered just one assist in six games for the Finns, who started out strong before wilting in the medal round. Armia is a big-bodied kid who can put the puck in the net and play physically, but he’ll need some more time to develop. The fact he started his Finnish SM-liiga season on a tear really vaulted his name into the 2011 conversation.
Scout says: “He had a pretty up-and-down tournament. I’m sure (the Finns) would have liked to see more from him, but you can see his potential.”
10. Zack Phillips, RW – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Another high-end, offensively gifted member of the Sea Dogs, Phillips is enjoying a breakout season in the ‘Q’ with 27 goals and 62 points in 43 games, not to mention a stellar plus-31 rating. He has good size at 6-foot-1, 186 pounds and was held off the scoresheet just once in 11 December contests.
Scout says: “I’m sure he will be moving up the rankings. Game after game he shows you new stuff.”
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays and his prospect feature The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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