1) Edmonton Oilers - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Red Deer (WHL)
There's been a ton of debate about who the Oilers were going to choose with the #1 overall selection in the draft. Heading into the combine, there were 2 main candidates - Adam Larsson and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Both would address major holes in the team's depth charts (defense and center), and both have the potential to be all-star caliber talents. However, each of them also had their questions marks. Larsson's declining points totals in the SEL this past season has forced many to wonder if he could ever be an offensive difference-maker in the NHL, while Nugent-Hopkins had been facing much scrutiny for a perceived lack of size and strength. His physical appearance and performance at the combine blew many scouts away. He had shot up from 164lb at the beginning of the season to 177lb at the combine, answering many of his critics. It's no doubt this kid has an unreal offensive package - unbelievable hands, ridiculous speed, and unmatched vision - and many scouts have raved about his commitment to developing a defensive game (although trust me, it's currently average at best when compared with other prospects for this draft). Regardless, he's simply too intelligent and too hard-working a player to think any aspect of the NHL game won't be picked up by the kid. And by helping to diffuse any arguments about his lack of size, I think he's cemented himself as the #1 pick - and as the Oilers' future #1 center for years to come.
Comparables: Joe Sakic, Pavel Datsyuk (high-end), Alex Tanguay (low-end)
2) Colorado Avalanche - Gabriel Landeskog, RW, Kitchener (OHL)
Here's why I think the Avs take Landeskog: Every key young defenseman in their system right now plays right-handed, and they already have their future #1 defenseman in the big-bodied Erik Johnson. What does this have to do with Landeskog? Almost nothing - but it makes drafting the right-handed Larsson unecessary for that team. In addition - key into that equation that they'd traded away their best winger in Chris Stewart, and the questionable futures of young wingers Peter Mueller (concussion) and Tomas Fleischmann (heart) - and drafting the NHL-ready Landeskog becomes the best option for this team. He's physical, he's big, and he can score goals - the perfect compliment to a team featuring strong playmaking centers in Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene.
Comparables: Jarome Iginla, Mike Richards (high-end), Brendan Morrow (low-end)
3) Florida Panthers - Jonathon Huberdeau, C/LW, Saint John (QMJHL)
The Panthers' reason for skipping on Larsson is pretty similar to that of Colorado - they're literally stacked at defense heading forward. They stole Dmitri Kulikov at 13th overall in 2009, and grabbed big Erik Gudbranson at 3rd overall last year. New GM Dave Tallon has placed stress on rebuilding the franchise, and I'd bet he's licking his chops at picking up one of the top forwards in this year's draft. Huberdeau is a LW that can play C, and was the QMJHL Playoff MVP as well as the Memorial Cup MVP (honors Taylor Hall received as a 17-year old as well). He's got an offensive game very similar to Nugent-Hopkins' - great vision, hands, and instincts - however at a level not as high as RNH's. He does seem to be advancing very well along his developmental curve - and could surprise many people with his NHL readiness once pre-season rolls around. I doubt Tallon hesitates in taking him and grooming him into his future #1 C. Kind of like what he did 5 years ago with the #3 pick with Jonathon Toews.
Comparable: Vincent Damphousse, Brad Richards (high-end), Tim Connolly (low-end)
4) New Jersey Devils - Adam Larsson, D, Skelleftea (SEL)
The Devils won the lottery and moved into the top-5, and are probably going to be ecstatic if and when Adam Larsson drops to #4. Their #1 organizational need for the past few years has been at defense, where since the departure of Brian Rafalski in 2007 they have lacked a true top-pairing defenseman. Larsson with his big frame, great hockey sense, and professional experience in the SEL, should be ready to step into the NHL right away for a team that may well be in Cup contention next year. He plays big minutes in all situations, and should be the top-pairing defenseman they've been needing for so long within a few years.
Comparable: Nick Lidstrom (high-end), Matthias Ohlund (low-end)
The Islanders have a pretty strong stable of young players heading forward. They have depth at nearly every position, which makes taking the best player available their only real decision with the #5 pick. Dougie Hamilton is one name that people have tossed around, but with the recent emergence of Andrew McDonald, Travis Hamonic, and Calvin De Haan as legitimate blueliners heading forwad, Hamilton may not be an option.
Sean Couturier has really fallen in the past year, from being the consensus pre-season #1 pick to not even being mentioned in the top-3 at the moment. He's been criticized for a lack of offensive explosiveness, and being slightly too slow for the NHL game. The Islanders aren't really looking for a #1 center - John Tavares has that position locked up heading forward. But with the seemingly failed experiment with Josh Bailey as the #2, I think they're looking for the big-bodied Couturier as their #2 center of the future. He's got a solid 2-way game (which he showed at the 2011 WJHC as a member of Team Canada), and he could be their answer to Ryan Kesler and Vincent Lecavalier heading forward.
Comparables: Vincent Lecavalier (high-end), Jordan Staal (low-end)
There's no doubt in my mind the Senators are going to take a forward. With Erik Karlsson, David Rundblad, and Jared Cowen as their blueliners of the future - there's no need for them to add a player like Hamilton into the fold - as good as defenseman as he is. Mike Zibanejad is a relative newcomer to the discussion of first-round talents - but oh how he has soared. He plays a gritty North American-style game - and works his tail off at both ends of the ice. I like to call him the "Swedish Ryan Kesler" - because that's the type of game he plays. Speed, hitting, relentless puck-hounding, and always attacking the net. Not enough has been made about his point production in the SEL as a rookie, as Zibanejad scored at a Magnus Paajarvi-like clip as a 17-year old. He could be the Sens' future #2 center behind Jason Spezza, a solid replacement for Mike Fisher.
Comparables: Ryan Kesler (high-end), Samuel Pahlsson (low-end)
The Thrashers/Jets have drafted fairly well in recent years, and look set at forward with Evander Kane and Bryan Little leading the charge. In picking Ryan Strome, they're getting a center who plays a speedy skill game and loves to create plays. He led a veteran-laden Niagara team in scoring this past season, and has a skill set similar to RNH/Huberdeau, except he's perhaps a better goalscorer than those two. The reason he's not ranked as high as them is he lacks the high-level vision, and some question his hockey sense. But if he can put those things together, he could be a future #1C for the franchise.
Comparables: Matt Duchene (high-end), Alex Tanguay (low-end)
8) Columbus Blue Jackets - Dougie Hamilton, D, Niagara (OHL)
Think about this: in the history of the Columbus Blue Jackets the team has only ever ONCE had a defenseman score more than 40 points (Jaroslav Spacek, 45p in 2002-2003). For eleven years the franchise has lacked a true offensive defenseman - or even a true #1. Dougie Hamilton, a player who is probably the 4th or 5th best in the draft, would be the perfect addition to their blue line. At 6'4, 190lb, the kid has a bunch of growing to do before being a legitimate NHL player - but the potential to be a top-pairing defenseman is there. He plays the game almost identical to Alex Pietrangelo, another former OHLer who is currently the #1 defenseman for the St. Louis Blues. Although he's a bit rough around the edges, I could see him making the big club in a couple years, and quickly moving up the depth chart.
Comparables: Brent Seabrook, Alex Pietrangelo (high-end), Ladislav Smid (low-end)
9) Boston Bruins - Ryan Murphy, D, Kitchener (OHL)
The Bruins are lucky to have such a high pick in the draft right after a Stanley Cup Final appearance, but such is the brilliance of the Leafs organization (who originally held the pick). The Bruins are stacked at center, leaving them with deciding between a winger or defenseman with the #9. With no real NHL-ready wingers left on the board to help them, they may take a flyer on Ryan Murphy, one of the most offensively dynamic blue liners to come up in recent years. He's an explosive skater with a great break-out pass and incredible offensive instincts, and could be the perfect addition to a team about to lose Tomas Kaberle to UFA. He could be the offensive defenseman of the future for the Bruins. It's a high-risk, high-reward pick because he's only 5'11 - but I think the Bruins are willing to take the risk to put them over the top in contending for the cup in the near future.
Comparables: Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski (high-end), Ian White (low-end)
10) Minnesota Wild - Nathan Beaulieu, D, Saint John (QMJHL)
A team that's losing faith in young Cam Barker and on the verge of moving Brent Burns, the Wild are suddenly looking pretty dry when it comes to defensive depth. The best players after the top-9 are mostly defensemen, and they get to pick between Nathan Beaulieu of the Memorial Cup champion Saint John SeaDogs and Duncan Siemens of the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL. My bet's on them taking the more versatile Beaulieu, who plays a solid 2-way game that can hopefully replace the anticipated output from Cam Barker. He looked brilliant down the stretch, and should be favored over the more physical, defense-first Siemens.
Comparables: Christian Ehrhoff, Ryan Whitney (high-end), Tom Gilbert (low-end)