For a description of the methodology in these rankings, including the Projected Peak and Statistical Comparables (courtesy of Iain Fyffe), please see the Introduction. We'll be revealing more of the Top 100 every few days leading up to the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Full list of Top 100 NHL Draft Prospects
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Center, Red Deer-WHL
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might be the highest upside prospect amongst the 2011 draft class. He's one of the rare players who you can hang a 70 on his puck skills and feel completely confident about it. His skating is an above-average tool, and while he doesn't really excel in regards to high-end speed (but can reach an average level when he gets going), the other aspects of his skating are what makes it so desirable; his acceleration is very good, and he can reach top-speed within a few strides. He extends very well with a good fluid stride and once he builds up more leg strength, it looks good enough to add onto his speed level. His agility may be the best aspect of his skating, as Ryan is brilliant with his edge work and ability to out-maneuver defenders. His balance is also notable, and he regularly will be engaged from the back along the sideboards, stay up, and slide off the contact. Nugent-Hopkin's puck skills are elite and you can't say enough good things about what he does with the puck. His combination of vision, hands, and passing ability are the best in the draft and truly separate him as a prospect from the rest of the class. When combined with his hockey sense and agility, Nugent-Hopkins does things at such a quick and efficient pace while creating a ton of offense. His vision is plus and he can regularly thread mid to long distance passes and be a reliable power play quarterback from the sideboards. While he might not be putting up gaudy goal totals, Nugent Hopkin's shot is a notable tool and there's definitely some projection in that area. Ryan's physical game is the most common question mark placed on his game which is due to a frame that is very wiry and projects as below-average at the next level unless he puts on a significant amount of weight. Despite that weakness, Ryan does work very hard on the ice and it helps him to a degree overcome the frame issue because he has the right intangibles to survive on the ice when he needs to out battle bigger players and he does do so with on a notable basis. His work ethic also shows up in other areas such as his ability to forecheck, going hard to the net and his defensive work.
Projected Peak GVT: 10.2
Statistical Comparable: Adam Deadmarsh
Ranking Explanation: This draft class has gotten the image that its top-tier has no separation and all the top prospects are very close. I personally do not see it this way. Each prospect in the rest of the top-tier has some aspect(s) of their game that are very good and have upside that is significantly above-average, but there is only one who has true elite potential and has a decent projection in regards to possibility of achieving it and that is Nugent-Hopkins. His high-end combination of puck skills and hockey intelligence will be able to control possession at the highest level and do it at a significant production point. The fact that his even-strength production was not good this season is concerning, and kept this decision from being a slam-dunk to just being somewhat easy, but the fact is that he has all the indications of someone who projects well in the possession game. Once he puts a little more muscle onto his body it will help too. While I can't blame poor luck without better available statistics in the WHL, I'm inclined to believe that was a factor in his lack of ES scoring as that's usually the answer in a single season sample when all signs are pointing to a certain result and that isn't obtained. Nugent-Hopkins having the high-end puck tools and no glaring projectable weakness makes him in my opinion a clear number one prospect in this draft class.
2. Sean Couturier, Center, Drummondville-QMJHL
Sean Couturier exploded onto the scene last season in the QMJHL and quickly established himself onto the top tier for this year's draft class and throughout this season he has maintained that high level of play. Outside of his skating, just about every tool of Sean's is above-average at the least with several touching plus level. Sean has well above-average puck skills for a big man with the kind of hand-eye coordination that helps him do things out of the ordinary. He is very good at deflecting shots, getting his stick on loose pucks and while he isn't the kind of guy who will try to deke through several defenders at a time, he does has solid maneuvering ability with the puck and does on occasion make a one-on-one move that draws the rink's attention. His greatest asset though has to be his head and how he thinks the game. He consistently executes on passes and the speed at which he makes good decisions with the puck will translate seamlessly to the NHL game. He does so many little things right and at a quality level, be it on the forecheck, positioning, play in front of the net, on defense that's it's hard to imagine him needed a significant amount of coaching at the technical level when he goes pro. His shooting ability and projections as a goal-scorer are also notable. Couturier has solid mechanics on his shot be it on his weight distribution when he's moving towards the net or by leaning into his shot from a standstill. The velocity on his wrister is plus and while he can score from a distance, he regularly goes to the net and the high percentage areas for a lot of his goals. He can do that because he's a pretty big guy. At 6'4" and still growing into his body, Couturier has the physical projection to be well above-average to plus at the NHL level which when combined with his skill set makes you understand his desirable potential. The only thing that will hold Couturier back is his skating tool, because as it stands now it grades as fringe to below-average. Mind you, Sean has made strides to improve in that area and it's far ahead of where it was 1-2 years ago, but it's still not at pro-level. When he gets going in full stride he can approach fringe-average level and with how the stride looks mechanics-wise now there is chance for improvement if he continues to put development work in that area.
Projected Peak GVT: 12.4
Statistical Comparable: Brad Richards
Ranking Explanation: Couturier has gotten some knocks this season for numerous things, with the primary one being his skating tool. While I am concerned by his skating, the fact is that Couturier does everything else besides moving at a high or very high level. His skill set across the board is very impressive and that in my opinion is the sole thing I can nitpick that is at a below-average level. Strome and Huberdeau are better with the puck and both have slightly more offensive upside, but it's not enough to justify me putting them over Couturier when Sean's combination of smarts, physical attributes and skill tools make him a safer bet, even with a tad lower offensive ceiling. With the marginal Goals Versus Salary across higher GVT production points being much smaller than across the rest, it makes more sense to take the more developed, surer bet than taking risks on a possibly better player unless there is a high degree of certainty in that upside. I can't say that about Ryan Strome or Jonathan Huberdeau (although I can make a decent argument for Strome, just not strong enough) to justify putting them over him.
3. Ryan Strome, Center, Niagara-OHL
One of the best skill sets in the entire draft belongs to the Niagara centerman whose stock rose astronomically over this past OHL season. Ryan Strome has true plus puck skills and can at times flash beyond plus and is extremely dangerous when he has the puck. He is able to beat defenders in many ways, be it with superb puck-handling and simply faking them out, he can use his lower body to fend pressure off, and he has the passing skills to make crisp, accurate passes without even looking at his target. Strome gets very low on the puck when he has possession and while he may make himself smaller at times, it makes him a pain to try and strip off the puck. Strome consistently goes to the goal-mouth area and has displayed a notably accurate wrist shot. I'm not in love with his shot mechanics as I've seen at times that he lets the puck get too far up his stick blade, but it's a small nitpick that can be coached out. His skating ability may touch average, but that's mostly due to his balance and agility as he does lack a top gear to threaten pro defenders. However the fact his stride is good mechanics-wise and you can see the strength coming in his legs in first few steps leaves me unconcerned with how his skating will project at the next level. Strome is about average size but in regards to his physical game it is at the least notable as in viewings he would win his fair share of 50/50 battles and his work ethic is definitely what you want in a pro prospect. He consistently displays impressive vision and creativity, and his offensive awareness carries over to his defensive game. Strome is just a very complete prospect, and it's very hard to find any reason why he won't be a top scorer at the next level.
Projected Peak GVT: 8.2
Statistical Comparable: Stu Barnes
Ranking Explanation: Strome gets this high ranking because of his tremendous abilities on the puck and how good he is at controlling the possession game. His two biggest strengths are in the two most critical areas for forwards, being puck abilities and smarts and both of those tools are high end. The only reason he comes in at three and isn't taking a swing at the #1 spot is the fact the rest of his skill set doesn't have a significant asset. He's extremely good at what he does, and average at the rest. What keeps him over Huberdeau despite the fact Huberdeau is a bit better at scoring is his higher upside seen in his puck skills. Some scouts point towards his physical game as a weakness, but I don't see it. He's not a crasher, and he's not big but he's good in the aspects of the physical game that matter. He's strong on the puck which keeps play flowing, and does fine in puck battles. He's no beast in that aspect, but Strome is good enough to make him fine in the physical aspect of the game. With a decent, well-rounded game and with some high-end possession assets, he gets the number three spot.
4. Jonathan Huberdeau, Center, Saint John-QMJHL
Jonathan Huberdeau's stock rose this season with a dominant season for the powerhouse Saint John Sea Dogs and turned the argument from being a player who may go in the first to one who was locked into the lottery range. Jonathan's puck skills and vision are what drives his value; he has plus puck skills and plus vision as a playmaker. He's a terrific one-on-one player who can stick-handle his way out of pressure and he can weave through defenders on the rush. He shows unique creativity on the ice and can make plays with the puck that most pros even can't, be it making mid-distance passes from awkward angles or maintaining control of the puck while deking through the tightest of spaces. He regularly makes above-average passes and shows no signs of selfishness. On the flip side though, when there are no options open, Huberdeau sometimes tries to be a tad too fancy with the puck which results in careless turnovers. Jonathan's a decent skater at best, but he displays good power in his extensions with solid acceleration and a mechanically sound stride that projects well down the line to possibly becoming slightly above average. From a physical standpoint, Huberdeau is still very wiry and has to put on a ton of muscle, though he doesn't shy from going to the net or engaging physically but usually is outmatched. His 43 goals this year are a testament to his work in the high percentage areas and displayed an above-average finishing touch from beyond the crease area. While his vision and offensive awareness are very good, defensively he's a liability, be it with lazy plays coming back or poor positioning in his own end. While listed as a center and he can play it, he played the season for the most part at left wing and likely will project as one at the next level until his game rounds out.
Projected Peak GVT: 13.0
Statistical Comparable: Alex Tanguay
Ranking Explanation: Huberdeau comes in after Larsson by a decent margin, and that's mainly due to the fact he is a plus puck-handler and plus thinker who can score and has some other decent tools, while Larsson is simply above-average at a lot of things, but can't claim to be at that higher level. Between Strome and Huberdeau, there were a couple of slight differences. One is I had Strome's puck skills at one grade higher than Huberdeau, and I was somewhat concerned with his defensive game. I had Huberdeau's scoring tools as a grade higher, but really the difference between Strome and Huberdeau is very slight. Despite Huberdeau's higher Peak GVT (which I think is a slight byproduct of his Quality of Teammates that the Projectinator cannot account for) I have Strome at a higher upside and that ultimately was the edge.
5. Adam Larsson, Defense, Skelleftea-SEL
Adam Larsson created a real buzz in the prospect world when he was logging top pairing minutes as a 17 year old in the Swedish Elite League. His overall game in respect to his age is advanced compared to where most first round defense prospects are usually at, but while he does have a very good skill set, it doesn't warrant the kind of elite upside that his early climb through professional hockey would indicate. He's a solid skater who can flash above-average when moving in a straight line. He has good agility for a big defender and can move laterally and turn well. His puck skills are above-average in both the puck-handling and passing aspect. He regularly likes to rush the puck up the ice and when he identifies the chance to jump up into the offensive play, he doesn't hesitate. Larsson's executes well as a passer be it with quick breakouts or by opening and identifying lanes on the power play. His shot likely won't be as a legit weapon at the next level, although he can really dial it up on his slap shot. He has a great frame and while last year his physical game was questioned, in many viewings this year his strength and willingness to play physical was notable and it could very likely be an above-average tool by the time he hit his early 20's once he fills out and arguably even plus. The hockey sense as a whole is an above-average tool as he shows a very calm approach to the game and thinks it well. His defensive game is multi-dimensional in that he uses his positioning, stick and physicality to stop forwards.
Projected Peak GVT: 8.3
Statistical Comparable: Mattias Ohlund
Ranking Explanation: As stated before, I thought between the top four prospects and the rest there was a clear separation of talent level so that's why Larsson, Murphy and company fall to fifth overall or below. One of the great debates in this draft has been asking how high Ryan Murphy will go. When it came to ranking him against Larsson, I had to distinguish certain aspects about Murphy. His main strength is his skating, and his main weakness is his frame, but ultimately that's not what I was looking at. The main areas that a defender needs to control the play and be a consistent positive asset are smarts, puck-moving ability, to a lesser degree good physical game and to a lesser degree puck skills. When it came to comparing the two of them, Murphy got a slight edge. When it came to the rest of their games though, the fact Murphy can skate like the wind doesn't concern me that much because in regards to importance I'm not that concerned with the fact he can go end to end, as over the long-term in a hockey season a defender's skating ability is not as important as his other areas. Murphy is a well-rounded defender outside of the size with that one amazing tool, but Larsson is above-average in just about every category, is a much safer bet to pan out and can almost match Murphy in the possession game offensively and does much better defensively, so thereby Larsson gets the slight edge.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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