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Darryl's Dispatch: Top Ten Draft Prospects

Darryl Houston Smith

Darryl Houston Smith

Darryl is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and in 2011-12 won the CBSSports.com Experts Fantasy Hockey League title. Find more of his work at ProHockeyWeekly.com or BlogTalkRadio. Follow him on Twitter at @dhoustonsmith.

There are many paths to winning. Putting together a team that can contend year in and year out is the goal of every manager but very few achieve it. A lot of factors go into putting together a champion but the most important is maintaining a steady stream of young talent and a successful draft remains the key to insuring that influx of young prospects remains in your franchise pipeline.

2011 NHL Entry Draft Top 10 Profiles

1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Red Deer Rebels, Western Hockey League
Hometown: Burnaby, British Columbia
Position/Shoots: Center/Left
Height, Weight: Six feet, 170 pounds
2010-11 regular-season stats: 31 goals, 75 assists in 69 games
NHL Central Scouting ranking (North America): First
International Scouting Service ranking: First
Hockey News: First
Fast Fact: No WHL player has been taken first overall in the NHLentrydraftsince Ottawa picked Chris Phillips (Prince Albert Raiders) in 1996.
What Scouts Say: "He's a highly skilled intelligent player with great vision and hockey sense, he's more of a passer and a playmaker than he is a shooter, but he's deceptively good at shooting the puck. He's a very creative player."

Houston Smith's Profile: Nugent-Hopkins is the most dynamic offensive player available in the 2011 NHL Entry draft bar none. In my opinion he is the most exciting offensive player to come out of the Alberta since Dany Heatley. Nugent-Hopkins combines above-average stick handling, hockey sense, and a preternatural ability to create offensive opportunities. A gifted skater with the ability to shift gears on the fly, Nugent-Hopkins has the on ice vision and instincts to make him very hard to defend against. The one knock against him is that he is never going to be a physically imposing player. I disagree with that. I believe he is tough enough to take the hits that are necessary when you carry the puck as often as he does. Nugent-Hopkins has worked with a strength-and-fitness coach since he was 10 years old and this dedication continues to pay off. At the recent NHL draft combine, he had already added seven lbs of muscle and is now at 170 lbs. He is also a fearless competitor who will make hits and play down low in the slot as well. Nugent-Hopkins has "star" written all over him.

2. Gabriel Landeskog

Kitchener Rangers, Ontario Hockey League
Hometown: Stockholm, Sweden
Position/Shoots: Wing/Left
Height, Weight: Six feet, 195 pounds
2010-11 regular-season stats: 36 goals, 30 assists in 53 games
NHL Central Scouting ranking (North America): Second
International Scouting Service ranking: Fifth
Hockey News: Third
Fast Fact: Was the first European captain of the Kitchener Rangers (founded in 1963).
What Scouts Say: "Gabriel does remind me of former Kitchener Ranger (and Philadelphia Flyers captain) Mike Richards. He sticks up for his teammates and is as strong at both ends of the rink as any player in the draft this year. He competes as hard if not harder than anybody. He's got all the assets that you need to be a team leader and, for a potential No. 1 overall, that's what you would want."

Houston Smith's Profile: Landeskog is, in my opinion, the player closest to being NHL ready. He has it all. A complete player, Landeskog is an above-average skater and a true power forward. Landeskog was the first non-Canadian captain in the history of the Kitchener Rangers (OHL). His leadership abilities and character are impeccable. A tough player who excels in all special team situations -- block shots, score timely goals, and make big hits. Landeskog wil be the first in his draft class to notch a Gordie Howe hat trick, mark my words.

3. Jonathan Huberdeau

Saint John Sea Dogs, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
Hometown: St-Jerome, Quebec
Position/Shoots: Centre/Left
Height, Weight: Six foot one, 168 pounds
2010-11 regular-season stats: 43 goals, 62 assists in 67 games
NHL Central Scouting ranking (North America): Third
International Scouting Service ranking: Third
Hockey News: Fifth
Fast Fact: Won the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the most valuable player at the 2011 Memorial Cup.
What Scouts Say: "Sean Couturier is in his third full year in the Q and far more physically developed than Huberdeau. Yet, Huberdeau, in his second Q season, is the more assertive and aggressive player, and we believe he's performing at a higher level right now than Couturier was at this time last year when he won the Quebec League scoring crown."

Houston Smith's Profile: Huberdeau is an unselfish player with terrific offensive skills. He plays well in traffic and has a high hockey IQ. He will be a top level playmaker and will score his fair share. His one weakness is that he can be neutralized along the boards. To be effective, Huberdeau needs open ice. He also needs to add some bulk to his current weight of 165 lbs which he should be able to do in time.

4. Adam Larsson

Skelleftea, Swedish Elite League
Hometown: Skelleftea, Sweden
Position/shoots: Defense/Right
Height, Weight: Six-foot-three, 200 pounds
2010-11 regular season: One goal, eight assists in 37 games
NHL Central Scouting ranking (Europe): First
International Scouting Service ranking: Second
Hockey News: Second
Fast Fact: This season's production was hampered by a lingering groin injury.
What Scouts Say: "I don't know that he's better with the puck than Erik Karlsson or Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but he's a notch above them with his physical game. I like him even more than Viktor Hedman. And everything I hear from people who know him is that he's a first-rate character guy."

Houston Smith's Profile: Big and tough, Larsson will play a lot of minutes in the NHL right away. A complete two-way player, Larsson has good puck handling abilities, is a strong passer and has exceptional hockey sense. He can handle point duties on a power play and has a heavy shot and is Mr. Cool under pressure. A strong skater, he will need to step up physically to make the transitions from SEL to the NHL but should be considered ahead of the other D-men in the class of 2011 at this point.

5. Dougie Hamilton

Niagara IceDogs, Ontario Hockey League
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario
Position/Shoots: Defense/Right
Height, Weight: Six foot four, 193 pounds
2010-11 regular-season stats: 12 goals, 46 assists in 67 games
NHL Central Scouting ranking (North America): Fourth
International Scouting Service ranking: Sixth
Hockey News: 10th
Fast Fact: Both of Hamilton's parents were Olympians.
Fast Fact II: His older brother Freddie was a fifth-round steal by the San Jose Sharks in the 2010NHL Entry Draft.
What Scouts Say: "I think Dougie's a guy that will give you offence, but he's going to be a guy that's extremely hard to play against. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Jay Bouwmeester but at times he's got a tenacity to him like he's almost a little bit of a Chris Pronger."

Houston Smith's Profile: Son of two Olympians, Hamilton has size, power and strength. He also is an excellent skater and has a strong shot from the point. Hamilton also excelled in the class room while at Niagara (OHL) and was named to the All-Scholastic Team. Hamilton is a tough kid, a real battler. Like Larsson, he is a complete two-way player. He lacks only Larsson's international experience at this time in their careers.

6. Sean Couturier

Drummondville Voltigeurs, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona
Position/Shoots: Center/Left
Height, Weight: Six foot four, 195 pounds
2010-11 regular-season stats: 36 goals, 60 assists in 58 games
NHL Central Scouting ranking (North America): Sixth
International Scouting Service ranking: Fourth
Hockey News: Fourth
Fast Fact: Born in Phoenix while his father (ex-NHL player) Sylvain was playing for the International Hockey League's Phoenix Roadrunners.
What Scouts Say: "Some guys look at Couturier and see Vinny Prospal, a guy who is very good when he's good but not great and won't ever be a franchise guy. Couturier is never going to pile up points like Joe Thornton, but he is a complete player. I liken him to Jonathan Toews if you correct his footwork, Mikko Koivu if he struggles to score. He's a complete player. If he struggles to score and [with] his skating, the downside is that he will be more like Prospal and rely on good players around him."

Houston Smith's Profile: Big and solid two-way player, Couturier has size and determination to become one of the best in the game. He has a high hockey IQ and is more than willing to play any role to help his team win. Couturier's only weakness is his average skating ability. Nevertheless, he's a fine player with the ability to score and will be very solid pro.

7. Ryan Strome

Niagara IceDogs, Ontario Hockey League
Hometown: Mississauga, Ontario
Position/Shoots: Center/Right
Height, Weight: Six feet, 183 pounds
2010-11 regular season: 33 goals, 73 assists in 65 games
NHL Central Scouting ranking (North America): Eighth
International Scouting Service ranking: Ninth
Hockey News: Sixth
Fast Fact: Strome had 27 points as a rookie in the OHL with Barrie and Niagara, but his 106 points in his second season to lead all almost all Major Junior scorers (Strome finished tied with Nugent-Hopkins (106) and ahead of Huberdeau (105).
Fast Fact II: In his rookie year Strome was traded to Niagara in exchange for Alex Pietrangelo, who went on to become a first-rounddraftpick of the St. Louis Blues.
What Scouts Say: "This could be a real hit-or-miss pick for a team taking him in the top ten. He could be an all-star with proper development. There's a solid chance he'll be a second-line center, and you want more when you're picking that high in the first round."

Houston Smith's Profile: Dynamic playmaker and strong skater with a very good shot, Strome is a very good shot. His one weakness is that he is a bit soft defensive but with experience and hard work, he should become a good two-way player.

8. Ryan Murphy

Kitchener Rangers, Ontario Hockey League
Hometown: Aurora, Ontario
Position/Shoots: Defense/Right
Height, Weight: Five foot ten, 176 pounds
2010-11 regular season: 26 goals, 53 assists in 63 games
NHL Central Scouting ranking (North America): Ninth
International Scouting Service ranking: Eighth
Hockey News: Seventh
Fast Fact: Murphy's 79 points were second only to Windsor's Ryan Ellis in scoring among OHL defenseman this past season.
What Scouts Say: "Murphy is a better skater than Ellis and Ellis has a cannon back at that point, Ellis is shorter but he's strong in the lower body. That shows up in the numbers; Ellis is around 180 and Murphy is 20 pounds lighter."

Houston Smith's Profile: Murphy has the best offensive skill set of the 2011 class. He's a great skater and puck handler but lacks size and strength. Very aggressive and dynamic, but will need to be paired with a stay-at-home defenseman to reach his full potential. Bigger forwards have always given him a lot of trouble in the defensive end. But with added experience and his speed upside, Murphy will be hard for a team to pass up. He needs experience as he tends to rely on his wheels a little too much and at times appears reckless and undisciplined.

9. Oscar Klefbom

Farjestad, Swedish Elite League
Hometown: Karlstad, Sweden
Position/Shoots: Defense/Left
Height, Weight: Six foot four, 200 pounds
2010-11 stats: One goals, one assists in 23 games
Mid-seasonNHLCentral Scouting ranking (Europe): Sixth
International Scouting Service ranking: 10th
Hockey News: 37th
Fast Fact: Teammate and defensive partner Jonas Brodin were born both born in only eight days apart.
What Scouts Say: "Big, smooth skating, and powerful with great vision and passing skills. Raw as hell on the defensive side of the game, but we'd take a chance on teaching him about his own end."
Houston Smith's Profile: Klefbom is a tremendous skater and top-notch passer. He excels at the power play and can handle the point well. He has size and strength to be a force in all three zones and just needs to add experience.

10. Rocco Grimaldi

USNDTP (U-18), USHL
Hometown: Rossmoor, California
Position/Shoots: Center/Right
Height, Weight: Five foot six, 163 pounds
2010-11 regular-season stats: 34 goals, 28 assists in 50 games
NHL Central Scouting ranking (North America): 32nd
International Scouting Service ranking: 15th
Hockey News: 32nd
Fast Fact: Though he considers himself a Michigander, his family relocated to Ann Arbor in order for Grimaldi to face better competition in 2005, Grimaldi was born in Southern California. What Scouts Say: "He's good in traffic and he's elusive. Once you get by how he looks, his height, and see what he gets done, you realize that he's making things happen every shift."

Houston Smith's Profile: Very small but gifted skater, Grimaldi is very physical and is fearless. He can create his own space due to his skating ability and great ice vision. He can score and also is a strong playmaker.