Unlike last season when the first overall pick was a two man race between Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, this season there are at least five players who could be selected at number one. Once again, it’s the Edmonton Oilers who earned the right to choose first. With the NHL combine set to begin on May 30th, Oilers scouts will have their work cut out for them. The latest draft rankings have Red Deer Rebel’s center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as the top rated prospect, and Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson is ranked first among European skaters. Kitchener Rangers winger Gabriel Landeskog owns the number two spot. Drummondville center Sean Couturier was ranked in that second spot earlier in the year but slipped to number 6. Defenseman Ryan Murphy, while ranked at number 9, is projected to be a top blueliner. The Oilers have a lot of needs to fill out on their roster including a top d-man and first line center. While pundits predict they’ll go with Nugent-Hopkins, it really is a mystery at this point in time. But there is another prospect that has been opening some eyes, likely prompting Oilers scouts to pay close attention to the 2011 Memorial Cup in Mississauga.
Saint John Sea Dogs center Jonathan Huberdeau has quietly moved up in the rankings, and his performance in the Memorial Cup will garner much attention. The 6″1, 170 pound centerman scored 43 goals and 105 points for the Sea Dogs this season, good for third overall in the QMJHL and finished first with a plus 59 rating. He has helped lead Saint John to the QMJHL championship and has a goal and assist so far in the Memorial Cup tournament. The Sea Dogs are 1-0 with a crucial match-up tonight against Owen Sound. Huberdeau is a talented playmaker, with soft hands and great skating ability. He has a wicked shot, making him an offensive threat whenever he’s on the ice. He’s not afraid to go the dirty areas and has great puck protection skills. While Huberdeau still needs to add some pounds onto his smallish frame, he’s the kind of kid willing to put the work in and is said to be a great teammate.
It might be a stretch for Huberdeau to go to the Oilers in the draft, but without a clear cut superstar in the rankings, Edmonton would be well served to take a hard look at the Sea Dogs forward. He’s versatile and can play wing as well as center. Some argue the Oilers biggest need is a solid two-way defenseman, and there’s a good chance it could be Larsson. Last season, they picked the best player available in Taylor Hall. With all the prospects being so close in talent, will the Oilers decide to fill a void in what they hope is the last time they get the first overall pick?
(The 2011 NHL draft begins on June 24th in Minnesota. Click here for the full draft rankings.)