After the glitz and glamour of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft subsided we were left with a few key questions. Why was Player A taken over Player B? Why did the Sharks give up so much for Brent Burns? The Winnipeg Jets took who?
The most prominent among them: Who is NHL ready?
In dynasty or keeper leagues, these new draftees should be targeted. Although hockey as a draft is much closer to baseball with regards to immediate value – players usually develop in two to five seasons – those players who make an immediate impact likely become solid NHL players. Imagine actually taking Steven Stamkos in your keeper league draft back in 2008. Now imagine passing over Stamkos. Better safe than sorry, in my opinion.
Without further ado, here are some players who might make the NHL next season.
Gabriel Landeskog, RW, Colorado Avalanche
Landeskog was selected at the number two slot, which is telling to how much this team values him. Not that he lacks the talent of a second overall pick but most people simply thought the Avs would select Larsson or draft-riser Jonathan Huberdeau. Nevertheless, the Avs chose a player they felt would fit right into their style of play and Landeskog could do that as soon as next season. The team typically chooses high-character personalities so his leadership as the youngest and only European captain in the 40 years of the Kitchener Rangers could translate directly into NHL play.
Considering the team’s solid depth down the middle, Landeskog could find himself on the wing of Matt Duchene or Paul Stastny. Luckily, the kid can score. Through only 53 games the Swedish import knocked 36 goals into the net. In fact, his draft stock only fell due to an injury, not skill or inability to perform at a higher level. The Avs are banking on him making the team next year, transitioning successfully and helping shape their young core of forwards.
First-year projection: 20G, 15A, 35PTS, -10, 50PIM
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Edmonton Oilers
Of course, the first overall selection should make his way to the NHL the following season. Every top forward since 2005 made the show with every number one pick becoming at least a serviceable NHL player. While Nugent-Hopkins does not hold the same esteem as John Tavares or Taylor Hall, he should play similar to Patrick Kane, who found a way to score at a very low weight during his first NHL season.
Nugent-Hopkins also believes he will be ready despite his weight, as he told Bill Whitehead of NHLhotstove.com:
“I just need to start filling out, and I think I have the time. I’m working back home (in Burnaby, B.C.) with a trainer. I’m trying to put on weight, but I don’t want to put on any fat. I just need to put on muscle and good healthy weight. I think I definitely will fill out and put on more weight.”
Just the words fantasy owners need to hear. He projects somewhere between Pavel Datsyuk and Duchene, so expecting a similar transition to the latter would not be out of the question.
First-year projection: 19G, 24A, 43PTS, -9, 22PIM
Adam Larsson, D, New Jersey Devils
As the top defenseman selected, Larsson represents the most-NHL ready defender. Taken at the fourth overall position will liken Larsson to former third overall pick Scott Niedermayer, but these two are completely different players. His low-end potential would project Larsson as a Mattias Ohlund-type while his hype makes him the second coming of Nicklas Lidstrom. Since there is only one Lidstrom and will probably only be one of him, we feel much more comfortable placing him on the lower end of the spectrum, especially during his rookie season. Think Victor Hedman for that matter — solid, reliable and mobile.
Playing against men, Larsson did not post high offensive totals. Considering his team held offensive defenseman David Rundblad and the Devils hold no such puck-mover/scorer we feel he might actually produce better at the NHL level. Very rarely do we see an uptick from production from other leagues to the NHL but Larsson may just do that as the potential blue-line leader which will feed a strong and budding offense.
First-year projection: 3G, 25A, 28PTS, +3, 40PIM
Sean Couturier, C, Philadelphia Flyers
While most people project Brayden Schenn to make the team directly out of training camp, Couturier could be the wild card in Philadelphia. Earlier in the season, this center with size drew comparisons to Sidney Crosby since he was the last QMJHL player to be taken first overall. Although those comparisons dropped as fast as Couturier’s stock, it goes to say the Flyers found a nice two-way prospect whose defensive responsibility would make him a perfect fit as their third line center.
Couturier managed to play through mono, which took his strength away but did not stop him from posting 96 points in 58 games. Another season in the Q, where his offensive skills get more honed than his defensive game, might only be a regression which makes him a perfect candidate to make the leap this upcoming season.
First-year projection: 13G, 15A, 28PTS, +1, 38PIM
One thing you might notice from our projections is these rookies may not produce this season. In fact, if you expected anything from Tyler Seguin or Hall you were likely equally disappointed. Regardless, all of these players should continue to improve at the NHL level, making them solid bets in any dynasty or keeper league.
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