With just over 24 hours separating us from the first pick of the 2011 NHL draft, team preferences are beginning to crystallize. To that end, we've adjusted our mock draft for the final time, including a few changes to the top five.
We've also saved the best for last, with a new contributor to our draft coverage providing deeper analysis than ever before. Grant Sonier has worked as the assistant general manager with the Florida Panthers, and over the past seven years has served as a scout for the L.A. Kings, Boston Bruins and the Atlanta Thrashers. After spending the season scouting for this draft, Sonier parted ways with the Thrashers following their relocation to Winnipeg. Now he'll be providing readers with in-depth "Scout's takes" on each of the picks in this mock draft, as well as live commentary in the NHL Draft Blog during Friday's first round.
But first, a final look at our projection for the first round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Red Deer (WHL)
RN-H has the highest upside in the draft, but he's not the most pro-ready. GM Steve Tambellini is saying that upside trumps immediate returns. GMs always say that it's best to let the players not yet physically ready for prime time grow their game in junior hockey or the NCAA ranks. In Nugent-Hopkins' case, the potential rewards for next season don't warrant the risks.
Scout's take: An evasive, slick player who can play sooner rather than later regardless of size and strength issues. With his skating and skills, he causes defenses to back off, creating time and space for him to use his creativity. Nugent-Hopkins plays in the dirty areas of the ice, an added bonus for such a skilled player. I saw him play as a 17-year-old on the road against the other team's best and older players. Among his peers at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament in Slovakia, he was a star, as he was in the CHL prospect game.