Editor's Note: Mock draft updated to include Toronto-Boston trade for Tomas Kaberle and Bruins' first-round pick.
It might not be the strongest draft ever, but you'd have to count it as one of the more interesting ones.
The first tier is distinct, as the top four prospects in the 2011 draft have clearly separated themselves from the field. What's more, each of the players looks nothing like the three others.
Swedish D Adam Larsson came into the season as the most finished talent, already having an excellent season as a teen in the Swedish Elite League (SEL). Scouts were familiar with C Sean Couturier, the defending QMJHL scoring champ, getting an eyeful of the big Drummondville center over the previous two seasons. Red Deer C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has a rink-rat's game and a burglar's nerve. Though he's physically behind the other three top prospects (just 170 pounds at 6-foot-1), he's the most capable of making the spectacular play and is the most creative of player in the draft. Kitchener LW Gabriel Landeskog came into the season with question marks attached to his puck skills and scoring, but he put those to rest early in the season.
There's a drop after No. 4 but not a severe one. The next 8-10 players are fairly interchangeable and some have an overlap in skill set. Jonathan Huberdeau and Ryan Strome are centers in the same mold -- with Huberdeau the more consistent, while Strome is more of a highlight-reel player -- but really, who the scouts prefer is a matter of personal taste rather than significant differences in degrees of talent.
After No. 15, form goes out the window. Thirty players (some scouts say it might even be more than that) are candidates to go in the second half of the first round. You can get more details on each of them in our previous ranking of this year's Top 50 Prospects.
A couple of other notes: Scouts I spoke to the past few weeks suggest no goalies may get picked in the first round, but the front-runners to be the first netminder selected are Finn Samu Perhonen, Finnish-born Christopher Gibson of Chicoutimi in the QMJHL and John Gibson (the two are not related) of the U.S. national team development program.
Another positional theme: Last year we saw the draft skew to offense, which was a major factor in D Cam Fowler dropping out of the top 10 after being projected as one of the top two players in the draft class in the fall of 2009. Scouts figure that the run on offense is going to continue. Thus a B-plus forward is likely to outstrip not only a defenseman of the same grade but quite possibly an A-minus blueliner.
The draft order that we're working with here (as of the standings on Feb. 15) is bound to be significantly shuffled by the time the picks are made in St. Paul, but after talking with scouts and GMs since August, this is our look at how the draft would shake out if it happened today.
Click on a prospect's name for a detailed breakdown of each prospect, including graded evaluations on key traits.
Adam Larsson, D, Skelleftea (Sweden)
The Oilers have started to reload up front with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi. They could look for one of the top two centers here, but adding a potential franchise D seems to be the right way to go.
Sean Couturier, C, Drummondville (QMJHL)
The Senators can use help at every position. It seems to make sense that Ottawa will go with the best player available (BPA), but with priority to the center of the ice. The notion that Couturier overlaps with Jason Spezza isn't a hindrance. You'd draft Couturier to be better than Spezza.
Gabriel Landeskog, LW, Kitchener (OHL)
The Isles almost certainly would want to see Larsson still on the board. It's probably a coin flip that Islanders GM Garth Snow moves the pick in a convoluted deal to add picks, but it's also easy to envision Landeskog on John Tavares' wing. The selection of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might work with Tavares moving to the wing, which is what a lot of scouts figured would be his natural position in the pros.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Red Deer (WHL)
He's the best player available in this slot, though he's not the usual Devils pick -- neither collegian nor Swede. Still, with Ilya Kovalchuk as the franchise forward to feed until the end of time, RN-H projects as a better fit than Sean Couturier, who will likely be off the board anyway.
Boston Bruins (from Toronto)
Dougie Hamilton, D, Niagara (OHL)
Marc Savard's career-threatening concussions make Tyler Seguin's progress more urgent than previously expected. That said, the Bruins are due to draft D after a run on forwards. Hamilton is a good fit and compares favorably with last year's No. 3 overall, Erik Gudbranson.