2011 In Lou We Trust NHL Mock Draft Version 1: The Top Ten Picks

Well, last Tuesday the unthinkable happened.  The New Jersey Devils got a little luck.  With the odds stacked against them (3.6% chance) the Devils won the NHL's draft lottery jumping up 4 slots from pick #8 to pick #4Shocked Devils fans raced to In Lou We Trust to share their joy with others as we all ponder who will be available on June 24th when the Devils are ready to make their selection.  In the comments section of the post John Fischer summed up the feelings of most of Devils nation when he said:

The Devils played out of their minds in the second half of this season, they didn’t tank even when mathematically eliminated, and they get the 4th overall pick.

Feels good, man.

And he is 1000% right.  Listen, I would have been happy with the 8th or 9th pick, but there is an additional level of satisfaction for doing things the right way and seeing some reward from it.

The Devils could have gone into tank mode like the Pittsburgh Penguins do every so often, but they fought until the end of the season, even winning a meaningless game on the last day of the season which dropped them from the #6 slot to the #8 slot. 

Now, we shall all experience something that hasn't happened to the Devils in two decades.  A top 5 entry draft pick.  Earlier in the week I had put together my top 9 players I thought the Devils should draft.  Now, with our slot at #4 set in stone, I will offer you a much more detailed mock draft.

After the jump I will speculate on what I think the Edmonton Oilers, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers will do on June 24th and what I think the Devils should and hopefully will do with their 4th selection.  I tried to look at the selections of the teams above the Devils from as many viewpoints as I could without having a day-to-day knowledge of the team's needs/situation.  Items like cap concerns (remember, no bonus cushion next year), organizational depth, and selecting the 'best player available' were all factors that went into my decision.  Can you guess the top 4 before you read ahead?


1st Pick on the Clock:

Edmonton Oilers:

Everyone currently has Ryan Nugent-Hopkins going to the Oilers at #1. While Darren Dreger reported the other day that the Oilers might be willing to move the pick, my personal opinion is that they keep it and take Nugent-Hopkins with it. I think Nugent-Hopkins fits a nice long term plan to put together a dynamic forward combination with Taylor Hall, and if he can reach even 75 percent of the potential that experts, like Ken Hitchcock, think he can, he seems to be the no-brainer-for the Oilers-at #1.

Is he the 'right' pick for Edmonton?  I'm not so sure.  As far as other factors are concerned:

Cap Concerns: None.

Organizational Depth: With Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Linus Omark, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, and Ales Hemsky they have a ton of young dynamic offensive players.

Needs: Two-way defenseman, two-way centers.

Who should they take?   Sean Couturier. While RNH could be special, the complete package Couturier offers might make his linemates special.

Would they trade the pick?

Likely, but I don't see a market for it. If you are trading a top 5 pick I would want to stay within 3-5 slots of your original selection. Would Florida move up two spots to take a player? Would Ottawa want to move up from #6?

The consensus for this draft seems to be that there are 7/8 players who could end up being the best player down the road, so why would a team give up additional assets to move up? I just don't see the right mix of buyers and assets for a team to make a play for the #1 pick.

Will they trade it? Probably not.

Who will they take?

The Edmonton Oilers, with the #1 selection in the 2011 NHL Draft ....select Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

I think the potential of RNH will sway the organization’s decision.  It's not a bad pick at all, just perhaps not the best one. Plus, with Steve Tambellini being a seasoned veteran of the lottery process, who am I to question his lottery expertise?

Colorado Avalanche:

If the Avalanche don't select Gabriel Landeskog here I would be shocked. With the trade of Chris Stewart to St. Louis at the trade deadline Landeskog eventually slots into Stewart's old role and seems to be a great compliment on a line with either Paul Stasny or Matt Duchene.

The Avalanche don't have a gaping need at defense as they are deep at both the NHL and in the organization as a whole. Also, if they want to address defense, they have pick #11 to do that. It is likely that defensemen like Ryan Murphy, Duncan Siemens, Jonas Brodin or Nathan Beaulieu might be available at pick #11. Would you rather have one of them and Landeskog or Larsson and a forward like Mika Zibanejad, Mark McNeill or Sven Baertschi? Based upon my reading I take Landeskog and the top defenseman available at pick #11. 

Cap Concerns: None

Orgazational Depth: Top line centers, high potential defenders.

Needs: Talent at either wing positions.

Would they trade the pick? Unlikely

Who should they take? Gabriel Landeskog

Who will they take?

The Colorado Avalanche, with the #2 selection in the 2011 NHL Draft ....select Gabriel Landeskog.

I am actually more certain that Landeskog goes at the #2 than Nugent-Hopkins goes #1. 

Florida Panthers:

 hate the fact that a decision by the Florida Panthers will have a major effect on the future of the Devils. The first two picks I think can easily be agreed upon. The Panthers could throw a monkey wrench into the draft.   The Panthers, now in their second year under Dale Tallon's leadership have a number of needs. Tallon started to address the long rebuilding process with 12 draft picks last year, including 6 in the first two rounds.

Looking at Tallon's draft history in Chicago he seemed to be a proponent of drafting the 'best player available'.  He often picked well in no-brainer spots (Kane, Toews) but seemed to struggle a bit once he had picks outside the top 5.   There were also no trends that I saw from him that would help me determine what the Panthers might do.  I thought that Tallon (as a former defenseman himself) might lean towards defensemen, but there was no evidence of that.  So what do the 'experts' think that the Panthers will do? 

NHL Mock Drafts that were released after the draft lottery have the Panthers making the following selections: 


Adam Kimelman has the Panthers taking Sean Couturier.

Steven Hoffner has the Panthers taking Nathan Beaulieu.

Mike Morreale has the Panthers taking Adam Larsson. 

Me?  I think the Panthers bypass Couturier and Larsson and select Saint John Sea Dogs C/F Jonathan Huberdeau.  The Panthers need a player who can put the puck in the net.  Huberdeau has shown that he can do that for the Sea Dogs.  With 43 goals in 67 games this season Huberdeau can finally give the Panthers something they have lacked for years, a dynamic scorer. 

Over at the Bruins Draft Watch site run by the knowledgable Kirk Luedeke he had this to say about Huberdeau a few weeks ago.

Anytime you can add a player who is versatile in terms of being able to be effective at multiple positions and who can both pass and score, most teams will jump on that

On Hubersdeau's NHL.com draft page the QMJHL scout, Chris Bordeleau says:

NHL Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau
"He's the type of player who can change the outcome of a game suddenly and quickly. He's displayed unbelievably quick hands and an ability to set up and score goals. He definitely has NHL hands and playmaking ability . . . he's also gritty and does not back down when challenged."

Cap Concerns: None

Orgazational Depth: Two way forwards, young defenseman. 

Needs: Playoff Berth.

Would they trade the pick? Unlikely

Who should they take? I think that a case can be made for either  Huberdeau, Larsson or Couturier going to Florida.  Likely in that order.

Who will they take? 

The Florida Panthers, with the #3 selection in the 2011 NHL Draft ....select Jonathan Huberdeau.

Dale Tallon, for all of his free agent fumbles, drafts pretty well.  He would be justified in taking Huberdeau, Larsson, or Couturier.  Adding Larsson to an organization that already has Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov would make for a strong blue line. Adding a center with Couturier ‘s size/skill package would also be a smart move.  But the Panthers need scoring.  Looking at the table below you can see that the Panthers have not been higher than 17th in the league in goals per game since 2006-2007.  


Year G/G Rank Leading Scorer Goals
2010-2011 2.33 27th David Booth 23
2009-2010 2.46 28th Stephen Weiss 28
2008-2009 2.82 17th David Booth 31
2007-2008 2.57 20th Olli Jokinen 34
2006-2007 2.99 11th Olli Jokinen 39

Huberdeau might offer the best offensive upside of anyone available at this point and I think that the Panthers snatch him up here.

New Jersey Devils:

And now, the team all of you actually care about.  I am not going to do much buildup to the pick, as I think it should be pretty easy:

The New Jersey Devils, with the #4 selection in the 2011 NHL Draft ....select Sean Couturier.

Could Adam Larsson be the pick here?  Sure.  In fact, it was tough for me to bypass a potentially great defensive player for a forward.  I grew up with the core unit of Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermeyer, Ken Daneyko and others being the leaders of the Devils.  Defense was always first.  But I think a pick of Couturier would be best option for the New Jersey Devils. 

Before I go on, I implore you to read the profile Derek Zona did on Couturier a little over a week ago here.  He also had a follow up piece here that talks about concerns that Couturier isn't ‘physical enough'.

First, let me add two quick notes to the work Derek did.  In his article Derek talks about Couturier's success in the faceoff circle with a  54.4% faceoff winning percentage.  One thing I looked at was Couturier's success over the past few years to see how he has developed.  As you can see each year in the QMJHL he has added a ton of faceoffs and he has steadily improved (2%) his winning percentage showing that he is in fact that good at taking faceoffs. 


Second, while Couturier was only 5th in the QMJHL in scoring remember that he missed 10 games during the year because of the World Junior Championships.  His point per game average (as Derek noted) was 1.66 which was second in the league to Philip-Michael Devos who split the year playing for Gatineau and Victoriaville.  It's important to note the difference in ages of the two players here.  Devos, an overager in the Q was born in April of 1990 while Couturier was born in December of 1992.  So there is a 2 ¾ year difference between the two.

Derek put together quite a compelling argument for Couturier to be the top pick in the draft.  Let me add some fuel to that fire.

1.  His value to Drummondville.

If you want to get a sense of how much Couturier meant to his team when he was playing in the World Junior Championships let me show you. 

During his absence in the regular season, Drummondville averaged a goal less and gave up a goal more without him.  Additionally their special teams play-especially their power play-dropped off a cliff compared with their full season averages. Drummondville was only able to win two games in regulation during this period, one of the wins coming against Baie-Comeau who was the worst team in the Q. 


2.Plus/Minus Comparison to Huberdeau

One of the things I have read a few times is how people say that Couturier and Huberdeau's stats were similar.  Not true.  Huberdeau, while a great offensive player who I am not trying to take anything away from, had the benefit of playing for the loaded Saint John Sea Dogs.  Was Couturier's +55 more impressive than Huberdeau's +59?  Yes, here is why:

The SJS had a +159 goal differential this year while Drummondville was a +69.  Adjusting for special teams goals for/against the even strength goal differential for SJS was +131 and Drummondville was +46.  Again, not taking anything away from Huberdeau, but how can you not be impressed by Couturier's plus/minus when looking at the adjusted goal differential. 


3. Scoring in all situations. 

Besides being a main driver behind Drummondville's ES and PP success, Couturier also added 4 goals and 4 assists while the team was shorthanded.  His 8 shorthanded points ranked second in the Q this past season.  The leader had 10 points and played 10 more games than Couturier. 


4. Scouts' Quotes:


"At his size, he'll be hard to pass up in the draft. He possesses a very good work ethic and he's out there for every important faceoff. He's very responsible in the defensive aspect of the game -- a rare quality for such a young player in junior hockey."

"Sean has excellent puckhandling and playmaking ability; he sees the ice and reads the play very well . . . He's extremely smart and gets himself into good scoring position. He plays a solid two-way game and is very responsible defensively."

Bruins2011draftwatch.blogspot.com on his drop in CSS Rankings:

He's simply too big, talented and promising to take a major nosedive as other highly-touted prospects have done in the past. He's not the best skater, but let's be frank: it's not a major flaw and is correctible with some work on mechanics.

One final thing I wanted to point out, as I am sure it may come up a few times in any talks about Couturier before the draft, is the fact that he plays on a home rink that has dimensions of 190X 85 as opposed to the standard 200 X 85.  From his home/road point splits over the past three seasons you can see that there are no drastic differences in his production.  So when you hear someone say ‘Well he played on a shorter rink, which helped to hide his lack of skating ability" remember that his production didn't change from his home/road games.


And last but certainly not least, a video produced by the QMJHL website in advance of the CHL top prospects game.

But Tom, what about Adam Larsson?

I like what I have read about Adam Larsson.  I wouldn't mind it if the Devils drafted Larsson.  If it was up to me, Couturier is the pick. That said, if Couturier and Nugent-Hopkins are gone I would select Larsson. 

If Larsson, Couturier and Nugent-Hopkins are gone?  Uh-oh (said in the Scooby-Doo voice)

That would be the only time I would listen to offers for the 4th pick.  I see value in Huberdeau or Landeskog but if there is a team (Ottawa?) that wants to move up I think a trade might work for both teams.  The 6th pick in this scenario mean that Landeskog, Huberdeau or defenseman Dougie Hamilton and Nathan Beaulieu would still be available.

I don’t think it will come to that though.  I expect Couturier to be available at #4 with the ‘worst case scenario’ being Larsson. There is agreement among scouts that Couturier might not be an elite player at the NHL level but even if he isn't he will be an NHL player.  I don't really like comparisons, because I feel they unfairly label a player to live up to certain expectations they may not be able to, but since Couturier has said this himself I am OK with him playing the role of Jordan Staal for the Devils.  If that is his future, sign me up.

Bonus Question:

Should the Devils trade up to get Couturier?

I don't think they would have to, but if they got wind that the #2 or #3 pick was up for grabs then I think they should part with one of their second round picks and possible more to secure Couturier.  Now a lot of people probably think that this position seems odd for someone who loves to accumulate picks/prospects. I believe that any good organization, sports or otherwise, succeeds not just by accumulating valuable assets but having the guts to utilize them and possibly overpay for something you really believe in.  If the Devils believe in Couturier and the cost isn't extremely prohibitive than they should do all they can to acquire him.  Even if it takes two additional picks down the road or another asset I would hope the Devils make the push to ensure he is in red and black for years to come.  

That is also why I love being a Devils fan.  We know that if Lou Lamoriello is in position to make a strong move he does it. We also know that if he thinks Dougie Hamilton is the best player available and he can trade down, he will.  Though I think it is unlikely the Devils trade down.  When Lamoriello stated to Tom Gulitti that his scouts would be happy about the lottery win as ‘they (the scouts) get a better player than they would have at 8th, I have a feeling the Devils are keeping the pick.  I for one, hope the pick is Sean Couturier. 

The Rest of The Top 10:

5, New York Islanders-Adam Larsson-D.  The Islanders might be very lucky and land Larsson with their pick which would add to the nucleus of young talent they already have.  Althought Larsson (mainly because of the rankings) seems like the no-brainer here don't count out Dougie Hamilton.  His Niagara team is advancing in the OHL playoffs and he has been playing well.  He might be a late riser and he has been even speculated by some to be the Devils pick at #4.

6. Ottawa Senators-Mika Zibanejad-C.  Not the Landeskog pick Senators Nation wants, but Zibanejad can complement the young wingers the team has and remember the Senators still have pick 15 21, which will allow them to fill the power forward role with a player like Ty Rattie or Tyler Biggs.

7. Atlanta Thrashers-Ryan Strome-C. Great fit for Atlanta as a center who can make things happen on the ice.  If this pick isn't Strome than I am pretty confident it will be another forward as I do not anticipate them taking a defenseman.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets-Dougie Hamilton-D.  If not Hamilton, I can see Beaulieu landing here.

9. Boston Bruins-Nathan Beaulieu-D.  Basically I think the 8/9 picks go Hamilton/Beaulieu it is just a matter of who the Blue Jackets prefer.  Some have put Ryan Murphy here, but I think Boston would go the safer route with a Hamilton/Beaulier.  Plus, there is always the concern that Zdeno Chara could step on Murphy and hurt him.

10. Minnesota Wild-Mark McNeil-C.  This pick could also be Zibanejad if Ottawa doesn't pick him.  It could also be Zach Philips of the Saint John Sea Dogs, giving the Sea Dogs a total of 3 players selected in the top 10 selections of the draft.

Now it's your turn.  Do you think my top 10 is viable?  Is Couturier gone by the time the Devils pick? Like someone I haven't mentioned?  What concerns, if any, do you have about Couturier? Thanks for reading and sound off below!

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