2011 NHL Draft: More trades and movement expected at draft

By Andrew Knoll
Photo: Sven Baertschi is among the top ranked European skaters in the 2011 draft. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

This year’s draft may be as much about wheeling and dealing as it is about securing the future with top prospects such as the widely-projected first overall selection Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the top defensive prospect, Sweden’s Adam Larsson.

With a tepid free-agent market in which several teams have cap space to burn, this draft may see more than picks and positions change hands.

The Philadelphia Flyers have already flabbergasted the hockey world with two massive trades in which they got younger. Philadelphia, whose prospect system had stagnated in recent seasons, acquired top prospect Brayden Schenn as the central piece in a trade that sent captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings. The Flyers also shipped out former 40-goal scorer Jeff Carter, drafted in the same year and round as Richards, in exchange for a package that included the Columbus Blue Jackets’ eighth overall pick.

According to one Atlantic Division insider, the Flyers may be seeking to move up further. The Colorado Avalanche possess the second overall pick. Colorado general manager Greg Sherman has said it would take a very hefty offer to obtain the selection but did not rule out the possibility of a deal.

Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk said that he felt that several teams, including his own, would be shopping heavily on draft day and generally be looking to improve both their main roster and organizational depth by way of trades. Nieuwendyk has tried to deal the rights to free agent Brad Richards, likely for draft selections, but Richards has not waived his no-movement clause to facilitate a trade.

There are teams such as Colorado and the New York Islanders that are below the cap floor and will need to acquire roster players to increase their bottom line, which could precipitate trades today. Colorado also owns St. Louis’s 11th overall selection. Their company in Northwestern misery, the Edmonton Oilers, possesses both the top pick and the Kings’ 17th overall selection. The Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs also have multiple first-round picks.

The Florida Panthers, who cut ruts in the rug heading to the podium with three selections in last year’s first round, have the third overall pick. Gabriel Landeskog, a Swedish import to the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, has been considered to be an excellent fit for the Panthers. Landeskog not only projects as a complete player, he may be the most NHL-ready prospect at the top of the draft.

His former roommate, 2010 Carolina draftee and this year’s Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner said he had complete confidence in Landeskog’s maturity from all standpoints–skill, physique, hockey sense and emotional maturity.

In the QMJHL, Drummondville’s Sean Couturier also offers a well-rounded skill set in a mature package that could very well land him in the top 10. Memorial Cup MVP Jonathan Huberdeau projects to go high as well. Huberdeau led his Saint John Sea Dogs to glory in the CHL, an experience he said he valued immensely.

The versatile forward Ryan Strome brings explosiveness in the framework of a responsible game. Strome, Landeskog, and defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Murphy head a crop of OHL prospects with the potential to produce double-digit first-round picks in this draft.

Last year’s draft saw Portland Winterhawks center Ryan Johansen (CLB) and left winger Nino Niederreiter (NYI) go fourth and fifth overall. Niederreiter was the highest Swiss selection in NHL history. This year, left winger Sven Baertschi continues those trends. Like Niederreiter, Baertschi transitioned successfully from Switzerland to the WHL’s Winterhawks while also wowing fans at the World Juniors.

Mika Zibanejad of Sweden and Finland’s Joe Armia are the top-ranked forwards out of Europe, with Zabanejad projecting a high selection and both players slated to go in the first round.

Unlike last year with Jack Campbell going 11th overall to the Stars, there appears to be no surefire first-rounders in net this season. Top ranked goaltender and Pittsburgh native John Gibson is however expected to go sometime in the second.

At a recent general managers’ meeting, the general consensus among eight GMs that spoke with HF was that there was plenty of parity in this draft. Between the middle of the first and second rounds, teams may find solid pros just as easily at 45 overall as at 20 overall.