2011 NHL Draft: Top 10 draft eligible OHL prospects

By Jason Menard
Photo: Ryan Strome is among the top ranked centers in the OHL. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

The OHL has long billed itself as the world’s top development league for players interested in pursuing their NHL dreams, and the past four seasons have borne that out. Starting in 2007 with Patrick Kane and progressing through Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, and last year’s winner of the Taylor/Tyler debate, Taylor Hall, the league has served as an incubator for top-end talent.

This year, Kitchener’s Gabriel Landeskog holds the hopes of a league looking for a record-breaking fifth consecutive number-one selection (the OHL’s predecessor, the OHA, actually has a share of the record with four consecutive top picks from 1976-1979*)

But just as in 1980, when Doug Wickenheiser of the WHL broke the OHA’s string, this year Landeskog features stiff competition in presumptive number-one overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Regardless of who goes number one, expect to see a number of OHLers called to the stage in Minnesota.

Editor’s note: in both four-year runs, two players each were selected first overall from the London Knights organization: 1976’s Rick Green and 1979’s Rob Ramage; 2007’s Pat Kane and 2009’s John Tavares.)

Top 10 at a Glance

1. Gabriel Landeskog, RW
2. Doug Hamilton, D
3. Ryan Murphy, D
4. Ryan Strome, C
5. Mark Scheifele, C
6. Vladislav Namestnikov, C
7. Nicklas Jensen, RW
8. Alexander Khokhlachev, C
9. Brandon Saad, LW
10. Boone Jenner, C

1. Gabriel Landeskog, RW
6’0, 207 lbs, Kitchener Rangers
(ISS rank 5; CSS final rank 2; CSS mid-term rank 1; 1st amongst OHLers)

While CSS and some pundits have pegged Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the center out of Red Deer, as the first-overall pick, there are still many who look at Gabriel Landeskog as a more attractive — albeit less flashy — option to go first overall.

Landeskog combines size, scoring ability, and defensive responsibility with a maturity beyond his years. Named the captain of the well-regarded Kitchener Rangers’ franchise at the tender age of 17, the Swede lived up to all expectations of him and seemingly never buckled under the pressure.

While some will look to the Peter Forsbergs of the world as a comparison, Landeskog likely will play more of a Steve Yzerman role — sure, he’ll be able to score, but he’ll be more valuable to the team that takes him for his combination of leadership and defensive prowess, combined with that welcome big-moment scoring touch.

Unlike some of his direct competition in this draft, Landeskog is not a pure goal scorer. However, he has consistently displayed a willingness to do anything to win, ranging from laying big hits to blocking shots. Considered the most NHL-ready prospect, his commitment to both ends of the ice and his ability to lead both on and off the ice will serve him well.

2. Doug Hamilton, D

6’4, 195 pounds, Niagara IceDogs
(ISS rank 6; CSS final rank 4; CSS mid-term rank 7; 2nd amongst OHLers)

Hamilton has the size and skating ability that makes scouts — and general managers — drool. Blessed with an above-average offensive touch, Hamilton could have coasted into this draft. However, determined to make an impact, he put in extra time with assistant coach and former NHL blueliner Mike Van Ryn to take his defensive game to the next level.

He finished the season with 12 goals and 46 assists during the regular season, bumping up his production in the post-season to a better-than-point-per-game pace. Most impressively, he improved from a minus-eight in his rookie season to a stellar plus-35 this year.

Hamilton has the advantage of size and he’s shown a willingness to throw it around. He also still has plenty of room on his frame to fill out and become an even-more imposing presence on the blue line.

3. Ryan Murphy, D

5’11, 175 pounds, Kitchener Rangers
(ISS rank 8; CSS final rank 9; CSS mid-term rank 7; 4th amongst OHLers

Murphy got a lot of play in the media early on as a result of a Don Cherry comment that suggested the offensively gifted blueliner could go first overall in this draft. While that prophecy looks like it will fall short of coming true, the Aurora, ON native should be a top-10 selection in this year’s draft.

Based on skill alone, he could be number two on this list, however, size factors in a bit when it comes to scouting. That said, the trend of NHL teams taking smaller players will help him rise.

Murphy led all draft-eligible defensemen in scoring, accounting for 26 goals and 53 assists. He’s lethal on the power play and has a knack for making that smart first breakout pass.

4. Ryan Strome, C

6’1, 185, Niagara IceDogs
(ISS rank 9; CSS final rank 8; CSS mid-term rank 19; 3rd amongst OHLers)

Strome parlayed a strong second-half of the season into a significant climb up the draft boards. He finished the season with 33 goals and 106 points and is touted as one of the more solid offensive options in this year’s draft.

A solid center, Strome earned the respect of the OHL’s coaching fraternity being recognized, amongst other nods, as the conference’s top playmaker, and tied as the best stickhandler. He’s displayed excellent hockey sense and an ability to make creative plays with the puck.

5. Mark Scheifele, C

6’3, 175, Barrie Colts
(ISS rank 18; CSS final rank 16; CSS mid-term rank 21; 6th amongst OHLers)

Scheifele is an excellent two-way player with good size. Still a little light for his frame, the Kitchener, ON native should be able to pack on a few more pounds on that tall frame.

He’s already played big for the Colts this season, however. Often facing the other team’s top defensive pairing and centred out amongst a thin Barrie squad, Scheifele ended up battling through the attention to account for 75 points in 66 games.

Scheifele is a solid playmaker, with good on-ice vision and the ability to use his size to his advantage.

6. Vladislav Namestnikov, C

6’0, 170, London Knights
(Not in ISS Top 30; CSS final rank 11; CSS mid-term rank 17; 5th amongst OHLers)

Namestnikov is not overly large but he has talent and speed to burn. He has incredible bloodlines upon which to draw, with his father Evgeny a six-year NHLer, and his mother was an elite figure skater. Oh, and his uncle? None other than Slava Kozlov.

This season, playing for a rebuillding Knights’ organization and making the transition to North American hockey, the young Russian still scored 30 goals and added 38 assists in 68 games. He has a bit of Sergei Kostitsyn in him, in terms of skill and defensive understanding, which will only improve playing under Dale Hunter.

7. Nicklas Jensen, RW

6’3, 185, Oshawa Generals
(Not in ISS Top 30; CSS final rank 21; CSS mid-term rank 20; 9th amongst OHLers)

Jensen’s got the bloodlines to play this sport — his father’s the Danish Wayne Gretzky — and he brings a solid two-way, versatile game to the ice.

He finished one goal shy of 30 this season and projects as a solid, two-way, power forward. It goes without saying that he could become the best Dane to hit the ice — succeeding his Canadian-born father both in terms of stature and performance.

8. Alexander Khokhlachev, C

5’10, 175, Windsor Spitfires
(ISS rank 23; CSS final rank 29; CSS mid-term rank 45; 12th amongst OHLers)

One comment that you hear often amongst scouts and hockey insiders is to watch for the late-year picks. The thought being that at such a young age, a few months of physical and emotional development can skew the player’s appearance amongst their draft peers. So if you weigh down the performances of those late birthdates with an extra grain of salt, it stands to reason that Khokhlachev’s performance should gain a measure of respect as he is only one day shy of having to wait for the 2012 draft.

Once Khokhlachev started getting comfortable with the North American game, the Moscovite center gained a measure of notice from the scouting community. He finished the season with 34 goals and 76 points. He also performed at a point-per-game level in the playoffs and displays solid hands and elite scoring abilities.

9. Brandon Saad, LW

6’2, 211 pounds, Saginaw Spirit
(ISS rank 24; CSS final rank 19; CSS mid-term rank 8; 8th amongst OHLers)

Saad is a solid, physical two-way player, who has seen his stock fall after missing out on the U.S. junior team and struggling through a persistent groin injury.

In the end, he finished with 27 goals and 28 assists in 59 games. One thing that scouts like about Saad is his versatility. He’s proven proficient in all aspects of the game, playing on the power play, the penalty kill, and being a physical force in the five-on-five game.

10. Boone Jenner, C

6’1, 195, Oshawa Generals
(Not ranked in ISS Top 30; CSS final rank 18; CSS mid-term rank 18; 7th amongst OHLers)

Jenner finished the year with 25 goals but failed to live up to the lofty projections he came into the season with. However, he projects as a solid NHLer and could be an excellent late first-round pick.

Like Saad, Jenner is an all-around player who has been lauded for his competitive fire. He’s an excellent face-off man, a skill that’s highly valued at the next level. He also played a key leadership role on the Generals and has the character that’s appealing to scouts and general managers.