The gurus of NHL Central Scouting are going back to the drawing board one final time beginning Saturday to put the finishing touches on their final rankings for the 2011 Entry Draft.
While those final ratings won't be released until April 12, NHL.com couldn't wait that long. In the interim, two anonymous NHL scouts -- one employed by an Eastern Conference team, one from a Western Conference team -- were asked to provide their first-round projections.
Things certainly will change between now and when the teams congregate at Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota on June 24-25 for the annual selection extravaganza, but our scouts were more than willing to give it a shot.
The tough decisions start from the top, as there's no clear-cut choice for the No. 1 selection. Our scouts were split on the first choice, and even their top five consisted varied greatly -- a total of seven players made it into the 10 slots.
So where do our scouts rank the best players? Five players seem to have skated to the front of the line to be picked first -- Kitchener Rangers (OHL) left wing Gabriel Landeskog, Skelleftea (Sweden) defenseman Adam Larsson, Red Deer Rebels (WHL) center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL) center Sean Couturier and Saint John Sea Dogs center Jonathan Huberdeau.
But what about Kitchener defenseman Ryan Murphy, whose reputation has been on the rise? Has Couturier, the consensus No. 1 choice at the start of the 2010-11 campaign, played up to expectations in his third season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League? Is U.S. National Team Development Team goalie John Gibson considered a first-round pick?
These and other questions are answered by our anonymous scouts.
The draft order in place for this exercise was based on inverse order of the standings on Wednesday, March 23. Three teams -- Nashville, Los Angeles and Philadelphia -- currently don't have first-round picks. Toronto, Ottawa and Edmonton each have two choices in the top 30.
The writers for NHL.com will be offering their third mock drafts of the first round following Central Scouting's final rankings release.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale