DENVER -- Without tipping his hand, Colorado Avalanche Chief Amateur Scout Rick Pracey said Monday that he and his staff have decided which player to select with the second pick of the 2011 Entry Draft, which starts Friday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
"In our minds we've made our list; the order has been set and everything has been taken care of," Pracey said during a conference call with local reporters. "We just have to wait and see how the draft unfolds. But our mind and our decision has been made, yes."
The Avalanche may not have the option to select their top choice because the Edmonton Oilers have the pick.
The Avalanche own the second and 11th picks in the opening round, plus four picks on Day 2 -- one choice each in the fourth round (No. 93), fifth round (No. 123), sixth round (No. 153) and seventh round (No. 183).
"One thing that we're certain of is we’re very excited with what we can potentially add," Pracey said. "No. 2 holds a very special spot, and at the 11th pick we think there's enough depth … there's probably two or three groupings at the top and we'll have to wait and see how it all shakes out. We think we're going to have an opportunity to add a very valuable piece to our franchise. Those two picks hold a great deal of excitement for us as well as every other pick going forward."
Red Deer Rebels center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Saint John Sea Dogs center Jonathan Huberdeau, Kitchener Rangers left wing Gabriel Landeskog and Skelleftea defenseman Adam Larsson are considered the cream of the crop in what Pracey said is a deep draft.
"That top group, I don't want to say it's wide open by any means, but there's certainly enough there that's made this process very, very challenging," Pracey said. "The one variable is what Edmonton decides. But certainly there are a lot of quality prospects to choose from. In my opinion, there's not a consensus No. 1 out there or a consensus No. 2 or 3. I think, depending on which team you're talking to, I think you could come up with four or five candidates."
Pracey's take on some of the top prospects:
On Nugent-Hopkins: "He's a very talented offensive player. His skill set is probably his defining trait. He can make plays, he can score. He's a creative player in terms of vision and seeing the ice. He's a player, I would think going forward, who people will be looking at as having transferrable offense at the NHL level."
On Huberdeau: "He had a very, very strong season from start to finish. He seemed to gain a ton of momentum along the year. His team was very successful (winning the Memorial Cup) and he came to the forefront as a scorer on a consistent level. He also has size (6-foot-1, 170 pounds). He's a good two-way player, he's diligent away from the puck and he's a player -- in terms of projection -- he's on the upside where things are going to get better and better."
On Landeskog: "He plays with character, he competes, he has a skill set, he goes to the dirty areas of the rink. We think the couple of areas that are his calling card are compete and battle level. He's a physical player in terms of confrontation. He initiates the contact, but he's also a player who plays the full length of the ice. There's lots to like here in terms of his overall package."
On Larsson: "He's another player of great interest of ours. He's a defenseman who moves well and has experience playing at a higher league, in the Swedish Elite League the past two seasons. He can make plays, he is intelligent with and without the puck. He has a competitive nature to him and he's a player we've seen not only internationally, but our scouting staff went into the Swedish Elite League and so we've seen him amongst his peers and we're very impressed. He's another name that's at the top of the board."
The Avalanche are deep at center and could use more size on the wings and on defense, but Pracey said the Avalanche would continue its philosophy of selecting the player it deems to be the best available, regardless of position.
"The needs of our organization -- not only us, but others -- change so drastically," he said. "The one thing that we're dealing with here is we're dealing with 18-year-old players and our mandate as a scouting staff is to get the best player available. Regardless of the team need, we will be going forward with what we think is the best player."
The Avalanche selected centers Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly with its first two picks at the 2009 draft -- Nos. 3 and 33l, respectively -- and both players made the opening-night roster as 18-year-olds.
Is it possible the Avalanche could strike gold like that again this weekend?
"I wouldn't rule out anything," Pracey said. "It all depends on how our roster takes shape over the summer, whether there's an opportunity or not. I think with what we've seen in the past with what Matt and Ryan did, it makes things interesting. That's something that would have to come from our coaches and basically our management group on how the roster comes together.
"Depending on the players you're looking at at the top of the draft this year, I think there are a couple players who could make the jump, so certainly that is a possibility. We're looking at this as a long-term investment."
The No. 2 selection is the franchise's highest since the team arrived in Denver from Quebec City in 1995.