Now that the NHL Scouting Combine has come and gone for 102 of the top draft-eligible prospects around the world, there's no better time for NHL Network analyst and former NHL general manager Craig Button to unveil his favorites for 2011 Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24.
Button revealed his top 10 picks -- "Craig's List" -- on Sunday's edition of "NHL On the Fly." He told NHL.com that a line separates his top two choices, center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Red Deer in the Western Hockey League and versatile forward Jonathan Huberdeau of the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and the remaining eight players.
When NHL Central Scouting released its final list of North American and European skaters in April, Nugent-Hopkins topped the charts at No. 1, followed by left wing Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League, Huberdeau, defenseman Dougie Hamilton of the OHL's Niagara IceDogs and defenseman Nathan Beaulieu of Saint John. Among the Europeans, Skelleftea's Adam Larsson was listed No. 1, followed by Djurgarden's Mika Zibanejad and Farjestad's Jonas Brodin.
Interestingly, Button does not have Hamilton among his top 10. Zibanejad, meanwhile, has been said to have better upside than current New Jersey Devils forward Jacob Josefson.
Here's what Button had to say about each of his top 10 prospects:
10. Jonas Brodin, Farjestad (Sweden): "Jonas played in the Elite League up until the final and then joined his Under-18 team in Germany. He's a really quick-footed defenseman. He's not physically developed yet, but once he does he's the type of defenseman every team would love to have. He's a competitor and a guy who can play in any situation. He gets the puck out of your zone via skating or with a great pass."
9. Nathan Beaulieu, Saint John (QMJHL): "He's great at being able to jump into the rush. (Saint John coach) Gerard Gallant encouraged him to do those things, to not to be afraid to make a great play but to just understand when to do it and when not to do it. Over the course of the season, Nathan really developed that skill. When you look at his dynamic skating ability and that ability to create advantages on the rush by jumping into the play, he'll certainly bring that element to any team that gets him."
8. Adam Larsson, Skelleftea (Sweden): "There's talk about him being a top pick. He played another season in the men's league and for a second straight time with Sweden at the World Junior Championship. He's a real rangy type defenseman, who can shoot the puck and play a lot of minutes. I think he's better suited for the North American rink because you'll be able to take advantage of his size and his reach. He's not shy about playing physical."
7. Sean Couturier, Drummondville (QMJHL): "He's a big strong center; another player touted at the beginning of the year as a high pick. He still deserves to be mentioned as a highly-touted player. He reminds me a lot of a cross between Eric Staal and Jordan Staal and that's a valuable player on any team that's interested in winning. Sean has that capability to be that really long term center, who'll play against any other team's top centers and produce offense."
6. Ryan Strome, Niagara (OHL): "When I see Ryan Strome, I think of Denis Savard. He's got that kind of uncanny ability to do things that nobody's expecting, pulling people out of their seats. He's quick, he's aggressive and one of those guys who you think you might be able to knock him down and get a piece of but, before you know it, he's by you or gliding to the open ice. He's a real highly skilled center."
5. Mika Zibanejad, Djurgarden (Sweden): "He's known as the Persian Prince as the son of an Iranian father and Finnish mother. If you want a comparison to the type of player he might look like when he gets to the NHL, think of Bobby Holik. He's nasty, he'll chip in with some offense, he'll play on the wing. Any type of game you're in, Mika can play in it and he plays it with a great competitive desire and a great physical presence. He can chip in offensively, defensively, and is that type of player for a coach to have on the ice at any time in the game."
4. Ryan Murphy, Kitchener (OHL): "There's been a lot of talk about Ryan not being the tallest guy, but I don't care if he's tall. He's 5-foot-10 1/2 and there have been some pretty good defensemen who were only 5-10 or 5-11 in the NHL. Ryan Murphy, to me, is a dynamic player. He's the type of guy, who, when you're playing against him, he doesn't know what he's going to do, so how can you know what he's going to do. He's kind of a cross between Dan Boyle and that ability to jump into the attack and Sergei Zubov since he has a great ability to think the game at such a high level."
3. Gabriel Landeskog, Kitchener (OHL): "He played in the OHL for two years. He's a terrific player, a competitor, someone out of the mold of a Brenden Morrow; he'll take the puck to the net, but if you want some hard play along the boards, if you want some puck battles won in the corners and in the heavy hard games, Gabriel is the guy who'll be able to lead you. There's a lot of talk about him being a future captain, and that's a deserved reputation he has because this guy is all character, as well as skill."
2. Jonathan Huberdeau, Saint John (QMJHL): "There have been some comparisons to Michel Goulet, the Hall of Famer. Huberdeau is deserved of that because he's a complete player. He's quick and fast and he's got so much potential in front of him. He's got a good chance to be a real, real top player in the NHL."
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Red Deer (WHL): "When you look at him and watch him play, he's gifted. It starts with an unbelievably brilliant mind and then he takes that awareness through his vision and great quickness in his hands and feet to make everyone around him better. Everybody looks at him and says, he's slight or he might not be the strongest guy. During the NHL Combine, he said, I didn't know bench presses helped me score goals. But he's elusive and you may look at him and say he's an easy target to knock off, but he never gets hit. He makes everyone around him better and to me, No. 1 centermen like him are not easy to find. To me, he's established himself as the No. 1 guy heading into the draft."
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