Future Considerations

2011 draftees push for NHL jobs

From Aaron Vickers:

The 2010 NHL Entry Draft graduated five players to the NHL the following season.

In 2009, six players made the jump directly to the show. 2008, like 2010, saw five.

The question remains how many skaters make the immediate jump from the 2011 draft class.

Gabriel Landeskog, selected second overall by the Colorado Avalanche, will do his part in getting the number up.

The right winger was widely regarded as the most NHL-ready forward from the 2011 class and will get every opportunity to make his mark in Colorado. The Kitchener Rangers, whom Landeskog spent last season with, is so confident in the six-foot 200-pound forward’s ability to turn pro that they released him from their roster before June’s Import Draft.

Helping Landeskog is the fact that his freshly signed contract carries a cap hit of $3.45 million. Without the Swede, Colorado would fall below the league’s floor of $48.3 million.

Regardless of if he makes the Philadelphia Flyers training camp or not, odds suggest six-foot-four forward Sean Couturier will be wearing a new jersey this season.

Like Landeskog, Couturier is regarded as a player mature enough for the NHL. Offensively, no 2011 draftee had more points over the course of the last two seasons than Couturier, who also boasts one of the best two-way games available last June. Aiding in Couturier’s drive to Philadelphia is the fact the club just dealt centers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards this offseason. Working in Couturier’s favor is the fact he has little left to prove in the QMJHL. After back-to-back 96 point campaigns, the former Team Canada alumnus has seemingly accomplished everything he can at the major junior level.

But should the Flyers want him back in junior, it’s likely he’ll be dealt from his Drummondville Voltigeurs. The once QMJHL powerhouse isn’t poised for another championship push and will likely sell off one of the league’s premier players for a small ransom.

In a similar boat to Couturier is fellow QMJHL standout Jonathan Huberdeau.

Though Huberdeau, drafted third overall, doesn’t have to worry about being dealt from the Saint John Sea Dogs, there is a chance the six-foot-one, 170 pound forward is returned to major junior. What does work in the St. Jerome, PQ. native’s favor is in fact the team that drafted him – the Florida Panthers.

Huberdeau, regarded as one of the draft’s best offensive players, could add a jolt of scoring to the Panthers, who were paced by Stephen Weiss’ 49 points last season. Florida is in need of an offensive jolt, which could come in the form of a Huberdeau experiment. First, the club would have to sign Huberdeau, who with Ryan Strome remains as the only players selected in the top-5 to not have a contract heading into camp.

What’s working against Huberdeau is the same thing that has plagued the draft’s first overall pick, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Both Huberdeau and Nugent-Hopkins, weighing it at under 175-pounds, are seen as too slight to withstand the rigors of the daily grind known as the National Hockey League. Despite great talent from either, both will be plagued with questions of durability and physical preparedness for the pro game.

In the case of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, many feel he’s better suited for a return to the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League and given another season to physically mature before joining the Oilers next season.

At six-foot-three and 210-pounds, New Jersey Devils pick Adam Larsson is.

The most likely of the drafted defensemen to make a regular appearance in the NHL this season, Larsson will have the opportunity to earn one of three spots available on the Devils blueline. Regarded as the most NHL-ready blueliner from 2011, Larsson has spent the last three seasons playing against men with Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League.

And even if Larsson hasn’t shown he can make the immediate jump, the Swede has the option of joining the club’s American Hockey League team in Albany. Once more adjusted to the North American game, Larsson can transition smoothly into the NHL.

Larsson’s countryman Mika Zibanejad will have every opportunity to make his mark on the Ottawa Senators, who finished second-last in goals scored last season.

The Senators, much like the Panthers, will be looking for fresh blood to provide an offensive spark. The hope is Zibanejad can slot among the team’s top-nine forwards to provide that spark, otherwise it may not be worth it for the Senators to keep the six-foot-two forward around playing minimal minutes. While the 18-year-old signed with the Senators shortly after the draft, and while he too can be assigned to the AHL, it’s more likely that he’d return to Djurgården of the SEL.

With NHL camps officially open for business, it’ll be just a matter of time before the question of how quick the 2011 NHL Entry Draft class can make an impact.

Aaron Vickers is the managing editor of Future Considerations and can be found on Twitter. Follow the latest Future Considerations news and posts, follow FC’s Official Twitter Feed, on YouTube and on Facebook!

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