Immediate judgments on the NHL Entry Draft

As the elite prospects of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft were wiped off the draft board one-by-one, scouting departments and management staff alike held hands in preparation for a jump into the proverbial deep end.

Like in any sport, drafting decisions made after the first couple rounds can be considered on par with a drunken toss at the dart board by an amateur billiards player. This is the case simply because the talent that remains is so underexposed, so unidentified in comparison to the high profile skaters and ‘tenders.

Now, although time will be greatest variable in the ultimate decision of who won and lost on draft weekend, there are a handful of immediate triumphs and concerns that have surfaced from the late June spectacle.

While it’s too early to tell if Tampa Bay’s gamble of taking Central Hockey League’s Matthew Peca as the 201st pick will pay off, something impactful that initially comes to mind is the Philadelphia Flyers’ selection of Sean Couturier.

Labeled as the draft’s probable No. 1 pick prior to the 2010-11 season, the 6’4″ center continually dropped out of more and more top pick conversations as the season dragged on. He headlines Buzzing the Net‘s all-steals team for good reason though, since many neglect the fact his production levelled – didn’t drop – from 2009-10 to the season that just passed.

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While teams tend to gravitate to prospects who have breakout seasons in their draft year, Couturier’s skills have been consistently on display since he first laced up for Drummondville in 2008. Joining Brayden Schenn, James Van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds, Couturier will be a workhorse in the Flyers’ newly designed long-term forward crew.

On the back end, a major thumbs up from the first-round goes to the Dallas Stars and their drafting of Jamie Oleksiak. Compared to both Zdeno Chara and Tyler Myers, the Northeastern University product will assuredly make a dramatic impression in the NHL before the 2014-15 campaign hits. Simply put, you can’t teach size and, with some seasoning, Oleksiak projects to be a very solid shutdown defenseman – something other franchises will come to envy.

While congratulations go out to Oleksiak and several other mid-to-late first-rounders who went a few spots higher than expected (see Mark Scheifele, Phillip Danault et al), mock draftologists hung their heads in the wake of the completion of the top-30.

A number of mock drafts, including The Good Point‘s mock, materialized with either an impressive 80 percent or perfect 5-for-5 record after the first five players were chosen. However, from then on correct pickings were slim.

Speaking of high draft picks, there were a few teams who may well flounder down the road since they gave up their first-round spots at some point in time. In a very extensive account by The Leafs Nation back in February, it was concluded that first-round draft picks become everyday NHLers about 60 percent of the time. With that in mind, a big thumbs down goes to clubs who didn’t step up to the podium during the first-round.

Not having those leading endowments in your system can limit what a franchise is capable of in the future.

Even though six other clubs – the Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets, Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals – are guilty of leaving Minnesota without a first-rounder, San Jose Sharks fans are set up to suffer most since they lacked a group of significant fantastic up-and-comers in their organization coming into the draft.

Perhaps the Sharks should have spent more time in the State of Hockey prior to June as the Minnesota high school loop produced some seriously gifted prospects.

The cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis seem to be following in the developmental footsteps of the ever-impressive United States Hockey League who Puck Daddy dubbed a winner of the draft.

On the other side of the national development coin is Russia. The once second fiddle player to Canada in the hockey world is now a debatable member of the Big Four, with Finland inching closer as a substitute nation year after year.

Alas, the champions of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft are the Chicago Blackhawks.

Aside from making perhaps the smartest selection in Round 1 by taking Mark McNeill as the 18th pick, the ‘Hawks stockpiled talent in the form of 11 total picks (two in first-round, two in second).

Four of those were in the top 43, which leads one to think Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane will have some serious back-up once they hit their mid-20s prime.

This begs the question: Will the Cup be back in the Windy City mid-decade?

As with everything related to the recently passed draft, it’s far too early to tell.

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