Ah the joys of mock drafting, perhaps one of the most inexact attempts a sports fan can produce when it comes to predicting the future. Those of us who follow clubs that didn't make the playoffs are more likely interested than those who did not, but the mock drafts always seem to bring out the best conversations as to a team's need and wants, both from the club's point of view and the fans point of view. Seeing as how we're all fans here, feel free to post your mock draft predictions in the comments. Note that this is simply my prediction of the top ten picks and not the other staffers here at the LBC. Enjoy the banter folks!
1. Edmonton Oilers - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C
Even though Edmonton has some clear needs on the blueline, they were still the third lowest scoring team in the league last season, and drafting Nugent-Hopkins will create a long-term solution to some of the offensive issues the Oilers had last season. If Nugent-Hopkins can step right in and center a line with Taylor Hall on the wing, that immediately becomes a very dangerous scoring line. Nugent-Hopkins is likely the best playmaking center out of this year's draft, and will likely be the top centerman on the Edmonton roster after another season or two to finish his minor league efforts and fill out. Look for Edmonton to take Nugent-Hopkins with the first pick, and to address their defensive issues with some free agency work.
2. Colorado Avalanche - Adam Larsson, D
The worst defensive team in the league last season (30th in goals against, 30th on the PK), the Avs really need a blue-chip defensive prospect like Larsson or Dougie Hamilton to step in and make an impact. Larsson is the more NHL-ready of the two, and has the upside of being a slightly better puck mover than Hamilton. There's a chance the Avs will look at Jonathan Huberdeau or Sean Couturier, but the defensive needs are too glaring and Larsson is the smartest pick for a franchise that is in a rebuilding mode. A power play pairing of Erik Johnson and Larsson isn't a bad looking tandem, now is it?
3. Florida Panthers - Gabriel Landeskog, C/LW
Probably the most complete forward out of the top forward prospects in this year's draft, Landeskog is the most equipped to make an immediate impact for the team that drafts him, and the Panthers really would benefit from a player like Landeskog in the lineup. A character player and current captain of the OHL's Kitchener Rangers, Landeskog is a very solid two-way forward with a proven scoring touch, and his 6"1' 207 lb. frame and physical style of play will allow him to adapt to the NHL game very quickly. The Panthers could also look at Jonathan Huberdeau but will likely opt for Landeskog due to his size and character. He fits the mold of the Dale Tallon "blueprint", so expect to see Landeskog sliding a Panthers sweater over his head in June.
4. New Jersey Devils - Ryan Murphy, D
Murphy makes a big jump above where he was projected by many, as the Devils likely take him with the fourth pick. A player in the mold of Brian Rafalski, Murphy is a smaller player with huge offensive upside and great vision on the ice. He is a natural puck-moving defenseman, a commodity the Devils are not currently rich in. His smaller stature (5'10", 160 lbs.) could be a liability, but Murphy will be given another year or two in the minors to continue to fill out his frame. He is a very intelligent player and would give New Jersey a huge upgrade on the power play and would help give them the option of having Murphy join in the transition game. Lou Lamoriello signed a 26-year old Rafalski when many scouts thought he was simply too small for the NHL, and he proved everyone wrong, with Rafalski maturing into an All-Star defenseman. Expect Lou to look to do the same with Murphy.
5. New York Islanders - Dougie Hamilton, D
Hamilton is exactly what the Islanders need to help shore up their defensive woes: a big, strong, smart defensive player, who is solid on the first pass and has nowhere to go but upwards in regards to offensive production. Hamilton would be a very welcome addition to the Islanders defensive corps, as he would immediately give them a solid option as point man on the power play, and is reliable in any other situation they can throw at him. With the recent emergence of Andy MacDonald and Travis Hamonic, the Islanders blueline is looking better than it has in recent memory, and adding Hamilton in a season or two would further bolster the defensive future for a soon-to-be deep Islanders squad.
6. Ottawa Senators - Jonathan Huberdeau, C
Huberdeau has rocketed up the rankings the last six months, and for good reason, as he has continually showed the offensive skills that have made him so coveted during his playoff run with the Saint John Sea Dogs. The Senators will be very happy to acquire a skill player like Huberdeau to join their ranks and help their current rebuilding process. He will likely need another season or two to fill out physically and refine his game further, but when ready he should be able to step in and have an immediate impact in the NHL. Ottawa showed the league that they have a good corps of young forwards coming up through the ranks and Huberdeau will be one of the jewels in that collection.
7. Atlanta Thrashers - Sean Couturier, C
Despite all the accolades and awards, Couturier falls down the draft board to Atlanta, and they couldn't be happier. Many are projecting Couturier to be more of a raw project player than those taken above him in this mock draft, but there's no denying his skillset, size and intangibles on the ice will likely allow him to have a successful NHL career no matter where he plays. The Thrashers really need depth down the middle of the ice and Couturier will provide that as well as a proven scoring touch. His big body will let him compete down in the dirty areas in the corners and the front of the net, and he could potentially have some very solid wingers in Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler, creating a very formidable forechecking line that can put up potentially big numbers.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets - Nathan Beaulieu, D
Beaulieu is a bit of a project at this point but has immense upside as an offensive blueliner. He's not a big player at 6', 165 lbs. but will be given time to fill out and further build on his defensive game. Columbus has a real need for a solid puck-moving defenseman, and he will be able to solidly fill that role in a couple seasons. Columbus is likely coveting Ryan Murphy as well but he will likely be off the board by the time the Blue Jackets are up.
9. Boston Bruins - Duncan Siemens, D
A smooth skating defensive prospect with some offensive potential, Siemens would be a few years out from joining the Bruins in the NHL, but will likely mature into a top-6 defenseman. His skillset is that of a stay-at-home defensive player, as he is very responsible in his own end and uses his long reach to control play in the zone. He has a pretty solid point shot and could possibly see time on a power play unit, but it remains to be seen how Boston would utilize him. Regardless, he's one of the top five defensive prospects in the draft, and the Bruins will want to fill the farm system with those types of players for the future.
10. Minnesota Wild - Ryan Strome, C
The Wild need scorers and offensive production, and Strome is no stranger to that. A smaller forward, Strome makes up for his lack of size with a work effort that will surely win over any coaches or fans. He had a fantastic season with the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL in 2010-2011, scoring 106 points in 65 games, and would be a welcome addition to a Wild roster that saw only one player crack the 20 goal plateau last season.