If your favorite team is in the market for a good young center (and who isn't?) then this year is for you. The cream of the NHL Draft crop can be spotted in dotted spots.
Everybody has pretty much settled on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being the best player in the draft, but it took a long time to come to that conclusion because there are more than a couple of guys who were in that conversation, two of the others also being centers.
Point is, if you aren't picking first (and unless you are Edmonton -- or possibly Florida as, trade rumors speculate -- you aren't) don't worry, there is plenty of talent to be had up the middle.
1. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 6'0/177, Red Deer (WHL): Before the combine a couple weeks ago, there were doubts about Nugent-Hopkins as the best overall player because of his size. That was until he surprised scouts by coming in 13 pounds heavier than expected. He is the true definition of a play-making center, leading the WHL in assists last season with 75 while scoring 31 goals for the Rebels. NHL Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan had this to day: "A couple of people high up -- and not naming names -- said Hopkins has the best vision since No. 99." How about that for pressure? Oh, and he's really fast. Yes, there's a reason why he's everybody's No. 1.
2. Jonathan Huberdeau, 6'1/170, Saint John (QMJHL): Has already been drafted once this year, being selected sixth overall in the KHL draft in May. Needless to say, he's not going to report. That's because Huberdeau is one of the elite prospects available. He's a player that is seen as a center, but could possibly play left wing at the next level. He became the face of Saint John's run to the Memorial Cup, setting new club records in points (105) and assists (62) that went along with 43 goals and a league-high plus-59. Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau says "He definitely has NHL hands and playmaking ability." Sounds about right.
3. Sean Couturier, 6'4/197, Drummondville (QMJHL): He has fallen down the boards some since being the preseason favorite as the top prospect, facing criticism for his less-than ideal speed and explosiveness. Couturier was still good enough this season to be named the QMJHL's MVP over Huberdeau after a 36-goal, 60-assist campaign. One thing that scouts love in addition to his size is his defensive abilities as he is a true two-way player. He will still be a highly coveted player with a big frame already. Player profile
4. Ryan Strome, 6'1/175, Niagara (OHL): Along the line of Nugent-Hopkins and Huberdeau, he is a playmaker, posting 33 goals and 73 assists in 65 games for Niagara, being named the OHL East's best playmaker by coaches. Strome is also a guy willing to get physical and into the tough spots, showing a nice ability to wield the stick on tip-in opportunities. To further see how well he can handle the hockey stick, just watch this sick goal -- he just might be the best scorer of all the centers available. Player profile
5. Mika Zibanejad, 6'2/190, Djurgarden (Sweden): Already possessing the size many teams look for in a center, Zibanejad is a physical force who is hard to knock off the puck and is a big-time hitter (see!). His production in the Swedish Elite League wasn't much (five goals, four assists in 26 games) -- but that's good for a teenager in that league. He popped onto many radars with his five goals and four assists in just six games at the World U-17s. He's the type of player about whom you will hear such superlatives as "high-motor guy" and "plays the right way." Player highlights
6. Mark McNeill, 6'2/201, Prince Albert (WHL): McNeill is not the most physically gifted center available, but he is one of the centers who plays tough at both ends of the ice. He saw a massive jump in his numbers from last season to this, when he scored 32 goals with 49 assists in 70 games, up from 24 points the season before. But that can easily be chalked up to maturing more as a player. One intriguing aspect is that he's a right-handed center, something a lot of teams could use. Player highlights
7. Zack Phillips, 6'1/178, Saint John (QMJHL): Yet another Sea Dog to make it on one of the prospect lists, is it any wonder Saint John won the Memorial Cup? A linemate of Huberdeau, Phillips has enough skills to have distinguished himself on a stacked team. According to coach Gerard Gallant: "Zack has great vision and is strong on the puck. He's a solid center and has come a long way in a short time. He kind of reminds me of an Adam Oates-type of player." Not bad. Stats wise, he had 38 goals and 57 assists in 67 regular-season games. Player highlights
8. Vladislav Namestnikov, 6'0/166, London (OHL): The Russian native led the way for the Knights with 30 goals this season, his first in the OHL. He projects at a center but could end up playing on the outside. At this point, he doesn't quite have the size you'd look for out of a centerman. According to Central Scouting's Jack Edwards: "Vlad plays a high-energy, two-way game he's very aggressive on the forecheck and backcheck and has the ability to beat defenders outside and cut back to the net. He has an excellent wrist shot that he can release with accuracy on the rush." Player profile
9. Boone Jenner, 6'1/204, Oshawa (OHL): Jenner is one of those players that doesn't really do anything great but does everything well. He does the stuff that earns him the labels like gritty -- forechecking and backchecking well, blocking shots, going into heavy traffic, etc. Leading a line featuring two other draft prospects, he scored 25 goals and had 41 assists in 63 games. He might not be a top-line center in the NHL, but that doesn't mean he won't be a reliable and good player for a long time. Player highlights
10. Shane Prince, 5'10/174, Ottawa (OHL): Hailing from Upstate New York, Prince hardly passes the sniff test with his smaller stature. But what he lacks there he makes up for in his speed as he flies on the ice. He clearly has good vision and knows what to do with the puck, racking up 63 assists and 25 goals in 59 games this season. “I've been doubted my whole life, from day one. I was either too small -- I was a bit of a late-bloomer -- and I've seemed to prove those people wrong my whole life," Prince says. Not exactly Rudy, but he's got a bit of American bulldog in him (just watch the highlights, fights and all). Player highlights
-- Brian Stubits