Perhaps this year's draft doesn't have the same excitement as years past. Perhaps it might not have the true superstar potential others have had. Taylor vs. Tyler? No doubt about Stamkos? There just isn't the same kind of buzz.
It took until recently for the top prospect to really establish himself as such, and that's Ryan Nugent- Hopkins. Perhaps the reason the excitement about him as the top prospect isn't as high as it has been for others in recent years is the way in which he plays. You don't figure him to be a guy like Stamkos who comes out and by the time he's old enough to drink alcohol is one of the leading lamp-lighters in the NHL.
"I'm more of playmaker. I like to score and if I'm on my game, I can do that," Nugent-Hopkins told CBSSports.com in the middle of the Stanley Cup Finals. "I'm definitely more of a pass-first type of player."
So the guy might not play the game exactly like one of his heroes, Maurice "Rocket" Richard. So what? I'm stating the obvious here, but you don't have to score to be an impact player on offense.
The biggest knock he has had to overcome, though, has been his size and people wondering if he'll be durable enough to handle playing center in the NHL.
"I definitely need to gain some weight and put some muscle on," Nugent-Hopkins said. "Seeing these [NHL] guys in the hall, they’re all men. They are all big guys. I need to put some weight on and work on every aspect of my game."
What that criticism fails to mention, however, is his great skating ability, elusiveness and defensive responsibility.
"His vision, his creativity, his intelligence and his understanding of the game, and the skill package that goes with it is what make him so special," said Jesse Wallin, his coach and VP of hockey operations for the WHL's Red Deer Rebels. "He's got tremendous hands and passing ability, he's got a great release, he's a great skater, he's got tremendous agility ... it's just a really special package and a personality and makeup that allows him to utilize that skill set."
Just because there hasn't been a headlining story for the draft doesn't mean it doesn't have a headliner. Nugent-Hopkins fits that bill, and he thinks he would be a pretty good fit with the team picking No. 1.
"I think I can help [the Oilers] in the rebuilding stage that they're in. If I got drafted there, I could definitely learn a lot from all of them."
And we'll learn a lot more about him.
(Shameless plug: Join A.J. Perez and I with our live draft chat on Friday evening. The draft begins at 7 ET from St. Paul, Minn.)
1. C 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 heavier than expected. "For the past few years, it's been tough to put weight on. I think I'm starting to mature more now. I'm filling out a little more. I put on six pounds this summer. I think I finally started putting some weight on," Nugent-Hopkins told CBSSports.com. 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. Player profile
2. C Jonathan Huberdeau, 6-1/170, Saint John (QMJHL): Has already been drafted once this year -- 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. Understanding Nugent-Hopkins is the top prospect, I have a hunch Huberdeau could be the best player down the line. 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. When asked by CBSSports.com what he has been focusing on, Huberdeau answered: "Consistency. I want to be more consistent in my game. My skating, my speed, I want to get better at. I have been working on that all season long. I work on everything. Nobody is perfect, so you have to work on all the areas." Player profile
3. LW Gabriel Landeskog, 6-0/207, Kitchener (OHL): It seems pretty clear Landeskog is the top winger available, and he might also be the most NHL-ready player in the draft. His upside might not be as high as some other skaters in the draft, but the ceiling is still great and he figures to be a very good scorer in little time. Playing for the Rangers of the OHL, Landeskog had 36 goals and 30 assists in 53 games. His leadership qualities stand out, too, as he was the youngest to be named captain for Kitchener in 30 years. He draws comparisons to Mike Richards, who also played for Kitchener. "I'm a hard-working two-way player. I think I can play on all situations on the ice. That's who I am," Landeskog told CBSSports.com. Player profile
4. D Adam Larsson, 6-3/200, Skelleftea (Sweden): The near-consensus top defenseman available, and we're not going to disagree. He has great size and moves very well, too. He isn't a guy guy who will give you a lot of scoring, but he does do a good job of moving the puck up top. In 37 games this season, he had just one goal and eight assists, but the team that picks him won't be looking for much offense. Not to say he can't develop more of an offensive game, but right now his strength lies in defense. Player highlights
5. C Sean Couturier, 6-4/197, Drummondville (QMJHL): He has fallen down the boards some since being the preseason favorite as the top prospect. He has faced 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
6. D Dougie Hamilton, 6-4/187, Niagara (OHL): Impressed folks at the combine with his stature, Hamilton is a guy with a ton of potential to help a blue line for a long time. He is very capable of handling the puck and according to his OHL coach Marty Williamson: "When he sees those opportunities to jump into the rush or lead the rush, I believe it's untapped what he can do." His 12 goals and 46 assists in 67 games show he would bring a lot of value to a power-play unit. "I think I'm a complete guy, so I don't really have any weaknesses that stand out. I just want to improve on everything. At this point, I want to get stronger," Hamilton told CBSSports.com. Player profile
7. C Ryan Strome, 6-1/175, Niagara (OHL): Along the line of Nugent-Hopkins and Huberdeau, he is a playmaker, as he displayed by posting 33 goals and 73 assists in 65 games for Niagara, and 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
8. D Ryan Murphy, 5-10/166, Kitchener (OHL): There are people worried about his small stature, but he's a guy who can play. He's probably the best offensive defenseman available, as evidenced by his 26 goals and 53 assists in 63 games for the Rangers. He is very good with the puck, but perhaps has the ability to be too creative as he has to watch the turnovers. Regardless, he would fit nicely at the point with the man up. Skates very well too, always a plus to have on the blue line. Player profile
9. LW Sven Baertschi, 5-10/181, Portland (WHL): Put up great numbers as a rookie in the WHL, leading the league's freshmen with 85 points -- 34 goals and 51 assists -- while demonstrating great vision on the ice. He's the kind of guy teams love because of his work ethic. Per Portland coach Mike Johnston: "Quick, skilled, very fast type of player. ... I don't think anyone can stay on the ice as long as he does. We have to tell him to get off the ice 45 minutes after practice ends. He stays out there forever to work on his game. He works on inside-outside moves, quick shots and little foot movement."
10. D Nathan Beaulieu, 6-2/174, St. John (QMJHL): Beaulieu is enjoying a rise as the draft draws near thanks largely to the Sea Dogs winning the Memorial Cup with his plus-44 on the year. In 21 postseason games, he had 16 points (4G, 12A) after a 12-33-35 regular season. He is a defenseman that thinks offense, so he does have some improving to do on the defensive end. According to his QMJHL coach Gerard Gallant: "He's gotten better, bigger and stronger, he's playing a lot better defensively." Player profile
-- Brian Stubits