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Unlike the 2009 and 2010 NHL Entry Drafts, the 2011 draft did not have a clear-cut favorite player to be picked with the first overall pick. Whereas the previous two drafts featured Tyler Seguin, Taylor Hall, and John Tavares as the favorites to be selected with the first selection, the 2011 draft’s first pick was highly contested among analysts, scouts, and General Managers alike. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ writer Diane Doyle looks at the selections of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Prior to the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, many observers rated center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as the best possible pick, although there was disagreement by “experts” as to whether he would be picked with the first overall pick. At least one observer felt that there were several players who could go first overall that year. From the Capitals fans’ point of view, then-General Manager George McPhee, reportedly did not perceive the draft as a very deep draft in terms of overall talent. As a result, he traded the Caps’ first-round pick (26th overall) to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for right winger Troy Brouwer, who was a restricted free agent at the time. As the Caps had already traded their second-rounder in a trade deadline deal, the draft was generally not of much interest to Capitals fans.
Six years later, the productivity of the forwards picked in the first-round can be evaluated. Like the previous two articles on the 2009 and 2010 drafts, this article is not discussing the defensemen, except in passing. Notable defensemen drafted in the round included Adam Larsson and Dougie Hamilton, who no longer play for their original teams.
Top Two Picks
The Edmonton Oilers selected Nugent-Hopkins with the first pick to be the playmaking center to complement the scoring skills of Taylor Hall, who they had drafted the previous year. In 2016-2017, Nugent-Hopkins had 18 goals and 25 assists for 43 points in 82 games played, with a Plus/Minus rating of minus-10. Career-wise, he has scored 95 goals and added 170 assists for 265 points in 395 games played. His best season came in 2014-2015 when he scored 24 goals and had 32 assists for 56 points in 76 games played. The second overall pick that year was Gabriel Landeskog, who was selected by the Colorado Avalanche. In 2016-2017, he had 18 goals and 15 assists for 33 points in 72 games played. His goal total was slightly below his typical output, which generally exceeded 20 goals. His assist total of 15 was much less than his typical assist total, that usually exceeds 30. Overall, for his career, he has scored 118 goals and added 161 assists for 279 points in 428 games played. His career point total is slightly better than Nugent-Hopkins’, but he is a winger while Nugent-Hopkins is a center. Both the goals and assists have been decreasing since the 2013-2014 season, with his goal totals falling from 26 to 23 to 20 to 18 and his assist totals falling from 39 to 36 to 33 to 15.
Other Picks in the Top Half
As a rule, the remaining forwards in the top half of the draft (i.e. 15th overall and prior) have played regularly in the NHL since being drafted, but none of them could be truly classified as superstars. Some have performed inconsistently throughout their NHL careers. Others are comparatively late bloomers.
Jonathan Huberdeau, selected third overall by the Florida Panthers, scored 20 goals and recorded 39 assists in 2015-2016, which remains his best season to date. He missed much of the 2016-2017 season with an Achilles tendon injury and played only 31 games, in which he scored 10 goals and added 16 assists. Career-wise, he’s scored 68 goals and added 130 assists for 198 points in 303 games played. He is considered an important part of the Panthers’ offense. Ryan Strome, the next forward chosen, with the fifth overall pick, had his best year with the New York Islanders in 2014-2015 with 17 goals and 33 assists for 50 points. He has approached those totals since then and was dealt to the Edmonton Oilers after the 2016-2017 season. In his career, he has scored 45 goals and added 81 assists for a total of 126 points in 258 games played.
Mika Zibanejad, picked by the Ottawa Senators with the sixth overall pick, had two consecutive 20-goal seasons in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. He was traded to the New York Rangers, along with the Senators’ second-round pick, after the 2015-16 season for Derick Brassard and a seventh-round pick. He broke his leg in November and missed two months, playing just 56 games, in which he scored 14 goals and added 23 assists for 37 points. With 78 goals and 110 assists for 188 points in his career, he is one of the more productive forwards drafted in the first-round in 2011.
Mark Scheifele, who the Winnipeg Jets picked with the seventh overall pick, had a career year in 2016-2017, scoring 32 goals and recording 50 assists for 82 points in 79 games played. He improved slightly in goals from 29 the previous season and improved drastically in assists, by 32, from his 2015-2016 totals. The 2015-2016 season was his breakthrough season, as prior to that, he had never topped 15 goals in a season. His overall career totals are 90 goals, 137 assists, and 227 points in 306 games played. His shooting percentage of 20.0 is likely unsustainable for future seasons. He has an overall shooting percentage of 14.2%, so maybe the expected drop-off may not be a reality just yet. Sean Couturier, picked by the Philadelphia Flyers with the eighth overall pick, consistently ranges from 10-15 goals and 20-30 assists per season. During the 2016-2017 season, his totals came to 14 goals and 20 assists for 34 points in 66 games played. His career totals are 70 goals, 121 assists, and 191 points.
Sven Baertschi, who the Vancouver Canucks chose with the 13th overall pick, did not establish himself as a regular in the NHL until the 2015-2016 season, and had 18 goals and 17 assists during the 2016-2017 season, which was a slight improvement over his 2015-2016 totals of 15 goals and 13 assists. In his career, he has 43 goals, 50 assists, and 93 points in 206 games played. Baertschi had a high shooting percentage of 15.8, but his overall shooting percentage is 14.1. J.T. Miller, taken at 15th overall by the New York Rangers, also did not play a full season in the NHL until the 2015-2016 season, although he played 58 games in the NHL the previous year. He scored 22 goals in both the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons, with 21 assists in 2015-16 and 34 assists in 2016-17. He has scored 59 goals and added 79 assists for 132 points in 278 games in his career. Miller had a high shooting percentage in 2016-2017 at 16.7, but his overall career shooting percentage is 13.2%.
Forwards Picks in Bottom Half of Round
As a rule, the forwards drafted in the bottom half of the first-round have not been impact players in the NHL, vindicating George McPhee’s assessment at the time. There were busts in Mark McNeil (18th overall by Chicago), who played just two games in the NHL; Tyler Biggs (22nd overall by Toronto), who never played in the NHL; Zack Phillips (28th overall by Minnesota); and Nicklas Jensen (29th overall by Vancouver). The best player taken in the bottom half of the first-round was, ironically enough, the last pick, which was Rickard Rakell of the Anaheim Ducks. Rakell did not make himself an NHL regular until spending most of the 2014-2015 season with them. In 2015-2016, he had 20 goals and 23 assists. In 2016-2017, he produced even better, scoring 33 goals and adding 18 assists for 51 points in 71 games played. It is unknown if he can sustain producing 33 goals per year, given that his shooting percentage was 18.6, while his career shooting percentage is 13.6. He has the highest career totals for the players chosen with Picks #16-20, with 62 goals, 67 assists, and 129 points. Aside from Rakell, the players drafted in the bottom half of the first-round include Vladislav Namestnikov and Phillip Danault, who was the forward that the Blackhawks drafted with the pick obtained from the Caps. Namestnikov had 10 goals and 18 assists for Tampa Bay, the team that drafted him, and career-wise, has scored 33 goals and 46 assists for a total of 79 points in 201 games played. Danault was traded to Montreal at the trade deadline in 2016 and played his first full season in the league in 2016-2017, scoring 13 goals and adding 27 assists for 40 points.
Impact Later Round Players
While the first-round of the 2011 Entry Draft seemed somewhat shallow in forward talent, especially in the “back” half, there were some great forwards chosen in later rounds, primarily the second-round. The best player chosen after the first-round was Nikita Kucherov, who the Tampa Bay Lightning chose near the end of the second-round, with the 58th overall pick. He scored 40 goals and added 45 assists for 85 points, which led all players from that draft in goals and points, and was second in assists. His 40 goals were more than Rakell (33) and Scheifele (32), who had the most behind him. His 45 assists were second only to Scheifele who had 50. Career-wise, he has scored 108 goals and added 126 assists for 234 points. His career goal total is only 11 goals behind Landeskog, who has played in over 100 more games in the NHL. He has more points than all other draftees in his class, except for Nugent-Hopkins and Landeskog.
Another high-scoring player from Round 2 was Brandon Saad, who the Chicago Blackhawks chose with the 43rd overall pick. Saad played over two full seasons with Chicago before getting traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets prior to the 2015-2016 season. Chicago re-acquired him after the 2016-2017 season. Saad scored 24 goals and had 29 assists last season for the Blue Jackets, after scoring a career-high of 31 the previous year. Career-wise, his totals are 107 goals, 125 assists, and 232 points. His 232 points are less than that of only Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog, and Kucherov. In that draft, Chicago obtained a great player in the second-round to make up for their picks from the first-round, given they had drafted Mark McNeil, who was a bust, and Phillip Danault, who did not make the NHL to stay until being traded elsewhere. Another good draft pick in the second-round was Boone Jenner, who the Blue Jackets chose with the 37th overall pick. He scored 18 goals and added 16 assists this past season. His career totals are 73 goals and 56 assists.
The best player chosen after the second-round was Johnny Gaudreau, who the Calgary Flames chose in the fourth-round with the 104th pick in the draft. In 2016-2017, he had 18 goals and 43 assists for 61 points. Career-wise, he has scored 73 goals and added 131 assists for 204 points overall. Other notable players chosen beyond the second-round are Andrew Shaw and Ondrej Palat.
The first-round of the 2011 draft was one in which the forwards drafted in the first half were much better than the ones drafted in the second half. While this article focuses more on the forwards, some notable defensemen were drafted, too, with the best defensemen of that round being Dougie Hamilton who the Boston Bruins drafted at 11th overall before trading him to the Flames before the 2015-2016 season. Other notable defensemen include Adam Larsson, Jonas Brodin, Nathan Beaulieu, and Connor Murphy. There were also some gems of players in the second-round and later, including Kucherov, Saad, Gaudreau, and Palat. This helps prove that scouting eighteen-year old players is not an exact science.
From the point of view of a Capitals fan, McPhee passing on the late first-rounders in favor of trading the pick to acquire Troy Brouwer seemed to be a sensible move at the time. But, if the Caps had chosen either Brandon Saad or Nikita Kucherov, they may have been better off. That year, the Caps ended up picking Garrett Haar with their last pick in the seventh-round, who was never offered an NHL contract. While the odds of a seventh-rounder making the NHL are much slimmer than that of a first-rounder, the Caps would have done better to choose the player who was drafted immediately after Haar, which was Palat. They did, however, select forward Travis Boyd (pictured above), who will likely get a long look in training camp this coming season.
By Diane Doyle