'Peg looks to the future

KEN WIEBE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:21 AM ET

ST. PAUL, MINN. - At least one Eastern Conference scout believes Winnipeg will come home with a highly-skilled player from the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Trying to nail down who that individual might be is a lot less certain.

While there are very few sure things, other than the Edmonton Oilers stepping to the podium on Friday and selecting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League, many draft analysts and experts believe there will be plenty of talent still available when Winnipeg steps to the podium to make the seventh selection — barring an unexpected trade up or down, of course.

And rather than go with a safer pick, this scout believes Winnipeg should swing for the fences.

“There are about eight players that there are fewer questions about,” said the scout. “That’s not to say the guys who come after that can’t be good players, but there are a few ifs. If his body gets stronger, if he gets a little quicker. Things like that.

“The draft is not as deep as it was the last few years, it’s more like the ’07 draft.”

Although conventional wisdom is a bit of a misnomer when referring to the selection of teenagers based on what they will become, there are usually a few draft-day surprises in the first round — see highly-ranked defenceman Cam Fowler falling to the Anaheim Ducks at 12 but spending the entire season in the NHL.

Many believe the next three picks after Nugent-Hopkins (in no particular order) will be Kitchener Rangers forward Gabriel Landeskog, Swedish blue-liner Adam Larsson and Saint John Sea Dogs centre Jonathan Huberdeau — the five-to-11 positions are a little more up in the air.

“Landeskog is probably the guy that is most ready to play,” said the scout. “He plays a North American style and has a strong body. He could play (in the NHL) next season, depending on who takes him.”

Drummondville Volitgeurs centre Sean Couturier was a potential first overall pick at some point but after seeing his stock drop a bit, he’s a good bet to go fifth.

However, if the New York Islanders or Ottawa Senators aren’t sure about him, Winnipeg could be there to scoop him up.

“Couturier is very interesting — he was projected to go No. 1 but was a disappointment,” said the scout. “The test for him is that he didn’t meet expectations. He’s got to get a little bit quicker. He’s a big guy with good hands.”

Defenceman Dougie Hamilton of the Niagara Ice Dogs has seen his stock rise dramatically and is another guy who may or may not be available at No. 7.

“He’s a mobile guy and a talented guy,” said the scout.

The player many see falling into Winnipeg’s lap is Ice Dogs centre Ryan Strome, who is no stranger to the highlight-reel goal.

“He’s good enough right now to be a good player, but sure there is (concern about his size),” said the scout. “For him to be a dominant player, he’s going to have to get stronger physically. But you could say the same thing about Steve Yzerman or Wayne Gretzky. You didn’t know how strong they were going to get but they got there.”

If an offensive defenceman is the way Winnipeg chooses to go, Ryan Murphy of the Rangers will be called.

“Murphy is really dynamic, sort of like a poor man’s Paul Coffey,” said the scout. “A high-risk type of guy.”

Three other options for Winnipeg to mull over are Swedish centre Mika Zibanejad, Sea Dogs defenceman Nathan Beaulieu and Saskatoon Blades blue-liner Duncan Siemens.

“I like Duncan Siemens if you want a guy who is big, mobile, tough and can defend,” said the scout. “In my opinion, at No. 7, you want a guy that has more offensive upside than that.”

Zibanejad is bigger than Strome right now, but doesn’t project to having as high a ceiling.

“There are a few ifs there and if you’re the Winnipeg guys, I think you’d want a surer bet than that,” said the scout.


Photos