Possible picks pumped for 'Peg

KEN WIEBE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:49 AM ET

ST. PAUL, MINN. - Not one player has heard his name called or been handed a jersey, but the draft class of 2011 is already anticipating what it’s going to be like to suit up at the MTS Centre somewhere down the road.

Even those not expected to last until Winnipeg picks at seventh overall — barring a move up the board — were giving a ringing endorsement of the NHL’s newest franchise on Thursday when the top prospects met the media.

“It’s great to have another NHL team in Canada, it’s going to be a fun place to play,” said Red Deer Rebels centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a safe bet to go first overall to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday. “The fans are going to be crazy.”

Kitchener Rangers forward Gabriel Landeskog also weighed in on the move back to Winnipeg.

“It’s very exciting, for sure. Not only for their fans and for the city of Winnipeg but very exciting for the whole NHL,” said Landeskog, considered by many to be the most NHL ready player available. “For every team playing there for the coming seasons, it’s going to be awesome.”

Niagara Ice Dogs centre Ryan Strome, one of the candidates to go No. 7, gave a glowing endorsement of his meeting with Winnipeg staff on Thursday.

“It was a very good vibe, I think they liked me. They were very welcoming people and the interview was very relaxed. It was great,” said Strome. “Mock drafts say I’m at seven, but you could go up or down. If you go to Winnipeg, that would be great. With a new franchise in Canada, there would be a lot of hype around it.”

Kitchener Rangers defenceman Ryan Murphy could also fall to Winnipeg and he’s already received a scouting report from a former Jets’ player.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen but Winnipeg would obviously be amazing,” said Murphy. “A good family friend of ours, Kris King, was actually the last captain of the Winnipeg Jets, so it’s pretty cool that could be a possibility for me to get drafted there.

“He told me he loved it and it was his favourite place to play. He told me it was cold and you had to keep your car running at all times, but other than that, he really liked it.”

The drive to 13,000 season tickets was something Drummondville Voltigeurs centre Sean Couturier noticed.

“People look pretty enthusiastic about having the team back, people are excited and it should be a great atmosphere,” said Couturier.

Another one of the players to keep an eye on Friday is Saint John Sea Dogs defenceman Nathan Beaulieu, who also met with Cheveldayoff and company on Thursday.

“It was real positive,” said Beaulieu. “I want to know what they’re going to be called.”

His stock is on the rise and he could easily end up in Winnipeg.

“It’s obviously a possibility, they’re right in my area,” said Beaulieu, who helped the Sea Dogs capture the Memorial Cup last month. “I’m pretty excited to see what happens (Friday) and maybe it will be Winnipeg.”

While most believe Winnipeg will opt for a centre like Strome, Couturier or Mika Zibanejad, you can never have enough skilled defencemen who aren’t afraid to mix it up a little.

At least the suspense won’t last much longer.

“I can’t wait for the process,” said Beaulieu. “Hopefully, I’m not waiting too long.”


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