For two straight seasons, Carolina has made a somewhat surprising selection with their first round pick, taking projected second-rounder Philippe Paradis in 2009, and passing onhighly touted defenders Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley to take undersized sniper Jeff Skinner at No. 7 in 2010.
It's not often that the results are already in just a year or two after a draft, but most would agree that the selection of Paradis — who lasted less than six months before being dealt to Toronto for another former first round pick, Jiri Tlusty — will go down as a bust, while picking Skinner, a Calder Trophy finalist, is already an obvious home run. Will Carolina again raise eyebrows and go off the board in Minnesota, home of the 2011 Entry Draft? Or will GM Jim Rutherford and Co. fall in line with the scouting services and experts and take one of the consensus best available players?
Even here at Canes Country, opinions are varied. Bob Wage went off the board, tabbing teeny Rocco Grimaldi — who some have as a top-10 pick, while others like Central Scouting expect him to go on Day 2 — as Carolina's choice at No. 12. Site newcomer Lee Phillips was a little safer, choosing Finn Joel Armia — a consensus top-20 player — as Carolina's choice. Me? Here's my look on how things will go down in the first round.1. Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Red Deer (WHL) — To be honest, I think the Oilers need a defenseman (see next pick) more than another forward, but there's nothing wrong with taking the guy most people think is the best in the draft.
2. Colorado Avalanche: Adam Larsson, D, Skellefea (Sweden) — Want to succeed? Stabilize your defense. After already adding former first overall pick Erik Johnson during last season, the Avalanche get even stronger with Larsson, who could step into the lineup as early as next year.
3. Florida Panthers: Jonathan Huberdeau, C/LW, Saint John (QMJHL) — The Panthers needs winners, and Huberdeau was the best player on the Memorial Cup-winning Sea Dogs. Florida hasn't selected many QMJHL players, but they'll make an exception here.
4. New Jersey Devils: Gabriel Landeskog, LW, Kitchener (OHL) — This shouldn't be a tough one for Lou Lamoriello. Landeskog was mentioned as a possible first overall pick relatively recently, and he could perhaps help the Devils as early as next year.
5. New York Islanders: Sean Couturier, C, Drummondville (QMJHL) — The Isles wouldn't mind moving down from this spot, but I'm not going to speculate on any trades. If they pick here, Couturier is a great playmaker that would make a good one-two punch down the middle with John Tavares — or as a pivot for Tavares is he moves to the wing down the road.
6. Ottawa Senators: Ryan Strome, C, Niagara (OHL) — Speaking of trades, the Sens are armed with five picks — including two on Friday — in the first two rounds and would love to move up. Assuming they can't, Strome is a solid consolation prize for a team in need of forwards.
7. Winnipeg: Dougie Hamilton, D, Niagara (OHL) — Hamilton slides a little and the no-name team from WInnipeg is the beneficiary. Hamilton is a prototypical 21st century defender — he's a big, strong, solid skater who is willing to be physical and can chip in offensively.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets: Mika Zibanejad, C, Djurgardens (Sweden) — The Jackets' search for a No. 1 center to complement Rick Nash continues. It could come by trading this pick — perhaps as part of a package for Philly's Jeff Carter? — but if they select here, Zibanejad could prove to be the missing pivot for the Columbus captain.
9. Boston Bruins: , D, Kitchener (OHL) — To me, no pick makes more sense in the draft than Murphy heading to Beantown. The Bruins need offensive help on the back end, and Murphy could be that guy in a season or two.
10. Minnesota Wild: Duncan Siemens, D, Saskatoon (WHL) — The Wild will likely be returning to their defense-first ways next season, so choosing Siemens would be a good starting point. Some might think this is too soon for Siemens or that the Finn-loving Wild will again look to Scandanavia, but D is the need here.
11. Colorado Avalanche: Sven Bartschi, LW, Portland (WHL) — Last year, it was Winterhawks' Swiss forward Nino Niederreiter who a hot topic at the draft. Bartschi, also from Switzerland, burst on the North American scene and outperformed Niederreiter in Portland. Having a defenseman in Larsson already in the fold, the Avs get their forward.
12. Carolina Hurricanes: Mark McNeill, C, Prince Albert (WHL) — For the third straight year, the Canes reach a bit, this time for McNeill. He already has an NHL body, and the Canes love players who like to hit the weight room and have good hockey sense. McNeill fits.
13. Calgary Flames: Nathan Beaulieu, D, Saint John (QMJHL) — The Flames need prospect help everywhere and new GM Jay Feaster has never been shy about taking defensemen early. Enter Beaulieu.
14. Dallas Stars: Mark Scheifele, C, Barrie Colts (OHL) — A small dropoff occurs after pick No. 12, so Dallas could go a lot of different ways here. Scheifele would be a good choice — he's hard working and has excelled despite playing on a subpar Colts team.
15. New York Rangers: Rocco Grimaldi, C, U.S NTDP — The Rangers have done well with U.S. born players. While Grimaldi is just 5'6, he's a battler with immense skill. And who can't get behind a guy named Rocco playing in the Big Apple?
16. Buffalo Sabres: J.T. Miller, LW, U.S. Under-18 — Sabres fans would love the hard-working Miller in their lineup. Although he is more of a role player than top-line talent, Miller could be a great glue guy.
17. Montreal Canadiens: Jonas Brodin, D, Farjestad (Sweden) — Brodin would be a great foil to current Hab P.K. Subban. Both are magnificent skaters, but Brodin's poise, patience and discipline would make for a great match with Subban's creativity, emotion and flair for the dramatic.
18. Chicago Blackhawks: Oscar Klefbom, D, Farjestad (Sweden) — Chicago may have to wait a little while for the raw defender, but it wil be worth the wait. He possesses the size, skill and instincts needed in a top-flight defender.
19. Edmonton Oilers: Jamie Oleksiak, D, Northeastern (Hockey East) — By passing on Larsson earlier, the Oilers pretty much committed to getting a defenseman with their second first round pick. Oleksiak is a risk — everyone wants to compare any tall defenseman to Zdeno Chara or Tyler Myers — but he could end up being an absolute steal.
20. Phoenix Coyotes: Joel Armia, RW, Assat (Finland) — Armia is a bit of a gentle giant, possessing the frame of a power forward but lacking the will to impose himself on opponents. Still, he possesses tremendous skill and, with consistent effort, could be a star.
21. Ottawa Senators: Nicklas Jensen, LW/RW, Oshawa (OHL) — This pick could be part of a deal to get the Senators higher than their earlier pick at No. 6. If it's not, Jensen could be a partial replacement for aging legend Daniel Alfredsson. He combines size with two-way responsibility.
22. Anaheim Ducks: Connor Murphy, D, U.S. Under-18 — After having Fowler and Emerson Etem fall in their lap last year, the Ducks have a tougher decision this time around. Murphy comes from hockey bloodlines (his dad, Gord, had a long playing career and eight years as an NHL assistant) and he should contribute in all situations.
23. Pittsburgh Penguins: Tyler Biggs, RW, U.S. Under-18 — The Penguins have plenty of skill in the fold, so adding a gritty player like Biggs from nearby Ohio seems like a winning decision.
24. Detroit Red Wings: Joe Morrow, D, Portland (WHL) — Nicklas Lidstrom is coming back for another season, but that doesn't mean Detroit isn't in need of more depth on the blueline. Morrow isn't going to replace Lidstrom in any way, but he should be a reliable bottom pairing defender.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs: Brandon Saad, LW, Saginaw (OHL) — This might not seem like a Brian Burke-type pick as Saad's jam is sometimes questioned. But if he's properly motivated, Saad could be a great find this late.
26. Washington Capitals: Viktor Rask, C, Leksand (Sweden) — Rask has slid down many draft boards, but the Caps will see value at taking a chance on the talented forward.
27. Tampa Bay Lightning: David Musil, D, Vancouver (WHL) — Like Connor Murphy, Musil has a good pedigree. His father played in the NHL and his uncle is Bobby Holik, and Musil's game is somewhat like Holik's, While he's a defenseman rather than a center, Musil makes life difficult on his opponents and is rarely outworked.
28. San Jose Sharks: Zack Phillips, C, Saint John (QMJHL) — Opinions vary on Phillips. The Hockey News ranks him ninth in this year's class, while International Scouting Services places him 34th. The question is if Phillips' success was due to his teammates. The good news is the Sharks always seem to have a good supporting cast.
29. Vancouver Canucks: Boone Jenner, C, Oshawa (OHL) — The Canucks are at a crossroads after losing Game 7 of the Cup Finals on their home ice. Jenner may not get to Vancouver in time to be part of this group of contenders, but he will fit well in due to his effort and determination.
30.: Scott Mayfield, D, Youngstown (USHL) — If the Leafs can't move higher in the draft as they desire, then they will focus on size and speed. Mayfield fits that mold. He has an NHL frame and is an excellent skater for his size.