When the 2010-11 season started there were three players that stood out as the top selections for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Those three players were Sean Couturier, Adam Larsson and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and they were the only ones to receive a first-place vote on Bob McKenzie’s pre-season rankings.
By the end of the season only Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be selected in the top three with Larsson being picked 4th by New Jersey while Couturier fell to 8th to Philadelphia. This is just another example that pre-draft rankings change a lot by seasons end and it is not worth spending too much time focusing on them.
What the 2011 draft lacked was the high-end elite talent as seen in previous draft years. Using my point prediction model (NHLP) a median first overall pick predicts to be a 77-point player. With the 2011 draft no player reached this threshold with Couturier leading the way at 74 points.
Therefore, with Nugent-Hopkins projecting to only being a 72-point player, why was he selected first overall? That is where one needs context when looking at the numbers as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was predominantly seen as the third best player of the draft for the first half of the season. However, that all changed as there was a large spike in RNH’s production in the second half of the season compared to the first. When we break his 78 games played into two halves his NHLPs are:
The first half of the 2010-11 season was not very impressive for RNH as the scouting reports were always more impressive than his actual production, which reminded me of how the 2009 season went for Matt Duchene. That all changed in the second half of the season as the Nuge would turn into a goal-scoring machine at even strength. His NHLP of 78 points for the second half is in the elite range ahead of Stamkos (77), Tavares (77), Hall (75) and MacKinnon (74). Ultimately it was this jump in production that leapfrogged Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the top of my 2011 rankings.
Therefore, it was never set in stone that RNH was the top player in the draft and it was his progress over the year that was the catalyst to him being the number one choice. However, one always wonders with all the Oilers options that year, did they make the right choice at that time or was something missing in the evaluations? The five players that I had following RNH in the rankings were:
I mention Huberdeau as being like Hall, the best player on the best junior team in the nation. What I know now from my research is that Huberdeau’s point totals were likely inflated due to being on such a strong squad. Using my NHLP formula it predicts Huberdeau to be a 70-point player, which is 2 points below the prediction for the Nuge (8 points below his 2nd half production). Add in the fact that Nugent-Hopkins plays centre and is the better skater I am quite comfortable with the fact that I had RNH ahead of Huberdeau in my rankings.
Back in 2011 I was still overvaluing defenseman at the draft and had not quite clued in too how difficult they are to predict. With that being said, Larsson had all the makings you wanted in a top pairing defenseman in terms of size, skating and two-way play and had already been productive at the pro level (31 points in 115 Swedish Elite League games). However, questions swirled around whether Larsson was a true #1 d-man and with RNH projecting to be a potentially elite level centre, it would make no sense to choose the defenseman.
When a player produces in the season prior to his draft year, they set high expectations for themselves when they do hear into their draft year. This is what happened with Sean Couturier as he fell in the rankings as the year went on and may have been a victim of over-scouting. While his rankings fell, his production in his draft year was very strong and suggested that Couturier could be a very good two-way first line centre barring he improved his skating. While Couturier had all the makings of a top line elite centre, skating is very important in today’s game, which is why RNH would still have the edge over Couturier.
Leading up to the draft the buzz around Landeskog increased as he was seen as a potential first overall choice. As you can see from my write-up back in 2011, I questioned whether Landeskog had top end potential and with a NHLP of 62 points, I would still be questioning it with my new method of analysis. While Landeskog was the most NHL ready and was a safe pick, he did not project to have enough top end potential to warrant selection above RNH.
Dougie Hamilton did not receive the love he deserved in the 2011 draft as he was always considered the consolation prize for the team that was not able to select Adam Larsson. However, I have come to realize I undervalued Hamilton’s offensive productions as compared to other previous top end defensive prospects. In evaluating defenseman, I use an adjusted point total which values a power play point at 58% of an even strength or short handed point. Therefore, when we compare Dougie Hamilton with other top 10 picks previous to 2011 the results are:
This is where stats are fantastic at picking up something that just does not fit with the scouting reports. In this case, every other pick that put up the offensive production of Dougie Hamiltion was a top 4 selection or better in their draft year, which suggests that he was being undervalued. With this data in hand in 2011, it would have been useful as Hamilton would have been in consideration for best d-man in the draft as well as in the mix for the first overall selection. However, one must consider that I have also put less value on defenseman since the 2011 draft and a defenseman has to be a sure-fire bet to be worth using a first overall pick. With Hamilton there were still questions about whether he was an elite two-way defenseman which is what would likely have kept him from being my first choice.
In reviewing my top six there would likely have been some changes to my rankings based on how I come about them today with a greater statistical approach. What I believe would have happened with my rankings is that players like Couturier and Hamilton would have seen their value increase, meanwhile Landeskog would remain the same and Huberdeau’s value would decrease slightly. However, despite the fact there would be movement in my spots after the first overall selection, I still come to the same conclusion that the best player in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, as he was the only forward to demonstrate having elite level potential. While it was only in the second half of the season that he demonstrated that potential, it was enough to convince the Oilers and myself that the first line centre for the future was a skinny little kid we lovingly now refer to as the Nuge.