Below are the top five forwards in the 2011 draft class, according to the collective wisdom of the NHL scouts I've been talking up. In a preview of things to come on a grander scale, we've begun to grade out each prospect based on a collection of the skills scouts evaluate over the course of the season.
To briefly explain the categories, Skating is pretty straight forward, but Hands includes both stick handling and shooting ability. Size is, again, self-explanatory, but Hockey Sense not only includes a player's intuition on the ice, but also his vision. Two-way Play measures how well he back checks and is willing to play the body.
That said, let's see how the top five forwards break down. Starting with our No. 1 prospect in the 2011 draft: Sean Couturier.
Sean Couturier, C, Drummondville (QMJHL)
Back in the old, trap-happy dead-puck era, the thinking used to be you couldn't win without a franchise defenseman in the mold of Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer or, as was the case in Anaheim, both. That thinking has changed, and now high-scoring forwards are seen as essential. The leading scorer in the Q last season at age 17 (41 goals and 55 assists), Couturier projects as a franchise player in this class. Added bonus: Couturier can be projected at center and right wing, though playing him in the middle is the likely way to go. Working against him: The surrounding talent in Drummondville isn't that strong, thus linemates don't finish chances that he creates and opponents can key on him, which may explain why his numbers could end up being down compared to last year. Interesting side note: Couturier's father, Sylvain, is now the GM of Q league rival Acadie-Bathurst.
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