For the second year in a row the Edmonton Oilers are the proud owners of the first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, an honour bestowed on the team by virtue of a thirtieth place finish and winning the draft lottery. In reality the Devils won the draft lottery not the Oilers but the Devils could only move up five spots in the draft order from eighth to fourth overall. This allowed the Oilers to retain the first selection by getting what basically amounts to the draft lottery version of a loser point. All of that is history though, it's time to move onto who the the Oilers are going to select with that pick.
With the first selection in the SBNation 2011 Mock NHL Draft, the Edmonton Oilers are proud to select ...
... from Skellefteå HC in the Swedish Elite League, Adam Larsson.
Unlike recent years there was no consensus number one pick at the top of the 2011 draft class. The decision to select Larsson with the first pick was not a unanimous one among the writers at the Copper & Blue. Likewise there were varying opinions from our readers when they were asked the same question first at the end of March and then again a month later. According to Bob McKenzie even the scouts aren't in agreement on who the first pick should be with only six of ten scouts ranking Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as the number one prospect.
So why then have we chosen to go with Larsson? Because he is the best player available. For those of you not familiar with Larsson, before the season The Scouting Report had this to say about him:
Larsson is an imposing figure with tremendous size, but his game extends well beyond that. He’s very calm with the puck and has great poise and vision. He’s very capable offensively and it looks like his offensive play will continue to grow as he matures.
Larsson, who is listed at 6'3'' and 200 lbs., just finished his second season with Skellefteå in the SEL playing against men many years his senior in one of the best hockey leagues in the world. But despite being much younger than both his teammates and opponents Larsson has more than held his own and showed the type of skill that makes a player worthy of being selected first overall.
In his rookie season Larsson recorded four goals and 13 assists in 49 games. The numbers in his sophomore season don't look as good at first glance - just one goal and eight assists - but he played in 12 fewer games as a result of injury. Looking beyond points Larsson improved his plus/minus by 19 from -7 to +12. And if you compare him to teammates David Rundblad and Tim Erixon, both former first round selections themselves, you see that Larsson is being depended on significantly more than either of his teammates were at the same age.
He had a excellent offensive season a year ago, but really fell off with his numbers this time around. I think a lot of that had to do with nagging injuries and also perhaps the pressure that comes with performing in the draft season. Larsson set the bar really, really high as a 16-17-year-old, so unfortunately for him, there was no place for him to go but down.
Sometimes players tagged as the first overall pick simply get over scouted with scouts looking for the flaw that they believe has to be present in the prospect's game. This, coupled with an injury that hurt his production, has lead some to declare Nugent-Hopkins as the best player available in the 2011 draft, a player so good that scouts can't find the words to even discuss him.
In his draft year Nugent-Hopkins' production didn't stall the way Larsson's did, in fact his points per game increased 59% this season over last year. His numbers are certainly good but at the NHL there are mixed results for players with big production jumps in their draft year. Beyond the sudden production increase there are concerns about his ratio of powerplay points to even strength points. Larsson was number one at the start of the season and the questions surrounding Nugent-Hopkins were too significant for him to bump Larsson from that spot.
Larsson will be a top pairing defenseman, capable of playing both ends of the ice, in all situations, for the next 10 to 12 years. He will be a cornerstone for the Oilers franchise for more than a decade. As the best player available in the draft, that is simply too much to pass up. The 69 of you who asked for Larsson back in September, you get your wish.