Sean Couturier’s stock has taken a large hit over the course of the 2010-11 season. Once in the running to go first overall on draft day, he finished sixth among North American skaters in Central Scouting’s final rankings, dropping four spots from the midterm rankings in January. A fall that significant can be alarming, but Couturier is still a premier prospect and likely remains coveted by many of the teams selecting early in the first round.
What makes Couturier such an intriguing prospect from New Jersey’s perspective is that he has “prototypical Devil” written all over him. Standing at 6’4, 197 lbs, he’s an intelligent two-way center who is responsible in all three zones, possesses an excellent work ethic, and is good at the faceoff dot. His size and solid all around game have earned him comparisons to former Devil Jason Arnott and Pittsburgh Penguins center Jordan Staal.
There are at least four other centers expected to go in the top-10 this June, but Couturier is unique in that he is particularly conscientious in his own end for an 18-year-old. The Bathurst, New Brunswick native was the lone draft eligible player to suit up for the silver medal-winning Canadian team at the World Juniors this past winter. He only managed to score two goals and an assist in seven games, but was a plus-six and played fairly well in a mostly third-line checking role.
Although his sound defensive play is one of the more impressive aspects of his game, Couturier can certainly bring it in the offensive zone as well. He isn’t the best skater, but gets by with his soft hands. He’s great at distributing the puck, has a good shot, and puts himself in good positions to score goals. He also protects the puck well using his large frame, but will likely need to pack on a few more pounds to be effective in the NHL.
In 58 regular season contests with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this year, Couturier posted 36 goals and 60 assists for 96 points – matching his point production from last season, albeit in 10 fewer games. He also added six goals and five assists in 10 playoff games.
The lack of a significant bump in his numbers may have played a role in Couturier’s tumble down the rankings. After an incredible 2009-10 campaign, all eyes were on the young pivot and expectations were set very high – possibly too high. However, his production this season was still impressive, especially given his lackluster supporting cast. Though he may not be ready for the pros just yet, Couturier still projects as a top-two center. If the Devils do take him at fourth overall, it could ultimately prove to be a very shrewd selection.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – the number one ranked North American skater by Central Scouting – is expected to be long gone when the Devils step up to the podium to make the fourth overall selection on June 24. However, stranger things have happened on draft day, so we are previewing him nonetheless.
At 6’0, 164 lbs, Nugent-Hopkins isn’t the bulkiest forward in this year’s draft, but he makes up for that with speed, skill, and style. Praised for his Gretzky-like vision, ability to maneuver the puck in the tightest of spaces, and tendency to make the players around him better, he has all the makings of a first-line playmaking center.
The 18-year-old Burnaby, British Columbia native didn’t start off the season atop the prospect rankings, but surged up after a breakout 2010-11 campaign with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. In 69 regular season games, he scored 31 goals and recorded a league-leading 75 assists for a team-high 106 points. He also posted four goals and seven assists in nine playoff contests.
Although he is best known for his offensive prowess, Nugent-Hopkins has also displayed a strong commitment to playing well on the other side of the puck. Using his quickness and active stick, he excels at dispossessing the puck from opponents and forcing turnovers – skills he may find particularly useful in New Jersey.
The Devils’ depth at the center position looks to have improved significantly with the promising play of prospects Jacob Josefson and Adam Henrique last season. Still, a player of Nugent-Hopkins’ caliber would be a welcomed addition to the organization. If he does fall to the Devils, he may not make the jump to the NHL right away, but it wouldn’t be long before Devils fans see him playing alongside the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, and Patrik Elias at The Rock.