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Experts say race for No. 1 spot in 2011 NHL Entry Draft is wide open

Sep 14, 2010, 6:10 PM EDT

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Variety might be the spice of life, but for sports writers, it’s often a lot more appealing to set one irresistible force versus an immovable object. Sure, the NBA must be delighted by the fact that Kevin Durant is emerging as a big star, but do they want him to muddle the Kobe vs. Lebron picture they’ve been trying to paint for the last few years? (OK, they probably don’t mind, but “Magic vs. Bird” is still the gold standard for the league’s marketing.)

With the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, the top storyline was quite simple: do you go with Taylor (Hall) or Tyler (Seguin)? Everyone else was a rung or two lower on the ladder; just look at how far the supposed third best player Cam Fowler dropped in the actual draft.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie writes that the storyline won’t be as clear for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in Minnesota, with at least three players coming into their final pre-draft seasons with a chance at the top spot.

This year’s battle for No. 1 could not be more wide open, shaping up at the starting line as at least a three-man race. In fact, for the first time ever, TSN’s pre-season ranking of the Top 10 NHL Prospects has produced a dead heat at No. 1 overall.

Drummondville centre Sean Couturier and Swedish blueliner Adam Larsson finished with identical results in the annual survey of 10 NHL scouts by TSN. Remarkably, they each had four first-place votes, four seconds and two thirds. The only other prospect to get top-dog consideration was Red Deer centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was No. 1 on the other two ballots.

It’s the first year in quite some time when there hasn’t been a consensus No. 1 to start the season.

“All three guys have something special,” one scout said. “Couturier is a big, skilled centre, Larsson is a total package defenceman and Nugent-Hopkins is a tremendous offensive talent with elite skill. It’s going to be the most interesting race for No. 1 we’ve seen in a long time.”

While Tyler Seguin isn’t guaranteed to be a member of the Boston Bruins next season, chances are we’ll at least be able to see the first chapter of Tyler vs. Taylor this season. Will one, two or all of Larsson, Couturier and Nugent-Hopkins make a strong case for the top spot this year? It could be an interesting race to watch, especially if a dark horse emerges.

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