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Three players from 2011 Draft to watch next season

Jun 29, 2011, 9:00 AM EDT

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2011 NHL Entry Draft - Portraits Getty Images

We’ve heard plenty about all of the top picks by now. But a question that plenty of people are asking is: who will we see in the NHL next season? Which prospects will be able to step into an NHL locker room and compete with the best players in the world as an 18-year-old? It sounds like a daunting task when we put it that way—but we’ve identified three players who we think will make it with the big boys next season: Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche, Adam Larsson of the New Jersey Devils, and Mika Zibanejad of the Ottawa Senators.

To be clear, this is not a list of the only players who will make it over their career—nor is this specifically a list of who will have the best NHL career. In fact, there’s a very good chance that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jonathan Huberdeau will be the best of the 2011 class when all is said and done. But for now, both players could use another year in the minors to increase both size and strength. It’s not a knock on them and in the long-run, it’s usually best for players to full develop in the minors (or juniors in this case) before they try to make the jump against fully-grown professionals. This is a list of the three prospects best equipped to immediately make the jump this October.

It’s a decidedly Swedish list.

Gabriel Landeskog: The big Swedish left-winger was widely regarded as the most NHL-ready prospect in the 2011 draft. Much has been made of his off-the-charts leadership abilities that made him the youngest captain for the Kitchener Rangers in the last 30 years. He was also the first European captain ever for the storied OHL franchise. The skilled forward already proved that he could play with grown men at the age of 16 in the Swedish Elite League. He plays a physical brand of hockey that should make his transition the most seamless of the draft class.

Adam Larsson: The size and speed may be a slight step up for the blue-chip blueliner, but the age of his opponents won’t change when he steps onto NHL ice. At 18-years-old, he’s already played two full seasons in the widely respected Swedish Elite League. At 6’3” and 200 pounds, the talented Swede already has the size to hold his own against NHLers. The key for rookies—and particularly rookie defenseman—is to be able to keep up with the pace of the game. That plays right into Larsson’s strengths as his single greatest attribute is his poise with the puck.

Mika Zibanejad: The Senators’ first round pick might be a dark horse to make the NHL in 2011, but we think he has all the tools to make the jump sooner rather than later. Like Larsson, he also played against men last season in the Swedish Elite League. He finished his 26 game stint with 5 goals and 4 assists with Djurgardens in Stockholm; by the end of the season it was hard to believe that he had started the season with Djurgardens’ junior team. He showed great improvement with his 2-way responsibilities to go with his expected offensive game. Already at 6’2,” Zibanejad will undoubtedly grow into a power forward in the NHL. With his willingness to go to the dirty areas of the ice, his high skill level, and the Senators need for NHL forwards, Zibanejad should get a real shot to make the team and contribute in training camp.

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