A closer look at 10 players to watch in this week’s NHL entry draft

Scouts believe as many as five players could hear their name called at No. 1 when the NHL draft goes Friday in St. Paul, Minn. Here’s a look at a those players, plus five other potential first-rounders worth keeping an eye on:

The Big Five

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Red Deer (WHL): No stranger to the spotlight, the six-foot native of Burnaby, B.C., has consistently been the top player in his age group—getting selected No. 1 in the 2008 WHL bantam draft, winning the league’s rookie of the year award in 2009-10 and being labelled the top North American skater in the NHL draft following a 106-point season. The biggest focus this summer will be putting more weight on his 170-pound frame.

Gabriel Landeskog, LW, Kitchener (OHL): A Swede who speaks English fluently, Landeskog is considered the most physically mature player in this draft. He spent the past two years in Kitchener after appearing in the Swedish Elite League at age 16. Landeskog had 66 points in 53 games during a season shortened by an ankle injury.

Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Saint John (QMJHL): It’s been a whirlwind few months for a teenager who has steadily climbed the draft rankings. Huberdeau finished third in the QMJHL with 105 points and was named MVP as the Sea Dogs won the Memorial Cup. Known for having good hands and a knack for finding the net.

Dougie Hamilton, D, Niagara (OHL): The top-ranked North American defenceman is good with the puck and isn’t afraid to use his six-foot-four frame. Hamilton comes from good bloodlines—his father, Doug, was an Olympic rower while his mother, Lynn, competed at the 1984 Games in basketball. He is also a former winner of the OHL’s top academic player award.

Adam Larsson, D, Skellefea AIK (Sweden): The six-foot-three defenceman already has two full seasons of pro hockey under his belt in Sweden. He’s drawn comparisons to countryman Victor Hedman, who was selected second overall in 2009 by Tampa. Central scouting has Larsson listed as the top European prospect in this draft.

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Five Others

Mika Zibanejad, C, Djurgarden (Sweden): The son of a Finnish mother and Iranian father, Zibanejad could elbow his way into the top 10. Considered a power forward, the six-foot centre is also a strong skater and gained experience playing against men in the Swedish league this season. He speaks English, Finnish and Swedish.

Sean Couturier, C, Drummondville (QMJHL): Once considered a potential No. 1 pick, Couturier has seen his stock dip slightly. However, the QMJHL MVP should still be selected early and could have a NHL team feeling fortunate to get him. Last season, Couturier became the first 17-year-old since Sidney Crosby to lead the QMJHL in scoring.

Nathan Beaulieu, D, Saint John (QMJHL): One of four Sea Dogs players who could be selected in the first round—joining Huberdeau and forwards Zack Phillips and Tomas Jurco. Beaulieu’s father, Jacques, is an assistant coach with the OHL’s London Knights and he counts current NHLers Drew Doughty, Sam Gagner and John Carlson among his workout companions in the off-season.

John Gibson, G, U.S. developmental program (USHL): Hoping to follow in the footsteps of predecessor Jack Campbell, who was taken 11th overall by Dallas last year. Gibson is the top-ranked North American goaltender after backstopping the U.S. to gold at the under-18 world championship. He plans to enrol at the University of Michigan in the fall.

Shane Prince, C, Ottawa (OHL): A little bit of a longshot to sneak into the first round, but that’s he’s made a habit of surprising people. The five-foot-10 forward was a late bloomer and ended up ranked 26th among North American skaters after making a 58-point improvement this season—finishing with 88 points for Ottawa. Prince also scored in the Top Prospects Game after earning a late invite when Landeskog pulled out with an injury.