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By: Nate Haeni
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images
Rockford, Ill.- With the 2011 NHL Entry Draft drawing closer and looking at who the experts predict the Chicago Blackhawks to draft with the 18th pick in the first round, the consensus seems to be that the Blackhawks will draft a center.

Since the NHL’s first draft in 1963, the Blackhawks have selected eight pivots with their first round selection (Kyle Beach-2008, Mikhail Yakubov-2000, Dean McAmmond-1991, Jeremy Roenick-1988, Ken Yaremchuk-1982, Denis Savard-1980, Gregory Vaydik-1975, Terry Caffery-1966).

The 2011 Draft is believed to be stockpiled with top-tier centers that can make an impact on a club right away or go through the system to develop and benefit a team in the future. 

At the top of the class is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. The 18-year old ranked third in the WHL with 106 points (31g-75a) in 69 games and a team-best +30 plus/minus rating. Many experts believe the Edmonton Oilers will select the Burnaby, British Columbia native with the first overall pick.

After looking at numerous mock drafts, most have the Blackhawks selecting center Zack Phillips at the number 18 spot. Phillips helped Saint John to the 2011 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League championship, tallying 24 points (9g-15a) in 17 contests. The Fredericton, New Brunswick native finished tied for sixth on the QMJHL scoring list in 2010-11, recording 95 points (38g-57a) in 67 games. He also tied for third overall in the league with a plus/minus rating of 48.

If the Blackhawks decide not to take a centerman with their first pick, it’s expected to be Phillips’ former Saint John’s teammate, right wing Tomas Jurco. Jurco, 18, helped carry the Sea Dogs to an impressive 58-7-1-2 record, including an undefeated mark in regulation games on home-ice (32-0-1-1). The Kosice, Slovakia native compiled 31 goals and 25 assists in 60 games and a 46 plus/minus ranking.

Below is a list of the top 10 centers in the 2011 NHL draft according to Central Scouting.

1.    Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Red Deer (WHL):  106 points (31g-75a) in 69 games.
2.    Jonathan Huberdeau, Saint John (QMJHL): 105 points (43g-62a) in 67 games.
3.    Sean Couturier, Drummondville (QMJHL): 96 points (36g-60a) in 58 games.
4.    Ryan Strome, Niagara (OHL): 106 points (33g-73a) in 65 games.
5.    Vladislav Namestnikov, London (OHL):  68 points (30g-38a) in 68 games.
6.    Mika Zibanejad, Djurgarden (Sweden): nine points (5g-4a) in 26 games in the Swedish Elite League and 21 points (12g-9a) in juniors.
7.    Mark McNeill, Prince Albert (WHL): 81 points (32g-49a) in 70 games.
8.    Zack Phillips, Saint John (QMJHL): 95 points (38g-57a) in 67 games.
9.    Mark Scheifele, Barrie (OHL): 75 points (22g-53a) in 66 games.
10.    Boone Jenner, Oshawa (OHL):  66 points (25g-41a) in 63 games.

Here’s a look at a few mock drafts and who the experts have the Blackhawks selecting with the 18th pick.

Mike Morreale, NHL, Zack Phillips, C, Saint John (QMJHL)
Adam Kimelman, NHL, Tomas Jurco, RW, Saint John (QMJHL)
Steve Hoffner, NHL, Tomas Jurco, RW, Saint John (QMJHL)
Pierre McGuire and Craig Button, TSN, Oscar Klefbom, D, Farjestad (SWE)

ESPN, Boone Jenner, C, Oshawa (OHL)

Check out all week as we preview the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Monday: Impact the draft has had on the IceHogs
Tuesday: We’ll look at who the experts think the Blackhawks will choose in the draft
Wednesday: A breakdown of the 18th overall draft picks over the past 20 years
Thursday: A look at the 1st round draft picks who played for Rockford last season and overall
Friday:  An update on the progress of all of Chicago’s draft picks from the 2009 and 2010 draft

Season Tickets On Sale For 2011-12: It'll be a long summer without IceHogs hockey and season ticket packages for the 2011-12 season are now on sale. To find a ticket package that quenches your hockey thirst, call (815) 847-6399.

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