Breaking down 2011's top D-men

Updated: May 3, 2011, 5:21 PM ET
By Gare Joyce

Some folks wondered about my ranking of D-men in the last mock draft, believing that I could have and should have fallen in line with other draftniks and placed more blueline prospects higher in my projected first round. Last Friday I noted that this was a trend that played out with last year's draft and that it's something that we're likely to see going forward. I'll stand by that.

If you look at how it played out, you might presume that last season's trend would be up for reconsideration given the case of Cam Fowler. Fowler was last season's biggest victim of the trend, projected as a possible top-five pick but dropping all the way to No. 12. But as the 2010-11 NHL season unfolded, Fowler stuck with the Ducks and played well for them putting up 10 goals and 30 assists.

Of course, some could also make the case that the experience of Erik Gudbranson, last year's No. 3 pick (Florida Panthers), would make teams hesitant to spend a top-five selection on a defenseman (at least those not named Adam Larsson) this season. That Gudbranson was only okay with the Canadian juniors this season led some people to suggest that Florida made a bad pick.

In my mind, that's not fair to Gudbranson. He in fact made the Panthers last fall but ended up back with the Kingston Frontenacs this season because contract talks broke down. The Ducks' selection of Fowler was a simply one that provided instant returns, but Gudbranson will be with the Panthers as a top-four D next year and beyond. Still, the two blueliners provide an interesting litmus test for this year.

So, what do the events of last year tell us about the coming draft and its blueline prospects? To me, it indicates that picking a defenseman early is still not as sure a thing as nabbing a forward. But sometimes the risk is worth it. And this draft class features two players who are precisely the type that warrant that risk.