Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a top NHL draft prospect, speaks with reporters Thursday, June 23, 2011, in Minneapolis, the day before the NHL entry draft Friday in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) (Jim Mone/AP)

As the NHL draft approaches, rumors and mock drafts are circulating guessing as to the top selections and possible trades to come. Many seem to agree however that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be the No. 1 pick. As AP reported:

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is widely considered the best available player in this weekend’s NHL draft.

He said he’ll be happy wherever he winds up, but all signs point to Edmonton. For the second straight year, the Oilers have the first pick. They’ve been struggling, sure, but they’ve also been accumulating young talent. So perhaps that’s not such a bad place for an 18-year-old phenom to go.

“I’d love to join them as a rebuilding team and help the ultimate goal, which is winning a Stanley Cup eventually,” Nugent-Hopkins said.

Last summer, the identity of the first pick remained a subject of intrigue right up until Taylor Hall’s name was called by the commissioner. Tyler Seguin went to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.

One of the many questions posed to Nugent-Hopkins during a session with reporters Thursday was whether he’d rather be the first pick — or go second and win the Cup.

“Oh, man. Like, to any team? I’d probably go second and win a Cup,” Nugent-Hopkins said.

The Oilers could use a young center to pair with last year’s prize, left wing Taylor Hall. Nugent-Hopkins led the Western Hockey League with 75 assists last season for the Red Deer Rebels. The native of Burnaby, British Columbia, said he’s confident he’s ready to enter the NHL right away.

“Red Deer should have a good team next year, so if I did go first overall and I played another year of juniors I think it’d be good for me just getting bigger and stronger,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “Obviously my goal is to crack the NHL and make an NHL team, whichever team it is, but if I do go back I wouldn’t be disappointed.”

The 6-foot, 164-pound player would be the first WHL player drafted first since 1996, when Ottawa picked defenseman Chris Phillips. Minnesota’s selection of Mike Modano in 1988 was the previous first pick from the WHL.

The Washington Capitals are preparing for a draft in which they will have the fewest picks in franchise history, with only five selections barring a trade. As Katie Carrera explained:

Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee will have five selections, tied for the lowest number in franchise history, when the NHL Entry Draft begins Friday at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minn.

The small number of draft picks doesn’t bother McPhee, though, who has publicly questioned the overall depth of this year’s class. Adding valuable prospects through the draft has been a strength of the Capitals in recent years, but with only one choice in the first three rounds — the 26th overall — finding an impact player may be more of a challenge.

As for whether he expected to be actively seeking a trade during the draft, McPhee remained typically non-committal.

“I don’t know what to expect this year, and we’ll go there prepared to draft a player in the first round and then see what else develops throughout the rest of the draft,” McPhee told reporters during a conference call. “If there are trades being discussed, we’re certainly going to be involved.”

In the leadup to Friday’s draft the Los Angeles Kings made an agressive trade by acquiring Mike Richards from the Philadelphia Flyers. As AP reported:

After a second straight early postseason exit, the Los Angeles Kings set out to pump up the offense beyond leading scorer Anze Kopitar. They took a big first step by nabbing high-scoring center Mike Richards from the Philadelphia Flyers.

Richards, three years into a 12-year contract, became the second star to be shipped out of Philadelphia on Thursday when the Flyers busted up their core with a pair of blockbuster deals on the eve of the NHL draft. Richards was sent to the Kings for forwards Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a second-round draft pick.

Philadelphia moved quickly after clearing much-needed cap space, and agreed with goalie Ilya Bryzgalov on a long-term deal. The Flyers were swept by Boston in the second round of the playoffs, one year after losing to Chicago in the 2010 Stanley Cup finals, and are still seeking their first title since back-to-back championships in 1974 and 1975.

Richards didn’t get many answers about why he was traded when he had a brief and emotional call with Flyers general manage Paul Holmgren. Other than injuries and potential team fatigue, he couldn’t explain what happened to the club he captained one year after getting so close to winning the Cup.

“I wish I could tell you,” he said. “When you underachieve as a team there is a lot of fingers getting pointed. I didn’t have a problem with them pointing at me, I was more unhappy with the way it ended and being out of the playoffs.”

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