I certainly get the impression that they are, and some of the reasons and consequences are getting harder and harder to ignore. On the reasons side, the NHL has had a rookie salary cap since the 1994-95 lockout, and, now that overall salaries are capped, impact players on EL contracts are one of the key ways a team can raise its talent level within the Cap limit. Another reason seems to be the changes to the game since the last lockout - the emphasis on speed, skill and positioning has taken a lot of the focus off of size and brawn. If you're big, you've gotta be able to skate. If you can skate, you don't have to be big. In one sentence, this is why Douglas Murray is on his last legs and Johnny Gaudreau may be taking his first steps to a long career. Lastly, the development systems seem to be producing more high skill players. In Canada, there was the great hockey summit when the performance of the international teams was in steep decline; in the US, the development program combined with [uhn] the NCAA game has produced more and better American players, and no team can afford to ignore the rest of the world as a potential source of players, so scouting seems improved.
Consequences - fewer and fewer deadline deals are including first round picks, and even second round picks are at a premium. That's the big one apart from the obvious influx of impact young talent over the last few years.
For comparison's sake, have a look at the 1999 draft and compare it to the 2009 draft:
Patrick Stefan John Tavares
D Sedin Victor Hedman
H Sedin Matt Duchene
Pavel Brendl Evander Kane
Tim Connolly Brayden Schenn
Brian Finley Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Kris Beech Nazem Kadri
Taylor Pyatt Scott Glennie
Jamie Lundmark Jared Cowen
Branislav Mezei Magnus Paajarvi
Other 1999 notables: Zetterberg, Havlat, Vrbata. Chris Kelly is the 12th highest scoring player from the draft class.
Other 2009 notables: Chris Kreider, Tomas Tatar, Ryan O'Reilly, Reilly Smith, Tyson Barrie.
Now, 1999 was a bad year - Stefan, Brendl, Finley and Beech are almost total whiffs. The Sedins are among the most skilled players in the game (or were?), and Connolly may have been good but had an eggshell for a skull. Pyatt has had a long if not a notable career, Lundmark was only ever valuable as a trade chip, and Mezei was that rare guy who looked like a player as a rookie and got less and less notable as time went on.
We're right around the time that 2009 players are starting to move into the time where they move up or shut up. Kreider looks like he's definitely going to move up. Tatar, according to shupe, is mini-Datsyuk. O'Reilly is an issues-baby but a Byng winning issues baby, Smith is a second liner on the best team in the East, and Barrie looked like Subban west until he got smoked in the playoffs. That just the other notables. Tavares and Duchene are top of the league type talents - at least offsetting the Sedins. Hedman and Ekman-Larsson both were in the top ten in Norris voting. Kane has a 30 goal season and most expect he'll do it again if he gets his head right. Schenn is starting to take on a larger and larger role in Philly's offense. Only Glennie has yet to play at least 150 NHL games; that's 9/10 who have played at least two seasons worth of games in the first 5 years after they were drafted.
I don't think either year is particularly exceptional either; in fact, while there were years pre-lockout that looked like 2009, they were exceptional. 1983, for example, is legendary because it was Lafontaine, Yzerman, Neely, Barasso, Russ Courtnall, Dave Gagner, Bob Probert. 1990 was Nolan, Primeau, Jagr, Brodeur, Sydor, Zhubov, Tkachuk.... But we've seen a lot of years with that kind of hit rate (at least, as far as you can tell when the players are still in their 20s). Staal, Toews, Backstrom, Kessel, Giroux and Lucic in 2006. Kane, vanReimsdyk, Voracek, Couture, McDonagh, Pacioretty and Subban in the much maligned 2007 class. Stamkos, Doughty, Pietrangelo, Karlsson, Carlson in 2008, and 2010 looks like it could be one of the most impressive drafts in a long time with Hall, Seguin, Johansen, Skinner, Jack Campbell, Cam Fowler, Jaden Schwartz,...
The only draft since the lockout that I think might break the trend of post-lockout drafts eclipsing all but the best pre-lockout drafts in terms of first and second round successes (esp. high first round success) in drafting is 2012. It's possible Yakupov, with all his talent, flames out quickly because he refuses to play NHL team hockey. Ryan Murray may turn into a Chris Phillips (really nice player; not a second overall pick). Dumba may never be the Subban like player he was in his draft year. Pouliot may never break through in Pitt or elsewhere. Trouba's already good, so's Lindholm, and Reilly is okay but part of a very loose Leaf D. Grigorenko looks like a bust to me. Cody Ceci is close. Tom Wilson is stuck in a clown role in Washington (I think he can give them more). Hertl may end up being the star of the class, or maybe that will be Teravainen. Lots of time for this class to ramp up, but I think there's a very good chance that, at very least, the back half of the first round that year will outperform the top half.
That's pretty faint criticism. When I look at the last 7 or 8 years, I can't help but feel we're seeing the impact of all 30 teams realizing that, in a Cap world, the one place they have to succeed is in identifying young players who can contribute.
Are you not entertained?!?!