This article is part of our "Best Stocks for 2011" series where our Foolish writers pick their top stocks ideas for the year ahead. Click here to see a review of last year's picks and our 12 recommendations for the year ahead.

Before I tell you why Thompson Creek Metals (NYSE: TC) is one of the best stocks to own in 2011, let's get this disclaimer out of the way: It is not for the faint of heart.

Over the past three years, Thompson Creek has seen its share price trade north of $25 and during the bleakest market days watched as its share price dipped below $3. Currently, it's sitting right in the middle of that range at $14.55, and I'm going to give you three reasons why molybdenum and Thompson Creek could be heading higher this year.

Practical uses
Gold and silver usually get all of the attention, but molybdenum, Thompson Creek's primary product, is regularly used as an alloy to strengthen steel. Among molybdenum's popular uses, it can be found as an alloy in rifle barrels, aircraft parts, electrical contacts, and in the steel used in bridge construction. Long story short, molybdenum is plentiful and is going to give you just as much practical application, if not more, than gold or silver.

Chinese demand
Growth in China is being driven by infrastructure projects just as much as it is by electronics. Be it through heavy construction or electrical components, the demand for molybdenum will remain strong as long as China continues to grow its gross domestic product at an impressive rate -- and for those of you keeping score at home, official projections from the International Monetary Fund are for China to grow GDP by an astonishing 10.5% in 2011.

Hedging risk
If you haven't learned it yet, 2010 reminded us that any market uncertainty is met with investors flocking to metals as a hedged-risk investment. Although it'd be highly unlikely that we'd be talking about a European debt crisis a year from now, this is the type of issue that could linger around long enough to erode confidence in the U.S. dollar and move the already inflated metal prices even higher.

Molybdenum, unlike gold and silver, is trading more than 60% below its all-time high set in 2005, so it could have plenty of room to trade higher whether it's from an economic expansion or as a hedge against downside risk.

Good golly, miss moly
Now why Thompson Creek as opposed to the other molybdenum producers? How about tangible results!

Thompson Creek is expected to see a 40% rise in revenues, according to analyst expectations in 2011. A large part of that revenue jump can be attributed to rising molybdenum prices, while its Q3 after-tax margin of 32% represented its highest levels in years.

The balance sheet at Thompson Creek has been managed very prudently, which has allowed for healthy margins and the ability to make key investments in its future, such as its recent purchase of Terrane Metals.

Despite being one of the largest molybdenum producers, Thompson Creek chose to diversify its operations with this purchase, giving it roughly 6 million ounces of gold and 2.1 billion pounds of copper in proven and probable reserves. Copper continues to hit all-time highs and has countless practical uses in electronics. The permits are in place, so all that's left is to begin production from Mount Milligan, Canada, in 2013 and then begin reaping the rewards of those copper reserves.

So why not buy Thompson Creek's competitors? Because they just don't stack up when compared head-to-head.

General Moly (AMEX: GMO), Thompson Creek's closest direct competitor, has failed to produce a dime of revenue and could still be years away from doing so. It did get a major investment from China to help move its Mount Hope development along, but it is still years away from becoming even a minor player.

Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE: FCX), unlike General Moly, is a well-established, diversified juggernaut in the metals sector. I wouldn't bet against Freeport based on its business model and past success, but I would choose Thompson Creek based on a statistical comparison.

Freeport is nearing a price-to-book of nearly five with projected revenue growth of 15% in 2011. It also has a shade more than $1 billion in net debt. Thompson Creek boasts $483 million in net cash, a price-to-book of 1.7, and as alluded to earlier, a nearly 40% projected revenue growth rate in 2011. It's growing faster, its cash situation is a lot healthier, and it's priced far more attractively than Freeport.

Foolish forecast
Thompson Creek provides a near pure play in the molybdenum market, and I see the potential for considerable strength in that market in 2011. Only time will tell if I am right, but Thompson Creek looks poised for a bullish year.

Which is the best stock for 2011? See all 12 candidates here.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.