The 2012 NHL Entry Draft marks the 50th anniversary of the annual selection process and has been titled the ‘Year of the Defenseman’ for quite some time now.
Seen as one of the deeper drafts in recent years with some very impressive top end talent, the 2012 draft has scouts excited to get to the rink.
While not all of these listed prospects will remain in the conversation for top dog by the time next June rolls, it is always a good exercise to see who is in the running early. In a year like 2012, scouts except to see considerable movement since there is such a wealth of high end talent that could eventually be called first overall.
Any conversation on drafts top prospects for 2012, as far as FC is concerned, needs to start with Sarnia sniper Nail Yakupov. The right winger not only took the OHL by storm last season with his 101 points in 65 games but also the entire hockey world. NHL GM’s across the league know the name “Nail” and what adding such a high-octane offensive force could mean to their hockey clubs.
The five-foot-11 Yakupov blends high level energy, a deep rooted desire to score, some dynamic wheels and an elite shot that combine to make him a sure bet to become an NHL all-star soon after the just average sized winger hears his name announced at the draft.
Yakupv, a Tartar from Russia who played for Reaktor Nizhnekamsk in Russia’s MHL junior league, came over a year before he was draft eligible to the Ontario Hockey League for one reason, to get some early exposure and give scouts a chance to see what he could do on the ice. Consider that mission accomplished.
Yakupov is Future Considerations early candidate as top pick for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Keeping with forwards who could go first overall – Yakupov’s teammate in Sarnia, also of Russian heritage – centre Alex Galchenyuk – is another potential top selection for the 2012 draft. Galchenyuk was born in Milwaukee, WI while his hockey-playing father of the same name was plying his trade with the minor league Milwaukee Admirals in the now defunct International Hockey League.
Alex Jr. moved around the globe playing his minor hockey in places like Italy, Germany and Chicago until he and his family made the move to Sarnia where Alex Jr. suits up for the Sting of the OHL.
Galchenyuk’s best on-ice assets include his good size at six-foot-one, soft and creative hands, elite vision, being strong on the puck and his ability to control the pace of the game which his 83 points in 68 games can attest to. His two-way game is still raw but he has also shown willingness to work and work hard in both ends. Alex could end up being the most well rounded prospect that comes out of the 2012 NHL draft.
The chief challenger to the Yakupov throne as top draftee in many scouts’ eyes is big powerful Russian centre Mikhail Grigorenko who was drafted out of CSKA in the MHL by the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts in the 2011 CHL Import draft. Grigorenko, who was born in Khabarovsk, a city on the far eastern side of Russia, made the trek over the Atlantic to earn exposure in front of the droves of scouts circling Quebec as a destination de jour.
Grigorenko put up some solid numbers in the MHL with 35 points in 43 games but saved his best for the IIHF under-18 World Championships last April where he put on a playmaking clinic, posting 18 points in just seven games played as an underage player.
Grigorenko is a special prospect possessing nice size, elite vision and playmaking ability along with quick, soft hands that allow him to handle the puck in traffic and protect it along the wall until the play develops when he can dish the puck to a teammate for a prime scoring chance.
The negative aspect with Grigorenko can be that sometimes his efforts are not as they should be game in and game out and that he has a bit of the anti-Russian factor attached to him based on his previous comments and fear that he could jet to Russia and the KHL at the first sight of tribulation in North America.
Staying in Europe but moving to the north-west and hockey power Sweden, Leksand centre/winger Filip Forsberg has the ability to challenge for one of the top spots as well. His recent performances at both the 2011 U18 events (IIHF U18 World Championships & Ivan Hlinka) caused quit the stir in the scouting community as he was a dominant force for Sweden at each venue.
The native of Ostervala, Sweden uses his size, hard working drive, a relentless puck pursuit and willingness to play in traffic to create chances for himself and his teammates. He possesses a health amount of speed, a very powerful frame, good defensive awareness, strong finishing skills and on-ice vision as he plays a strong three zone game.
While Forsberg might not have the elite offensive skills as a Yakupov or a Grigorenko might possess at this point, his overall game is what has scouts pushing his name up their draft rankings early on.
There are also some defensive prospects that have their eyes fixed on the top spot for 2012.
The top rearguard prospect early this year has to be Everett Silvertip captain Ryan Murray. His poise under all situations and maturity with regards to his in-game decision-making is comparable to a 10-year NHL veteran.
The White City, SK. native came into the WHL as a rookie and played from the get-go on the Silvertips top defensive pairing, doing so without missing a beat. He has been a fixture on Hockey Canada’s teams for the past couple years and will be again as he is a virtual lock to play on the U20 team at this years IIHF World Junior Championship.
A smooth skater with outstanding hockey sense who possesses elite vision to make strong outlet passes and start the offensive rush describe Murray well. He’s not a real big end-to-end puck rusher like some label him but more of a strong passer and offensive rush supporter who follows the play or makes himself an option. His ability to transition the play from defense to offense and visa versa is a real asset to his game. Shows no panic and plays the game as error-free as any 2012 draft eligible available.
Nipping at Murray’s heels is a group of five or six other defenders that will push for the honor of top defenseman in 2012.
Windsor’s two-way defender Nick Ebert burst on to the scene three years ago when he joined the USHL’s Waterloo Blackhawks and preformed better than many first thought before he made the jump to the Ontario Hockey Leagues Windsor Spitfires to further his development.
The six-foot-one Ebert came into the OHL as a rookie last season and showed his smooth skating ability, strong instincts, smart decision-making and physical edge as he played a highly effective game at both ends of the rink. The Livingstone, NJ. native proved he could carry the puck up ice and also displayed his hard point shot and puck distribution skills as he quarterbacked the power-play.
Physically, Ebert is big and strong; while controlled, still shows that he will go to battle if you push him.
Three other Western Hockey League defensemen who have the talent to make that hard push for the top pick include Moose Jaw’s puck moving and ultra reliable Morgan Rielly, Edmonton’s big and nasty bruising defender Griffin Reinhart and Red Deer’s river-boat gambling “offenseman” Mathew Dumba who has really impressed in early season viewing so far.
Rielly has the vision and instincts to be a special ‘Duncan Keith type’ rearguard as a pro. His smooth skating, calm and controlled game is consistently demonstrated at both ends of the rink. His ability to either rush the puck himself or make a solid stretch pass keeps opponents on their toes each time he hits the ice. His play in his own zone is also a plus.
Big Reinhart, son of former NHLer Paul Reinhart, plays the game with an attitude and physical nastiness that makes smaller offensive attackers look to enter the zone on his off side whenever able. Defensively he clears his zone effectively and keeps everyone honest as well as mixing in a solid yet underdeveloped offensive skill-set.
Dumba, one of the poster boys for the draft due to his electrifying skills and personality, is one prospect who could make the jump to top three prospect from the preliminary rankings very early this season. His quick feet and hard-hitting style despite being just average sized makes him a fan favorite. His rocket shot and untapped, wild-stallion like potential have scouts salivating at the thought of adding him in their team’s rosters.
One prospect with huge potential upside, who will also challenge Ebert for top American-born defenseman, is United States Development Team Under-18 squad two-way threat Jacob Trouba. The big six-foot-two Trouba is a tank on skates who hits to hurt, skates well for his size and has some offensive pop to his game.
The problem that scouts see with Trouba is that he is so physical that he often looses defensive positioning engaging in puck battles or looking for the devastating hit. His shot from the point is an absolute rocket and he shows good offensive instincts that have many anticipating that his game is just scratching the surface of his potential.
While all of these prospects have the potential to earn the honor of top pick for 2012, Yakupov is the king of the mountain. It is up to the other nine to dethrone him.
Dan Stewart is the scouting director of Future Considerations and can be found on Twitter. For all the latest Future Considerations news and posts, follow FC’s Official Twitter Feed, on YouTube and on Facebook!