2012 may be the year of the defenseman, but forwards eligible for the NHL Entry Draft aren’t going quietly in the night.
With the top available forwards, even this early in the year, there looks to be three distinct tiers of talent. The first tier is comprised of four sure-thing NHL talents who will likely make the jump to the NHL immediately after they are drafted.
The second grouping is made up of talent that has high-end potential and could move up and integrate with the top-tier throughout the course of the season, but at the current time is just a step down from those elite four.
The third and final group of the top forward talent is comprised of those who have very nice pro-potential but also have an area in their games that need to be strengthened before they can be considered can’t-miss catches.
So who are these prospects?
It’d be impossible to not start with Sarnia Sting sniper Nail Yakupov at this point in time. His elite skills will be a highly sought after commodity by all NHL teams as he has the potential to instantly be plugged into the NHL next season and make a contribution as a primetime scorer.
After Yakupov and in the same elite tier there are three other forwards who are primed to challenge the Sarnia standout for top forward prospect all season.
Current teammate and roommate all of last year, centre Alex Galchenyuk is another high-end talent up front that will have scouts busting the seams of the tiny media/scouts lounge at the RBC Centre in Sarnia this season.
Galchenyuk has shown elite puck skills, amazing vision and the drive to succeed as he strives to make his own lasting impression on the scouts in the stands this season. It is very possible that some NHL teams might like the size and skill mix that Galchenyuk brings to the table over the more explosive and dynamic sniper like Yakupov by next June.
Out east is another Russian in Quebec Remparts import forward Mikhail Grigorenko, who has many intangibles that will have teams putting his name at the top of the list by June.
Besides great size and puck protection ability, Grigorenko has uncanny vision and playmaking ability coupled with a blistering wrist shot to add to an NHL rosters top line in the not too distant future. His effort level from game-to-game is the only real question mark and the reason he is at this point on the edge of the top-5.
The last top-tier forward prospect is Swedish two-way forward Filip Forsberg, who plays the game with a mix of Henrik Zetterberg and Peter Forsberg in terms of demeanor and style. He goes hard on the forecheck, finishes his checks all over the ice, possesses the skill to handle the puck in tight spaces and flashes the shot to beat elite goaltenders.
All of these four elite forwards will challenge each other, as well as select defensemen, for the top selection in 2012.
After the first tier of forwards the quality throughout the first round still remains very high, just not elite high at this time, as there are four prospects on our radar who we believe still capable of narrowing the gap between that top foursome as the year moves along.
Kitchener Rangers creative centre Matia Marcantuoni has great speed and agility coupled with a raw offensive upside that is just touching the tip of the iceberg. He could enjoy a great breakout season and push himself into top-10 consideration.
Big Latvian centre Zemgus Girgensons is another one of those guys high on potential going forward. He has good size, a strong two-way game and desire to be involved in the play.
In Sweden, winger Sebastian Collberg of the Frolunda Indians could push Forsberg for top Swede if he can add some more consistency to his game. His speed and scoring touch is already well known in the scouting community and something that has NHL teams excited. In fact, a few scouts are already saying Collberg tops Forsberg on their draft lists.
Big power forward Jarrod Maidens of Owen Sound will be given every chance to grow his game as he gets boatloads of ice time on a rebuilding Attack squad that saw many major junior graduations from last season. His strength and speed will make him a nightmare for OHL defenses as he drives to the net all season.
Offensive upside is the only question that has Maidens as a mid-first round pick at this point.
The last grouping is the largest and contains prospects who have high-end skills but also have some question marks that need to be addressed before the scouts get to excited about their NHL potential. This group starts from the mid-first round and goes well into round number two of the draft.
Prospects like the OHL’s London Knights forward Andreas Athanasiou, who shows great speed and skating ability mixed with a nice shot release but lacks size, strength and the understanding of play without the puck.
Halifax Mooseheads import winger Martin Frk, who has a bullish power forward game with a pro-type shot, lacks foot speed and the ability to consistently keep up to quicker opponents.
Oshawa’s Scott Laughton has good instincts and work ethic but might not be seen as having the highest offensive ceiling at the next level. Belleville Bull centre Brendan Gaunce, the second overall selection in the 2010 OHL Priority Selection, who has enticing two-way skills and very good size but needs to work on a worrisome skating stride.
Guys like Finnish offensive wiz Teuvo Teravainen and Chicoutimi forward Charles Hudon have great vision and playmaking ability but lack size and strength. Also, small guys like Pontus Aberg, Erik Locke, Troy Bourke, Matthew Campagna and Miles Koules who all have good offensive skill but also give scouts reason to pause because of their diminutive size and current lack of strength.
While this is how things look with regards to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft’s forward crop at the beginning of the season, the scouting game is a marathon, not a sprint. Much can and undoubtedly will change over the course of the next eight or nine months. There is a whole season ahead for these prospects to step up and challenge that top grouping.
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!