The 2012 NHL Entry Draft begins tonight at 7pm but with such a high amount of defenseman projected to be selected in the first round, that does not leave a lot of NHL-ready players in this pool.
The Edmonton Oilers own the first overall pick in the draft and they have already announced that they will not trade the pick in the next couple of hours. They are going to have to decide between the best defenseman in the draft who has top line potential or the best forward this year who will most likely play on the teams second line. Defenseman Ryan Murray or wingman Nail Yakupov? That is the question on everyone’s mind.
Both players have the potential to start immediately in the NHL no matter which team drafts them. As of now, it appears Yakupov is the favorite to be drafted first. He is looking to silence his skeptics as well and prove to them that he is capable of playing and wants to play in the National Hockey League. The Russian forward played two season in the OHL for the Sarnia Sting and scored 80 goals and 90 assists in 107 games. His 1.59 points per game is a main reason he is considered the best player in the draft and he has even drawn comparisons to the legendary Pavel Bure. This could be a bit farfetched to already compare the 18 year old to a Hall of Famer but it proves that Yakupov is better than the other forwards available. Yakupov also told his agent he has no desire to return to the KHL as he said the NHL is the only league that “exists” for him. So the Oilers should feel comfortable drafting this talented forward. For the third year in a row, the Oilers will select the 18-year-old right wing and he could even play on the second line behind Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Because the Oilers have a desperate need for defense, Murray has not yet been ruled out of the picture. But Edmonton has been known for taking the top talent available on the board (Our Rant Sports Mock Draft has Yakupov #1). If the Oilers pass up on Murray, he could drop as low as 5th to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadian defenseman is bar none the top blue-liner in the draft and could contribute to his NHL club in September. Murray was a bronze medalist in the World Junior Championships this past year for team Canada and he had 12 goals and 24 assists in 50 games for the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League.
Murray is known predominately as an offensive-minded defenseman but he is also quite well-rounded. Murray has the intelligence, aggressiveness, defensive positioning and powerful skating ability to make up for his average-at-best stat line. He is the equivalent of a five tool baseball prospect with plenty of upside and should develop a better offensive game in the NHL. Assuming the Blue Jackets and Canadiens select forwards, Murray could end up with the New York Islanders at the 4th pick.
That’s just two young prospects who could make an immediate impact for their NHL team. Lets take a look at three more who are looking to accomplish the same thing.
3. Filip Forsberg, C/W, Leksands IF (Allsvenskan)
Forsberg is a strong two-way forward that could emerge as the best player in the draft strictly because of his raw skills. His skating could use some work to help get a quicker step into the offensive zone but he makes up for his lack of speed with his quick hands. Forsberg will be an NHL player that teams could rely upon to score a big goal or make a defensive stop. He is an excellent forechecker and can shutdown the opponent’s attack when he is one-on-one because he forces his opponents into the boards. The Sweden native is most known for his wicked one-timer and lethal hands and we all know every team could use a reliable scorer. Now it’s just a matter of where he falls on draft day.
4. Alex Galchenyuk, C, Sarnia (OHL)
Torn ACL? Only played in two games last season? That’s not a problem for most NHL organizations. He was teammates with Yakupov the past two years and is projected to be a top five selection on Friday. He could have possibly hurt Yakupov’s draft stock had he not injured his ACL this past season. Even without a point in the 2011 season, it’s hard for scouts to ignore the 31G-52A stats in 68 games back in 2010. Much like his Sarnia teammate, he is also being compared to a superstar for his flash and dash style of play and tremendous hands. That comparison is two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin. If that’s the kind of “risk” he is projected to become, the Columbus Blue Jackets may end up picking Galchenyuk over Forsberg. The Wisconsin native was destined to play hockey and he traveled across the globe to compete at a young age. He is the perfect prospect if it weren’t for his severe injury last year. If he can fully recover and rebound from his torn ACL and fine-tune his positioning in the defensive end, his laser shot could boost him into an NHL roster as a 4-9 forward this season. He is the best offensive center in the draft.
5. Teuvo Teravainen, W, Jokerit (SM-Liiga)
Teravainen is an interesting player in this year’s draft. Some mock drafts have him as high as eight to the Carolina Hurricanes and others say he could drop all the way to the late first round. The Finish forward has drawn comparisons to Pavel Datsyuk for his overall game and even Hurricanes director of amateur scouting Tony MacDonald went so far to compare his offensive game to Patrick Kane. Much like Galchenyuk, he is a high-risk, high-reward player because nobody is certain if he is ready to play now or if he needs a few years developing in Europe or in junior leagues. He is only 18 years old and won the rookie of the year for the elite team in Finland. His skating and passing ability and knack with the puck on both ends of the rink could give him a chance to make the NHL roster out of training camp.
It may seem unusual that I named four offensive players who could be ready for the next step especially when everyone is calling this draft the year of the defense. But there are other notable first round potential picks who could surge their way onto the roster. Some of those include blue-liners Mathew Dumba, Griffin Reinhart, Cody Ceci, and Olli Maata and forwards Mikhail Grigorenko and Radek Faksa. Typically it takes even the most skilled defenseman a year or two to make it in the NHL because it takes a little longer to tighten their game for a higher level of competition. Look at Stanley Cup Champion Drew Doughty. A year and a half training did him wonders in LA.
These prospects have some work to do to prove they can be as productive as the powerful 2011 NHL draft. This draft class could be very strong if you wait two to three years for the prospects to develop. But like every draft, there are certainly a handful of players who could make a splash in the big league.