With the NHL past its halfway point and its teams bearing down on the playoffs, the offseason is beginning to come into sight on the horizon.
The NHL Entry Draft's first round is 141 days away, but NHL scouts and general managers around the league are already beginning to plan for the day when their futures will be decided.
On the 22nd of June, the 210 best young ice hockey players in the world will be divvied up among the 30 NHL teams. Some will develop into NHL superstars. Some will bust. It's all part of the excitement that comes with the draft.
Here is a second (November 12, 2011) prediction of who will make up the first 30 selections in the draft. Standings are done based on points percentage for each NHL team.
RW – 5'11" – 189 – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Not since the 2004 and 2005 drafts, when Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were drafted by the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively, has there been as much of a runaway first overall pick as Nail Yakupov.
As offensively gifted as they come, Yakupov is the NHL's next superstar. The Russian is a dynamic sniper with a physical edge who plays a similar game to Ovechkin. He was dominant at the World Juniors for the runner-up Russians, with his nine assists through seven games giving him nowhere near even credit. His 55 points through 29 games with the Sting have proven his superiority over pretty well all his peers.
Yakupov is physically mature and will be in the NHL next season. The Nizhnekamsk native should find himself alongside the likes of Rick Nash and Jeff Carter, an environment where he will be able to thrive.
The future 2012/13 NHL Rookie of the Year, Nail Yakupov is ready to light the hockey world on fire.
D – 6'1" – 201 – Everett Silvertips (WHL)
The best in a deep crop of elite blue-liners available, Ryan Murray is a prototypical two-way defenseman with phenomenal offensive and defensive instincts and the size and strength to be effective at the NHL level.
It's not often a draft-eligible Canadian gets a chance to prove himself at the World Juniors, but Ryan Murray had the opportunity and he performed. Murray became one of Canada's more important players. While he didn't provide too much offensively (three assists in six games), he was at times Canada's finest defensively.
The Silvertips captain is the draft's most mature player both mentally and physically, and is ready to step into the NHL right away. He'll join a young Oilers blue line in desperate need of help. Alongside the likes of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, Ryan Murray is going to be a major piece of an elaborate puzzle that is going to carry the Edmonton Oilers back to the summit of the NHL.
C – 6'3" – 200 – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
If you want a hard-working forward that excels in all aspects of the game, look no further. Russian Mikhail Grigorenko is your man.
An incredibly well-rounded winger, Grigorenko is a safe pick to be an NHL superstar. Not only the best passer in the draft, the Muscovite is fast, strong and defensively sound. He also provides crucial intangibles such as leadership and work ethic.
Born in Khabarovsk, just 20 miles from the Chinese border in Far-East Russia, Grigorenko was phenomenal at the World Juniors, scoring two goals and adding three assists in his six games. He has been scintillating in the with his Remparts in the QMJHL, with 28 goals and 36 assists in 41 games.
With Jeff Skinner's emergence as a left-winger, the Hurricanes will have the opportunity to create what would immediately become one of the league's better lines with Eric Staal centering the two.
The 'Canes rebuild will be a short one; there is no need to continue when you have a player like Mikhail Grigorenko on board.
LW – 6'2" – 181 – Leksand (Allsvenskan)
The Anaheim Ducks are not having a very good season. Their stars are struggling, and if there's one thing the team needs, it's a breath of fresh ice. That comes in the form of Swedish winger Filip Forsberg.
While Forsberg has managed only decent numbers in his country's second division this season and his performance at the World Juniors with the Championship-winning Swedish team was average at best, the potential is undoubtedly there, and that is what is drawing scouts to the 17-year-old.
Forsberg brings arguably the best all-around game in the draft, with his stellar skating ability, dynamic puck skills and incredible offensive as well as defensive awareness. Coupled with his good size and appreciation for the physical side of the game, he is a lock to one day crack an NHL roster.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau has a solid track record working with European players, with Nicklas Bäckström, Marcus Johansson, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin being just some of the tremendous NHL players who have reached their best under his tutelage in Washington. Forsberg could very well be in North America soon, and will undoubtedly find himself on a line with the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan (take your pick) soon.
And, of course, having a last name like Forsberg doesn't hurt.
C – 6'1" – 198 – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
The Sabres' two biggest needs in the past few seasons have been due to the lack of elite offensive forwards and the lack of size. Sting forward Alex Galchenyuk would serve to help solve both of those needs.
The obvious concern about Galchenyuk is his lack of a draft-year season, having been injured in September with a torn ACL. However, the injury might well work in his favour, as scouts have only his rookie OHL season to judge him on. Those numbers of 31 goals and 83 points in 68 games meant most scouts considered him a top-four pick, and with the impressive play of his linemate Nail Yakupov, Galchenyuk could well have gone higher in the draft had it not been for the injury.
An American-born forward of Soviet descent, the versatile Galchenyuk will return to the Canadian junior ranks to rebuild his strength and get back to his best. A player with a lot of potential in all aspects of the game (including the physical side), Galchenyuk is the future cornerstone of the Sabres franchise.
Somewhere down the road, he'll team up with 2011 first-rounder Joel Armia to form a truly magnificent line.
C – 6'3" – 202 – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
The Montreal Canadiens are the most successful team in NHL history, and they have done it through skill. In recent seasons, however, they have found that that skill is no longer enough, and that they need to better complement it with size and toughness.
General manager Pierre Gauthier took the first step towards being tougher by acquiring Rene Bourque from the Calgary Flames. He takes the next one by drafting one of the draft's better sizable players.
Radek Faksa is a versatile Czech forward who brings great hockey sense and all-around ability to the ice. It's hard to find weaknesses in the Kitchener forward's game; he has speed, skill, all the intangibles and the physicality to match his phenomenal size advantage.
Faksa has drawn comparisons to fellow Kitchener European Gabriel Landeskog, who was drafted No. 2 overall in the 2011 draft by the Colorado Avalanche and is currently in the process of lighting up the NHL.
Faksa has said it would be dream to be drafted by the Edmonton Oilers, but will be more than happy to join the Habs, who will have more use for him than any other team in the league.
D – 6'0" – 183 – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, John Tavares, Calvin de Haan, Nino Niederreiter, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome. That is the list of the Islanders' last seven first-round draft picks. Only one is a blue-liner. They have built one of the best young forward groups in the NHL; now it's time for them to draft a defenseman.
Mathew Dumba is, despite not being the biggest guy, probably the most physically inclined d-man available this high in the draft. He has become feared throughout the WHL for his strength and power. He has good offensive tools and excellent mobility on the ice, and the hope is that he will have the potential to blossom into a two-way defenseman at the NHL level.
As mentioned, the bulk of the Isles' top prospects and youngsters are forwards, and Mat Dumba fills a big hole in the Islanders future plans. He'll bring toughness, smarts and enthusiasm. If he manages to pile on the pounds this upcoming summer, the Islanders could reap the rewards of what would be a very smart selection as soon as next season.
D – 6'2" – 202 – London Knights (OHL)
The Tampa Bay Lightning's biggest problem this season has been the lack of elite depth on the blue line. At this point, there is little doubt they will draft a defenseman.
Maatta is without a doubt one of the very best prospects available in this draft. It was expected he would prove that at the World Juniors, but a dirty Boone Jenner hit knocked him out of the tournament. Needless to say, the concussion has badly hurt his draft stock.
A defense-first defenseman, the Finnish youngster has a good frame and phenomenal hockey sense, all tools that make him a safe bet to excel at the NHL level. The 17-year-old impressed enough at the World Juniors a season ago to be drafted by the Knights with the first overall pick in the 2011 CHL Import Draft, where he has excelled with 19 points in 38 games.
Most of all, he has wowed scouts with his impressive all-around ability and fundamentally perfect play.
Olli Maatta steps up alongside Radko Gudas as the only real defensive prospects in the Lightning system and, like Gudas, he will have a bright future within the organization. Tampa Bay have a lot of potential, but this brutal season has served to expose their many weaknesses.
Victor Hedman finds his future partner in Maatta, who will strengthen one of those weaknesses and help carry the Tampa Bay Lightning back to the playoffs.
C – 6'2" – 198 – Dubuque Saints (USHL)
When the Phoenix Coyotes acquired Swedish blue-liner David Rundblad from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for center Kyle Turris, he was added to a defense corps that now boasts the likes of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, David Schlemko, Chris Summers and Keith Yandle, not to mention prospects Brandon Gormley and Connor Murphy.
Within a matter of a few seasons, the 'Yotes will have the best defensive group in the NHL.
However, the loss of Turris hurt the offense badly, and it is time for the team to begin a rebuild of the forward corps. That starts with Latvia forward Zemgus Girgensons.
A native of Riga, Girgensons lives and breathes the game of hockey. He is a great all-around player with scintillating hands, sound hockey sense and a gritty physical edge. That's not to mention the intangibles he brings, including an incredible work ethic, impressive leadership ability and unselfishness on the ice.
Committed to the University of Vermont, Girgensons is a can't-miss prospect. While he may be a few years away from seeing NHL action, the Coyotes are in no need to rush him, and his dedication and perseverance means the extra time will only serve to make him better.
The kind of player every team wants, Girgensons would fit right in out in the desert.
D – 6'2" – 193 – USNTDP (USHL)
With their rapidly-aging squad, the Calgary Flames are currently working in the early stages of a rebuild. That rebuild started a season ago when the Flames drafted Sven Baertschi at 13th overall; it continues with a steal in Jacob Trouba at 10th.
An American World Juniors veteran with two-way potential at the NHL level, Trouba is a talented defenseman who has fallen victim to the high number of elite blue-liners available early in this draft. The shark-like defenseman has good speed and mobility, but also brings a physical edge that could develop further as he fills out and grows into his solid frame.
He is committed to the University of Michigan for 2012/13, but his CHL rights are held by the Kitchener Rangers, and there is a decent chance he goes the Canadian junior route instead.
Trouba would join a Flames blue line on which all but two members are under the age of 27. He would be the only elite young defenseman in the organization alongside TJ Brodie, and would be used by the team to lay the foundations on a defense corps that is set to undergo a major overhaul over the next few seasons.
D – 6'0" – 190 – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
The Atlanta Thrashers have worked hard in there last few seasons to build on their offense through the draft. Now it is the Winnipeg Jets turn to add to a great young defense that already includes the likes of Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enström by picking up stud WHLer Morgan Rielly.
Unlike most of the draft-eligible defenseman, the playing style that Morgan Rielly uses is relatively undefined. At the moment, he appears to be developing into a defense-first defenseman, but rest assured, Rielly clearly has the tools to potentially blossom into a mobile two-way or even a more offensively-minded d-man.
The Jets franchise has been laying the foundations of what is sure to be a bright future, and that continues with their fourth straight top-11 pick in Morgan Rielly. A no-risk selection, the West Vancouver native will need a couple more seasons in the WHL to grow, but will join the Jets on the upswing and play a major role as they try to return to the very top.
D – 6'4" – 207 – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
The Capitals got a steal when the acquired this pick and a conditional second-rounder from the Colorado Avalanche for Semyon Varlamov, and they get another steal picking up British Columbia defenseman Griffin Reinhart.
If size is what you are looking for in this draft (the Caps are), then Reinhart is the perfect option. While not overly physical, the 18-year-old uses his height advantage phenomenally well, but his big shot and tremendous mobility are his biggest strengths.
A player in the Shea Weber mould, the sky is the limit for Reinhart. If he develops well, he could blossom into an effective two-way defenseman at the NHL level.
In desperate need of filling out, Reinhart will be given every chance to continue to grow under in Edmonton, and potentially later on with the elite Hershey Bears program in the AHL.
Griffin Reinhart is a key piece of the future in Washington, and they should consider themselves very lucky to have picked him up this late.
D – 5'11" – 186 – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
The Minnesota Wild have one of the most well-rounded prospect pools in the NHL, something that gives them the luxury of picking the best available player. At 13th overall, that is defenseman Derrick Pouliot.
More than most of the other draft-eligibles, Pouliot is an offense-first defenseman who excels in the neutral zone. He is a phenomenally strong puck mover with good skating ability and powerplay potential. To be effective at the NHL level, he'll need to iron out his play in his own defensive zone, but with another season or two of experience in the WHL, that will likely improve.
The Minnesota Wild are building a force to be reckoned with, and Pouliot is the latest addition to that. A forward prospect corps that includes the likes of Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Johan Larsson and Zack Phillips is complemented with a great defense that includes Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella.
The opportunity to add Derrick Pouliot to the league's most exciting team will be too great to pass up for the Wild.
C – 6'2" – 198 – HC Slavia Praha (Extraliga)
The Dallas Stars have worked incredibly hard in recent season to draft character players with bottom six potential. As a result, their group of skill prospects is small. They need to replenish that group, and they do so in picking up versatile Czech forward Tomas Hertl.
Few players have seen their draft stocks rise as much since the start of this season as Hertl, who tore his way onto the world scene with an impressive World Juniors campaign. A good all-around forward, Hertl has all the speed, smarts, skill and size he'll need to be effective at the NHL level.
The Dallas Stars have little or no high-end skill in their prospect pool, but Hertl will provide that in droves. When the Stars lost Brad Richards this summer, they lost the center for arguably their best player in Swede Loui Eriksson.
Eriksson finds himself a new center in Hertl, for whom the sky is the limit.
RW – 6'0" – 204 – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Martin Frk was once upon a time considered a lock top-five prospect for this draft, but injuries and inconsistencies have forced him down to the 15th overall selection, where the Washington Capitals would be ecstatic to be able to pick him up.
A native of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic, Frk is a prototypical power forward who brings all the energy, skill, toughness and European flavour that the Caps are looking for in boatloads. The third overall pick in the 2010 QMJHL Import Draft, Frk tore himself onto the world scene a year ago, racking up 50 points in 62 games for his Mooseheads.
He even got an opportunity to impress for his country at the World Juniors, totaling six points from six games.
This season, however, has been a different story. Frk, who missed the first 21 games of the season as well as the World Juniors with a concussion, has struggled. However, he is beginning to find his game again and scouts are taking second looks.
Frk joins a Caps' prospect corps low on sizable, scoring forwards, and projects as a top-six forward alongside the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Bäckström down the road.
A potential steal at 15th for the Capitals.
D – 6'3" – 207 – Ottawa 67's (OHL)
Because they have such a well-rounded prospect pool, the Ottawa Senators will have the luxury of going out and picking up a player that will fill a clear need in their prospect pool, rather than necessarily drafting the best player available.
They lack a big, physical presence on the blue line, so they pick up Ottawa-native Cody Ceci.
Ceci is a purely defensive defenseman who boasts great size on the back end. He is big, strong, physical and mobile, and while he likely won't develop into too much of a two-way defenseman at the NHL level, he has good offensive upside and power-play capabilities.
Ceci's size means he won't need too long to adjust to the NHL, making him an even more attractive option for a team who will be looking for success sooner rather than later. He'll join Jared Cowen, Erik Karlsson, Brian Lee and Patrick Wiercioch as a foundation for a young blue line that is looking better every day.
RW – 5'11" – 176 – Frölunda (Elitserien)
Much like the Dallas Stars, Brian Burke and his Toronto Maple Leafs have in the past few years focused on drafting character players rather than skill players and, as a result, Nazem Kadri is the only skill player in the top end of their prospect pool.
That is immediately corrected when they pick up dynamic Swedish forward Sebastian Collberg.
As offensively gifted as they come, Collberg has all the tools to become a 30- to 40-goal scorer at the NHL level. He has incredibly soft hands, a lethal wrist shot, pinpoint passing ability, outstanding offensive awareness and more than enough defensive competence to not be a liability when on the ice.
He even managed to outshine fellow draft-eligible Swede Filip Forsberg at the World Juniors, scoring four goals and adding three assists through his six games.
If he develops well, Collberg has the potential to be the best player out of this draft. While Toronto might not be the best environment for him to develop, they are coming out of a rebuild and he'll find himself being a major part of their run back to the Stanley Cup.
He'll need another season or two to adjust to the pro game, but when he does, Collberg is the future franchise goal scorer for whoever is lucky enough to pick him up.
LW – 5'11" – 194 – Djurgården (Elitserien)
No team has undergone as heavy a rebuild as the Florida Panthers, who over the past few seasons have stacked and completely remodeled the team on the draft picks. However, the extensive prospect pool still lacks depth on the left wing and in elite goal-scoring.
Much like his fellow Swedes Filip Forsberg and Sebastian Collberg, Pontus Åberg is a pure goal scorer. A dynamic player with great skill, speed and power, Åberg missed the World Juniors with an injury, but he has more than offered a glimpse of his sky-high potential by besting the point totals fellow Djurgården graduate Mika Zibanejad (sixth overall in 2010, Mika Zibanejad) managed in his draft year.
Åberg has all the tools needed to blossom into an effective power forward at the NHL level, and his presence on the Panthers top line alongside the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau would be much appreciated down the line for the 'Cats.
G – 6'3" – 204 – Tolpar Ufa (MHL)
There is little doubt Martin Brodeur is the greatest goaltender ever to play in the NHL, but with all due respect, the Quebecois is now 38 years old and far beyond his best. The New Jersey Devils need to draft a goalie, and Russian Andrei Vasilevski is by far the best available.
The most fundamentally-sound goalkeeper to come out of Russia since Semyon Varlamov, Vasilevski boasts great lateral movement and a phenomenal glove hand. His calm and composed demeanor set him apart from other Russian goaltenders to see NHL time in recent seasons. There is little doubt he has the raw talent and potential to top the likes of Ilya Bryzgalov and Nikolai Khabibulin in his North American career.
Vasilevski dominated at the World Juniors, posting an outstanding .953 save percentage for a team that played an offense-first style. With the more defensive New Jersey Devils, he could be even better.
LW – 5'10" – 170 – Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
While the L.A. Kings worked hard last summer to improve their offense, the problem that has dogged them for the past few seasons still remains: They just cannot seem to find the back of the net.
More than anything, the Kings need to add proven goal scorers to their ranks, and the best available happens to be Charles Hudon.
Hudon, generously listed at 5'10", is a diminutive forward who brings a high-octane offensive game and packs a lot of punch. While he obviously will need to continue to grow in the Q, he has the tools to succeed in the NHL. There is little doubt that he has the potential to be an elite goal scorer, despite the obvious size disadvantage.
While Kings fans want to win now, they will just have to realize that the road to to the top will take time. The core of the L.A. team, which roughly consists of Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick and Mike Richards, is just entering its prime, and Charles Hudon will have time to catch up with them.
Kopitar could make Hudon a 30-goal scorer.
LW – 6'0" – 198 – Barrie Colts (OHL)
With the injury problems of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, the Pittsburgh Penguins need help up front. The loss of either one of those key players removes a significant amount of scoring from the lineup, and the addition of a natural goalscorer in Tanner Pearson would certainly help to replenish that.
Pearson was passed over in his draft year a year ago and is a year older (and subsequently more NHL-ready) than most of his fellow draftees. He is a pure goal machine, with a great shot and the will to go to the net to get his goals. A late bloomer, Pearson has scored at a rate of almost two points per game this season for his Colts and played a big role for Canada at the World Juniors, tallying six points in six games.
Pearson is big enough and mature enough to play in the NHL as soon as next season. He would grow under the shadow of fellow left winger James Neal in his adjustment to the NHL.
The Penguins, who have been known for their lethal one-two punch of Crosby and Malkin down the middle, would now also have one down the left flank.
D – 6'0" – 195 – Guelph Storm (OHL)
With the days ticking down until the NHL trade deadline, it has been heavily rumoured that the Chicago Blackhawks are looking for a puck-moving, two-way defenseman. Indeed, that is the Blackhawks' biggest need, both right now and in their prospect group, and Matthew Finn would certainly help to relieve that need.
Matt Finn is a versatile blueliner who excels in all three zones and has very few weaknesses. He is always calm and composed both on the puck and off, and brings a hockey IQ far beyond his years. Should Finn continue to work on his offensive tools, he could develop into a good two-way defenseman in the NHL, but as things stand, he projects as an above-average defensive defenseman.
Behind Nick Leddy, the Blackhawks lack elite young defensemen. They need to improve on the back end, and Finn would be a huge asset for them.
He could well be NHL-ready as soon as next season, and if the hole on the blue line is not filled through trade or free agency in the summer, Matt Finn could be an answer.
C – 6'2" – 215 – Belleville Bulls (OHL)
There is absolutely no doubt over the fact that the San Jose Sharks have the thinnest prospect pool among NHL teams. They have drafted just once in the first round in the past four summers and have since traded that player, Charlie Coyle, to Minnesota.
It is crucial that the Sharks improve their prospect pool, and to do that, they need to draft the best player available. At 22nd overall, that is top-15 talent Brendan Gaunce.
What Gaunce will bring to the Sharks in droves centers around hockey intangibles, such as leadership and hockey sense. The brother of Colorado prospect Cameron Gaunce, Brendan has good size, speed and shooting ability. He could well blossom into a dominant second- or third-line center.
While Gaunce is no Joe Thornton, he is the kind of player every team wants and needs. One of the Sharks' biggest problems in recent seasons has been the lack of character in the lineup, but the attributes Gaunce brings will help change that. He could well be the player that helps break the Stanley Curse in San Jose.
C – 6'2" – 210 – USNTDP (USHL)
The Nashville Predators are desperate for scoring forwards, but at 24th overall, the pickings are slim. They will draft the best overall player remaining, and this late that is US National Team Development Program center Stefan Matteau.
While Matteau will not bring too much scoring to the top of the Nashville order, he will certainly add a whole lot of blue-chip talent to their forward corps. First and foremost, he has great size and is willing to be physical and active in the corners, but he also has the tools to be an offensive force despite being more defense-minded.
Matteau, who had verbally committed to the University of North Dakota for 2012-13, will instead join the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL next season.
The son of long-term NHLer Stephane Matteau, Stefan is a prototypical forward who has top-six potential. He should be a great complement to the likes of Patric Hörnqvist, Sergei Kostitsyn and Craig Smith down the road. Because of his size and maturity, he could see NHL action sooner rather than later.
D – 6'0" – 196 – Karpat (SM-Liiga)
Each of Philadelphia's top three defensemen are over the age of 35, and the pipeline for the Flyers to replace those players is thin. They need to draft a defenseman, and with the team also low on puckmovers, Finn Ville Pokka is their best option.
A dynamic two-way defenseman, Pokka does not excel in any particular area of the game, but is instead very well-rounded. He makes a terrific outlet pass and is effective in the offensive zone, but is also not afraid to play physically and is incredibly smart in his own zone.
Pokka is far from being ready, but there is a lot to like for scouts.
While Timmonen is 36, he shows no signs of slowing down, and the odds are that Ville Pokka would be able to play under the Finnish legend's tutelage for a season or two. Beyond that, the Karpat defenseman has the potential to be a top-pairing blue-liner.
With the Flyers' lack of blue chip talent on defense, Pokka's presence will be very appreciated.
C – 6'1" – 189 – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
The Vancouver Canucks have a top-heavy prospect pool full of skill guys, but the team is thin in the character and intangibles area and need to improve. They get all that and more in Vancouver native Colton Sissons.
A player who claims to model his game after Ryan Kesler, Sissons is a hard-nosed, versatile forward who can contribute in all 12 forward positions. A solid defensive player with an underrated offensive game, Sissons hits, fights, scores, defends and does all the little things phenomenally well.
The Vancouver Canucks failure in the Stanley Cup finals a season ago was a direct result of the lack of toughness on their bottom lines. Had they had a player like Colton Sissons in their lineup, the Bruins might have had more of a challenge.
Sissons is the key to success in Vancouver and is ready for the NHL sooner rather than later.
C – 6'1" – 178 – Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
The St Louis Blues have one of the most skilled prospect pools in the NHL, but they are low on Ken Hitchcock-esque players. There are some great, hard-working, character players available this low in the draft; Jarrod Maidens is the pick of the bunch.
Maidens is one of the most natural goal scorers available in the draft, but he does it by heading to the corners and driving to the net with his incredible work ethic. He has a phenomenal shot, which he gets off quickly and accurately, and is smart in all three zones. A versatile player, "Iron Maidens" can play in any situation and on any line and do any job the coach may ask him to do.
Maidens is mature enough to play in the NHL tomorrow, but he needs to add muscle to his frame. The Blues are a team on the rise and can afford to be patient with him. There is little doubt that Maidens would make a perfect complement to the likes of Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko somewhere in the future.
LW – 6'3" – 197 – Belleville Bulls (OHL)
The Detroit Red Wings have been among the best teams in the NHL for a long time, in large part due to their drafting prowess. They have a reputation for uncovering gems and they might well get another in Russian Daniil Zharkov.
Zharkov's biggest strength is his skating stride, which, even though he is a big man, is very fluid and very powerful. A creative player, Zharkov has excellent shooting, passing and puck skills, but also isn't afraid to use his size and strength. He has power forward potential at the NHL level.
With a strong training camp, Daniil Zharkov is an NHL player next season, as he has the size and maturity to play on the world's biggest stage already at 18. The Detroit Red Wings are deep in character forwards, but lack top-six talent and linemates for superstars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
Zharkov is that top-six talent.
D – 6'2" – 184 – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Not only are the Boston Bruins the most well-rounded team in the NHL, but they also have one of the best-rounded group of young hopefuls. They have GM Peter Chiarelli to thank for that, and now, Chiarelli will be rewarded with the luxury by picking up the best available player in the draft in defenseman Slater Koekkoek.
Another phenomenal all-around defenseman likely to see his draft stock suffer because of the high number of similar players, Koekkoek is the prototypical two-way blueliner. He is at his best when skating in open ice. He has a great shot, an accurate pass and is very solid in his own end.
The Mountain, Ontario native has all the tools necessary for him to become an elite NHL defenseman, and would likely have gone a lot higher in this draft had his season not been lost after 26 games because of a shoulder injury.
The Bruins will likely be looking for a long-term partner for 2011 first-rounder Dougie Hamilton, and with Slater Koekkoek on board, they have no need to look any further. He'll need more time in the OHL after his injury, but with the amount of talent and potential he brings, the Bruins will be happy to wait.
C – 6'0" – 179 – London Knights (OHL)
There is a reason the New York Rangers sit atop the NHL standings, and it is simply because they have the best team. There are no holes in their lineup, and they will be able to select the best player at the draft.
Andreas Athanasiou is a skill player. A YouTube sensation, he has incredible puck-handling ability and speed. While other parts of his game need work, there are excellent foundations around which to build a truly tremendous hockey player.
Perhaps the most risky selection of the mock draft, Andreas Athanasiou is a boom-or-bust player that the Rangers can afford to take a chance on. Either he blossoms into a dynamic top-six center who can play alongside the likes of Marian Gaborik, or his lack of size and substance makes him miss out.
The Rangers will just have to play a waiting game.
Follow Jake Ware on Twitter at @JacobWare95