The season has concluded, and with it the attention of the hockey universe collectively shifts towards the 2012 NHL Entry Draft to be held in beautiful Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For the third straight year, my hometown Edmonton Oilers hold the first overall pick. The elite of this draft class remind many of 2008. After a dynamic forward playing in Sarnia of the OHL was selected first overall (Steven Stamkos), defencemen Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo and Luke Schenn followed immediately thereafter. While the book is still out on Bogosian and Schenn, Doughty has earned an Olympic gold medal as well as a Western Conference Championship, while cementing himself as the NHL's premiere young defenceman. Pietrangelo has been no slouch either, anchoring the St. Louis blueline with Kevin Shattenkirk. Tyler Myers won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie in 2010. Also selected in the first round in 2008 was Erik Karlsson, considered to be a reach by Ottawa Senators General Manager Bryan Murray.
This year features talented defencemen in their own right. Ryan Murray could be the next Drew Doughty. Griffin Reinhart just may be the next Alex Pietrangelo. Matt Dumba could pull an Erik Karlsson in a couple of years. While the defence features a bevy of talent, the group of forwards is thinner than most years, with the overall talent level dropping off after the top eight players.
#1. Edmonton Oilers
RW, Nail Yakupov, Sarnia Sting, OHL
We know the Edmonton Oilers are razor-thin on defence, and that Ryan Murray is a good Western Canadian boy who is built with character. Drafting first overall means you need to take the best player available, especially when Yakupov is so high above the next player. Talent is talent, the only question in this situation is who gets shuffled out of Edmonton as a result. Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky are names that come to mind, especially given Gagner's status as a restricted free agent.
# 2. Columbus Blue Jackets
C, Alex Galchenyuk, Sarnia Sting, OHL
When was the last time two teammates were selected first and second overall? Back in 1969, when Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif were selected from the Montreal Junior Canadiens. Ironically, the Montreal Canadiens had the top two picks in 1969 and grabbed both players. Galchenyuk, despite his injury concerns this year, will be a high pick. Columbus, like every other NHL team, covets that big center who drives the net and has soft hands. Mikhail Grigorenko fits the bill as well, although there have been questions about his desire and work ethic. Galchenyuk has experience playing left wing and center, and has been likened to Bobby Ryan and Marian Hossa.
# 3. Montreal Canadiens
RW, Filip Forsberg, Leksand, SEL
Forsberg played against men this season in Sweden, meaning his numbers may not be as sexy as other prospects playing junior hockey. He has NHL size, and is very good defensively. However, he still needs to round out his offensive game. The 'Habs have taken defencemen in the first round the past two seasons (Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu), and lack top-six talents in the system. The risk associated with Forsberg is that his offense doesn't develop at the NHL level, and he becomes a bottom-six forward.
# 4. New York Islanders
D, Morgan Reilly, Moose Jaw, WHL
"Oh no he didn't just have Morgan Reilly ahead of Ryan Murray." This pick has little to do with Murray and more to do with the Islanders, and the development of former first rounder Calvin de Haan. De Haan was expected to be an offensive defenceman who could run the powerplay. In his draft year he tallied 63 points in 68 games for Oshawa of the OHL. His development in the AHL has stalled, and he is coming off a sub-par year where he contributed just 16 points in 56 games. While de Haan still has time to become the offensive threat he was drafted as, Reilly is considered have the highest potential of any defenceman in this year's class. His skating ability is elite, as are his offensive instincts. At the pro level he should become a top-four defenceman who plays major power-play minutes.
# 5. Toronto Maple Leafs
C, Radek Faksa, Kitchener, OHL
The last time the Toronto Maple Leafs had the fifth selection, they passed on Tyler Myers, a hulking defenceman playing in Kelowna of the WHL, to select his teammate Luke Schenn. Ghosts of draft failures aside, the Maple Leafs make a wise choice here with Faksa. He is 6-3, 203 lbs and plays a power forward game. Faksa is also responsible defensively. He projects as a solid two-way center who will likely play on a second line.
# 6. Anaheim Ducks
D, Ryan Murray, Everett, WHL
The wait is finally over for Murray. Nothing much to say aside from being a kid with character, and should make a living as a solid top-four defenceman for years to come.
# 7. Minnesota Wild
D, Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton, WHL
I had the pleasure of covering the Edmonton Oil Kings this season, and was able to get to know Reinhart personally. He has a great sense of humor and a fun, laid back attitude that makes him a dressing room favourite. His draft stock has increased after it was thought he'd no longer be a top-ten pick. He has added intensity to his game, while also developing a mean streak. He says he models his game after Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber. I see Reinhart being a 30 point, second pairing defenceman. He should make Canada's World Junior team this year in Russia.
# 8. Carolina Hurricanes
C, Mikhail Grigorenko, Quebec, QMJHL
Grigorenko's draft stock has been in a free fall after a playoff where he contributed little due to a bout with mono. His work ethic and desire on the ice have been called into question as well. Carolina doesn't have much offense in the system and should be grateful a player with Grigorenko's potential has fallen to them.
# 9. Winnipeg Jets
LW, Teuvo Teravainen, SM-Liiga
Similar to Mika Zibanejad's rise up the draft boards last year, Teravainen is on a similar incline. He produced at nearly a point per game in the Finnish junior league, and is considered by scouts to be one of the most skilled players of this year's draft.
# 10. Tampa Bay Lightning
D, Jacob Trouba, USHL
Trouba spent this year with the US U18 team in the USHL, where he often played against fellow 2012 draft eligible Zemgus Girgensons. The Lightning were dead last in the NHL this season in defence, allowing 281 goals. Trouba's task is to prevent that, being a true shutdown defender.
# 11. Washington Capitals (acquired from Colorado in exchange for G Semyon Varlamov)
C, Brendan Gaunce, Bellevile, OHL
We've reached the point of the draft where marquee talents will be few and far between. Gaunce has a mean streak, and plays the game with intensity and fire. Gaunce is 6-2, 215 lbs and has a brother in the Colorado Avalanche system. He should be a second or third line center who contributes in all situations.
# 12. Buffalo Sabres
C, Zemgus Girgensons, Dubuque, USHL
The Buffalo Sabres choose Girgensons, who will be the first Latvian ever selected in the opening round. Averaging a point per game in the USHL, Girgensons isn't expected to become a prolific scorer at the NHL level. Rather he brings value through his size (6-1, 201 lbs), faceoff ability and penalty killing.
# 13. Dallas Stars
D, Codi Ceci, Ottawa, OHL
Ceci is big and is considered an offensive defenceman. The Dallas Stars should be a fit, considering the lack of blue chip defensive prospects in their system. Ceci and 2011 first rounder Jamieson Oleksiak would look great together.
#14. Calgary Flames
D, Matt Dumba, Red Deer, WHL
The Calgary Flames need more forwards to compliment Sven Baertschi. Unfortunately for them, the class of 2012 doesn't offer much in that regard. The Flames once drafted a Red Deer Rebel defenceman in the first round named Dion Phaneuf. Dumba's playing style has been most often compared to the now Toronto Maple Leaf captain. Dumba is this year's Ryan Murphy; defencemen who fell due to questions surrounding their ability to defend. I feel Dumba will be a 50 point defenceman who gets used on the power play, but leaves something to be desired in terms of his defensive play. His offensive instincts are unparalleled compared to the other defencemen in the draft.
# 15. Ottawa Senators
RW, Tom Wilson, Plymouth, OHL
Wilson's calling card is not his scoring but rather his physicality and rambunctious style of play. His offense is likely not going to translate to the NHL, however he could become a very effective third line center and energy player. I was strongly considering putting Malcolm Subban in this spot. The Senators have depth at every position, but could stand to use an agitator like Wilson.
# 16. Washington Capitals
G, Malcolm Subban, Belleville, OHL
While Washington could use a defenceman here, and Derrick Pouliot, Slater Koekkoek and other options being available in that regard, Subban's potential not just as a player but as an asset is far too good to pass up. His athleticism and potential are the best amongst this year's class of goalies. As an asset, Washington would have three young goalies in Subban, Braeden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth that they can potentially trade. Subban's value, given that he will likely be the starting goalie for the Canada WJC squad in Russia in December as well as an increased work load with Belleville, will increase dramatically in the coming 12 months and be much higher than just a first round draft pick. Neuvirth and Holtby's presence will afford Subban plenty of time to develop.
# 17. San Jose Sharks
D, Derrick Pouliot, Portland, WHL
Another player I have had the pleasure to meet several times throughout the year, Pouliot plays a game similar to current Shark Dan Boyle. He possesses great offensive instincts and can make a solid first pass. He also has a mean streak.
# 18. Chicago Blackhawks
D, Olli Maatta, London, OHL
Maatta's draft stock has seen peaks and valleys this year. He started off looking like the first round pick everyone assumed he'd be, but his play tailed off with London until their playoff run, where he tallied 23 points in 19 games. His strength is his defensive zone play.
# 19. Tampa Bay Lightning (acquired from Detroit in exchange for D Kyle Quincey)
D, Matt Finn, Guelph, OHL
Tampa continues to shore up its defence with the selection of Finn. Also like Jacob Trouba, Finn has a defense-first mentality, with offense not being a big part of his game. Steve Yzerman has seen what building from the blueline out has done to the Phoenix Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings and Ottawa Senators.
# 20. Philadelphia Flyers
RW, Sebastian Collberg, Frolunda, SEL
The last time the Philadelphia Flyers invested a first round pick on a European was back in 2002, when they chose Joni Pitkanen fourth overall from Karpat (SM-liiga). Sebastian Collberg is the best offensive talent still available, and is expected to become a second line goal scorer.
# 21. Buffalo Sabres (acquired from Nashville in exchange for F Paul Gaustad)
LW, Stefan Matteau, US U18, USHL
His father, Stephane, played in the NHL and won a Stanley Cup with New York in 1994. Stefan plays a game similar to his father, agitating and getting under the skin of the opposition. He projects as a power forward good for 45-50 points per season.
# 22. Pittsburgh Penguins
LW, Pontus Aberg, Djurgarden, SEL
The Penguins have used recent high picks on defencemen (Simon Despres, Joe Morrow) while neglecting their need for skilled wingers to play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Enter Aberg. He received regular playing time in the SEL this season as a 18 year old, posting 15 points in 47 games playing against men. He is my pick as the sleeper of the first round.
# 23. Florida Panthers
D, Brady Skjei, US U18, USHL
An embarrassment of riches is what the Florida Panthers have experienced since Dale Tallon took over. Franchise center? Check (Jonathan Huberdeau). Franchise goalie? Check (Jacob Markstrom). Solid defence? Check (Alex Petrovic, Dmitri Kulikov, Keaton Ellerby). Skjei is just another piece to the puzzle. A winger would look better in this position, but the lack of talent combined with Skjei's ability make him the better fit.
# 24. Boston Bruins
D, Dalton Thrower, Saskatoon, WHL
I could see, in a few years, where Thrower and 2011 first rounder Dougie Hamilton are paired together, with Hamilton getting the green light on offense while Thrower would be relied upon to cover for his partner. Thrower has nastiness to his game as well, as seen by his 103 penalty minutes this year.
#25. St. Louis Blues
D, Slater Koekkoek, Peterborough, OHL
Koekkoek is a two-way defender whose season was hampered by a shoulder injury. He has a very high ceiling, but his injury is a concern. The reward could be a top-two defenceman.
# 26. Vancouver Canucks
G, Andrei Vasilevski, Ufa, KHL
Another pick not made out of need but rather asset management. Vasilevski likely will become an above average starting goalie in the NHL. At the developmental level, the Canucks are shallow in goal. The Canucks develop Vasilevski, create a market for his services and trade him when his value increases. The Canucks are already in this situation with Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo, and will reap the rewards of having two number one goalies. Selecting Vasilevski allows them to perform the feat again. Do the Canucks have any glaring needs anyway?
# 27. Phoenix Coyotes
RW, Henrik Samuelsson, Edmonton, WHL
Truculence is what describes Samuelsson's game best. The winger plays mean and physical, while offering more offense than Tom Wilson, albeit with more question marks. At the very least, the Phoenix Coyotes have an intimidating third line winger here. Samuelsson's father, Ulf, was an associate coach with the Coyotes for five seasons.
# 28. New York Rangers
RW, Colton Scissons, Kelowna, WHL
Another forward destined to play a bottom-six role in the NHL, Scissons brings the intangibles as well. He was team captain of the Kelowna Rockets this year, and was also captain for Team Orr at the CHL Top Prospects Game. He has the size at 6-1, 195 lbs and plays a complete, two-way game.
# 29. New Jersey Devils
G, Oscar Dansk, Brynas, SEL
The time has come to think of Marty Brodeur's replacement. Dansk's playing style has been compared to fellow Swede Henrik Lunqvist. His play this season has been outstanding, posting a 0.910 SVP in the Swedish junior league.
# 30. Los Angeles Kings
LW, Tanner Pearson, Barrie, OHL
The work never ends for Dean Lombardi. Just after winning his first Stanley Cup, the LA general manager has to prepare for the draft. The organization lacks offensive wingers in its system, and Pearson brings just that: the ability to score. Pearson projects as a second line playmaking winger. He finished third in the OHL with 91 points this season. Already being 19 and turning 20 years old this summer, Pearson will only have one season of junior eligibility left. He likely would report to Manchester of the AHL next season.
There it is; some surprises, some fallers, some risers. It will be interesting to see what we think of this year's draft class (considered to be shallow) in a few years. Might we have a 50 goal scorer in the crowd? Is the next Vezina winner going to be called in Pittsburgh next week? Only time will tell. Let the debates begin!
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