Unlike the NFL or NBA drafts, prospects that are selected in the NHL draft often take quite a bit of time to develop in order to be ready to play against top-level competition. The vast majority of this year's first-round picks are going to be returned to juniors or their collegiate teams, but there is a small handful that will play in the NHL immediately.
Some of them will start in the NHL because they're ready and others will do so out of desperation from the teams who drafted them, but whatever the case, they'll have a chance to make their presence known immediately. There aren't very many players in this shallow draft who can transition to the big time right away, so the ones who can will come at a premium.
In addition to a full, first-round mock draft, here are my projections for where the most likely instant contributors will be selected.
1. Edmonton Oilers - Nail Yakupov, F, Sarnia
As has usually been the case over the past several years, the 2012 draft has a clear-cut top pick in forward Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting. No player in the draft has the combination of offensive talent and production that Yakupov possesses and that makes him an obvious selection. The Edmonton Oilers need more help on the back end, but they simply can't pass up Yakupov.
The Oilers have built up quite the war chest of talented young forwards over the past few seasons as they have drafted Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the first round. Adding Yakupov to the mix makes them that much more dangerous and it should pay dividends immediately since Yakupov is NHL ready.
This is a great landing spot for Yakupov because there are other great youngsters already in place, so he will be able to grow and develop right along with them. There is little doubt that Yakupov will be counted upon heavily from day one, so he should have a head start on the field.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets - Mikhail Grigorenko, F, Quebec
Aside from Yakupov, there is no question that countryman Mikhail Grigorenko is most prepared to transition to the NHL quickly and seamlessly. The Quebec Remparts center had a spectacular season in juniors and already has a skill set that is tailor-made for the NHL. At 6'3" and 200 lbs. he is big enough to do battle with some of the toughest guys in the game, but his hands are silky smooth around the net as well.
The only question with Grigorenko is whether he's willing to put in all the necessary work, but that seems to be a question that is raised about every Russian player, including Yakupov. There have been plenty of promising, young Russian players who have fizzled out in recent years and went back to Russia, such as Nikita Filatov, Nikolai Zherdev and Alexander Radulov, but Grigorenko may be a better all-around player than all of them.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have been burned by Russian players in the past in Filatov and Zherdev, but they have an obvious need at center, so Grigorenko should be the pick. There is some question as to whether or not they'll keep Rick Nash, but if they do then he and Grigorenko should form an explosive duo on their top line.
3. Montreal Canadiens - Alex Galchenyuk, F, Sarnia
Some scouts believe that Galchenyuk may have the most pure skill out of any player in this draft, but he probably needs another year in juniors so he won't help the Habs right away.
4. New York Islanders - Ryan Murray, D, Everett
The New York Islanders are a team with a lot of offensive skill, particularly up front thanks to the likes of John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo, P.A. Parenteau and others. Their corps of defensemen leaves a lot to be desired, however, so there is little doubt that they'll be targeting a blueliner with the No. 4-overall pick. There has been some debate, but most think that Everett Silvertips star Ryan Murray is the best in this class.
Murray has decent size at 6'1" and 200 lbs. so he can definitely hold his own defensively, but his true value is as a puck-moving defenseman. Murray has already been compared to former NHL great Scott Niedermayer as he has shown an ability to play big minutes, skate with the best of them and set up teammates with great regularity. All of that would fit well into the Islanders' system.
Mark Streit does all of those things for New York, but he is getting up there in age and could use a little help. Murray will be able to take away some of Streit's even-strength and power-play minutes and the team likely won't miss a beat either.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs - Filip Forsberg, F, Leksands
The Maple Leafs certainly have some talented forwards in Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, but they need more top-flight talent up front and Forsberg provides that.
6. Anaheim Ducks - Mathew Dumba, D, Red Deer
Anaheim has the luxury of going with the best available player here, so it will be happy to nab Dumba, who many considered the third-best player in the draft not very long ago.
7. Minnesota Wild - Morgan Rielly, D, Moose Jaw
The Wild will continue to try and restock their minor league cupboard as it has been barren for too long, and Rielly will be their cornerstone defenseman.
8. Carolina Hurricanes - Radek Faksa, F, Kitchener
Aside from Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner, the Hurricanes don't have a ton of talent up front, but Faksa is a big forward who should fit in well in a year's time.
9. Winnipeg Jets - Jacob Trouba, D, USA U-18
The Jets' defense corps took a big hit when Johnny Oduya was traded away, so they'll take Trouba to be his eventual replacement.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning - Griffin Reinhart, D, Edmonton
Tampa Bay has plenty of skill at forward at the NHL level and in its minor league system, but the Lightning have been trying to reshape their blueline and will continue the process with Reinhart.
11. Washington Capitals (from COL) - Brendan Gaunce, F, Belleville
The Capitals seemed to finally figure out a way to compete in the playoffs this season, and grabbing a big forward in Gaunce will spread their new philosophy to the minors as well.
12. Buffalo Sabres - Teuvo Teravainen, F, Jokerit
Buffalo seemed to find a gem in Finnish forward Joel Armia last season, and it will turn to Finland once again this year by selecting Teravainen.
13. Dallas Stars - Cody Ceci, D, Ottawa
The Stars are a team that are caught in the middle right now as they are on the borderline of playoff contention, so they'll take Ceci as he shouldn't need a ton of development time.
14. Calgary Flames - Matt Finn, D, Guelph
Calgary is in a tough spot because it can't seem to make the playoffs, but it has a weak farm system, but Finn will give the Flames a nice defenseman waiting in the wings.
15. Ottawa Senators - Sebastian Collberg, F, Frolunda HC
Few teams have had more success drafting Swedes than the Senators with Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson, and they'll get another in Collberg.
16. Washington Capitals - Derrick Pouliot, D, Portland
The Capitals seem to have an abundance of offensive defensemen on their team currently, so taking a do-everything guy like Pouliot makes a lot of sense.
17. Florida Panthers - Zemgus Girgensons, F, Dubuque
Florida has a lot of promise as the overhauled roster performed well this season and the farm system looks stocked, so adding the skilled Latvian Girgensons to the mix is a good move.
18. San Jose Sharks - Ludvig Bystrom, D, Modo
The Sharks' time to contend is winding down, so they would be well advised to start building up the farm system with promising prospects like Bystrom to speed up the transition process.
19. Chicago Blackhawks - Pontus Aberg, F, Djurgardens
Chicago has a lot of young talent on the verge of playing in the NHL, and Aberg would be yet another name that could be added to that list as he has done well in the Swedish Elite League.
20. Tampa Bay Lightning (from DET) - Malcolm Subban, G, Belleville
He may not be ready to play immediately, but Subban is an obvious choice for the Lightning because they have next to nothing on the horizon at goaltender.
21. Pittsburgh Penguins - Olli Maatta, D, London
Pittsburgh's defense was a mess against the Flyers in the playoffs, and while it has some solid defenders in the pipeline, it couldn't hurt to add another in Maatta.
22. Boston Bruins - Brady Skjei, D, USA U-18
The Bruins don't exactly have a dynamite farm system, so they'll look to add talent at any position and Skjei is an excellent player to start with.
23. Phoenix Coyotes - Tomas Hertl, F, Slavia
Phoenix has done quite well for itself by drafting and developing European players, so Hertl certainly would seem to be a natural fit for the Coyotes.
24. New Jersey Devils - Tom Wilson, F, Plymouth
The Devils may be losing Zach Parise in free agency this offseason, and while Wilson obviously won't be able to step in for him right away, he could be a factor in short order.
25. Buffalo Sabres (from NAS) - Stefan Matteau, F, USNTDP
Buffalo has drafted for size with much more regularity as of late, and that figures to make a bigger forward who can score, such as Matteau, an attractive option.
26. Vancouver Canucks - Slater Koekkoek, D, Peterborough
The Canucks are reeling after being knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, but the show must go on, and Koekkoek will be a nice building block.
27. Philadelphia Flyers - Hampus Lindholm, D, Rogle
Philadelphia may have more young forward depth than any team in the league, and with some of its defensemen aging, Lindholm seems like a great selection here.
28. St. Louis Blues - Nicolas Kerdiles, F, USA U-18
A lack of scoring caught up to the Blues in the second round of the playoffs, and Kerdiles will give them a potentially explosive offensive player to develop.
29. New York Rangers - Scott Laughton, F, Oshawa
The Rangers have plenty of young talent waiting in the wings all over, and since they have a lot of size at forward, they can afford to take someone on the smaller side like Laughton.
30. Columbus Blue Jackets (from LA) - Andrei Vasilevski, G, Ufa
Columbus is absolutely desperate to find a goalie of the future and the present, and while Vasilevski will have to develop some more, he has star potential.