NHL Mock Draft 2012: Projecting Where Top Prospects Will Land
The NHL Draft is coming up and it's time for all of us wanna-be scouts (guilty) to make our predictions for the upcoming draft in Pittsburgh on June 22.
This year's draft class is one of the weaker ones in recent memory. Outside of the top five or six prospects, there's a considerable drop-off in terms of blue-chippers for a franchise.
Nevertheless, the draft is still a big part of building a team, so let's have a little fun with it.
1. Edmonton Oilers: Nail Yakupov, RW (Sarnia, OHL)
The "Fail for Nail" campaigns by fans of losing teams culminates with Edmonton picking Nail Yakupov first overall. Yakupov has been the consensus No. 1 pick all year, and it's not going to change heading into June 22. While this is a weaker draft year, Yakupov is the golden boy of 2012.
He is arguably the greatest Russian prospect since Alexander Ovechkin. While the "Russian factor" may scare teams, Yakupov has acclimated himself to North America while playing in the OHL. In 65 games in the 2010-2011 season, Yakupov recorded 101 points, scoring 49 goals in 65 games. A concussion cut his past season short, but he still finished with 69 points in his 42 games played.
Yakupov has drawn comparisons to Pavel Bure due to his explosiveness and his eye for the net. Yakupov is simply a finisher. Joining Edmonton would add to an already scary young group of top forwards. Just picture Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov all on the same team.
Edmonton's biggest need unquestionably is defense, but it was also their biggest need last year. I believe Steve Tambellini will once again select the best player available with his third No. 1 overall pick in three years.
The Oilers would be shrewd to possibly trade this pick if their need is defense. There are teams who would love to add the dynamic Yakupov to their lineup if their needs at forward are a lot bigger than Edmonton's. The Oilers can trade down one or two spots and still get a Ryan Murray.
It will all depend on who Edmonton sees as this year's top prospect. While Oilers fans are ecstatic to have top pick after top pick, that will have to start translating into on-ice success soon, or fans will be impatient. If Edmonton takes Yakupov, they'll have $28 million of cap room to go after some defensemen in free agency.
Barring a trade, this will be the pick by Edmonton at No. 1.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets: Filip Forsberg, C/RW (Leksands, SWE)
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Forsberg's projection is all over the place in this year's draft. It's not that he's a risky pick; it's just a matter of differing opinions as to where he will land.
The Columbus Blue Jackets needed the No. 1 pick more than anybody, as they had the league's worst record at 29-46-7. Unfortunately for them, the Oilers won the draft lottery. The Blue Jackets may trade the pick because they need players everywhere. Rick Nash is the only good thing they have going for them, and maybe Jack Johnson as well.
The Jeff Carter trade last summer didn't work out and he went on to win the cup with the Kings. Ouch. You know Rick Nash is hoping for some help, and he'll wind up with a young, talented Forsberg. They need a forward, but Nash simply cannot be their only top forward any longer.
Many believe he's the second-best forward available, and NHL Central Scouting has Forsberg as the top ranked European skater. Forsberg plays with a physical edge, packs a powerful shot and has sharp instincts.
He has yet to mature physically, as he is only 17, but he can certainly grow into his 6'1" body. He's currently at 174 pounds, so expect him to gain 20-25 pounds before being thrown into the fire. Forsberg is a good fit, as he can clear up space for Nash and give teams something else to think about when playing Columbus.
3. Montreal Canadiens: Alex Galchenyuk, C (Sarnia, OHL)
The Montreal Canadiens will be picking in the top five for just the second time in 30 years. Their last top-five pick was in 2005, when they took Carey Price fifth overall. Now, after a disastrous season filled with turmoil, which saw their coaching staff and general manager fired, they are looking to embark on a new era.
With Marc Bergevin now running the show, the Canadiens have to make this draft count in order to regain their reputation of being a top-notch franchise.
Alex Galchenyuk is one of this draft's bigger mysteries. He is Nail Yakupov's linemate from the Sarnia Sting and may have been this year's top prospect himself if not for a torn ACL last fall.
The most recent body of work from Galchenyuk was in 2010-2011 when he potted 31 goals and 52 assists for 83 points in 68 games. He returned for Sarnia's playoff run this past season, recording four points in Sarnia's playoff series loss.
He's a huge wild card in this year's draft. His character and competitiveness is second to none, which helps his stock as well. He has great hands and a strong work ethic which will serve him well at the NHL level. He may be ready this coming season, or he could spend another year in the junior leagues.
His playmaking ability gives him a chance at being a true No. 1 center, something the Canadiens have lacked for decades. He's a two-way center and you'd have to nitpick to find his weaknesses. If there is one, it's that he'll have to be a little more physical at the next level.
At 6'1" and 185 pounds, he still has room to grow into his frame and that will make him an even scarier player. There will be a ton of pressure on him in Montreal, but he has the character to handle it, which will have to factor into the Canadiens' decision to select him.
Some have also speculated that he'd go to the KHL, but Galchenyuk insists the NHL is his goal. A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, his father played in Belarus. Galchenyuk has traveled a lot in his life and he'll be able to handle the hectic life of a NHL player.
4. New York Islanders: Ryan Murray, D (Everett, WHL)
Ryan Murray may very well be the first overall pick in this year's draft, but I think Edmonton will once again just go with the best player available and look for defensive help in free agency. Due to Columbus and Montreal's needs of a top-six forward, Murray will fall to the New York Islanders at No. 4.
Murray's leadership qualities are incredible; he can be the franchise defenseman the Islanders have been waiting for. New York has four defensemen who become unrestricted free agents come July 1. Playing for the Islanders is a tough sell for any free agent, so the Islanders need to address their biggest need right here in the draft.
Murray's puck-moving ability has drawn comparisons to Scott Niedermayer. In 2010-2011, Murray had 40 assists in a 46-point season. In a shortened 2011-2012 campaign, he recorded nine goals and 22 assists in 46 games. Murray has played against top talent already and will be well prepared for the NHL.
He is the safest pick for the Islanders at this point in the draft and he fills their biggest need.
Actually, their biggest need is finding a way out of the Rick DiPietro contract, but they'll settle for acquiring a top defenseman.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs: Mikhail Grigorenko, C/RW (Quebec Ramparts, QMJHL)
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Mikhail Grigorenko's stock has dropped considerably since the start of last season in the QMJHL. Mock drafts from last September had him as a close second to Nail Yakupov, but now many are wondering if Grigorenko will slip out of the top five, or even the top 10.
Grigorenko's talent, size, shot, and hockey sense astonishes people. He had a great tournament at the World Juniors this past December and showed signs of being an elite player.
The knock on Grigorenko is his desire, his work ethic, and his inconsistency. He'll look great on some shifts, then take some off. This past season, he scored 40 goals and totaled 85 points in 59 games for the Remparts.
He's the riskiest of the top prospects but also the one with the biggest upside. If there's anyone willing to take a risk, it's Brian Burke. The Maple Leafs pick fifth, which means barring a trade up, Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk and Filip Forsberg may all be off the board. Burke will take the chance in this case. If Grigorenko turns into the star he's capable of being, then the GM taking him (in this case Burke) will look like a genius. If not, everyone will wonder how he ignored all the red flags.
There were reports recently by Sportsnet and Yahoo Sports of Burke wanting to pull off a blockbuster draft deal that would see the Leafs land both Yakupov and Galchenyuk. Agent Igor Larionov told reporters that his clients both visited Toronto.
Unless the Leafs are willing to give the farm to Edmonton, they're not getting Yakupov. Therefore, Burke will go with Grigorenko and hope he develops into the top-line forward the Leafs desperately need.
6. Anaheim Ducks: Mathew Dumba, D (Red Deer, WHL)
Mathew Dumba's mention receives mixed reactions. Some argue when all is said and done, he may be the best defenseman in this year's draft.
Dumba may be just 6'0" and 180 pounds, but he's capable of delivering punishing hits. His offensive output improved this past season for the Red Deer Rebels, with 20 goals and 37 assists in 69 games. That was a 31-point improvement from his previous campaign.
He is a riskier pick than Ryan Murray, which he is why he'll slide just out of the top five. Anaheim will gladly pick him up due to his physicality, leadership, hard shot, and good hockey sense. There isn't much to hate about Dumba's game. Ducks fans will enjoy watching him and he'll help a weak Anaheim defense corps.
Everybody has their own rankings though, so maybe we'll see Dumba go a little higher. Some may feel he's a risk, others may look at him as a great player who's capable of being even better. This will be intriguing, and the Ducks will welcome him to the flock if he's available.
7. Minnesota Wild: Morgan Rielly, D (Moose Jaw, WHL)
Minnesota's defense corps was the downfall of the Wild this past season. They were in first place this past December, but injuries and other factors led them to a sub .500 record and got them picking here at seventh.
It was also due to the fact that in an 82-game season, you eventually find out who the real contenders are, and the Wild certainly are not a contender right now. Once they come back healthier, their group of forwards is pretty decent, but the blue line needs work.
Morgan Rielly would be a big help for Tom Gilbert and company. Reilly's stock dropped due to a torn ACL last November, but an impressive comeback showed that his knee is back to full strength. He may be taken by Anaheim sixth, but if not, he certainly won't slip by the Wild at No. 7.
Not only can Rielly help on defense, but his offensive contributions are perhaps his biggest strength. He recorded 83 points in 68 games in the 2010-2011 season before being injured two games into this past season. He may have very well been in the top five had it not been for his knee injury.
The Wild would be happy to have him, even if it means waiting another year until he can play in the big time. His speed and his ability to run the power play will be too much for Minnesota to pass up.
8. Carolina Hurricanes: Teuvo Teräväinen, C (Jokerit, FIN)
Teräväinen may have the best hands in this draft and was an offensive stud in Finland. NHL Central Scouting has him ranked as the No. 2 European skater in this draft.
He played a big role in Jokerit's season in Finland's top league, and was phenomenal in international tournaments, scoring two goals and recording six assists in six games in the World U-18 Championship.
Teräväinen's stature at 5'10" and 160 pounds and lack of physicality is what may scare off some teams, but his offensive upside is huge. It's high risk, high reward with Teräväinen, but with the best forward prospects off the board, the Hurricanes will take a chance on him.
The thought of him teaming with Eric Staal and/or Jeff Skinner may be what entices the Hurricanes the most in making Teräväinen their pick.
He flew up the draft boards this season, as hockey fans finally know who he is. It will be an interesting situation for Carolina at No. 8.
9. Winnipeg Jets: Griffin Reinhart, D (Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL)
Reinhart provides the Jets with a strong, puck-moving defenseman who can play for them in any situation needed. Reinhart was a huge part of the Edmonton Oil Kings' success this past season, carrying them to their first Memorial Cup appearance.
Reinhart provides size for Winnipeg too at 6'3" and 207 pounds. He'll need another year in the WHL, where he may help take the Oil Kings even further next year. The Jets will have $38 million in cap space come July 1, so there'll be no pressure on Reinhart to make it to the NHL quickly. The Jets will be able to sign some key players with their cap space so that they don't have to rush him.
Just think of having two guys like Dustin Byfuglien and Reinhart on the back end in a couple of years from now. Size will not be an issue on the back end for many years to come if that were the case. Winnipeg eventually got worn down due to their heavy travel schedule, so that means they'll need some defensemen to play big minutes until realignment happens in the NHL.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning: Jacob Trouba, D (USNTDP, USHL)
The Lightning will have to provide their next goaltender with some help. Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer give them a good start but they lack some depth.
Jacob Trouba has some championship pedigree, winning two consecutive gold medals at the World U-18 championships. Trouba can move the puck well and can shut down opposing forwards.
Trouba will be playing for the Michigan Wolverines next season, so it will be a couple of years before Lightning fans can see if this move pays dividends, but Trouba may be worth the wait. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has expiring contracts to several of their defensemen and several goaltenders.
They will have $22 million in cap space to work with. They can fill holes immediately on defense through free agency and at the same time set themselves up for a few years down the road when Trouba would come along.
Trouba is an all-around defenseman who can play with a physical edge. That edge will get even better when he's grown into his frame. By that time, he'll be a huge help to Tampa Bay.
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11 - Washington Capitals (via COL): Radek Faska, C (Kitchener, OHL)
The Capitals will look to add a solid two-way forward this year. Mike Knuble, Jeff Halpern, and Keith Aucoin will probably all be gone, so bringing in Faska gives them a long-term solution. Faska is not overly gifted offensively, but with the Capitals' talent level, he won't need to be a top center. At 6'2" and 183 pounds, with time to grow, Faska will help the Capitals using his strength as a responsible defensive forward. Faska can develop into as much as a second-line center and a third-line center at worst. There's not much risk with him at all.
12 - Buffalo Sabres: Cody Ceci, D (Ottawa, OHL)
The Sabres are known to have a lack of a scoring punch, which results in an over-reliance on Ryan Miller. Ceci can help take pressure off of Miller at defense and be a great contributor offensively. Ceci was second in scoring amongst defensemen in the OHL. Ceci scored 17 goals and recorded 60 points in 64 games this past season. He has size at 6'2" and 203 pounds and is a very smart player. He'll add a lot to Buffalo and he won't need too much longer to develop to the point of being NHL-ready.
13 - Dallas Stars: Olli Maatta, D (London, OHL)
Maatta's size at 6'2" and 198 pounds sees him as a top pairing defenseman in the NHL. He helped lead the London Knights to the Memorial Cup Final. He'll be able to eat up key minutes and is a solid defensive player with the ability to contribute offensively. For his size, he has to work on his physical game. That's not to say he's a soft player, but he could do better, and that should come with time and growth. The Stars will be happy to have him, given their lack of depth on the back end.
14 - Calgary Flames: Zemgen Girgensons, C (Dubeque, USHL)
The Latvian center has turned some heads in North America. Girgensons plays with an edge to his game, complimenting his soft hands and size at 6'2" and 175 pounds, with some time to fill out his frame. He finished this past season with 55 points in 49 games, scoring 24 goals. He could be a great power forward once he improves his skating ability and grows into his body. The Flames are thin on prospects and Girgensons may become a fan favorite in Calgary.
15 - Ottawa Senators: Slater Koekkoek, D (Peterborough, OHL)
The Senators took three forwards in the first round alone last year. Conventional wisdom would tell us they'd go defense in a year that's thin at forward. A shoulder injury this past year has caused him to slide down draft charts, but Koekkoek has a strong shot at the point, can kill penalties, and has an impressive character. He could be a No. 2 defenseman for Ottawa for a long time. Many see him as a potential steal at this point of the draft. He has some work to do, but his potential will entice the Sens to take a chance on him.
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16 - Washington Capitals: Sebastien Collberg, RW (Frolunda, SWE-Jr)
Collberg is a great skater with scoring ability. Washington may need that after this offseason in which they may lose Alexander Semin. Collberg stands at 5'11" and 174 pounds, but is quick with good hands and showed his scoring touch at the World Juniors this past year, with seven points in six games. The Capitals will be quite the mystery this offseason, as no one knows whether we'll see a team like the one Dale Hunter coached, or if Washington will revert to a more offensive style of play. Their draft will show us which direction they'll go.
17 - San Jose Sharks: Matt Finn, D (Guelph, OHL)
The Sharks' window of being a Stanley Cup contender may be closing, or may already be closed. There's a certain amount of rebuilding needed in San Jose, and the Sharks will start with filling their prospect pool. GM Doug Wilson has drafted well out of the OHL, and he'll continue that trend by going with Finn here. He's a solid player all around and will be of help to the Sharks a couple of years from now.
18 - Chicago Blackhawks: Brendan Gaunce, C (Belleville, OHL)
Gaunce is an above-average skater with some work to be done to be a star in the NHL. He's coming off a season with 68 points in 68 games in the OHL, scoring 28 goals. He has good size at 6'2" and 205 pounds. He'll need a few years before possibly developing into a top-six forward, but the good news is there won't be much pressure on him to become one quickly, considering the forwards the Blackhawks already have on their roster.
19 - Tampa Bay Lightning (via DET): Malcolm Subban, G (Belleville, OHL)
The first goaltender comes off the board here and it's a need that's been a problem every year in Tampa Bay. While Subban may be taken by Chicago at No. 18 or maybe with Tampa's other first-round pick, I see him being taken here, so Tampa can select someone who's ready to help them right away. Subban is smaller than most goalies, but is agile and has great reflexes. He has his faults, including his rebound control and is beaten high often due to his smaller scale. No young goaltender is perfect though, so Subban will need further development and the Lightning will have to be patient. This is a need they must address because they can't rely on 42-year-old Dwayne Roloson forever.
20 - Philadelphia Flyers: Derrick Pouliot, D (Portland, OHL)
The Flyers have only taken three defensemen with their last 12 draft picks, with none of those coming before the fourth round. Chris Pronger's career may be over due to post-concussion symptoms and Philly is ridiculously deep up front. They have to grab a blue-liner and Pouliot fits the bill here. Pouliot can handle the puck well and will be capable of running the power play within a few years. He finished with 11 goals and 48 assists this past season in Portland. He'd have the weapons around him in Philly to be successful.
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21 - Buffalo Sabres (via NSH): Tom Wilson, LW (Plymouth, OHL)
The Sabres will be a little more aggressive this year, as they own two first-round picks. After trading Paul Gaustad and Zach Kassian this year, the Sabres will look for more strength at forward with their small team. At 6'4" and 195 pounds, Wilson can play a tough game and can give the Sabres some much needed grit. While he's been a little injury prone, playing 77 of a possible 132 games the past two years, his size and strength may be too much for Buffalo to pass up.
22 - Pittsburgh Penguins: Tomas Hertl, C (Slavia Praha, CZE)
What? Another center? Yes, another one. While the Penguins are loaded at center and with their defense corps performing so dreadfully against the Flyers, one fact can't be overlooked. Both Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal's contracts expire next year. While it's unfathomable to see the Pens part with Crosby, Staal will likely be a luxury they'll no longer be able to afford. So they'll go with Hertl to help prepare for that day. Hertl has shown he can produce in the top Czech league, and he'll have some nice weapons around him in Pittsburgh.
23 - Florida Panthers: Hampus Lindholm, D (Rogle, SWE-AL)
Panthers fans finally have a team to be excited about. With several great prospects in their back pocket and coming off a seven-game playoff loss to New Jersey, they'll add some depth at defense and go with Lindholm. Lindholm may be off the board earlier, but he gives Florida good value at No. 23.
24 - Boston Bruins: Pontus Aberg, LW (Djurgardens, SEL)
Aberg's injuries have dropped his stock out of being a possible top-10 pick. This is a risk the Bruins can afford to take after many successful drafts and being already loaded on talent. Aberg may be on the small side, at 5'11" and 187 pounds, but he'd be surrounded by big teammates if he eventually joined the Bruins. Plus, Aberg never showed signs of fear in Sweden. He has good vision and can be a solid playmaker when needed. Aberg may be one of those sleepers and the Bruins may pounce on him.
25 - St. Louis Blues: Henrik Samuelsson, C/RW (Edmonton Oil Kings)
The Blues have a solid team, ready to truly contend for a Cup, minus a couple of key pieces. Samuelsson has good size at 6'2" and 195 pounds. He's not the sniper the Blues need, but they won't find one this late in the draft. So they'll just add on to what they have here.
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26 - Vancouver Canucks: Brady Skjei, D (USNTDP, USHL)
The Canucks couldn't handle the Kings' size and strength, nor the Bruins in 2011. Skjei has impressed people with his size, at 6'2" and 203 pounds and his improvement this past season. He jumped to plus-five after a minus-14 campaign the year before. He will be heading to the University of Minnesota to learn his craft, but there's some great potential in him to develop into a solid defenseman for the Canucks down the road.
27 - Phoenix Coyotes: Colton Sissons, C (Kelowna, WHL)
While the Coyotes did make the Western Conference Final, they're still really short on talent. Mike Smith carried them there, but he won't be able to every year. With Sissons, the Coyotes get a two-way player who can play tough minutes. Sissons dropped to minus-14 this past season, after being a plus-15 in 2010-2011. Phoenix won't fill their holes in this one draft though, so Sissons would be a project for them.
28 - New York Rangers: Stefan Matteau, LW (USNTDP, USHL)
Do you know why the Rangers fell short in the Eastern Conference Final this year and couldn't repeat 1994? They didn't have Stéphane Matteau for overtime against New Jersey. Well to be better prepared, why not draft his son, Stefan Matteau? Alright back to seriousness, the Rangers are loaded on defense, so it's time to develop some more forwards.
29 - New Jersey Devils: Scott Laughton, C (Oshawa, OHL)
I have no idea why New Jersey elected to keep this year's pick over next year's or 2014. Odds are they'll pick higher in the next two years and this is a weaker draft class. They must see a player they really like this year, which may be goaltender Malcolm Subban. However, barring a trade up, I don't believe he will fall to No. 29. So Laughton will be the pick here. With the Devils looking at possibly losing Zach Parise in free agency, they may have to start re-tooling at forward.
30 - Los Angeles Kings: Ludvig Bystrom, D (Modo, Sweden).
The Stanley Cup champions will be the last team to pick come June 22, barring a trade out of the No. 30 spot. I think the Kings will go defense here and grab Bystrom, 6'0", 185 lbs to shore up the back end. The Cup champs cannot forget they had trouble scoring goals for most of the season and have to ensure it's not a long-term problem. In any case, that problem may not be solved with a No. 30 pick, so they'll just go with the best player available. Bystrom can give them some depth down the road.
No one's mock draft is the correct one, and opinions will differ amongst you. Hope you enjoyed my attempt at predicting the future and playing amateur scout. We'll see on June 22 how it all unfolds.