There are many unanswered questions heading into draft. Where will Rick Nash end up? Will the Edmonton Oilers trade down to improve their blue line? The list goes on and on, with one exception: Nail Yakupov is going to be the consensus No. 1 overall pick on Friday night.
Many other story lines figure to play out leading up to and during the draft, but the only question with regards to Yakupov is what sweater will he pull on as the first overall pick?
If you are a Leafs fan, you might not really care about anything except who will be available with the fifth overall pick. I don't believe there will be any movement of the top five picks as far as trades in the draft this year, but there may be a surprise in picks two through five. Here is how I see the top five panning out.
Yakupov is the most NHL-ready forward available, and is one of the most highly regarded prospects.
I expect the Edmonton Oilers to hold onto the number one pick and take the phenom. Yes, this will be the third year in a row the Oilers have had the top pick in the draft, but Yakupov might be the best player on the team the minute his name is called.
While this team is already too young, Yakupov will fit in nicely as the second line right wing behind leading scorer Jordan Eberle, creating a low-pressure situation.
Look for the Oilers to shore up their blue line and get more of a veteran presence through free agency as they have a lot of cap room, or by trading one of their other young stars.
The trade of Rick Nash is now inevitable. The only thing left to determine is what the Columbus Blue Jackets will get in return for their star winger.
They will probably get more defensive help, plus a late first round pick, but no real scorers.
The Jackets have seen attendance decline the last few years, playing in front of crowds at a little over 80% capacity on average the last three seasons.
That means they will have to take the least risky offensive player left on the board in terms of pure talent. That player is center Mikhail Grigorenko.
Many have him sliding down their draft boards due to fears that he might not be completely focused at all times, but he is the best center in the draft.
GM Scott Howson needs to hit a home run, and find a face for the franchise going forward. Will he pick the most talented player available, or will he listen to all the pundits and pass on this enigmatic center?
Of the teams with a top-5 pick, the Montreal Canadiens should be the team most likely to make the playoffs this coming year.
They have a pretty good defense, as well as some talent on offense. Last year, they ranked 11th in goals against per game, and that number should improve this year.
The offense was brutal at times last year, but the good news is there is cap space to address the problem with a free agent or two.
All this adds up to is the luxury of being able to draft winger Filip Forsberg, the 17-year old from Sweden. He has good speed, a great shot, isn't afraid of the corners, and matches up well with what the Canadiens' new coach Michel Therrien expects as far as defensive responsibilities.
He will probably choose to return to Sweden this season, but that won't be a problem for the Canadiens.
Like most teams drafting in the top-5, the Islanders need help on defense. That doesn't necessarily mean that they will take a blue liner with the fourth overall pick.
Alex Galchenyuk could be the bona fide center the team needs to back up John Tavares, especially while they are waiting to see if former number one pick Josh Bailey will pan out at center.
The loss of third leading scorer and unrestricted free agent P.A. Parenteau to free agency is a certainty at this point, and the team needs a forward to help replace that lost production. The Isles have over $30 million in cap space, which means they can pick up help on defense and probably get a decent winger to help pick up the slack in Parenteau's absence.
The pressure would not be on Galchenyuk to perform right away, which is ideal for a rookie coming off ACL surgery.
Ryan Murray would be the safe, universally accepted pick at this point in the draft. He has all the makings of a solid defenseman, and would be ready to play immediately.
The defenseman the Leafs should take is Morgan Rielly. Coming off ACL surgery may scare off some teams, but his puck-moving skills and ability to lead the rush out of his own end will give the Leafs options on defense going forward.
Toronto already has size and grit on defense, so Rielly will be free to do what he does best. I believe the Leafs will try to make a trade or two in order to acquire a goaltender and maybe a scoring wing, which means they may have to give up a defenseman.
Coach Randy Carlyle tends to like offensive defensemen, and Rielly will remind many of Scott Neidermayer, who helped lead the Ducks to a Stanley Cup in 2007 with Carlyle at the helm.
He already has his power play quarterback a la Chris Pronger in Dion Phaneuf, and since there is no goaltender or a flashier forward to take at five, Rielly may hear his name called by the Leafs.