Every year, hockey fans and pundits spend countless hours pontificating about how the NHL draft will turn out and countless predictions and mock drafts flood the airwaves and the Internet.
Then the real thing gets underway, and all those prediction get shot to h-e-double hockey sticks.
(I know that's an awful on play on words, but I couldn't help it.)
This year's draft was no exception. Here's a look at some of the biggest surprises from Friday's first round of the 2012 NHL draft.
Mark Jankowski, C, Stanstead College (Calgary Flames, 21st Overall)
There may well have been no bigger surprise among the draft's first round than the unexpected direction that the Calgary Flames took with their first selection—a selection that led them to a tiny private high school in Quebec.
17-year-old center Mark Jankowski was a prolific scorer for Stanstead College last season, pouring in 53 goals and scoring 94 points. However, CBC Sports reports that most experts had Jankowski ranked as a second-round prospect at best, with NHL Central Scouting ranking him 43rd overall among North American skaters.
Watching Jankowski play and meeting with him again on Friday was enough for the the Flames to pull the trigger on the youngster, after sending the 14th overall pick to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for the 21st and 42nd selections.
Jankowski is a "project" type who will need time to grow and mature. But Calgary general manager Jay Feaster went so far as to say that "in 10 years Jankowski will be viewed as the best player in the 2012 draft," per CBC Sports.
Alex Galchenyuk, C, Sarnia (Montreal Candadiens, 3rd Overall)
Few hockey experts doubt the talent level of 18-year-old center Alex Galchenyuk. He had a phenomenal season for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL in 2010-2011, scoring 83 points in 68 games.
However, Galchenyuk lost almost all of last season to a serious knee injury. Taking a player whose strengths included his speed and agility coming off major knee surgery with the third overall pick has to be viewed as a significant gamble.
That said, Galchenyuk held up OK in the OHL playoffs upon his return to action last season. He also skated well at the NHL combine, which would appear to indicate that he's more-or-less recovered from his torn ACL.
There's also the question of Galchenyuk's Russian heritage. The youngster was born in Wisconsin, but his parents are Russian. This raises the possibility that Galchenyuk could join several other Russian stars who have eschewed the NHL for the opportunity to make more money overseas in the KHL.
The 6'2" 205-pound Galchenyuk heard plenty of questions from potential NHL suitors in that regard at the combine, but as Greg Whyshynski of Yahoo! Sports reported recently, Galchenyuk assured those suitors that there's only one place he wants to play:
The KHL question got so annoying. Every time I'd make sure to tell them 100 percent that I'm not going there. There's no chance I'm going there. I don't want to play there. I want to play in the NHL since I was a little kid.
Hampus Lindholm, D, Rogle Junior (Anaheim Ducks, 6th overall)
Friday was a very busy day for the Anaheim Ducks. The team dealt defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky; the situation regarding disgruntled forward Bobby Ryan got uglier when general manager Bob Murray criticized Ryan for ripping the Ducks in an interview; and the team made what some are calling the biggest reach of the draft's first round.
The 18-year-old possesses an NHL-ready frame at 6'2" and 196 pounds, and he is an excellent offensive defenseman. On the other hand, very few hockey experts had Lindholm ranked among the top-10 prospects entering the draft, leading some to question why the Ducks jumped on Lindholm so early.
The Los Angeles Times called the pick "a big risk."
Also, Lindholm's physicality and defensive lapses have led to questions about the wisdom of Anaheim taking Lindholm so early—especially given the Ducks' struggles on the blue line the past few years.
Those questions would seem to be reinforced by the assessment of Lindholm offered by The Scouting Report: "Defensively, Lindholm is solid albeit unspectacular. He can be prone to mental lapses and needs to do a better job of letting the play come to him rather than force it."
With all of that said, as with all of these players, the simple fact is that we are talking about a very young man who still has a lot of growing up to do in every sense of the term.
With the exception of possibly baseball, the NHL draft is the biggest crapshoot of any of the so-called "major" North American sports. At the end of the day, all NHL clubs can do is trust their instincts and hope that these youngsters grow into the players that the teams that drafted them believe them capable of becoming.