With several excellent defensemen available in the 2012 NHL draft, teams got the opportunity to improve their blue line.
Three of the teams picking in the top five opted to take a chance on a defenseman. As Alvin Chang of ESPN notes, approximately one-quarter of blueliners picked this early go on to be considered elite players, compared to a much higher rate for forwards.
But the prospects picked in the top five this year all have special qualities that can make them productive players in the NHL.
Here are the three teams that improved their blue line with an early pick.
Ryan Murray, Pick No. 2, Columbus Blue Jackets
Once Nail Yakupov went first overall, the Blue Jackets had an easy choice on their hands.
Murray is the second-best prospect in the draft, and he is a mature and intelligent player.
He is not the biggest defenseman at just 6’0”, and getting used to the size and physicality of NHL forwards will be difficult at first.
But Murray was the only youth player selected for Team Canada at the World Championships, and he can hold his own against professionals. The Blue Jackets made the right choice and have added an exciting player.
Griffin Reinhart, Pick No. 4, New York Islanders
Reinhart has the size to guard any forward in hockey. At 6’4”, he is the biggest player among the top blueliners in the draft.
He is still extremely skilled for a player his size, although his instincts and passing are not quite on Murray’s level.
The Islanders had the fourth-worst defense in the league last season based on goals against per game, and Reinhart will certainly help them improve going forward.
With his size and skill, Reinhart is an excellent all-around prospect.
Morgan Rielly, Pick No. 5, Toronto Maple Leafs
Many experts feel that Matthew Dumba is a more complete prospect, but no blueliner in this draft has Rielly’s offensive capabilities.
Rielly is another defensive prospect on the smaller side at 6’0”, but he is a smooth skater with a wicked shot.
He played in just 18 games last season due to an ACL injury, but Leafs general manager Brian Burke was incredibly impressed by Rielly’s work ethic during recovery.
Burke said, per Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star, “This kid never viewed the injury as a setback. He viewed it as a challenge. He met that challenge with legendary workouts to rehab this.”
Rielly has the skill and mindset to be a productive player in Toronto.