2012 NHL Draft: Seven Sleepers from First Round

MJ Kasprzak@BayAreaCheezhedSenior Writer IIJune 23, 2012

2012 NHL Draft: Seven Sleepers from First Round

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    The first round of the 2012 NHL Draft produced a lot of surprises. Perhaps the one that stands out the most is that nine of the first 10 picks were defencemen.

    Most top picks are expected to make the NHL quickly if not in their first year. They are not only the most talented of their brethren, but are usually going to the teams in most need of their services.

    Almost every expert agrees that the hardest position to make the transition to the NHL at is the blue line. Morgan Rielly, Derrick Pouliot, Jacob Trouba and Slater Koekkoek are coming onto teams too deep on the blue line to crack the active roster long enough to be ineligible to play in juniors, where their teams will want to have them seasoned.

    However, there are four defencemen who are sleepers waiting to contribute in the 2012-13 season. There are also forwards taken by perennial contenders who might make their NHL debuts sooner that expected.

    Note: Profile information for each pick was taken from NHL.com.

Ryan Murray

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets drafted Ryan Murray second overall. Unlike most defencemen, they likely expect him to contribute immediately.

    The Jackets have three good players on their blue line in Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski and Fedor Tyutin. But if they are unable to sign anyone beyond their restricted free agents, they will lack depth.

    In that scenario, John Moore would enter the season sixth on the depth chart. But the 21-year old did not even play at the NHL level last season and has just seven points in 69 career NHL games. Dalton Prout would be behind him, but the 22-year-old played his first five NHL games last season without a point.

    He represented Canada at the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships collecting two assists in five games as Canada captured bronze. He was one of two 2012 draft-eligible players selected to represent Canada at the tournament and was the only player on the team in his first year of draft eligibility.

    Despite an injury shortened season in 2011-12, Murray led all Everett defensemen with 31 points (9-22--31) in 46 games. He was their Rookie of the Year with 27 points in 62 games during 2009-10.

    But perhaps the 2010-11 season is most indicative of his potential. He became the youngest captain in Silvertips history. In 70 games, he led the team with a plus-18 rating and led all defensemen with 46 points (6-40--46). Over his final 36 games he tallied 33 points (4-29--33) helping the Silvertips qualify for the 2011 playoffs.

    Murray also captained Team Canada at the 2011 World Under-18 Championships, finishing second on the team in scoring with 10 points (3-7--10) in seven games and was a First Team All-Star for the tournament. He was also the youngest player at the 2010 Ivan Hlinka memorial, collecting two assists in five games.

Griffin Reinhart

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    The New York Islanders were active before the draft, but kept their fourth pick overall and used it to select Griffin Reinhart. Even after giving up a second-round pick for Lubomir Visnovsky, the Islanders have only five defencemen under contract for next season.

    If they cannot add to their blue line beyond their restricted free agents, the sixth man on their depth chart would be Ty Wishart. The 24-year-old former first-round pick has just 26 games and six points over the last four seasons, and his roster spot is quite vulnerable to the talent of Reinhart.

    Developing in the WHL, he led his team's defencemen with 12 goals in 58 games during the 2011-12 season. He collected 25 points (6-19--25) in 45 games during his first year with the team (2010-11).

    With the bronze medal-winning Team Pacific at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, Reinhart scored seven points (1-6--7) in six games. However, fellow 2012 blue line prospects Mathew Dumba and Morgan Rielly scored more points per game on that team.

Hampus Lindholm

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    After trading away Lubomir Visnovsky, the Anaheim Ducks have serious holes on their blue line. They have to be hoping that Hampus Lindholm can make the jump to the NHL immediately.

    That is because, as of now, Nate Guenin is the Ducks sixth defenceman. Guenin will turn 30 before the mid-point of next season but has just four points in 32 career games.

    Despite making his NHL debut in January of 2007, the first time Guenin ever played 10 games in a season was during last year’s debacle that led to the Ducks having a top-10 draft pick. Even then he played just 15 games with two goals (one game-winner), no assists, a plus-6 rating and three minor penalties.

    Lindholm split the 2011-12 season between Rogle’s junior and Allsvenskan teams, scoring 17 points (5-12--17) with a plus-25 rating in 28 games for their junior squad and four points (1-3--4) in 20 contests for their senior club. In 2010-11, Lindholm played 39 games for Rogle’s junior team, recording four points (0-4--4) and 34 penalty minutes.

    He also skated in 11 games for the team’s under-18 squad and posted five points (2-3--5). Team Sweden earned a silver medal at the 2012 Under-18 World Championship thanks in part to Lindholm's four points (0-4--4) in six games.

Mathew Dumba

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    The Minnesota Wild went from having the most points of any NHL team several weeks into the season to qualifying for a top-10 pick. They had top-tier talents but lacked the depth to have staying power or survive injuries.

    There is no place they needed to add talent as much as on the blue line, where they drafted Mathew Dumba. They currently have just six NHL defencemen under contract, and that includes Nate Prosser, whose career comprises just 56 games with 13 points.

    Steven Kampfer, a 5’11”, 197-lb. defencemen who turns 24 in September, has only five more games of NHL experience and two more points. Last season, he played just 23 games between Minnesota and the Boston Bruins, with five points and a minus-1 rating.

    He just missed out having his name etched on Lord Stanley’s Cup the previous season, scoring 10 points and going plus-9 in 38 games—two short of the minimum for player not used in the playoffs.

    Even assuming they can re-sign their restricted free agents, it does not get much better.

    Justin Falk is a month younger than Kampfer but bigger (6’5”, 215 lb.) and with 72 career games over the last three seasons. In 2011-12, he played 47 games with nine points, a minus-13 rating and 54 PIM.

    Chay Genoway has just one NHL game (one assist) behind him. Jonas Brodin is the only other player in their system thought to be ready to make the leap.

    A player with Dumba's talent should pass both of them. It is unlikely he will catch Falk, Prosser and Kampfer, but if there are two injuries, he would still make it to the top-6 by just holding his own in camp.

    He was named captain of Team Canada at the 2012 Under-18 World Championships, where he was named the Best Defenceman with 12 points in seven games. He also captained Canada at the 2011 Under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial, recording three points (2-1--3) in five games en route to a gold medal.

    In 2011-12, he led all WHL defensemen in scoring with 20 goals and ranked sixth with 57 points (20-37--57) in 69 games. He was also WHL Rookie of the Year in 2010-11 with 26 points (15-11--26). His 15 goals ranked first among rookie defensemen and tied for seventh overall in the league.

Filip Forsberg and Thomas Wilson

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    Despite a trade for playmaker Mike Ribeiro, the Washington Capitals will have only 12 forwards with NHL experience under contract unless they are able to add unrestricted free agents. In that event, a single injury could open the door for one of their two top picks.

    Both have good size: Filip Forsberg is 6’1” and 188 lbs. while Thomas Wilson is 6’3” and 205 lbs. Both have enough talent to compete in the NHL, right now...

    Forsberg, no relation to the great Peter, was the youngest player contributing to Sweden's first ever gold medal at the World Junior Championships this year, but recorded just one assist in six games. He won silver medals at the 2011 World Under-18 Championships and 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial, scoring four goals in six games in both.

    Nevertheless, making the team would be an impressive feat given he had just 17 points in 43 games in 43 games for Leksand in the second division of Sweden’s senior league last season.

    Thomas Wilson recorded 27 points and a plus-17 rating in 49 games for Plymouth during the 2011-12 season. He added 13 points (7-6--13) in 13 playoff contests, and plays with an edge: 141 penalty minutes, voted as the ‘Best Body Checker’ in the OHL’s 2012 Western Conference Coaches Poll and a runner up for the ‘Hardest Worker’ distinction.

    Unfortunately, his play leads to injuries. Two separate injuries kept him out of the lineup last season, and in 2010-11, a wrist injury reduced him to 28 games for the Whalers. He posted six points (3-3--6) and 71 penalty minutes in his first season in the OHL.

    He won a gold medals with Team Canada at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and Team Ontario at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, and scored a modest nine points in 11 games between the tournaments.

    The Caps are getting a smart individual who must know how to study. “Tom is a full-time student and achieving straight A’s,” said Whalers assistant coach Joe Stefan. “He has made a seamless transition into his first season in the OHL.”

Tomas Hertl

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    The San Jose Sharks have struggled to put together secondary scoring in the last four years under Todd McLellan. With nearly $32 million committed to their top seven forwards, they are not going to be able to spend much on their checking lines.

    That could open the door for the 17th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, Tomas Hertl, to break into the lineup. While they do have restricted free agents capable of filling those roles affordably, some of those roster spots could be within reach for the more talented Hertl.

    He had 25 points (12-13--25) in 38 games for Slavia Praha during the 2011-12 season, going plus-9 in the process. He spent the majority of the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons playing for Slavia Praha’s junior squad, with 38 points in 42 games during 2009-10 and 41 points in 33 games during 2010-11.

    He also represented the Czech Republic at the 2012 World Junior Championship and 2011 Under-18 World Championship, scoring five points in six games this year but just one goal in six games the year before.

    What gets a fourth-line (or third pair) Sharks player into the lineup, however, is how he meets his defensive responsibilities. If Hertl keeps his assignments in his own end, he will score enough to get the two-week trial teams are allowed before committing a player to juniors.

    Then it is up to him to play so well in those games that the team cannot afford to re-assign him.