2012 NHL Draft: Ranking the NHL Readiness of the First Round Picks

Al DanielCorrespondent IIDecember 24, 2012

2012 NHL Draft: Ranking the NHL Readiness of the First Round Picks

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    Half a year has passed since the last NHL draft and everyone is still waiting for the debut of top pick Nail Yakupov and a few other first-round selections.

    For some, if not all of these picks, the longer their debuts are inevitably delayed by the lockout, the better an idea we get as to when that debut will be. Or, more to the point, when these prospects will be able to nail down their pegs on an NHL roster and make a reckonable impact.

    With the exception of those in the NCAA, every first-round draftee has had some exposure to established NHL players or would-be NHL rookies in the AHL, Canadian major juniors or European professional circuits.

    How they are measuring up with that lockout-affected competition is a rare bonus criterion to use in assessing their progression. Otherwise, it is merely a matter of how they are impacting their current clubs and how their general outlook has changed since they were selected last summer.

    In ascending order from furthest to nearest, here is where each of the 30 first-round picks from 2012 stand between the first time they donned an official NHL jersey and when they will make a habit of it.

30. Jordan Schmaltz

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    Schmaltz, whose label of “offensive-minded defenseman” is hardly understated by evaluators, has yet to translate his production rate from the USHL to the University of North Dakota. He has gone from a 10-31-41 log in 55 seasons with two junior teams to a 1-3-4 stumble in his first 18 college games.

    But it is plenty early in the post-draft development of the St. Louis Blues’ 25th overall pick. He can use the full balance of his four-year eligibility if need be or join the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen following his junior campaign.

29. Brady Skjei

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    Skjei has skated into a couple of speedbumps in the wake of being picked by the New York Rangers and joining the Minnesota Gophers. He dealt with an injury in October and is now recovering from falling short of a U.S. roster spot in the World Junior Championships.

    Various observers have likened Skjei to two established young Rangers in Chris Kreider and fellow defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Both of those players used three-out-of-four possible seasons at their respective colleges and that ought to be the minimum for Skjei at Minnesota, just as it was for the last notable NHL defenseman to come from the Gophers, Alex Goligoski.

28. Mark Jankowski

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    The last first-rounder to subsequently enroll at Providence College, Joe Hulbig in 1992, maxed out his college eligibility before turning pro in Edmonton’s system for the 1996-97 season.

    While that was two decades ago, it would not be an utter shock if Jankowski, the 21st overall choice by Calgary, did the same. But it would be less surprising if he and the Flames decide they are officially ready to ally with one another after his junior year, effective in 2015-16.

    Jankowski’s top priority in preparation for the pros should be adding more brawn to his 6’3, 175-pound frame. Once he has done that and had at least one season as an upperclassman in 2014-15, his worst-case scenario should be a mixed AHL/NHL campaign.

27. Stefan Matteau

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    Three months after he was chosen by the Devils, Matteau hit the ice sprinting in the major junior ranks with a goal and an assist apiece in each of his first two Quebec League games. He is presently tied with two others for third on the Blainville-Broisbriand Armada with 15 goals despite missing seven games.

    The extra depth he is lending to an Armada team that has six other double-digit goal-getters is an encouraging development. The coming seasons will be equally vital when the likes of Tommy Giroux, who turned 20 last May, and Cedric Paquette, who will be 20 next August, have left.

    At least two years with the Armada and maybe one with AHL Albany should have Matteau sufficiently tuned up for New Jersey.

26. Michael Matheson

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    The freshman and Florida first-rounder has been the best all-around defenseman on the team through his first semester at Boston College with 10 points and a plus-11 rating.

    In a recent profile in the Montreal Gazette, Matheson offered a level-headed self-assessment, saying

    I need to get stronger and there are some little things I need to improve on my defensive game....I don’t know how quickly I’ll progress and I don’t know what Florida is thinking. I want to make sure that I’m ready and the situation is right in Florida.

    Based on the tone he has set, it is safe to imagine Matheson will cut off his college career no later than the halfway mark. If that happens and if the Panthers cannot work him into the equation at that point, he will benefit from spending much or all of 2014-15 in the AHL, thus getting a more telling simulation of the NHL game and October-to-April regimen.

25. Zemgus Girgensons

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    Upon making a rare jump from the USHL to the AHL, Girgensons is, perhaps not so surprisingly, taking a while to acclimate with the Rochester Americans. The No. 14 overall pick by the parent Buffalo Sabres has mustered only one goal and five points in 21 AHL twirls.

    Unless he transforms in the latter phases of this season or over the offseason, 2013-14 will be a stabilizing sophomore season for Girgensons. Either then or by 2014-15, he ought to at least be garnering periodic call-ups. But based on the impression he is leaving so far, a regular stint in the NHL could be a little while off.

24. Cody Ceci

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    Ceci is suffering chiefly from his being rostered on the team with the OHL’s second-worst record.

    The beatings he and the Ottawa 67s brook might render him more battle-tested for the neighboring Senators, who took him with the No. 15 pick, but he will likely require one more major junior season in 2013-14. At that point, Ceci may be ready for the big club or could have a brief Binghamton fling in store.

23. Slater Koekkoek

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    Reeling off Ceci’s report, it is the same basic story for Koekkoek, a No. 10 pick by Tampa whose Peterborough Petes are in a barely more wretched state than the 67s. Unless he emerges from this taxing campaign and woos everyone at next fall’s training camp, he will need an additional OHL season and perhaps some AHL stints this year and next when the Petes close up shop.

22. Malcolm Subban

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    The Boston Bruins should be good to go for the immediate future with the presumptive NHL netminding tandem of Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin while Niklas Svedberg earns his stripes in Providence.

    That should suit Subban’s trajectory just fine. The No. 24 overall pick is in one of the more regal positions on the OHL’s goaltending leaderboard, but is probably best served staying in Belleville from now through 2013-14.

    Depending on how deep the Bulls go in the playoffs next season, he could step up to Providence at the back-end of the schedule. Afterward, he could be a candidate to be a Boston third-stringer in the Stanley Cup playoffs and then challenge for a roster spot in September 2014.

    Otherwise, no more than one or two AHL seasons should be necessary for Subban.

21. Brendan Gaunce

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    The first goal-scorer to break double digits on a relatively shallow Belleville strike force, Gaunce has a transcript that points to a need to stay in major junior as long as he is still eligible. He could use a better supporting cast to keep sharpening his game. The OHL will be his only option in 2013-14 as he will still be ineligible for Vancouver’s farm team in Chicago.

    But regardless of whether the Bulls beef up offensively or trade him, Gaunce ought to see more personal progress by virtue of sheer nature. He ought to be a candidate to split 2014-15 and beyond between the Canucks and the Wolves, or whoever is serving as Vancouver’s AHL farm base at that point.

20. Mathew Dumba

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    Being among the final cuts from Canada’s ultra-competitive World Junior Championship roster ought to reinforce Dumba’s drive and should be taken as an opportunity to convert negative energy as part of his rise through the Minnesota Wild’s prospect chart.

    In spite of all of his obviously enticing attributes, Dumba has been struggling a little in his day job on defense with the Red Deer Rebels. His minus-three rating is one of the lowest on the club.

    How fast he psychologically regroups and how he performs in the second half of the Western League could hold sway on his options for 2013-14. More likely, though, he will benefit from another major junior campaign―and another crack at the WJC―before entering the pros in 2014-15.

19. Olli Maatta

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    One of two defensemen selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round, Maatta is progressing in the midst of his second season with the London Knights, the OHL’s perennial powerhouse. He has assumed a position of alternate captaincy and elevated his productivity rate.

    Another full year in that environment ought to have him ready to start shoring up Pittsburgh’s blue-line brigade with little hesitation in 2014-15.

18. Scott Laughton

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    The Flyers' draftee is having a breakout year in the production department, sitting on 25 points in 25 appearances with the Oshawa Generals. In light of a suspension he incurred this past October, Laughton could stand to tame his physicality a tad, although keeping enough of that will be a can’t-miss plus point.

    Philadelphia should certainly have Laughton on its regular roster no later than 2014-15, although next year is a sound possibility as well. That is, if he retains his advanced OHL scoring pace and maybe adds a little more to his 190-pound frame leading up to the autumn of 2013.

17. Jacob Trouba

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    The Winnipeg pick and freshman defenseman at the University of Michigan is already embarking on his second World Junior Championship tournament this week with Team USA.

    Through 16 games with the Wolverines, Trouba has been fairly consistent in his production from the point. He might want to work on taming his physicality, though, as he has incurred more than two penalty minutes on four occasions.

    A one-and-done path out of college is likely a stretch, but Trouba should be with the Jets or the St. John’s IceCaps, or shuffling back and forth after Michigan finishes its 2013-14 season.

16. Henrik Samuelsson

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    Shortly after the Phoenix Coyotes selected Samuelsson with their pick at No. 27, general manager Don Maloney told the Arizona Republic of the new farmhand, “His skating has to continue to mature, but his hands and instincts and attitude—those things don't change.”

    Samuelsson has since broken out in his first full season with the mighty Edmonton Oil Kings with 36 points in 34 games for the team’s fourth-best output. In addition, his plus-10 rating is second only to defenseman Keegan Lowe.

    If he does not max out his development checklist by the conclusion of this season, he most certainly will in the midst of 2013-14. He may not quite be an established NHL mainstay within the next 18 months. But Samuelsson has rapidly evolved into one of the league’s more advanced amateur prospects with the help of his insertion into one of the CHL’s more potent programs.

15. Andrei Vasilevski

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    One of the top netminders in last year’s WJC will be back for more this week, those two tournaments sandwiching his 19th overall selection by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    The rest of the time this fall, Vasilevski has given 22 reckonable performances in the MHL and scraped the blue paint twice for Ufa in the KHL. Outside of the real thing in North America, that is about as close a simulation as one is going to get in terms of riding an organization’s AHL-NHL shuttle.

    At this rate, the real thing could be in store by 2013-14. The Bolts have 34-year-old journeyman Mathieu Garon under contract for one more year and the still relatively unproven Anders Lindback raring to debut after a trade with Nashville.

    If they let Garon go via free agency next summer, the opportunity to back up Lindback should be for Vasilevski and Dustin Tokarski to chase.

    Whoever falls short will simply be the starter for AHL Syracuse and kept on standby. If it is Vasilevski, he need not require much more than a year’s worth of honing in the North American minors.

14. Tomas Hertl

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    The Sharks' top choice is raring to embark on his second World Junior tournament while also competing in his native Czech Republic’s top league for the second straight season. As he heads over to Ufa for the 20-and-under competition, he has left off in a tie with Vladimir Sobotka for the HC Slavia Praha team lead with 22 points.

    With one more goal and four more points, Hertl will have eclipsed his 38-game total from 2011-12.

    Because of a relatively limited game schedule and the fact that the Czech league is not quite the most rigorous in Europe, a bridged transition to North America could be in order after this year. That would mean bringing Hertl over and starting him in the AHL with Worcester for most, if not all of 2013-14.

13. Tanner Pearson

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    The late-bloomer, chosen at the age of 20 by Los Angeles with the last pick of the first round, is making noticeable waves as an AHL rookie on a seasoned Manchester Monarchs team.

    Among Pearson’s fellow forwards with the Monarchs, there are three boasting five full professional seasons (Marc-Andre Cliche, Richard Clune, David Meckler); one with four and three, respectively (Stefan Legein and Andrei Loktionov); and two with two (Brandon Kozun, Justin Johnson).

    Amidst that group, Pearson is tied for fourth with six goals and 17 points. He along with Kozun, sophomore Linden Vey and fellow rookie Tyler Toffoli are all candidates for call-ups as needed if the Kings have a 2012-13 season forthcoming.

    If he does not drop by the wayside, Pearson could be full-time NHL material by the end of 2013-14 or the start of 2014-15.

12. Teuvo Teravainen

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    As a rookie for Jokerit in his native Finland, Teravainen has been allied with such locked-out NHL mainstays as Valtteri Filppula and Erik Karlsson.

    Whether he is feeding off the presence of those players or simply flaunting his own inherent skill set or something in between, Teravainen is proving his worth. Despite missing 10 games, primarily owing to international obligations, he is third on the club with eight goals and fourth with 19 points.

    He might not become a nightly fixture for the Chicago Blackhawks right away, but the No. 18 overall pick certainly ought to debut in The Show at some point in 2013-14.

11. Radek Faksa

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    In a recent World Junior Championship preview on the espn.com NHL draft blog, Faksa was described as “a player with good speed, above-average physical value, an impressive puck possession element to his game and plays quality defense.”

    Dallas’ reigning first-rounder has made many of those assets evident in his performance in his second season as a Kitchener Ranger. He has been a consistent playmaker who is second only to Matt Puempel in points and power-play production and one of only nine Kitchener regulars with a positive rating.

    As it often is with prospective centers, Faksa will certainly be asked to maintain that playmaking penchant, but should be prepared for the possibility of starting his NHL career as a winger. In turn, whether he elevates his goal-scoring rate in the latter half of 2012-13 could determine whether he breaks in with the Stars next season or the year after.

10. Hampus Lindholm

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    Anaheim’s sixth overall pick was transplanted to North America without delay and has withstood the adjustment to the AHL. The young defender is one of eight Norfolk Admirals regulars with a positive rating, retaining a plus-two through 19 games.

    He will pick that back up when he gets back from the World Juniors with Team Sweden, then should be splitting 2013-14 between the Ducks and Admirals en route to a smoothly attained roster spot. Although, he could accelerate his play in the second half of this season and, if the opportunity arises, get a sliver of NHL action before a revolutionary offseason of training.

9. Tom Wilson

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    The Team Canada runner-up for World Junior competition is the lone Plymouth Whaler averaging more than a full point per game. Primarily a playmaker, Wilson has recently rekindled his twig for scoring with five goals in his last 13 OHL games after only two in the first 10 to start his post-draft season.

    As indicated in this video, that is exactly what the Whalers had in mind for the third-year major junior forward.

    Regardless, especially when he graduates to the pros, Wilson’s contributions on the scoreboard will take a backseat (or maybe a passenger’s seat) to his contributions on the dasher boards.

    There has been no shortage of that from the 210-pounder, who just might outgrow the OHL by season’s end. It would not be a stretch to envision the Capitals bringing Wilson aboard within 15 months of selecting him, the same way the Bruins did with a similarly rugged Milan Lucic in 2007.

8. Derrick Pouliot

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    Like Dumba, Pouliot missed the cut for Canada’s WJC squad, but the plain difference in their development stages sits in their performances with their full-time major junior employer.

    Pittsburgh’s other pick-up is better than a point-per-gamer and a veteran co-anchor of a formidable blue-line brigade for the WHL-leading Portland Winterhawks. He boasts eight goals and 28 assists through 35 contests and is about as efficient as anybody on the home front.

    Unless he breaks in full time with the Penguins next year, which is more of a possibility than a probability, Pouliot should essentially become to the Western League what Dougie Hamilton currently is to the Ontario League.

7. Filip Forsberg

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    Even if you count those who have played less than one-quarter of the schedule, Forsberg is still among the top 20 Swedish league players in points-per-game. The No. 11 overall pick by Washington is the best among players under the age of 20 with 10 assists and 19 points in 22 games.

    He will put his participation in that circuit on a two-week hold to captain the defending gold medalists in the WJC. His performance in that tournament could serve to embolden the notion that he will be NHL-ready in another nine months.

    Based on the plan that was laid out when Forsberg signed his entry-level contract last summer, he will remain in his home country for the rest of this season. If he keeps up his production rate, though, the Capitals ought to lure him back over the Atlantic to seek a roster spot for 2013-14.

6. Ryan Murray

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    Murray, the second overall choice by the Blue Jackets, is expected to sit out the remainder of the 2012-13 season in the wake of shoulder surgery. That would naturally set back almost any and all original expectations that he would play a meaningful game for Columbus before next summer.

    Upon returning from that, it is not wholly inconceivable that he will crack the Columbus roster out of training camp in the fall of 2013. However, we are going under the assumption that there will still be a 2012-13 campaign.

    There is more hope for the NHL in that department than there is for Murray, who might even need to return to the Everett Silvertips to get in more developmental game action before he joins the Jackets.

5. Griffin Reinhart

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    The Edmonton Journal’s Jonathan MacKinnon recently noted that, on a deep Canadian blue-line brigade at the upcoming World Junior Championships:

    Reinhart will slot in as the club’s fifth defenceman, at least to start off with, but he’ll also log lots of minutes killing penalties for Canada, something he does superbly for the Oil Kings, who lead the WHL in that area.

    With their current lineup and stature on the NHL landscape, the New York Islanders―who nabbed Reinhart with the fourth overall pick―might as well give the rock-solid rearguard a shot at their first chance.

    There are currently only five Isles defensemen with substantive NHL experience and, with some participation in a shortened 2012-13 campaign, Reinhart can amplify his stock in preparation for his first full pro campaign in 2013-14.

    With the year he is having now as the Oil Kings captain, it is virtually impossible to imagine him returning to the Western League next autumn.

4. Mikhail Grigorenko

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    Even if there is an NHL season in the coming months, the Buffalo Sabres will reportedly let their No. 12 overall pick stay with the Quebec Remparts for the balance of 2012-13.

    Although, let’s momentarily imagine the Remparts are bounced out of the Quebec League playoffs early. If that happens and if the Sabres are still in the midst of their shortened, belated season, it would not be a stretch to envision Grigorenko pulling a Chris Kreider and joining in on the fly.

    The hulking forward is already performing above and beyond in his post-draft year, using his 6’2, 191-pound body to amass 29 goals and 50 points in 30 QMJHL contests. He will most certainly have nothing more to prove in major junior when the Remparts close down for the next offseason.

3. Alex Galchenyuk

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    Like Grigorenko, the OHL’s co-leader with 27 goals could challenge for a spot with his team if the NHL is back in business this winter or spring. More likely, though, regardless of whether the Montreal Canadiens play in 2012-13, they should have Galchenyuk ready to make an impact no later than 2013-14.

    That, of course, assumes he staves off any injuries remotely comparable to the one he sustained last season and continues the impressive progress he has made since then.

2. Morgan Rielly

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    Rielly has done just as admirable a job of kicking ice chips over the memory of an injury-riddled 2011-12 as Galchenyuk. The brawny blue-liner is giving the best all-around performance among the Western League’s Moose Jaw Warriors with a team-best 21 assists along with 28 points and a plus-one rating (most of his colleagues are in the red in that department).

    This comes after he had returned in time for the third round of the 2012 WHL playoffs and tallied three helpers in five games before the Warriors were zapped by Reinhart’s Oil Kings.

    If the Maple Leafs get the OK to conduct a training camp in January, Rielly ought to have as good a chance at filling the spare seventh defenseman’s slot as anybody on the AHL Marlies. If he gets that opportunity and falls short, it will be a greater testament to Toronto’s competitive farm club than anything else.

1. Nail Yakupov

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    Go around the world and it is safe to assume you will not find a league that comes closer to the NHL in terms of overall quality of talent and competitiveness than the KHL. As it happens, there have literally been dozens of established NHLers currently passing the time in that very league.

    How is Yakupov faring with that competition on the Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk? Despite missing 11 games so far to attend to various commitments with the Russian 20-and-under team, he is second on his club with 10 goals and fourth with 18 points.

    In addition, he is easily the KHL’s top producer among those still in their teens and among the top 10 in the 24-and-under age group.

    As is typical of the first forward taken in any given NHL draft, Yakupov is plainly ready to step into The Show without hesitation.