Top NHL draft prospect Nail YakupovLaid out by the experts, Yahoo! Sports has teamed up with several scouts from various independent scouting services to put together a top-10 prospects list of the 2012 draft class.
As expected, Sarnia Sting star Nail Yakupov topped the list. Most scouts believe he will don an Edmonton Oilers jersey on June 22 in Pittsburgh. Nonetheless, it's also widely known that the Oilers are high on Everett Silvertips defenceman Ryan Murray.
This year's draft class is also greatly dominated by blueliners. Six of our top 10 prospects play on the back end, including four from the Western Hockey League.
Without further ado, here is a look at Buzzing The Net's top-10 2012 NHL draft prospects.
1. Nail Yakupov, wing, Sarnia Sting (OHL) — It seems every time Yakupov scores for the Sting, Sarnia play-by-play announcer Terry Doyle has to follow it up by saying "this is not a recording." The 5-foot-11, 190-pound winger racked up 80 goals and 170 points throughout 107 games in his two seasons with the Sting.
Very few have argued that Yakupov isn't the top talent of this year's draft. The Russian native is regarded as the NHL's next superstar. The only questions are to what an extent and how soon. He has been compared to just about every Russian superstar in the NHL. Despite some shared similarities, most of these comparisons are off the mark. Nonetheless, there seems to be somewhat of a fair comparison out of Illinois. With similar statures, styles of play, and junior point-per-game stats, Yakupov appears to share a handful of traits with Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 2007.
Scout's take: "Yakupov has the skill and tenacious mindset to be a premier forward in the NHL one day," says Steve Cocker, Ontario-based scout for International Scouting Services. "With the combination of his lightning quick explosiveness, highlight-reel goal scoring and relentless physical play, there is no doubt he will be a player that will bring the crowd to their feet. I do believe Yakupov will need to have that 1B offensive gun who can share the offensive load much like the Kane-[Jonathan] Toews connection in Chicago. He has the potential to become a game breaking top 10-15 forward down the road while being a consistent 40-goal scorer."
Everett Silvertips' Ryan Murray, NHL Central Scouting's second-ranked North American …2. Ryan Murray, defence, Everett Silvertips (WHL) — Murray already has three seasons in the WHL, a U-20 world junior championship, and a world championship tournament under his belt at age 18. A lot of scouts and general managers believe because of his extensive experience and maturity beyond his years, Murray is ready for The Show next year.
The one uncertainty on Murray, who scored 31 points in 46 games this year, is his ceiling. Some scouts believe he has the potential to be a franchise blueliner, similar to that of Nashville Predators' Ryan Suter. Others see the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder as less of a cornerstone defenceman and more of a strong No. 2 on a back end who can make an impact similar to Vancouver Canucks' Dan Hamhuis.
Scout's take: "Murray is an extremely reliable two-way defender who always seems to make an impact," says Dennis MacInnis, director of scouting for ISS. "He is one of the best skaters in the entire draft! Murray is an extremely intelligent and poised defender that does his job effectively. His defense is so good people tend to underestimate Murray's offensive upside. Murray really excels with his puck distribution skills and can launch teammates onto dangerous rushes with scary quickness and poise. Defensively he relies on his superior understanding of positioning and strong stick to separate opponents from pucks and can unleash some chiseled grit when needed. He is a natural leader, always in the play and shows maturity beyond his years."
Sarnia Sting centre Alex Galchenyuk (Claus Anderson, Getty Images)3. Alex Galchenyuk, centre, Sarnia Sting (OHL) — Despite only suiting up for eight games this year because of a major knee injury, Galchenyuk is still regarded as one of the top prospects of this year's draft crop because of his outstanding rookie season with the Sting the year before. He scored 31 goals and 83 points in 68 games, not bad for a kid who was barely old enough to drive a car.
The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs are rumoured to be very interested in the 6-foot-2, 205-pound centre. Therefore, since the Canadiens hold the third pick and the Leafs hold the fifth pick, Galchenyuk seems poised to don an NHL jersey very early at the draft.
Scout's take: "Alex has all the makings of a top-line centre at the next level," says Matt Moran, scout for OHL's Central Scouting. "If he had been healthy all year I think he'd be a sure fire top-3 pick. He has a big, strong frame and a great hockey IQ. While he doesn't have an incredibly explosive stride, he gets to top speed pretty quickly and can dazzle in tight spaces. During his rookie year in the OHL he showed the ability to completely take over a game, which is rare for a first year player in our league. As good of an offensive talent as he is, Alex is also responsible in his own end."
Top Swedish forward prospect Filip Forsberg (Richard Wolowicz, Getty Images)4. Filip Forsberg, wing, Leksands (Allsvenskan) — Forsberg is easily the top talent of the 2012 draft that wasn't chasing pucks in North America this year.
The 6-foot-1, 176-pound winger, who is not related to the great Peter Forsberg, suited up for Leksands this year in a Swedish men's league. Although there were some ups and downs, Forsberg's year went fairly smoothly considering he was playing against players much older than him. He scored eight goals and 17 points in 43 games.
When up against his own age, Forsberg dominated. This was evident at the U-18 World Junior Championship. The 17-year-old scored an impressive five goals and seven points in six games.
Scout's take: "Forsberg is only 17, but is the complete package for his age," says Goran Stubb, European-based scout for NHL's Central Scouting Service. "He's big, strong and when needed, physical. He is a two-way player and leader on the ice who leads by example. With his excellent selection of shots, he has the rare ability to step in and score the big winning goals in tight games. Filip has all the tools needed to be a star in the NHL."
Edmonton Oil Kings' Griffin Reinhart (Marissa Baecker, Getty Images)5. Griffin Reinhart, defence, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) — Reinhart has one advantage over all of the other top blueliners in this year's draft — size. He stands 6-foot-4, 202-pounds with the ability to grow a Grizzly-Adams-like beard. One can't rule out the intimidation factor of a fierce beard.
The son of former NHL all-star Paul Reinhart is mainly known for his shutdown game. Nevertheless, he can also move the puck with the best of them. The Vancouver native, who scored 12 goals and 36 points in 58 games this year, displayed a strong slapshot and a quick breakout pass with the Oil Kings this year.
Scout's take: "Griffin Reinhart's game grew in leaps and bounds this season, from about Christmas on, when the team lost two older D-men [Mark Pysyk and Martin Gernat] to the world junior tournament," says Rick Jackson, scout for NHL's Central Scouting Service. "As he gained confidence, his ice time increased, as well as his leadership responsibilities. He started to play with more of an edge to his game, showing more aggression, which continued through the rest of the year. He is smart in his positioning, very solid at reading, forcing, and defending plays, protecting the puck very well with his big body and long reach. His stick always seems to be in the right spot in the defensive zone. He's a good skater, who will get better as he matures into his big frame."
Red Deer Rebels star Mathew Dumba6. Mathew Dumba, defence, Red Deer Rebels (WHL) — Dumba's game entails toe-to-toe fights, jaw-dropping hits, and end-to-end rushes. It's safe to say he will be a future fan favourite in the NHL.
When Dumba walks into a room, everyone knows it. This swagger combined with his offensive skills, bone-crushing hits, and of course, the Rebel-connection, has elicited some comparisons to Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. There are obviously some strong similarities between the two. Nonetheless, Dumba's 6-foot, 173-pound stature is three inches shy of Phaneuf, his junior stats are better on paper, but his slapshot does not quite live up to Phaneuf's. Therefore, Mathew Dumba will be the next, well, Mathew Dumba.
Scout's take: "Dumba is going to be very successful," says Mark Seidel, current head scout of North American Central Scouting. "He has all the physical tools to be a star. For me, it is the intangibles that I love about him. I honestly think 'future captain' monikers are thrown round way too liberally in this business with kids. But Dumba will be a captain. He is a leader who gets it, works his bag off, does the dirty work on and off the ice and is generally, a special kid. Those kinds of traits alone make guys first rounders. Then you mix in his on-ice skills and he is a stud. Needless to say, I think he is a cornerstone Defenceman for years to come."
Quebec Remparts centre Mikhail Grigorenko (Getty Images)7. Mikhail Grigorenko, centre, Quebec Ramparts (QMJHL) — Grigorenko is somewhat of a wild card. Some scouts believe he is the second best talent behind Yakupov. While others don't believe he's worthy of a top-10 pick.
The 6-foot-2, 191-pounder turned heads in his rookie season with the Ramparts, scoring 40 goals and 85 points in 59 games. The Russian native did, however, not reach most scouts' expectations in the post-season, despite notching 10 points in 11 games.
Scout's take: "While watching Grigorenko, it usually doesn't take too long to notice he has all the tools you look for in a centre: He's big, a powerful skater with very fast hands and great vision and passing abilities," says Rick Springhetti, scout for Mckeen's Hockey. "I know a lot of people have called him lazy, but I think that term gets used too often for players like him. In Grigorenko's case, my biggest issue with him is that he waits around for the absolute perfect situation before making a play with the puck, so too much of his abilities are used closer to the blue line or against the boards. Defensively, it's a bit of the same thing. He tries to stay disciplined defensively and seems scared to engage and attack the puck carrier so he winds up giving opponents too much space to move around."
Ottawa 67's defenceman Cody Ceci (OHL Images) 8. Cody Ceci, defence, Ottawa 67's (OHL) — Ceci blossomed into an elite two-way defender in his third season in Ottawa, posting 17 goals and 60 points in 63 games. It was not for nothing he was the first player Buzzing The Net featured in Draft Tracker this season.
Ceci is the complete package. He possesses strong puck-moving skills, he has an appealing 6-foot-2, 203-pound frame, he plays a positionally-sound defensive game, and is mature beyond his years. The only knocks on Ceci are he doesn't take advantage of his towering stature enough and he doesn't possess as much offensive pizazz as the likes of Murray, Morgan Rielly, and Dumba.
Scout's take: "Cody has improved tremendously since he entered the OHL in 2009," says Moran. "He is a big, mobile defenseman with a fantastic first pass from his own end. He blossomed offensively this year. I think at the next level he projects to be a (Nashville Predators') Ryan Suter-type defenseman. He can quarterback the power play while also being counted on to play a lot of shorthanded minutes. His size and strength make him hard to play against and he rarely gets caught over-committing and out of position in his own end, which is a skill not many draft eligible defenseman have when they make the jump to the NHL."
Moose Jaw Warriors' Morgan Rielly9. Morgan Rielly, defence, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL) — Unfortunately for Rielly, a major knee injury sidelined him for the majority of the season in Moose Jaw.
Nonetheless, Rielly impressed when he was in the lineup. The slick puck-moving defenceman notched three goals and 18 points in 18 games prior to suffering the injury. The 6-foot, 197-pounder also added three assists in five post-season games after returning to the lineup.
Scout's take: "Rielly has million-dollar legs and is an offensive defenceman that controls the play," says MacInnis. "He is intelligent and a poised puck-rushing defender with very good playmaking ability from back end. He is a very mobile and versatile player that uses his superior skating and smooth transitions to dominate. He is the kind of player that can create havoc and change the game at the blink of an eye. He is strong on both sides of the puck and really adds to the versatility of his team's attack."
Michigan Wolverines recruit Jacob Trouba (The Canadian Press)10. Jacob Trouba, defence, U.S. under-18 team — Trouba is the hands-down top American blueliner of this year's draft. The 6-foot-2, 194-pounder made strong impacts at both ends of the ice for the United States National Development team, netting four goals and 18 points in 22 games, while maintaining a +8 plus/mins rating. He's committed to his home-state Michigan Wolverines of the NCAA.
Scout's take: "I think he has all of the tools to become a stud but I saw too many occasions where he relied on his physical dominance and that can't continue at the next level," says Seidel. "Things have always come easy for him, like [recent U.S. defence prospects] Derek Forbort, Jon Merrill, et cetera. I think his offensive upside is limited, but he is pretty safe pick because of his agility, strength and demeanor (which I like). He is a safe prospect that will play, but I'm just not convinced he is a star like Murray, Dumba, Ceci and Rielly."
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen and contact him at Friesenkelly@live.ca.