Thu Dec 22 11:40am EST
There's no better opportunity than the U-20 world junior championship to get a sneak peek at some of the world's top draft prospects.
These draft eligible players are some of the 2012 draft classes' elite talents, but they aren't necessarily the top of their draft class. Several of the draft's highly touted Canadian players like Red Deer Rebels' Mathew Dumba, Ottawa 67's Cody Ceci, and Bellville Bulls' Brendan Gaunce won't be suiting up for their country because Canada felt older players with more experience are more suitable for this type of tournament. Injuries have also forced some players to sit out. Sarnia Sting winger Alex Galchenenyuk would have likely played for the Americans, but a knee injury that he suffered in the pre-season has put him out of action for possibly the entire season. Although he wasn't guaranteed to make Team Canada, a knee injury was ultimately the reason for Moose Jaw Warriors defenceman Morgan Rielly not getting an opportunity to show off his skill at the tryout.
Here's a look at some of the top prospects of the 2012 draft class who are headed to the world juniors with some insight from NHL's Central Scouting Service, International Scouting Services, and McKeen's Hockey.
Nail Yakupov, wing/centre, Russia (Sarnia Sting, OHL) — Yakupov trumped Steven Stamkos superb 92-point rookie season with the Sting, scoring 49 goals and 101 points in 65 games last season. This unbelievable start to his major junior hockey career quickly had him touted as the top prospect of his draft class.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound forward will have an outstanding supporting cast. Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Nikita Kucherov, Washington Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Quebec Remparts star Mikhail Grigorenko will also be suiting up for the Russians. This elite group of teammates will help Yakupov's game a lot by keeping pucks deep and drawing some attention away from him.
Scout's take: "Yakupov recently sustained a back injury and hasn't been playing at 100-percent," says David Burstyn, head scout for McKeen's Hockey and former amateur scout for the Atlanta Thrashers. "Nevertheless, he's an elite player and can score and create chances with his speed. He plays a game very similar to (New Jersey Devils') Ilya Kovalchuk. He is dangerous in even strength situations and lethal with the man advantage. We have him ranked as the top prospect of the draft on McKeen's top 30 rankings."
Mikhail Grigorenko, wing, Russia (Quebec Ramparts, QMJHL) — Most believe Yakupov is the top talent of the draft, but some would argue Mikhail Grigorenko has the edge on him.
Grigorenko came over to North America this year after being selected second overall by the Ramparts in the CHL Import Draft. So far his rookie season has been a remarkable success. He's notched 25 goals and 58 points in 36 games. These stats place him fourth in the Q in points, not to mention nine points up on Halifax Mooseheads Nathan Mackinnon, who's touted as the top prospect of the 2013 draft.
Scout's take: "I think Grigorenko can outshine pretty much any 2012 draft eligible player," says Rick Springhetti, Quebec based scout for McKeen's Hockey. "The one thing I really like about him is he's shown significant improvement in the aspects of his game that needed work at the start of the season. Things like his work in the faceoff circle and willingness to shoot the puck are improving steadily as the season progresses."
Ryan Murray, defence, Canada (Everett Silvertips, WHL) — Despite only being 18-years-old, Murray will likely be a leader on the ice and in dressing room for Team Canada. The 6-foot, 201-pound blueliner is the team captain for the Silvertips and also wore the C for Team Canada's U-18 squad last year.
Murray will be looked upon to take over Nashville Predators prospect Ryan Ellis's prior role as the team's go-to offensive defenceman. The native of White City, Sask., has anchored the Silvertips power play since coming into the league as a 16-year-old, scoring 14 goals and 80 points in a total of 133 games.
Scout's take: "I think Murray has already made himself the most appealing defensive prospect of this year's draft," says Ross MacLean, head scout for International Scouting Services. "His poise and two-way intelligence should be prominent all tournament long. I'm confident in believing that he will be one of the major players in Canada's potential success."
Filip Forsberg, centre, Sweden (Leksands, Allsvenskan) — Filip Forsberg is no relation to former NHL star Peter Forsberg, but that doesn't mean people won't look for similarities in the two Swedes' games.
Forsberg was dominant on Leksands' under-20 team last year, scoring 14 goals and 29 points in 26 games. However, he's struggled at the pro level with Leksands this year, notching four goals and seven points in 26 games. These struggles are understandable; he's playing against players much older and stronger than him. The world juniors will be a great opportunity for him to prove to scouts he's one of the top players among his age group.
Scout's take: "Forsberg is a very powerful forward with speed, high over all skill level, and a nose for the net," says Goran Stubb, European based scout for NHL's Central Scouting Service. "He's a player who can score the big goals when needed. He's outstanding when playing against his own age. Not as dominant, yet, when playing senior hockey with Lekesands in Sweden."
Zemgus Girgensons, wing, Latvia (Dubuque Fighting Saints, USHL) — When Latvia is in need of a vital goal don't be surprised to see the entire bench look to Zemgus Girgensons. As a smaller country with not a whole lot of depth or talent, it seems Latvia's high hopes of winning a medal at the tournament will be on the shoulders of Girgensons.
The 6-foot, 185-pounder shouldn't be that overwhelmed with this pressure. He's already relied on heavily by his Dubuque Fighting Saints. And he's yet to disappoint, the team captain has been almost a point a game player with the Fighting Saints since joining the team, scoring 30 goals and 70 points in a total of 71 games.
Scout's take: "Latvia will lean on Girgensons similar to the way Switzerland leant on Niederreiter during the WJC in Saskatoon and Regina," says MacLean. "If Latvia can get some timely goaltending and Girgensons scores like he can, Latvia could surprise some teams. Unfortunately, as good as Girgensons is, Latvia will be in tough to score enough goals to survive their preliminary pool."
Jacob Trouba, defence, USA (USA U-18) — The consensus was Trouba would have to wait another year to suit up for the States in the world juniors; however, after the Carolina Hurricanes announced they won't be loaning out Justin Faulk and top 2013 draft prospect Seth Jones suffered an injury at the tryout, Trouba was given the opportunity to suit up in the red, white, and blue.
Trouba seems to be the No. 1 American-born prospect of this draft with potential of being a top 10 draft pick. He has committed to Michigan of the NCAA. He's said in the past he isn't taking this commitment lightly, but that won't stop the Kitchener Rangers, who own his rights, to try and persuade him to play in the OHL. It will be interesting to see if he flops on the NCAA like a handful of NCAA commitments did this past summer, or if he sticks to his word and takes the path less travelled with Michigan.
Scout's take: "Trouba is a very smooth well rounded defender," says MacLean. "He projects a bit higher offensively than defensively, but is no slouch in his own end. I think he stands with the elite defenders in his draft class and could even be considered underrated at this point. I would expect him to land in the top 10 of this draft."
Olli Maatta, defence, Finland (London Knights, OHL) — The hype of the Dub's strong defensive crop and the likes of USA-18 star Jacob Trouba and 67s' Cody Cecci has seemed to overshadow the impressive play of Olli Maatta.
Similar to his role for the Knights, Maata will be looked upon to anchor Finland's blueline. This will entail munching up big minutes with a major role on both the power play and penalty kill. The 6-foot-2, 198-pounder appears to be the top defensive prospect to hail from Finland for quite some time. It seems not since Joni Pitkanen, who was selected fourth overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2002, a Finish defenceman had the potential to be a top 10 pick.
Scout's take: "Maatta has added layers to his game since arriving in London," says Burstyn. "He has always been a standout player for Team Finland, as he's played for them in several international tournaments. He has all the ingredients to make a player as he is mobile, can make a good first pass, and has size. He also plays a consistent mature game, and should be able to match-up and contain other countries' elite players."
Sebastian Collberg, wing, Sweden (Frolunda, SEL) — Collberg is very high on a lot of scouts' lists, to the extent of some pegging him as a possible top 15 draft pick. Collberg's explosive speed and soft hands are his major selling points. He's a player who's always dangerous with the puck on his stick and is hard to contain and read.
Scout's take: "Collberg is an outstanding fast skater with a good shot," says Stubb. "He's a very talented forward who can be a difference maker. I strongly believe he'll be a drafted in the first round of the upcoming draft."
Pontus Aberg, wing, Sweden (Leksands, Allsvenskan) — Aberg is touted as one of the top skaters of his draft class. He's made the jump to the Leksands senior league with Forsberg this season. Understandably, he's also struggling with the transition. He's been able to muster four goals and seven points in 26 games.
Scout's take: "Aberg is an excellent quick skater with great acceleration and speed," says Stubb. "He's a big time sniper with soft hands. With his high calibre of talent, I expect him to join Forsberg and Collberg as first round picks in the 2012 draft."