2012 NHL draft: Off-base comparisons always part of the draft chatter

Kelly Friesen

It seems as the NHL entry draft approaches, the comparisons of prospects to past greats or current stars become more and more outlandish.

There is a place for comparisons. They give fans that don't follow junior hockey year-round some guidelines about the style of play and calibre of talent of various prospects. Nevertheless, most comparisons are so inaccurate they do nothing more than lead fans on, making some think youngsters who have yet to play a game in the big leagues are already a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Russian connection made it inevitable that Sarnia Sting winger Nail Yakupov would be compared to Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin and Quebec Ramparts centre Mikhail Grigorenko would be compared to Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin. Sure, Yakupov and Grigorenko could be the first pair of Russians to be selected with the first two picks in the draft since Ovechkin and Malkin in 2004, but how much farther do the similarities go?

Yakupov, like Oveckin, is a goal-scoring winger who isn't afraid to get involved in the dirty areas of the game. However, it is impossible to compare Yakupov's junior numbers to Ovechkin's since OV spent his younger days in a mens' league in Russia. Another stumbling block in the comparison is their differences in size. At age 18, Yakupov stands 5-foot-11 and 190-pounds, while Ovechkin is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds. It is plausible Yakupov could grow another inch or so, but it seems unlikely he'll be able to develop a frame as big as Ovechkin's.

Grigorenko, same as Malkin eight years ago, is the consensus No. 2 pick of this draft. Both centres also have similar statures, play similar styles, and possess comparable elite skillsets. But no different than the Ovechkin/Yakupov comparison, it is impossible to compare their junior numbers since Grigorenko is playing in the QMJHL and Malkin played in a Russian men's league before joining the Penguins.

These two comparisons don't appear to be that far-fetched. However, it does seem there are other comparisons that are more accurate to Yakupov's and Grigorenko's style of play.

"I would compare Yakupov more so to [New Jersey Devils winger] Ilya Kovalchuk as they both want the puck, can score and also know how to use their linemates better," says David Burstyn, former NHL scout and current head scout for Mckeen's Hockey. "He is more of a playmaker than Ovechkin, as Ovie likes to gain the line and then shoot the puck. Both Yaki and Kovalchuk play a feisty game, but they do not go out looking for the big hit like Ovechkin does."

"While I am a fan of Grigorenko, I do not see him as being an elite player like Malkin, who one can argue is the best player in the NHL right now. Grigorenko has also been compared to [former NHL forward] Victor Kozlov, as he is a big player and oozes skill, but he does not always play that way as he can disappear and does not show the type of intensity that a player of his stature should demonstrate. Grigorenko is a solid player in his own right, but he lacks consistency and does not have the same game breaking ability that Malkin has. Therefore, I don't think the Malkin-Grigorenko comparison is very accurate."

Everett Silvertips defenceman Ryan Murray, who was ranked third among North Americans skaters by NHL's Central Scouting Service's mid-term rankings, has been the subject of several comparisons to hockey greats. The most recent was quoted from an NHL scout by Jay T Batchelor, who works for Murray's agent Rick Valette at Octagon Athletic Representation. "People say (Scott) Niedermayer, (Nicklas) Lidstrom, he's Ray Bourque."

There's no question Murray is a dynamic offensive defenceman who possesses an elite level of puck-moving skills. He has the potential to be one of the NHL's biggest stars down the road. But it is one thing to say the 18-year-old has a couple similarities to the great Ray Bourque, and another thing to say he is the defenceman who has more than 1,500 NHL points to his name.

Let's not forget Calgary Flames defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, who spent his junior days with the Medicine Hat Tigers, also elicited comparisons to Bourque at the same ages. Bouwmeester has turned out to be a solid blueliner, but his offensive numbers throughout his first eight-and-a-half seasons aren't even close to Bourque's early days.

Despite not being related to former NHL star Peter Forsberg, sharing the same last name as him was enough for some to compare Filip Forsberg to the two-time Stanley Cup champion.

"They have differences (Peter Forsberg and Filip Forsberg) in the way they play, of course,'' Swedish coach Roger Ronnberg says to the Leader-Post prior to the 2012 world junior championship. "But it's a good comparison. Because the most important part of Peter Forsberg is the way he was competing. Always competing. Doing everything it takes to win a hockey game."

There's no questioning Forsberg could end up being the NHL's next Swedish superstar. Maybe even in the same realm as Peter. Nevertheless, one has to wonder whether the No.1 ranked European skater by Central Scouting Services would have even been compared to the former Colorado Avalanche centre if it wasn't for the coincidence of having the same last name.

Dion vs. Dumba

It also seemed as soon as Red Deer Rebels defenceman Mathew Dumba ripped a hard slapshot, threw a big hit, and dropped the mitts for a tilt — he was drawing comparisons to former Rebel and current Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phanuef.

The Phaneuf/Dumba comparison appears to be a lot more accurate than the rest. Both defenders play a high-tempo style at both ends of the ice, possess a lot of raw skill, and walk around with a swagger that says, "I own this rink."

There are, however, several visible differences. First of all, Phaneuf scored 30 points in his draft year, while Dumba has 40 with a handful of games still left to play. So one has to conclude Dumba's offensive upside at age 18 is slightly better than that of Phaneuf' nine years ago. Second of all, not to knock Dumba's slapshot, it is impressive, but Phaneuf's slapshot in the WHL was legendary. There was rumors Phaneuf shattered more sheets of glass in his four seasons in the Enmax Centrium than in the first nine years of the rink's existence. Third of all, there is a noticeable size difference. Phaneuf stands three inches taller than Dumba.

Off-base comparisons are nothing new. They've been going on since the beginning of professional hockey.

One older far-fetched comparison that stands out is Pat Price drawing comparisons to the great Bobby Orr among hockey circles in the early 1970s. Price was dynamite on the back end for the Saskatoon Blades in his junior days, but Orr was, well, Bobby Orr. Price tabulated 261 career points with six different NHL teams — only 654 shy of Orr.

Orr comparisons should almost be banned. As Hall of Famer Denis Potvin once put in his capacity as a TV analyst when asked if Nicklas Lidstrom is in the same realm of talent as Orr, "There's Bobby Orr, and then there's everyone else. No one is like Bobby."

That was in line with what Potvin's younger self said not long after who arrived in the NHL in 1973 at the peak of Orr's dominance, said as a young player: "I don't want to be the next Bobby Orr. I want to be the first Denis Potvin." There's a lesson in that that still applies to following the next ones today.

Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen (photos: OHL Images, WHL).