Unless the NHL heads for a lockout, junior hockey teams will take a hit this season — losing some of their top 18-year-old talents to the pros.
In the 2011 NHL draft, four players — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Adam Larsson, and Sean Couturier — went on to stay put with their NHL clubs directly after the draft. In the prior two years, four players in each year made the jump. So if history repeats itself, four should be the magic number for players of the 2012 draft earning a regular spot in the NHL this year.
Here is a look at half-a-dozen 2012 draft prospects that have a strong shot of making their respective NHL clubs. Griffin Reinhart is the only prospect of the six that is yet to sign an entry-level contract. It seems it is only a matter of time before he inks a deal with the New York Islanders, though.
Nail Yakupov, wing, Edmonton Oilers (Sarnia Sting, OHL) — Yakupov is the lone draft prospect of the six listed that is 100-percent expected to be in the NHL next year. The Oilers have probably already sold a couple extra season tickets to fans that believe they are about to see the rookie season of the next Pavel Bure.
After scoring 80 goals and 170 points in 107 games with the Sarnia Sting in the past two years, it is clear as day that the Russian winger is ready for a new challenge. The only uncertainty seems to be how well the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder will translate his game from the OHL to the NHL straight out of the gate.
Taylor Hall's numbers with the Windsor Spitfires are somewhat comparable to Yakupov's major junior stats. Therefore, since Hall posted 22 goals and 42 points in his rookie season in Edmonton, these numbers could be used as a ballpark blueprint for what to expect from Yakupov next year.
Ryan Murray, defence, Columbus Blue Jackets (Everett Silvertips, WHL) — The Blue Jackets' future got a lot brighter when Scott Howson called Ryan Murray up to the podium at the draft. Their back end is shaping up nicely with youngsters such as Murray, John Moore, Tim Erixon, and David Savard.
Murray has done just about everything he could have done hockey wise up until this point in his career. He already has three seasons in the WHL, a world junior championship, and a men's world championship under his belt. However, he did somewhat struggle for Canada at the world juniors and his numbers for the Silvertips are not jaw dropping. So he does have a lot of experience, but he hasn't dominated in some of his endeavors.
Nonetheless, the combination of his lengthy experience, maturity, and a strong training camp could quite likely make Murray a full-time Ohio resident next year. Despite only being 18-years-old, he would definitely improve the Blue Jackets' back end. His slick breakout pass would result in a lot of opposing teams' lamps being lit with the likes of Jeff Carter, Rick Nash, oh never mind, well at least Murray still has former Portland Winterhawk Ryan Johansen to pass to.
Griffin Reinhart, defence, New York Islanders (Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL) — Edmonton Oil Kings' Griffin Reinhart (Marissa Baecker, Getty Images)The Islanders love rushing their young guns into The Show. They did it to Josh Bailey after drafting him ninth overall in 2008. He has since yet to blossom into a top-six forward, scoring 32 points in his fourth season with the club last year. They also had Nino Niederreiter make the jump to the pros last year instead of playing his 19-year-old season with the Winterhawks. El Nino only scored a single goal throughout 55 games. One assumes playing limited minutes on the fourth line and watching games from the press box has to be a part of his development plan. So why not throw Griffin Reinhart into the lion's den as well. After all, it is the trend on Long Island.
Standing 6-foot-4, 202-pounds, Reinhart definitely already has the frame necessary to be a shut-down blueliner in the pros. However, his footwork and lateral movement needs some tweaking for him to be able to keep up with the speedsters of the NHL. It seems unless Reinhart makes major headway in his agility this offseason, another season in Edmonton would be best for him in the long run.
Although as it is stated above, the Islanders seem to not like having their high-end draft picks develop in the junior ranks; so who knows how this one will play out.
Alex Galchenyuk, centre, Montreal Canadiens (Sarnia Sting, OHL) — It is tough to tell where Galchenyuk is in his development process because he missed nearly all of last season because of a major knee injury. So essentially, it seems his showing at the Canadiens' training camp could be the be-all and end-all of whether he makes the big club.
Montreal could definitely use some added talent down the middle. Their highest paid centre, Scott Gomez, only scored nine goals in his past two seasons with the Canadiens. Galchenyuk might be able to top those numbers with a ringette stick.
Nevertheless, just because the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder seems to be already poised to outplay some of Montreal's penciled in centres, it doesn't necessarily mean a full-time gig in The Show next year will be best for his long-term development. Precedents make it very clear that long goalless droughts or confidence shakers can be detrimental to a youngster's career. This can be easily avoided by waiting until he is clearly ready to play a top-six role in the NHL.
Only one thing is certain - Sting fans hope Galchenyuk has a strong camp in Montreal, but not strong enough for them to say their farewells to the 18-year-old.
Mikhail Grigorenko, centre, Buffalo Sabres (Quebec Ramparts, QMJHL) — Couturier dropped at the 2011 draft to the Philadelphia Flyers before making the team out of camp. Anaheim Ducks defenceman Cam Fowler did the same the prior year. It seems Grigorenko could follow suit this year by making the Sabres after being regarded as a clear-cut top-5 pick in December to dropping to the 12th pick at the draft.
There could be an opening in Buffalo down the middle for the 6-foot-2, 191-pounder after the Sabres dealt Derek Roy to the Dallas Stars for Steve Ott. Nonetheless, with the Sabres also having Cody Hodgson, Ville Leino, and Tyler Ennis gunning for a top-line centre position, it won't be a cakewalk for Grigorenko to earn a full-time spot in Buffalo.
Grigorenko still has some unfinished business at the major junior level, though. His naysayers were on him like glue after having a sub-par playoff with the Ramparts. Another season in Quebec would give the Russian native an opportunity to silence his critics.
Mathew Dumba, defence, Minnesota Wild (Red Deer Rebels, WHL) — Besides Ryan Suter and Tom Gilbert, Minnesota's blueline is thinner than a bulimic runway model. Moreover, due to his lack of competition, it is definitely feasible for Dumba to earn a full-time spot on their back end this year.
Dumba, who was selected seventh overall by the Wild, isn't the biggest guy, standing 6-foot, 173-pounds. However, he plays much bigger than his stature. He plays with immense truculence, throwing jaw-dropping hits and getting in toe-to-toe tilts. This edgy style should make his transition to the pros much easier than other prospects that rely heavily on their skill because of their lack of a complete game.
Another year in Red Deer is quite possibly the best option for Dumba's development, though. The 18-year-old, who scored 20 goals and 57 points in 69 games with the Rebels last year, would not only get a full season to gain some muscle and tweak his game, but he would also quite possibly get an opportunity to represent Canada at the world juniors.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen and contact him at Friesenkelly@live.ca.