Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Imagine if Nail Yakupov was up for this summer's NHL draft — or if he had any playoff run this season.

Last September, Buzzing The Net introduced what we're calling the Jeff Skinner Rankings in honour of the Carolina Hurricanes' Calder Trophy finalist who made this humble site look half-smart. Rob Pettapiece, basically out of boundless curiosity, built on work by hockey numbers guru Gabriel Desjardins to project which new NHL draft picks from the Canadian Hockey League figured to put up the most points in the big league.

Skinner, who had gone No. 7 overall in the June draft, topped the class after his 70-goal season (50 regular season, 20 post-season) with the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers. Second overall choice Tyler Seguin was second and then there was a big drop-off before the next player, Taylor Hall, now of the Edmonton Oilers.

You know the rest of the story: Skinner had a 31-goal rookie season in Carolina. Seguin was shunted into a secondary role with the contending Boston Bruins, but broke out in the Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning and will skate in the Stanley Cup final that begins tomorrow in Vancouver.

Where Pettapiece's analysis hopefully builds on Desjardins' is that it gives more weight to playoff performance. Strength of schedule, based on the RPI that was used to compile BTN's Dynamic Dozen during the CHL regular season, is also accounted for. Last and not least, age is accounted for to the precise month of a player's birth. Any older player who was drafted in 2009 or '10 has to be ridiculously good to be ranked high. One tweak is that we've taken a player's production over his past two seasons, with more weight on 2010-11.

So who tops the list? The Edmonton Oilers hold the No. 1 choice in the NHL entry draft on June 24, but who could be a dynamic offensive player for the Ottawa Senators or the new Winnipeg team, slated to select sixth and seventh?

As you might have guessed from the photo, the Sarnia Sting tandem of Nail Yakupov  (left in photo) and Alex Galchenyuk (centre), both a year away from the NHL draft, finished 1-2. They did so while spending their first year playing in Canada on a Sarnia team which faced tough competition and missed the playoffs, costing them a chance to show what they could do when it truly counts.

Following in third is a centre named Ryan — but it's not that Nugent-Hopkins fellow many expect Edmonton to draft No. 1 overall on June 24.

The top 15 is below the jump. Please note this does not fully account for players whose purpose is to do things beyond score such as defencemen and two-way forwards, although Kitchener Rangers playmaking defenceman Ryan Murphy cracked the top 10.

1. 43 — Nail Yakupov, Sarnia Sting (OHL)

Draftniks and poolies in keeper leagues, take note. Yakupov posted a 101-point season as a rookie on a struggling team. Whatever boost he gets from Sarnia playing in the stronger half of the OHL is cancelled out by not having a post-season, although he settled for helping Russia beat Canada for the bronze medal at the world U18 championship. With the way he can protect the puck and outmanoeuvre top OHL defenceman such as Erik Gudbranson, it's no wonder the Alex Ovechkin comparisons have already started.

By the way, no one up for this summer's NHL draft matched the projections for Skinner (48 points), Seguin (46) or Hall (40). Now you understand why it's likely the NHL's No. 1 overall choice, even if it's the Swedish defenceman Adam Larsson, will not jump to the big time right away.

2. 39 — Alex Galchenyuk, Sarnia Sting (OHL)

In case you were wondering, no, it's not hyperbole the Sting tandem might be selected 1-2 in 2012. Galchenyuk had a 31-goal, 80-point yearling season in Sarnia; now he just has to start using his size.

3. 37 — Ryan Strome, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)

If not for losing a couple games to a concussion, Strome might have matched Seguin's feat of winning the OHL scoring title in his second junior season. He totalled 106 points in 63 games for Niagara, which went from 15th overall in the OHL to third. He is not the total package yet, needing to get bigger and also get better on faceoffs.

4. 36 — Alexander Khokhlachev, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

The first surprise on the list, since Khokhlachev is pegged as a late first- or second-round choice, ranked 29th among North American-based players by NHL Central Scouting, which has been known to miss on a dogged offensive player who's less than 6-feet tall (like Jeff Skinner). 

Khokhlachev tended to be a little peaks-and-valleys with his effort in his first North American season, but considering the Russian was barely 17 years old when he debuted for Windsor, there's a lot to like.

5. 36 — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)

Take Nugent-Hopkins' spot as a hint of how much more he stills needs to physically mature. A gut feeling is he has more potential than anyone else in his draft class, but he's held back by being just 6-foot and 163 pounds. Hard work and time will solve that eventually.

6. 36 — Sean Couturier, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)

The first appearance by someone who stands a good chance to be in the NHL to stay next season. Couturier, who turned 18 in December shortly before he skated for Team Canada, is the most prepared physically of any of the top-ranked players, even if he's not going to be a big-time scorer. He did pull up the overall performance of a less than star-studded team in Drummondville this season.

7. 35 — Jonathan Huberdeau, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

You know the joke: Huberdeau will likely be back with the MasterCard Memorial Cup-champion Sea Dogs next season so Rogers Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos can learn the left wing's name is not pronounced "Hoobadoo." Like Taylor Hall in 2009, Huberdeau was the most valuable player for both his league and at the Memorial Cup. He gets a slight downgrade since his 105-point regular season came against a Downy-soft schedule in the QMJHL's weak Maritimes Division.

8. 30 — Greg McKegg, Erie Otters (OHL; drafted by Toronto Maple Leafs, third round 2010)

The first appearance by a drafted player and it's by a Toronto choice. Try to tone down your giddiness, Leafs fans.

t-9. 30 — Ryan Johansen, Portland Winterhawks (WHL; drafted by Columbus Blue Jackets, first round 2010)

As noted off the top, the older a player is, the tougher it is for him to make this list. Johansen being in the top 10 is a strong indication it will be "Goodbye, Portland, Hello, Columbus" this fall.

t-9. 30 — Ryan Murphy, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

No defenceman made the top 10 a year ago, so congratulations to Murphy for being the first. The speedster quieted critics by being both a workhorse defenceman and by putting up 79 points, in the ballpark with what CHL player of the year Ryan Ellis did at the same age (89 for a higher-scoring team). It's not taken into account here, but Murphy also led Canada in scoring at the world under-18 championship.

11. 30 — Charles Hudon, Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL)

The third player to make an appearance who is entering his NHL draft season. Hudon, who was born the week after the O.J. Simpson chase (feel old?), averaged nearly a point per game (60 in 63) for a young Sags team. You will hear all about him next season.

12. 28 — Matt Puempel, Peterborough Petes (OHL)

For debate purposes, it's good Puempel made it on, since an injury-plagued losing season with the Petes has diminished his draft stock in some eyes. He might be this season's Joey Hishon, the offensive player who is taken much higher than most expect after losing the end of season. At the very least, NHL teams are doing their homework on him. His sophomore scoring stats (34 goals, 69 points in 55 games before season-ending hip surgery) ended up being only a touch better than his rookie year (33 goals, 64 points in 59 games), so counting the past two seasons probably put him here.

t-13. 28 — Boone Jenner, Oshawa Generals (OHL)

Imagine if Jenner was a purely offensive player. He's the classic big centre with guile, good on faceoffs, and improved his foot speed by season's end with the Generals. He followed up a 66-point regular season by averaging better than a point per game in the playoffs (12 in 10).

t-13. 28 — Vincent Trocheck, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)

Trocheck isn't likely to go early in the draft since he is neither big (5-foot-10, 184 pounds) nor particularly fast. However, after putting up 60 points for Saginaw at age 17, he makes the list. Factor in his aptitude as a good faceoff man and penalty killer and some NHL team might be getting a steal. He is considered second- or third-round material.

15. 28 — Nino Niederreiter, Portland Winterhawks (WHL; drafted by New York Islanders, first round 2010)

The Winterhawks have four of this projection's top 25 players and remember, two of their top prospects for the draft are defencemen, Joe Morrow and Tyler Wotherspoon. How did they not win the Western Hockey League again?

Niederreiter had a so-so post-season for Portland, which is enough to wonder if he'll stay up with the Islanders for good after getting an early-season audition in 2010-11.

And the rest:

16. Jordan Weal, Regina Pats, WHL (Los Angeles Kings third round, 2010), 27 points; t-17. Sven Bärtschi, Portland, 27; t-17. Eric Locke, Windsor Spitfires-Barrie Colts (NHL draft eligible 2012), 27; 19. Tyler Toffoli, Ottawa 67's, OHL (Los Angeles Kings second round, 2010); 20. Gabriel Landeskog, Kitchener Rangers, 27.

21. Brendan Gallagher, Vancouver Giants, WHL (Montreal Canadiens fifth round, 2010), 26; 22. Michael St. Croix, Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL, 26; 23. Christian Thomas, Oshawa Generals, OHL (New York Rangers second round, 2010), 26; t-24. Ty Rattie, Portland Winterhawks, WHL, 26; t-24. Mark Scheifele, Barrie Colts, OHL, 26. 

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photos: CHL Images).

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