Tue Jun 05 10:30pm EDT
Among the million and three likely false leads that will be dangled before the NHL draft, this one is too good to avoid biting.
The top top NHL draft prospects from the Sarnia Sting, Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk, each had the Toronto media eating from the palm of their hands during the NHL Scouting Combine last week. Of course, the Toronto Maple Leafs, relevant to TV rankings and page views if not the actual NHL standings so much these days, don't pick until fifth overall at the NHL draft on June 22.
There is still a possibility neither Galchenyuk nor Yakupov goes No. 1 and one might slip a few notches down the board, but there is no way both of them will still be available after the Montreal Canadiens pick third overall. So with that in mind, the interview with the stars' agent, Igor Larionov, that friend-of-BTN Andrey Osadchenko of allhockey.ru published earlier Tuesday night is quite fascinating. (This was a two-part endeavour that also included a long Q&A with Nail Yakupov.)
As Larionov put it to Osadchenko, the Leafs might want to trade up for one or "both" players, although one has to be careful not to read too literally here:
"[Oilers GM Steve] Tambellini told me: 'We like him [Yakupov]. We want him. But we're going to make a decision the day before the draft'. I also know the Habs want to get one of my guys — either Nail or Alex [Galchenyuk]. So do the Leafs. It is possible that the Leafs are going to trade their draft pick and get both of them. There is a possibility like that. Nail and Alex went to New Jersey for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. After this they met Leafs GM Brian Burke. Then Nail met with the Habs." (Oilers Nation)
Larionov added that Columbus Blue Jackets executives "Scott Howson, Craig Patrick and Tyler Wright spent two days in Sarnia with Yakupov and his family. It's a serious indication they really want him." So much for the theories the Blue Jackets want no part of drafting another Russian early after the Nikita Filatov fiasco of a few years back.
Still, the mention of Burke and the Leafs adds some spice to the pre-draft scuttlebutt. The Leafs badly need something to change the channel on seven seasons of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs and trading up to take a credible team saviour could be it. True, 90 per cent out of the portion of Leaf Nation in suburbs such as Ajax and Burlington would prefer a Canadian hockey hero to someone with a long Russian name. Galchenyuk and Yakupov, of course, offer some familiarity factor since they played in the OHL.
That notion shouldn't dictate their personnel decisions, at least not in an ideal world, but it's out there.
The Oilers are also bringing in Edmonton Oil Kings defenceman Griffin Reinhart for what Terry Jones calls "the dog-and-pony show the NHL puts on" with prospective high picks. One can certainly wonder if that lends any credence to the idea the Oilers might trade down.
There will be no end to the tire-kicking that will go on between NHL GMs across the next 2 1/2 weeks, none of which a junior hockey blogger is on. (And it's preferred that way.) Keeping the top pick and drafting Yakupov likely is the simplest choice for the Edmonton Oilers. They finished 29th overall in the NHL, so for all the talk about how they need a defenceman more than a forward, they still need help pretty much everywhere.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.