The 2012 NHL Entry Draft – the 50th edition – will be held on June 22-23, emanating from the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.
1. Edmonton – Nail Yakupov, RW, Sarnia (OHL) – The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Yakupov has been the consensus top overall choice since the first draft rankings were announced back in September. Nine months later, no other draft-eligible prospect has made the 18-year-old winger even break a sweat. By winning the draft lottery for a third straight season, becoming the first team since the 1989-91 Quebec Nordiques to select first overall three consecutive years, the Oilers hold all the cards. Yet, despite the fact that its most glaring need is on the blue line, Yakupov’s overall skill-set might just be too much to bypass. Accepting feeds from 2011 first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will give older Oilers fans the opportunity to relive their youth, as they envision Mark Messier feeding Wayne Gretzky back when the team won four Stanley Cups in five seasons.
2. Columbus – Filip Forsberg, LW, Leksands IF (SWE) – Is this the day that the Blue Jackets finally send seven-time, 30-goal scorer Rick Nash packing? If so, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Forsberg would fill a glaring need. Drawing comparisons to Anaheim’s Corey Perry, the 17-year-old Forsberg would be a tremendous complement to 2010 first round selection Ryan Johansen. Yet, despite the fact that his stock has grown since arriving last week at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto, all indications are that he will return to his junior team in Sweden for the 2012-13 campaign.
3. Montreal – Alex Galchenyuk, C, Sarnia (OHL) – Despite only dressing for two regular season games this past season – after suffering a torn ACL - the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Galchenyuk returned to the Sting postseason line-up without missing a beat. The Wisconsin-born, Belarusian-raised center has fully recovered from his injury. He took part in all the physical tests at the NHL Scouting Combine. Scouts marvel at his playmaking abilities, believing that it was he who elevated line-mate Yakupov’s overall play at Sarnia. Canadiens fans should be excited at the prospects of 18-year-old Galchenyuk and 23-year-old winger Max Pacioretty playing off one another, in hopes of of reviving an offense that ranked 20th in the league in goals scored.
4. ISLANDERS – Ryan Murray, D, Everett (WHL) – Filling an immediate need, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Murray, who grew up patterning his game after former New Jersey Devils defenseman and future Hall-of-Famer Scott Niedermayer, would be a steadying force to a blue line that only returns three players – Mark Streit, Travis Hamonic and Andrew McDonald – from its 2011-12 roster. The 18-year-old also played admirably for Team Canada at the recent World Championships, filling in for an injured Marc Methot. He drew rave reviews from Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith. The most NHL-ready defenseman would be given every opportunity to win an opening night roster spot on Long Island.
5. Toronto – Radek Faksa, C, Kitchener (OHL) – In his first season playing on North American soil, Faksa stepped into the shadows left behind by former Kitchener captain and current Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog and excelled. Faksa collected 67 points – 29 goals and 38 assists – in 62 games. Ranked 17th in TSN Craig Button’s latest prospect rankings, Faksa’s meteoric rise up the draft boards draws similarities to that of Ryan Strome, who was selected fifth overall by the Islanders in the 2011 draft after a late surge up the draft rankings. The 18-year-old Faksa, who is also able to slide over to the wing, draws comparisons to current Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski.
6. Anaheim – Matthew Dumba, D, Red Deer (WHL) – The six-foot, 185-pound Dumba is the prototypical high-risk, high reward selection. Not afraid of throwing his body around, Dumba has drawn comparisons to Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf, despite giving up three inches and 30 pounds to the 27-year-old Leaf. As veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky is considered a question mark to return to the Ducks lineup for the 2012-13 campaign, the 17-year-old Dumba – with a solid training camp – could find his way onto the Ducks’ opening night line-up to play alongside fellow youngsters Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa.
7. Minnesota – Jacob Trouba, D, USNTDP (USHL) – Born in neighboring Rochester, Minnesota, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Trouba showcased his talents by playing for the U.S. National Training Development Program in Ann Arbor. A stay-at-home physical defenseman in the mold of Chris Pronger, Trouba has the make-up fit for the cold winter nights in Minneapolis, St. Paul. Despite the fact that Trouba plans to attend the University of Michigan in the fall, the Wild – with patience - might be getting the draft’s top-overall defenseman in the long run.
8. Carolina – Mikhail Grigorenko, C/RW, Quebec (QMJHL) – The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Grigorenko recorded 85 points – 40 goals and 45 assists – playing for Patrick Roy and the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Once looked at as a sure-bet, top-five overall pick, Grigorenko’s work ethic has come into question. Still, at this point of the draft, the offensively-challenged Hurricanes - who still have their eyes set on reuniting Eric Staal with his brother Jordan in a potential offseason trade with the Penguins - would be foolish to let an Evgeni Malkin-clone slip through its fingertips.
9. Winnipeg – Griffin Reinhart, D, Edmonton (WHL) – The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Reinhart might be the most imposing physical defenseman to be selected in the entire draft. Yet, having just completed his second full season in Edmonton, many still question whether the son of former NHL defenseman Paul Reinhart is still yet too raw to play on the NHL scene next season. Whether it has to wait an extra season or two, envision the 18-year-oldReinhart – a Shea Weber-type defenseman – clearing bodies in front of a raucous crowd at MTS Centre. He and 2008 first round pick Zach Bogosian could form a beautiful partnership.
10. Tampa Bay – Olli Maatta, D, London (OHL) – The 6-foot-2, 198-pound Maatta - just 17 years old - played his best hockey at the most opportune time for both the Knights and his personal draft standing. After collecting a respectable 32 points – five goals and 27 assists – in his first season outside of Finland, Maatta – the first overall pick in the 2011 CHL Import Draft – would became a playoff sensation playing alongside Jarrod Tinordi – a 2010 first round selection by Montreal. In 19 games, Maatta scored six goals and registered 17 assists, as he helped the Knights capture the 2012 OHL Championship Title. Maatta, who has drawn comparisons with impending UFA Ryan Suter has his sights set on playing in the NHL in the fall. He and 2009 second overall selection Victor Hedman could be a deadly duo in the Sunshine State.
11. Washington (from Colorado) – Morgan Rielly, D, Moose Jaw (WHL) – With both offensive defensemen Mike Green (RFA) and Dennis Wideman (UFA) expecting to test the free agent waters, a huge gap is left on the Capitals blue line. As John Carlson continues to mature into a bona-fide top pairing defenseman, the void on the power play – without Green or Wideman – would be glaring. Morgan Rielly, a 6-foot, 190-pound defenseman, might just be what the doctor ordered. Despite missing 50 games last season with a knee injury, the 18-year-old Rielly – who has drawn comparisons to Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson - is an offensive dynamo from the blue line. Considered by many the top offensive defenseman in the entire draft, Rielly might need some fine tuning back in Moose Jaw, but he isn’t long for an NHL invite.
12. Buffalo – Teuvo Teravainen, LW, Jokerit (Finland) – While the team continues to pursue Jordan Staal from Pittsburgh in a offseason trade, the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Teravainen would be no consolation prize to a team in dire need of scoring punch. Having played the past four seasons in his native Finland, the 17-year-old Teravainen – who has been compared to Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky - would follow in the footsteps of fellow diminutive forwards Nathan Gerbe (5-foot-5) and Tyler Ennis (5-foot-9) on a journey to upstate New York. He is a project with top-six upside and 30-goal potential.
13. Dallas – Cody Ceci, D, Ottawa (OHL) – The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Ceci more than doubled his previous two seasons’ point total – 46 - with a 60-point campaign in 64 games for the 2011-12 Ottawa 67’s. Finishing second to Niagara’s Dougie Hamilton (72) in OHL scoring for a defenseman, also helped him elevate his overall draft status. A projected top-four NHL defenseman, Ceci would provide immediate depth on an aging Stars blue line, as both Stephane Robidas and Sheldon Souray’s NHL careers are winding down. The 18-year-old Ceci has drawn comparisons to Calgary’s Anton Babchuk.
14. Calgary – Matt Finn, D, Guelph (OHL) – As both Cory Sarich and Scott Hannan head into free agency in the next couple of weeks, the Calgary Flames are sure to be looking to add quality depth on their blue line. Enter 6-foot-2, 200-pound Matt Finn. When interviewed earlier this year, Finn referred to himself as a defenseman who plays “a quiet game”. Quiet to some might mean non-descript, yet to other’s Finn’s steady play could translate into a defenseman ready to embark on a 10-to-15 year NHL career. Compared to Carolina’s Tim Gleason, the 18-year-old Finn isn’t showy or flashy, yet he might be a player who could be a building block in Alberta.
15. Ottawa – Sebastian Collberg, RW, Frolunda HC (Sweden) – No better introduction to the NHL game than learning from fellow countrymen Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Collberg possesses a deadly snap shot. Compared to Calgary’s Mike Cammalleri, the 18-year-old Collberg could use another year or two of development time in Sweden. Yet, when ready, he should see 2011 first round pick and fellow countryman Mika Zibanejad on his line.
16. Washington – Brendan Gaunce, C, Belleville (OHL) – Mature beyond his years, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Gaunce was named assistant captain of his OHL team at just 17 years old. Learning from older brother Cameron – a Colorado Avalanche draft pick – who himself played alongside Steven Stamkos and Michael Del Zotto, back in their school-boy days in Markham, Ontario, Brendan elevated his play in his second OHL season, collecting 68 points in 68 games. With hopes of transitioning their play from the frustrations that impending UFA Alexander Semin brought to them on a nightly basis, the Capitals need not worry about Gaunce – a future NHL captain – who will bring his proverbial lunch pail to the office and play with maximum intensity.
17. San Jose – Slater Koekkoek, D, Peterborough (OHL) – Coming off a season-ending shoulder injury, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Koekkoek could be the type of jewel that San Jose is looking for. After suffering through another early playoff exit, transitioning a hungry Koekkoek into a veteran lineup might be the juice that this organization is needed. Learning from perennial all-stars Dan Boyle and Brent Burns could help ease Koekkoek’s transition onto the NHL scene. Compared to Vancouver’s Alexander Edler, the 18-year-old Koekkoek was recently cleared by medical doctors at the NHL Scouting Combine with full bill of health.
18. Chicago – Tom Wilson, RW, Plymouth (OHL) – Once the Windy City takes a first glance at the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Tom Wilson, they will instantly fall in love. Blue collar by nature, the 18-year-old Wilson could be the spark that this organization – frustrated by a first-round exit to Phoenix – needs. He is willing and able to engage physically. One should expect Vince Vaughn to don Wilson’s sweater just days after he steps foot on the United Center ice. Wilson draws comparisons to Boston’s Milan Lucic.
19. Tampa Bay (from Detroit) – Derrick Pouliot, D, Portland (WHL) – Needing much-needed depth on the blue line, the six-foot, 190-pound Pouliot is another one of those steady defensemen destined for a long and productive NHL career. Playing against the likes of Dumba, Rielly, Reinhart and Murray in defensive-laden Western Hockey League has matured Pouliot to the player that he is today. Finishing fourth amongst WHL defenders in points scored, the 18-year-old Pouliot couldn’t ask for two better mentors to hone his game than Lightning defensemen Eric Brewer and Mattias Ohlund.
20. Philadelphia – Brady Skjei, D, USDP (USHL) – Having already committed to the University of Minnesota, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Skjei provides the Flyers organization a presence on the back end. As defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Chris Pronger are fully aware that their best years are behind them, the 18-year-old Skjei could be that big, physical defenseman that should help the likes of Niklas Grossmann and Braydon Coburn in the future. Yet, patience is a virtue. Don’t expect him to don a Flyers sweater for at least three seasons.
21. Buffalo (from Nashville) - Zemgus Girgensons, C, Dubuque (USHL) – Committed to the University of Vermont in the fall, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Girgensons possesses a skill-set that have many scouts comparing him to Chicago’s Jonathon Toews. A native of Latvia, Girgensons has honed his skills stateside, playing for the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. In his two seasons in Dubuque, Girgensons has collected 104 points in 100 games. The 18-year-old Girgensons is projected to be a top-six forward on the pro level, and could provide the Sabres some desperately needed scoring punch, come 2014.
22. Pittsburgh – Tomas Hertl, LW, Slavia (CZE) – Having selected Jaromir Jagr fifth overall back in the 1990 NHL Draft, the Penguins are definitely not shy in plucking young talent from overseas. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Hertl – who has drawn comparisons to Phoenix’s Martin Hanzal - plays a strong two-way game, and projects as a top-six forward on the NHL level. Having just completed his first full season playing for Slavia Praha HC, one would expect the Penguins to allow Hertl to develop even more, until ready.
23. Florida – Henrik Samuelsson, C/RW, Edmonton (WHL) – Son of former Pittsburgh Penguins Ulf Samuelsson, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Samuelsson transitioned quite well to the North American game this past season. While playing 28 games for head coach Derek Laxdal and the Edmonton Oil Kings, Samuelsson scored seven goals and added 16 assists. He also racked up 42 penalty minutes, much to his father’s approval. In 17 playoff games, Samuelsson raised his play, scoring four goals and adding 10 assists, as he helped the Oil Kings capture the 2012 WHL Championship Title. For the Panthers, Samuelsson’s frame would be a welcoming addition. The 18-year-old has drawn comparisons to Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf.
24. Boston – Malcolm Subban, G, Belleville (OHL) – Brother of Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban – a pest to Bruins nation – Malcolm, 18, is more mild mannered that his older sibling. Subban also plays between the pipes, and has the athleticism to be a franchise goaltender. With word that Bruins net-minder Tim Thomas is unsure whether he wants to play in the 2012-13 season, the Bruins might be ready to groom a potential franchise-building goaltender. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Subban, whom scouts compare favorably to Canadiens net-minder Carey Price, posted a 2.50 GAA in 39 games played.
25. St. Louis – Pontus Aberg, LW, Djurgardens (SWE) – A speedster off the far wing, Aberg’s lightning quick first step has already intrigued NHL scouts. The Blues, who are always looking to add quality depth up front to complement a defense that was the stingiest in the entire NHL, allowed a league-low 1.89 goals against per game. Compared favorably to Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek, Aberg’s offensive awareness is the reason why many project him to be a top-six forward when he comes stateside. The 18-year-old is expected to play for Djurgardens in 2012-13.
26. Vancouver – Colton Sissons, RW, Kelowna (WHL) – Born in Northwest Vancouver, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Sissons would be a popular choice amongst Canucks fans. Projected to play power forward in the NHL, the 18-year-old Sissons is already mature enough to captain his WHL team at age 18. Sissons, who models his game after fellow Canuck Ryan Kesler, plays a similar two-way style alike his future mate. He should be an instant fan favorite.
27. Phoenix – Scott Laughton, C, Oshawa (OHL) – The six-foot, 170-pound Laughton models his two-way game after Los Angeles Kings center Mike Richards. In his second season in Oshawa, the 18-year-old Laughton collected 53 points – 21 goals and 32 assists – in 64 games. Projected as a second line center, Laughton might need another year of seasoning to build up his body before joining his brethren in the desert. The 18-year-old has drawn comparisons to Boston’s Brad Marchand, based on his willingness to throw his body around and having the ability to be a thorn in an opponent’s side.
28. N.Y. Rangers – Stefan Matteau, LW, USNTDP (USHL) – A product of the infamous Notre Dame Academy in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, the 6-foot-1, 207-pound Matteau is projected as a power forward on the NHL level. Matteau, son of former Rangers playoff hero Stephane Matteau, played the past two seasons for the USNTDP juniors, where he collected 19 points in 46 games. He is scheduled to play for Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the QMJHL in the fall. The 18-year-old’s game compares favorably to current Rangers captain Ryan Callahan. Can a “Matteau, Matteau, Matteau” be in the cards for the 2015 Rangers?
29. New Jersey*(&) - Dalton Thrower, D, Saskatoon (WHL) – The six-foot, 195-pound Thrower is known for his hard-nosed, no nonsense play on the back end. Yet, this past season in Saskatoon, Thrower showed a propensity of being more of an offensive threat. He recorded 54 points – 18 goals and 36 assists – in 66 games. In his first two seasons in Saskatoon, Thrower was only able to muster 27 points in 123 games. Still, Thrower lives and dies with his intensity he brings onto the ice – night in and night out. The 18-year-old has drawn comparisons to Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa, and would be a solid replacement to Bryce Salvador, who will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
30. Los Angeles* - Scott Kosmachuk, RW, Guelph (OHL) – The six-foot, 185-pound Kosmachuk collected 59 points – 30 goals and 29 assists – in his second full season at the ’O’. Known as a smooth skater with a quick release, Kosmachuk possesses a quick motor that doesn’t stop. Having an opportunity to learn from Kings captain Dustin Brown can’t help but expedite the 18-year-old’s development. He has drawn comparisons to Colorado’s Steve Downie, and should be a potential top-nine forward when he is physically ready to play in the NHL.
* - Pick to be decided between Stanley Cup Winner and Runner-up.
& - Pick might be forfeited after team circumvented the salary cap to resign Ilya Kovalchuk back in the summer of 2010.