Well Predators fans, its that time of year when we have to swallow our pride over the NHL Award snubs (like we do every year) and focus on the future of our franchise.
With the 2012 NHL Draft looming, NHL scouts across the league are rigorously preparing their final analyses and draft boards. Meetings between GMs and scouts have been going on for days as they check and recheck their lists. It's an exciting time if you are a hockey fan as the masses look to promising future of their young prospects. It's a time of trades and excitement as players' stock rise and fall at the drop of a hat. This year's draft is considered to be one of the most unpredictable ones in years.
For those of you who don't know me, I am a recent graduate of Miami University (the one in Ohio not the one in Florida). I've been a long time hockey fan and a diehard Nashville Predators fan since 2002. My family and I are involved in youth hockey in Nashville and I have been working in Miami's Athletic Communication's Department.
Now that is out of the way, let's get down to business as I help you navigate this year's NHL draft. My rankings are based on players that I feel are the best players available, not where I think they will go in the draft. Below my scouting analysis you will see where I think they will be picked and which team will pick them. No further introduction needed, let's get started.
1. RW Nail Yakupov, Sarnia Sting (OHL) - Yakupov has all the speed, vision, and offensive flare to be successful in the NHL. He has been the top projected prospect all year. Arguably the best skater in the draft and has an NHL ready IQ, the only question mark for Nail is if he is too good to be true...and if the already talented up front Oilers will trade the first pick. Projection: Pick #1 to the Edmonton Oilers
2. LW Filip Forsberg, Leksands (SEL) - Forsberg has the size, speed, strength, and size to be a force in the NHL. While not as talented as Nail, Forsberg brings intangibles that will make him an NHL star. Some people have compared him to Anaheim's Corey Perry. Personally I don't see that, as Forsberg could bring more intangibles and determination than the Duck's winger. At any rate, Forsberg has all the makings to be the next big star in the NHL. He has the heart to compete night in and night out. Projection: Pick #2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets
3. D Ryan Murray, Everett Silvertips (WHL) - Ryan Ellis 2.0. Murray has the offensive upside, good size and leadership that most teams are going to covet. Widely considered to be the most NHL ready prospect. While he is a solid pick, some predict that Reinhart will have a better future in the NHL. As of right now, however, Murray is more NHL ready, and thus more valuable at this position. Projection: Pick #4 to the New York Islanders
4. C Mikhail Grigorenko, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) - Grigorenko is an enigma to be sure. He is, by far and away, the biggest question mark of this year's draft. He has the talent to go easily in the top 5 picks but a plethora of concerns are destroying his stock. The "Russian Factor," a phenomenon Pred Nation is all too familiar with, is one knock on him. Any team that picks him has to deal with the constant fear of him fleeing to the KHL in addition to possible character issues. Any team that needs a top center (I'm looking at you, Toronto) will have to consider him despite these concerns. His shot is decent, but his passing, 6'3" size, and outstanding combination of offense and solid defense are truly what make him an intriguing pick. To be honest, I have to put him in the top five because Grigorenko is top five talent. Question remains will he go in the top five, let alone the top ten. Projection: Pick #5 to the Toronto Maple Leafs
5. D Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) - If not for the promise of Grigorenko and the readiness of Murray, I think Reinhart would easily be in the top 3. While still a little rough around the edges, Reinhart has the size (6'4) and vision to be a complete NHL player. If he really focuses on being a pro and develops a better shot, he could be a Shea Weber caliber defenseman. Should Reinhart fall past five, I suspect some teams in later rounds will attempt to trade up for him. If Poile had a first round pick, I could see him trying to get Reinhart. Projection: Pick #6 to the Anaheim Ducks
6. C Alex Galchenyuk, Sarnia Sting (OHL) - Galchenyuk is probably the best center in the draft. He has the whole package, including great hands, vision, and passing coupled with decent size and the "it" factor when it comes to competiveness. The biggest knock on him is something that is out of his control: he played on the same line as top prospect Nail Yakupov. There is some concern his numbers are inflated by this, but he is still a great player in his own right. Projection: Pick #3 to the Montreal Canadians
7. RW Teuvo Terravainen, Jokerit (SM-Liiga) - Ryan Ellis is not the only human rocket ship. No one has gone from zero to hero like Terravainen, literally scaling the NHL draft board in a single bound. He is undersized, a fact that is detracting from his stock, but arguably has the slickest hands in the draft and exceptional vision to boot. He is truly an offensive dynamo that, while barely known early in the year, is suddenly one of the most sought after prospects in the draft. He is the best thing coming out of Finland since Minnesota's Granlund. Terravainen could be a boom-or-bust prospect. I have a suspicion that the Ducks pick Terravainen and have Teemu Selanne mentor him on how to succeed in the NHL. Projection: Pick #8 to the Carolina Hurricanes
8. D Morgan Reilly, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL) - This WHL defenseman is drawing a few rough comparisons to Predator Ryan Ellis, and, while they aren't 100% accurate, they give you an idea. Reilly is faster and slightly bigger (though still undersized), but both are elite offensive defenseman and power play quarterbacks. No one dares to question Reilly's offensive prowess, be it speed, passing, or leading the rush, but his defensive game leaves a bit to be desired. He is average when it comes to his positioning, but rarely takes the body, something that should worry some teams but surely won't as puck moving blue-liners of his talent are rare. Projection: Pick #9 to the Winnipeg Jets
9. D Jacob Trouba, USA-U18 (USHL) - Where Morgan Reilly is the archetype of the offensive-defenseman, Trouba is a jack of all traits. He is fast, has a laser shot, is a good passer, has very good size, and plays solid defense. He doesn't have the offensive ceiling of Reilly, but is solid and steady, which most teams should value highly. He also has the ability to dish out some serious hits due to his 6'2" frame.
Projection: Pick #10 to the Tampa Bay Lightning
10. D Hampus Lindholm, Rogle Jr. (SWE) - In the 2008 NHL Draft, a highly skilled Swedish defenseman flew up the rankings late and was selected by the Ottawa Senators at #15. Erik Karlsson is now a Norris Trophy winner, and I think Lindholm will have some GMs (and in truth, yours truly) seeing images of dancing sugar plum Karlssons in their heads. Lindholm, a late riser, is the complete package as he is good at both offense and defense. He is big, occasionally physical, with very good vision,= and altogether solid defense. Lindholm looks like a solid second pairing defenseman for whichever team gets him. I think Trouba will be better than the Swede, but I am very high on Lindholm. Projection: Pick #12 to the Buffalo Sabers
11. D Mathew Dumba, Red Deer Rebels, (WHL) - This one is hard for me, not because it is the end of the top ten but because I really am not drinking the Dumba Gatorade. There is a lot of P.K. Subban in Dumba, for better or for worse. He is explosive and exciting, albeit a little undersized and some potential character issues. He has mastered the art of delivering crushing hits, and has a booming slapshot, two parts of the game that are very hard to master. He is a very flashy player, but some questions remain about his consistency and smarts. He has the exciting plays down, but must improve the "boring" parts of his game, such as puck control and positioning if he wants to be an NHL star. If Dumba can connect the tools he has, he will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. If a team finds a good coach who will have patience with him, I think Dumba could be a great pick up in this year's draft. Projection: Pick #7 to the Minnesota Wild
12. D Olli Maatta, London Knights (OHL) - Maatta, teammate of Predators prospect Austin Watson, is another late-riser. He caught fire in the playoffs, putting up 23 points in 19 games, making him a major reason for the Knights' OHL Championship. He doesn't have Dumba's hitting, Reilly's passing, or Reinhart's size, but he is good at just about everything. Ryan Suter is a name that has been brought up as a style comparison, though I think that may be a bit generous in this case. Projection: Pick #11 to the Washington Capitals
13. D Cody Ceci, Ottawa 67's (OHL) - Ceci is versatile. For the 67's, he played a ton of minutes on the power play and the pk. He, like Maatta and Trouba, doesn't quite have the high specific skills of Dumba and Reilly, but is very well rounded. Any team that wants a player who can be good in all situations instead of great in one will love to land Ceci. Projection: Pick #13 to the Dallas Stars
14. C Radek Faksa, Kitchener Rangers (OHL) - Faksa is the definition of power forward. The 6'3" pivot plays for the OHL's Kitchner Rangers, the same team where Rookie of the Year winner Gabriel Landeskog played his junior hockey, and it should be no surprise that he is getting comparisons to the Av's winger. Faksa is rock-solid defensively, can pass very well, and has no qualms about playing a physical game. He is the total package of size and talent that elite power forwards have to have in order to succeed in the NHL. One concern is his speed. Projection: Pick #15 to the Ottawa Senators
15. D Slater Koekkoek, Peterborough Petes (OHL) - In case you haven't noticed by now, this year's draft is all about the defensemen. Before the season Koekkoek was in the same area code as Dumba, Reilly, and Murray, but a season-ending injury resulted in a serious plummet in his draft stock. No doubt, some teams will ignore the injury and see the potential that Koekkoek has. Voted the best-named player in the draft, (joking, but I wish there was such an award), Koekkoek could be a steal if he falls this far. He is a steady defensive defenseman. While he doesn't demonstrate the offensive upside that many other prospects have, he is big, fast, and mean. He projects as a minute-eating shutdown defenseman in the NHL, though he may chip in a few points here or there. Projection: Pick #17 to the San Jose Sharks
16. C Tomas Hertl, Slavia Praha (CZE) - I present to you, my sleeper of this year's draft. While Hertl does have some physical skills, he has perhaps the best "hockey smarts" in the draft. Mentally, he is an elite player, possessing top-notch vision, anticipation, awareness, and probably one of if not the best passing abilities in the draft. He is average in speed (something he will really have to work on to succeed in the NHL) and shot, but his attention to detail makes him a potential star. Anything he lacks physically compared to the top players in the draft, he makes up for mentally. He's got the size and will power to be a champion.
Projection: Pick #16 to the Washington Capitals
17. RW Tom Wilson, Plymouth Whalers (OHL) - Honestly, Wilson is a less talented Faksa. Wilson is a power forward through and through with a big frame and mean streak. He is a late riser as well, flying up draft boards in the last few months. Simply put, he isn't going to give anyone an inch and if he is on your team, you are going to love him but playing against him is going to be absolutely no fun. He needs to work on his skating and passing, but fits in the mold of Milan Lucic if everything goes as planned, although most people fear he will never reach this potential. Projection: Pick #19 to the Tampa Bay Lightning
18. D Derrick Pouliot, Portland Winterhawks (WHL) - Don't worry, I didn't forget that we couldn't go two picks without a defenseman! Pouliot falls more into the Reilly mold as a very good offensive defenseman with elite passing and vision, as well as very good speed. He is, however, a little on the small side and not great at battling in front of the net. Any team that gets Derrick knows they are bringing in someone that will be an incredible power play quarterback, but may leave quite a bit to be desired in the defensive zone (would not fit will in Trotz's system). Still, he is a talented player that could be a solid second paring d-man in the mid first round. Projection: Pick #21 to the Buffalo Sabers
19. C Zemgus Girgensons, Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) Girgensons does a little bit of everything, but doesn't do anything at an elite level besides have an incredible name (can we please get an award for this?). Some people are really high on him, as I have seen him anywhere from 11 to 24. Personally, I am a bit lukewarm. At 6'2", he has good size and brings a lot of physical play. No one is going to question his desire to win and he gives it every shift. His two greatest weapons are his physical play and his never-say-die attitude, even if he doesn't have the talent of some of the guys ahead of him. Girgensons is a true blue collared player. While he doesn't have the top-notch upside of Galchenyuk or even Faksa, he is a very safe pick to make it to the NHL and be the 3rd line pivot that teams dread facing as he bulldozes over their top line. Projection: Pick #14 to the Calgary Flames
20. C Brendan Gaunce, Belleville Bulls (OHL) - When I was doing research on Gaunce, I could have sworn I had clicked on Mike Fisher's or even David Legwand's profile. This guy is the consummate Predator in every way. He is a center known for being effective in both zone, but not incredible in either. Versatile in every way, he can play in any situation, as well as being a productive winger when asked to do so. Gaunce is a big game, pressure player who will find a happy home centering the second or third line of an NHL team. Projection: Pick #23 to the Florida Panthers
21. D Matt Finn, Guelph Storm (OHL) - Finn, like many other defensive prospects in this draft, is simply solid all-around without being amazing at any one thing. He did put up 48 points in 61 games, but any defenseman that scores that often and still has a negative plus-minus rating is a slight red flag. Still, Finn is a solid, versatile defenseman that is never out of position and plays all facets of the game well but not great. Some people have him very high on their draft boards, but I do not. Projection: Pick #20 to the Philadelphia Flyers
22. D Brady Skjei, USA-U18 (USHL) - With a 6'3" frame, you'd expect Skjei to be a tough, physical player, but he simply is not any of that. Instead, he is a great skater that passes very well and is positionally sound which makes him a valuable defenseman. He has excellent anticipation and confidence, but isn't very dynamic offensively and is subtler in his abilities. I don't think we have really seen this guy do everything he can do as he has plenty of room to grow into his frame and develop a more explosive style of play. If he starts using his large frame, his value will only rise. Projection: Pick #24 to the Boston Bruins
23. RW Sebastien Collberg, Frolunda Indians (SEL) - While players like Wilson, Hertl, and others have trended upward on draft boards, Collberg has been in free fall. Most of this has to do with his smallish size. Collberg is a speedy, offensively gifted winger that can play physical (but you really don't want him to at NHL level), but is more effective in the European style of play. The undersized winger has some great talent, but his weight and height are big concerns. That said, he is a goal-scorer, and some team could get a steal in the late first round if he can bring the rest of his game up to match his exceptional shot. Projection: Pick #22 to the Pittsburgh Penguins
24. G Oscar Dansk, Byrans (SEL) - Our first goaltender on my list, Dansk is actually at the bottom of the holy trinity of goalies (Dansk, Subban, and Vasilevski) but I think he has the makings of being the best of them. While not all that impressive physically, Dansk has the "it" factor for me. He has great net presence and technique, something that can't be coached. Dansk is the most positionally sound of the goaltenders projected to go in the first round and has all the mental ability to be a stud between the pipes for an NHL team. Goaltending is 1/3 mental, 1/3 physical, and 1/3 emotional. Dansk has the two important ones (mental and emotional) down. Now he just has to get in the weight room with a good coach and get the physical part down. Projection: Pick #29 to the New Jersey Devils
25. C Stefan Matteau, USA-U18 (USHL) Matteau is a raw player who is aggressive and scary to play against. He needs to be refined and to some degree have his emotions reigned in, but his physical play and smooth skating point toward a long NHL career. He loves to crash the net and has the tenacity to be effective doing it, though sometimes Matteau may be a little too excited about his job. He is of decent height at 6'1", but he is thick and strong, weighing in at 210 lbs. Matteau is seen by most as an excellent bottom six forward in the NHL, but if he can put it all together, I think he could become more than that. Projection: Pick #25 to the St. Louis Blues
26. G Andrei Vasilevski, Ufa Tolpar (RUS) - Vasilevski is one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft. Andrei seems immune to the effects of pressure, and has all of the physical tools required of a starting goaltender. He played this season in the Russian equivalent to Major Juniors, but his real exposure and rise in draft stock came in the World Junior Championships, where he absolutely shined for Russia, posting a .953 save percentage. Andrei plays a mostly stand-up style, making him one of the few goaltenders in the world that does not consistently use the butterfly. There are questions about his consistency, and the Russian Factor is obviously in play, but he has the tools to be an NHL starter. It remains to be seen how his unusual style will carry over to the big leagues. Projection: Pick #31 to the Columbus Blue Jackets (2nd round pick)
27. LW Phillip Di Giuseppe, Michigan (CCHA) - Di Giuseppe may not have the best shot, but he is still an offensive weapon as he parks himself in front of the net effectively enough to score goals. Like the Predator's Patric Hornqvist, this University of Michigan winger goes to the front of the net without any fear (though he doesn't have to worry about Shea Weber's shot in the CCHA). As a Miami University alum, I remember dreading playing Michigan, especially when Di Giuseppe was on the ice. He is also every bit the competitor that Hornqvist is. He is a little bit light and needs to fill out his frame if he is going to succeed in the NHL. Mama Di Giuseppe needs to fill him up with some good home cooking. Projection: Pick #26 to the Vancouver Canucks
28. G Malcom Subban, Belleville Bulls (OHL) - The younger brother of the Habs P.K. Subban, Malcom is the top North American goaltender in the draft. I guess that's not too bad for a player who started playing goaltender at the age of 12. As might be expected for someone with only six years experience between the pipes, Subban is unrefined at worst. He is not NHL ready and is going to be a bit of a project for which ever team drafts him. He has exceptional movement, speed, and reflexes, but his positioning and form are hardly elite. That said, he will make serious improvement as he is still not even close to the top of his development curve. Subban is a risk, but if it works out, his athleticism, movement speed, and fiery attitude could make him Carey Price 2.0. Subban has the tools but questions remain if he can put it all together. Personally, I hope he does, as I would love to see Malcom and his brother pull shenanigans at the NHL All-Star Games. Projection: Pick #18 to the Chicago Blackhawks
29. RW Martin Frk, Halifax (QMJHL) - Another possible sleeper, Frk has been all over the map on most draft boards from top 15 to mid second round. He is a big forward with the touch of a goal scorer. Frk possesses one of the best shots in the draft and is a fiery player on top of that. Personally, I really think this kid has a very high ceiling. He has a very good chance at being an elite NHL sniper if he can bring it every night and work on his skating. If Frk drops any further than this, David Poile should really try to trade up to get him. Projection: Pick #27 to the Phoenix Coyotes
30. D Ludvig Bystrom, Modo (SEL) - A solid two way defenseman, Bystrom has the ability to be a decent 2nd pairing defenseman at NHL level. He uses his body well, moves the puck well, and is steady. He will need to put on some weight and try to learn the NHL game, but this shouldn't be a problem for a player with Bystrom's talent and vision. Projection: Pick #30 to the Los Angels Kings
31. LW Tanner Pearson, Barrie Colts (OHL) - Pearson is a truly bizarre case. He was drafted in the 16th round of the OHL entry draft, and then passed over not once, but twice in the NHL Draft. Now, as a 20 year old over-ager, he suddenly found his offensive game, and he found it in a big way, breaking out for 91 points in 61 games in the OHL. Certainly teams will be concerned that he is two years old than his competition, but anyone scoring nearly a point and half per game deserves consideration. He is effective both as a passer and shooter, and could be a dangerous player at the next level. This is another player Poile should strongly consider, especially if he drops out of the first round like some people project. Projection: Pick #28 to the New York Rangers
I am sure some of you are suffering from information overload at this point, but give me just a couple more minutes to list some names that the Predators might be interested in with their two second round picks (should they not trade them... but I think they will trade one).
With the 37th pick the Predators select...
D Dalton Thrower, Saskatoon (WHL)
C Lukas Sutter, Saskatoon (WHL)
LW Tanner Pearson, Barrie (OHL)
RW Martin Frk, Halifax (QMJHL)
C Mark Jankowski, Stanstead (QC)
D Jordan Schmaltz, Green Bay (USHL)
LW Nicolas Kerdiles, USNTDP (USHL)
With the 50th pick Predators select...
D Damon Severson, Kelowna (WHL)
LW Erik Karlsson, Frolunda HC (SWE)
D Jake McCabe, Wisconsin (WCHA)
C Devin Shore, Whitby (OJHL)
I would like to say a special thank you to my brother for helping me put this together and spending countless hours on the phone debating the merits of each prospect. My wonderful and beautiful girlfriend also deserves some recognition as she has been a trooper while I worked on perfecting this list.
Thanks for reading!