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Posted On Wednesday, 01.25.2012 / 4:17 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Craig Button's top 2012 draft prospects



Not soon after NHL Central Scouting released its midseason list of the top North American and European skaters for the 2012 NHL Draft, did NHL Network analyst Craig Button offer the top 10 prospects in his cross-hairs.

Not surprisingly, Button's list is chock full of talented defensemen and centers -- two areas of strength in this year's talented crops. The top player on his list is Nail Yakupov, the Russian flash from the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League.

Here is Button's personal top 10 with some commentary on each prospect. The number in parenthesis represents the ranking issued by NHL Central Scouting earlier this month.

10 (9) - Jacob Trouba, USA U18 NTDP (USHL), D -- "A real terrific two-way defenseman. As he grows into his body, I think he has a chance to be a real force in that area of the game."

9 (3) - Ryan Murray, Everett (WHL), D -- "Is one of those guys that winning teams have. He doesn't make mistakes, he's steady and coaches will put guys like this on the ice because they know that nothing bad will happen. He's smart, a good skater. He's maybe not that dynamic offensively, but a very consistent, reliable defenseman."

8 (15) - Matthew Finn, Guelph (OHL), D -- "I just love Matt Finn because I think he's developed so much from the beginning of the season until now. To me, he reminds me of my dear late friend, Brad McCrimmon. Brad was a guy who could control the game in so many different ways, and that's what I see when I watch Matt Finn."

7 (2) - Mikhail Grigorenko, Quebec (QMJHL), C -- "Everybody needs centers, and the bigger the center, the better. Grigorenko qualifies under both traditions and he's a guy who might not have the greatest finishing ability, but he's a real strong playmaker who uses his size effectively. He's a strong skater and he has a lot of potential. He's one of the very few guys who could challenge the very top part of the draft, maybe even No. 1."

6 (8) - Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton (WHL), D -- "His brother was drafted by Calgary, and he has a younger brother up and coming. Griffin is different and the defensemen in the draft all have different qualities. They're big, strong and raw. But when he gets his confidence, size and physically matures, watch out, because he'll be a force."

5 (LV) - Alex Galchenyuk, Sarnia (OHL), C -- "He's been out with the ACL, rehabbing and trying to get back to the ice before the end of the season. But he's another center, a dynamic playmaker. He makes others around him better and he's a really strong competitor."

4 (5) - Morgan Rielly, Moose Jaw (WHL), D -- "Another top player who had ACL surgery … he had it in November. When I think of Morgan Rielly, I think of a guy who completes plays. He's always puts the puck on your stick, creates scoring chances. He gets out of trouble and the way the game is played now at the NHL level, guys that are so dynamic and can transition from defense to offense, are very desirable."

3 (1 Euros) - Filip Forsberg, Leksand (SWE), C -- "He was a member of Team Sweden's gold medal team at the World Junior Championship, where he played a regular shift. He's big and strong, and loves to shoot the puck. He's got great hands and a great release and he's hungry to score. He gets the puck and gets directly to the net. I see some shades of Brendan Shanahan in terms of that release he possesses."

2 (7) - Mathew Dumba, Red Deer (WHL), D -- "Every time I watch him play, all I see is continued progress in his game. I watch and I don't see any area of his game that he cannot only play in, but can dominant and excel in. He reminds me of Chris Chelios, with a little bit of Scott Stevens."

1 (1) - Nail Yakupov, Sarnia (OHL), RW -- "Suffered a knee injury but that won't hold him out. He's dynamic, electric. Not only is he a competitor, but he has the great skills to finish and make plays. He pulls people out of their seats. Hey NHL fans, he'll be a treat to watch once he reaches the NHL."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Wednesday, 01.25.2012 / 10:02 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Grigorenko returns to form with Remparts

Top draft prospect Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has left little doubt that he remains an extremely viable draft option despite missing some time with an ankle injury this season.

Since returning to Remparts lineup two games ago on Jan. 21, Grigorenko has responded with two goals. On Tuesday, he scored in regulation and then connected for the decisive goal in the third round of a shootout to lead Quebec over the Chicoutimi Sagueneens at the Georges Centre in Chicoutimi.

Grigorenko scored both his goals against Chicoutimi's Christopher Gibson, a second-round (No. 49) draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings last June. A player many expect to be drafted among the top three choices at the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh on June 22, Grigorenko took two shots on goal and won 7 of 18 face-offs in Tuesday's win.



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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 1:11 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Players to watch at USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game

There's no question power-forward Zemgus Girgensons of the Dubuque Fighting Saints will be one player on the radar of NHL scouts and general managers during the inaugural USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game scheduled Tuesday at L.C. Walker Arena in Muskegon, Mich.

For more on the big Latvian, who is ranked No. 12 among North American skaters according to NHL Central Scouting's midterm report, click here.

The USHL Top Prospects game will include 40 of the league's top young players. In addition Girgensons, there's Matthew DeBlouw of the Muskegon Lumberjacks and Robert Baillargeon of the Indian Ice, goalie Jon Gillies of Indiana and defensemen Jordan Schmaltz of the Green Bay Gamblers, Mike Matheson of Dubuque and Brian Cooper of the Fargo Force.

Here's a capsule look at a few other players considered to be first or second-round material when the NHL Draft is staged at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on June 22-23.
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Posted On Thursday, 01.19.2012 / 4:36 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Grigorenko could return to lineup on Tuesday

Top draft prospect Mikhail Grigorenko, who has missed the last four games for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League while recuperating from an ankle injury suffered at the 2012 World Junior Championship, is expected to make his anticipated return on Tuesday.

Remparts head coach Patrick Roy told local reporters that Grigorenko, who is ranked No. 2 among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting's midterm report, "seems fine."

"The goal has always been that he'll make his comeback [Jan. 24] in Chicoutimi," Roy said. Quebec has two more games on the schedule before meeting the Sagueneens on Jan. 24.

Grigorenko suffered his injury playing for silver medal-winning Team Russia at the WJC. During the second period of an eventual 14-0 victory over Latvia in the preliminary round, Grigorenko collided with Latvian defender Arturs Salija at the Russian blueline -- sending him to the ice in pain. He'd miss one game and finish the tournament with 2 goals, 5 points and a plus-2 rating in six appearances.

Despite not playing a period of hockey for the Remparts upon returning from the WJC, Grigorenko still stands 11th in scoring in the league with 58 points (25 goals) in 36 games.

Once he returns to the lineup, the 6-foot-3 1/4, 200-pound center will certainly command the attention of NHL scouts and general managers.

According to NHL Director of Central Scouting, Dan Marr, Grigorenko is not too far behind No. 1-ranked Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting in terms of natural talent. At the time of Central Scouting's midterm release, Marr told NHL.com that Yakupov and Grigorenko were 1-A and 1-B in his mind.

"Right now, Yakupov has shown, with the level that he's played, that he does have the ability to make a difference in the game," Marr told NHL.com at the time. "That's not saying that Grigorenko doesn't make a difference. Grigorenko controls the play, can dictate how the game is played when he's on the ice. But, right now, the consensus was Yakupov has the potential to be a difference-maker in a game. He can just turn a game around in a couple of shifts; he's that dynamic a player."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Friday, 01.13.2012 / 12:33 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Kulak to replace Koekkoek at Top Prospects

Vancouver Giants defenseman Brett Kulak, ranked No. 67 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters, will replace injured Slater Koekkoek of the Peterborough Petes for the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Kelowna later this month.

Koekkoek suffered a shoulder injury midway through the third period of a 6-3 loss to the Windsor Spitfires on Nov. 27 after being hit along the boards while reaching for the puck. He's scheduled to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery on Jan. 20.

In 26 games his season, Koekkoek, who is No. 17 on Central Scouting's list of North American skaters, has 5 goals and 18 points with 17 penalty minutes.

Kulak, a 6-foot-0.25, 174-pound native of Stony Plain, Alta., is in his second season with the Western Hockey League's Giants. He has 4 goals, 11 points and a plus-22 rating in 42 games for Vancouver this season. Kulak will replace Koekkoek on Team Cherry at the Top Prospects Game, scheduled Feb. 1 in Kelowna.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Friday, 01.13.2012 / 12:04 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Kitchener's Matia Marcantuoni suffers injury

Kitchener Rangers forward Matia Marcantuoni, who was ranked No. 42 among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting's midterm report, will be sidelined indefinitely after suffering an upper body injury in a victory over the Erie Otters on Jan. 7.

"He's dealing with injury problems right now which may cost him the rest of this year," Kitchener coach and general manager Steve Spott told NHL.com. "We'll know more this week."

The injury shouldn't affect Marcantuoni's draft status -- he is projected to be selected in the second or third round. It remains to be seen whether or not Marcantuoni will attend the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, scheduled Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 in Kelowna, as a spectator.

Marcantuoni was invited to the Top Prospects Game along with Kitchener teammate and No. 4-ranked North American, Radek Faksa. Both players were placed on Team Orr.
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Posted On Thursday, 01.12.2012 / 11:52 AM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Stefan Matteau opts for QMJHL instead of UND

Stefan Matteau, who currently leads the Under-18 National Team Development Program in scoring, has decided to play for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League next season instead of suiting up for the University of North Dakota.

Matteau's father, a 13-year NHL veteran, was hired as an assistant coach for Blainville-Boisbriand prior to the start of the 2011-12 campaign. The Quebec team acquired Stefan's rights on Jan. 7 via a trade. While he signed his letter of intent in November, it didn't keep him from exploring other options, particularly when it included having an opportunity to play for his father.

Matteau, who models his game after Eric and Jordan Staal, used his Twitter account on Tuesday morning to announce his decision.

"My decision is final," he wrote.

Matteau, who turns 18 on Feb. 23, was one of four players from the U.S. U18 Team to be ranked by NHL Central Scouting among the top 30 skaters eligible for the 2012 Draft in Pittsburgh in June.

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Posted On Thursday, 12.15.2011 / 12:51 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Murray and Pearson earn spots for Team Canada

It's interesting to note that two players eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft will play a part for Canadian National Junior Team coach Don Hay in the anticipated 2012 World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Calgary, Alta., later this month.

             Tanner Pearson, Barrie Colts (OHL)
Not surprisingly, defenseman Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips in the Western Hockey League will be looked upon to stabilize the back end. Meanwhile, forward Tanner Pearson of the Barrie Colts had really been ripping up the Ontario Hockey League prior to attending Canada's three-day selection camp. His inclusion on this team, particularly since he has quite the chemistry with Barrie teammate and Canada's likely top-line center Mark Scheifele, isn't a surprise either.

Both players on Thursday were also invited to participate in the 2012 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game scheduled Feb. 1 in Kelowna, B.C. Pearson will play for Team Orr and Murray will dress for Team Cherry.

"Tanner has made a steady improvement each season," NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "This season he has broken out and has led the league in scoring almost from the start of the season."

Pearson leads the OHL with 66 points, including 26 goals and 40 assists, through 30 games with the Colts this campaign.

"He's become a skilled forward with lots of finish around the net," Edwards said. "He has very good hands and can handle the puck very well in traffic. He also has very good play-making ability and sees the ice and passes the puck as well as anyone. He is creative and highly skilled."

No wonder Hockey Canada's managerial team opted to keep the 6-foot, 198-pound Pearson.

Three other players considered to be blue chip prospects were sent home, including defensemen Mathew Dumba of the Red Deer Rebels (WHL), Cody Ceci of the Ottawa 67's (OHL) and forward Philliip Di Giuseppe of the University of Michigan. Dumba is rated No. 3 according to NHL Central Scouting's preliminary WHL list. Ceci is rated No. 10 in the OHL and Di Giuseppe is the lone 'A Watch Player' in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

Murray is the second member of the Silvertips to represent Canada at the World Juniors. Goaltender Leland Irving, currently in the Calgary Flames organization, was a member of Canada's gold-medal squad in 2007. He has three goals and 7 points in 11 games this season for Everett.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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Posted On Sunday, 12.11.2011 / 9:18 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Yakupov returns after seven-game absence

After sitting out the previous seven games with a sore back, Sarnia Sting right wing Nail Yakupov returned to the lineup on Sunday and was one major pain in the neck for the Peterborough Petes.

Yakupov chipped in with a goal and two assists to help lead the Sting to a 4-2 victory over the Petes in an Ontario Hockey League matchup at the RBC Centre in Sarnia. It was just the contribution the Sting needed in snapping a two-game losing streak and improving to 18-9-1-4 on the season.

"He's a very special player," Sting head coach Jacques Beaulieu told Dave Borody of sarniasting.com. "Star players have that knack of being game breakers and changing the momentum of the game. He came back today and had three points. Not bad for a guy who missed the past two weeks."

Yakupov, who was named the game's second star, is projected by many to be the No. 1 overall pick at the 2012 Draft in Pittsburgh on June 22. Despite missing nearly two weeks, Yakupov would score the first of four Sarnia Sting goals in second period.

He leads the team with 19 goals, 11 power-play goals, 49 points and a plus-17 rating in 24 matches. Last year, Yakupov led his team and all OHL rookies in scoring with 101 points, including 49 goals, in 65 games.

There's a good chance Yakupov will be selected for the Russian National Junior Team that will play in the 2012 World Junior Championship in Calgary beginning Dec. 26. The Russians are the defending WJC gold medalist.

According to NHL Central Scouting, Yakupov's agent, Igor Larionov has advised Russian coach Valeri Bragin that Yakupov will travel to the team's camp in Calgary on Dec. 18. Russia will have two exhibition games prior to the start of the tournament -- on Dec. 20 against Team USA in Red Deer and Dec. 22 against Czech Republic in Lethbridge.

Earlier this season, Yakupov's linemate and fellow Russian countryman, Alex Galchenyuk, suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and underwent surgery. He is still at least four months away from returning to the lineup. Galchenyuk suffered his injury on Sept. 16 in a preseason game against the Windsor Spitfires.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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Posted On Saturday, 12.10.2011 / 12:28 PM

By Mike G. Morreale -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Road to 2012 NHL Draft

Martin Frk returns to lineup for Halifax Mooseheads

One of the top prospects eligible for the 2012 Draft, Martin Frk of the Halifax Mooseheads, made his season debut on Friday against P.E.I. Rocket after sitting out the first 29 games with a concussion.

Frk, who hadn't played since suffering his head injury in August, was medically cleared to return to the lineup on Tuesday according to Mooseheads general manager Cam Russell.

Frk, who is rated No. 2 among skaters in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League by NHL Central Scouting, had 22 goals and 50 points in 62 games as a QMJHL rookie last season and 4 goals and 2 assists in three pre-season games in August before his injury. His return wasn't memorable, however, as the Rocket came away with a 6-1 victory.

Frk didn't register a point but took two shots and even delivered one hit.

According to Willy Palov, who covers the Mooseheads for The Chronicle Herald, Frk played approximately 15-to-17 minutes and looked good for a skater who hadn't played in three months. Palov also felt Frk's timing wasn't quite "there" and he needed at least two periods to get his bearings. That's expected though. Read Palov's recap of Friday's game right here.

First-year coach Dominique Ducharme had his 18-year-old Czech Republic sniper on a line with Nathan MacKinnon and Alex Grenier on the team's top line to open the game. MacKinnon, a rookie center, would leave the game with an injury in the third period after suffering an apparent shoulder injury. He was scheduled to be re-examined on Saturday.

It remains to be seen if Frk will join the Czech Republic at the 2012 World Junior Championship. As the youngest player to represent the Czech Republic at the 2011 WJC, the 6-foot, 203-pound right wing led the team with 3 goals and 6 points in six games. Frk also competed in the 2010 and '11 Under-18 World Championships, tying for the team lead in scoring in 2010 (2 goals, 7 points) and in 2011 (4 assists, 5 points).

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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