Each year, the NHL Draft -- as it pertains to Fantasy Hockey -- comes with its share of uncertainties. For instance, the list of Calder Trophy finalists from each of the past four seasons indicates a common trend of at least one top-10 pick being recognized, but also proves that under-the-radar prospects are just as likely to burst onto the scene and display a seamless transition to the NHL level.
Whether a standout first-year player is a top-five pick from the most recent draft, a top-five pick from a past season's NHL Draft or a mid-to-late round pick, it remains unpredictable to detect when a given player will make his first mark in the League. Even last season, the list of first round draft picks to make a fantasy impact was limited to Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog, Adam Larsson, Sean Couturier and Sven Baertschi.
NHL.com fantasy insiders Pete Jensen and Sergei Feldman now take a look at the top three picks in the 2012 NHL Draft and weigh their potential in terms of fantasy value. Each analyst will also provide a sleeper pick to keep an eye on over the course of the 2012-13 NHL season. Keep in mind, while it's possible some of these prospects could return to their junior teams or only compete in the AHL this season, each player's fantasy projection is being made under the assumption that the given player will spend some time at the NHL level.
1st pick in 2012 NHL Draft
2011-12 team: Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Yakupov's polished offensive arsenal makes him nearly a lock to make the Oilers, and the strong chance that Yakupov gets a nine-game audition makes him more than worth grabbing in the final few rounds of any fantasy draft. This 18-year-old could give Edmonton a secondary scoring lift of 20-plus goals, 40-plus points and 150-plus SOG in his first NHL season. With Taylor Hall's status questionable for the start of the season in his recovery from shoulder surgery, Yakupov could be called upon early on to produce on the wing for new coach Ralph Krueger. He will likely be used in a myriad of situations alongside fellow youngsters Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Sam Gagner. Yakupov also has a notable power-play resume (12 PPG for Sarnia in 2011-12), which could pay dividends for the Oilers in as early as 2012-13. -- Jensen
After consecutive seasons at the bottom of the NHL standings, the Edmonton Oilers improved to second-to-last in 2011-12. The improvement may seem insignificant, but it allowed for the struggling franchise to select Nail Yakupov first-overall in the 2012 NHL Draft. Yakupov figures to play an integral role for the Oilers this season, following in the footsteps of Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Given the young talent around him, Yakupov's undeniable offensive skills will be showcased night in, night out, even with the growing pains that accompany a rookie. A sniper with playmaking abilities, Yakupov figures to be an adequate contributor in most offensive categories for your fantasy teams if you select him. A 20-goal, 50-point campaign is not out of the question for a guy who projects to be an NHL stud. -- Feldman
2nd pick in 2012 NHL Draft
2011-12 team: Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Murray has ready-made potential that could come to light as early as the 2012-13 season with the Blue Jackets. Columbus owned the League's worst record last season and has parted ways with its captain, Rick Nash, but the club sports an emerging defensive corps with the likes of Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski, Fedor Tyutin and newly-signed veteran Adrian Aucoin. If injuries impact the Jackets' lineup again this season, Murray could be given the green light in limited, but favorable situations where he can develop his scoring touch and gain some confidence. While he's not likely to have a Cam Fowler-type rookie campaign (10 G, 30 A, 123 SOG in '10-11), Murray should produce five-plus goals, 15-plus assists and close to 100 SOG in his debut season. Those kind of numbers from a first-year blueliner would ultimately warrant entry-level keeper status in such fantasy leagues. -- Jensen
While it's tempting to think about what could've been as it relates to Rick Nash in Columbus, the thinking should quickly move toward what will be. When the Blue Jackets drafted Ryan Murray second-overall, they got a franchise-caliber blueliner, who can be a fantasy force for owners everywhere. His large frame figures to get larger with time, enabling him to be a physical factor on the ice. Hits and PIMs are things to consider when it comes to Murray's game, but don't look past his instincts to get in to the offensive act. While the Blue Jackets have enough defenseman to start the season, Murray is at least a depth option. His youth can give him an edge over some veterans at different points throughout the season, but his talent certainly will help. -- Feldman
3rd pick in 2012 NHL Draft
2011-12 team: Sarnia Sting (OHL)
While it's probable Galchenyuk will not see time with the Canadiens this season, a strong training camp could award the American-born center with a chance to prove himself in a nine-game entry level tryout. Montreal will likely take a patient approach for Galchenyuk after he missed a large chunk of last season with an ACL injury, but the thought of incorporating an elite-level point-producing prospect (83 points in 68 games as an OHL rookie in 2010-11) to the fold is enticing for a team that is coming off an underachieving season. David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec and Lars Eller have the Habs staffed well at the center position, but Galchenyuk is a skilled distributor that can chip in at least 15 goals and 20 assists when he's called upon for a full season. If he gets a chance, he could inject some youth into a Montreal offense that was in the bottom half in the League in goals-per-game last season (2.52). -- Jensen
The Montreal Canadiens need top-six forward help and third-overall selection Alex Galchenyuk provides the stories franchise with just that. This guy can flat-out play. While a knee injury held him out of most of last season in the OHL, his skill set and production in 2010-11 are enough of a sample to suggest he's got what it takes to make noise in the NHL. A crafty playmaking center with size to get to tough areas, Galchenyuk can thrive offensively. While the Canadiens have options with their top-six forward crop, it's hard to find someone with the kind of already-seen talent and potential that Galchenyuk exhibits. Look for a potential 15-20 goal season to complement a balanced fantasy stat sheet in 2012-13. -- Feldman
FELDMAN'S SLEEPER PICK:
13th pick in 2012 NHL Draft
2011-12 team: Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Fantasy Scoop: When it comes to the NHL game, make no mistake, size matters. Radek Faksa, the 13th overall selection of the Dallas Stars, has some and more. Standing at 6-foot-3, 203-pounds, Faksa projects to be a power player for a Stars squad that's looking for forward contributions. The Czech native grew up idolizing Jaromir Jagr, a quintessential physical specimen. Fortunately, Faksa will get the chance to learn from the future Hall-of-Famer, as Jagr joined the Stars in the offseason. Playing alongside other talented forwards, Faksa could be relied upon to add some scoring touch, sure, but also be asked to deliver in other areas. From a fantasy perspective, the hits and potential PIMs are attractive, but here's a guy who netted 67 points in 62 games in the OHL, while accumulating a plus-19 rating. Faksa clearly knows his way around the ice. While it's possible those numbers won't quite translate immediately, he can still be an asset for fantasy owners. -- Feldman
JENSEN'S SLEEPER PICK:
RW Thomas Wilson, Washington Capitals
16th pick in 2012 NHL Draft
2011-12 team: Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
Fantasy Scoop: Like Faksa, Wilson's size is his greatest attribute, as the 6-foot-4, 203-pound forward has the discipline and confidence to be a fourth-line player for the Capitals very soon. He is not expected to make the team to begin the season, but his sizable frame and physicality in the offensive zone will enable him to rack up PIMs and create scoring chances once he gets his call. It's probably not worth taking a flyer on Wilson in a late round of a fantasy draft, but it would be a wise move for fantasy owners to monitor his development over the course of the season. He never hesitates to stick up for a teammate, and his totals of seven goals, six assists, a plus-10 rating and 39 PIMs in 13 OHL postseason games last season for Plymouth show he can make his presence felt on a number of different levels once he reaches the NHL.
Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen; Join in the conversation: @NHLFantasy
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