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2012 defensemen measure well against 2008 group

Friday, 02.10.2012 / 11:50 AM / 2012 NHL Draft

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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2012 defensemen measure well against 2008 group
The 2008 Entry Draft class featured a number of outstanding defensemen. Could the 2012 draft class of blueliners approach that heralded group? Some scouts think so.
When the top players available for the 2008 Entry Draft met in January 2008 in Edmonton for that year's CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, the list of defensemen on the ice read like a listing of the top 22-and-under defensemen currently in the NHL.

On the ice that night were blueliners Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Luke Schenn, Alex Pietrangelo, Tyler Myers and Michael Del Zotto, among others.

Four years later, when this year's crop of top draft-eligibles met in Kelowna, B.C., for the 2012 Top Prospects Game, the list of available defensemen could run deeper and be just as talented as that 2008 group.

Scouts certainly are excited by the potential shown by this year's group.

"Both years there were pretty high-end defensemen as far as young prospects … maybe a little more high-end skill out of this group." -- Capitals Director of Amateur Scouting Ross Mahoney

"Everyone knew Drew coming into the (draft) year, much like we know some of these defensemen," Calgary Flames Director of Scouting Tod Button told NHL.com. "I would say it's pretty comparable. You don't want to put limits on kids, you don't want to say one of these kids won't be Drew Doughty as a rookie in the NHL. I think it's very, very similar. I would have to give the edge to the 2008 group because they've done it already, but as far as at this stage at the same time, it's very close."

"I think there's similarities," Washington Capitals Director of Amateur Scouting Ross Mahoney told NHL.com. "Both years there were pretty high-end defensemen as far as young prospects … maybe a little more high-end skill out of this group."

That's pretty impressive when you consider Doughty has an Olympic gold medal, Myers has a Calder Trophy and Pietrangelo, Del Zotto, Bogosian and Schenn are top-two pairing defensemen on their teams.

This year's group, though, has something special to it.

That starts with the Everett Silvertips' Ryan Murray, the top-rated blueliner in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters. At 6-foot and 201 pounds, he doesn't have dominating size, nor do his offensive numbers jump off the page -- he has 8 goals and 13 assists in 28 games -- but Murray is nearly unflappable with the puck, and his poise and smarts have earned him high praise from scouts.

"Murray is one of those calm, cool and collected guys … an excellent skater with a lot of poise," said NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory. "He really defends well because he's so confident skating backwards and really uses his positioning well. He'll end up with a ton of assists."

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MID-TERM RANKINGS
Murray may be on top of the rankings, but he's far from the only highly-regarded defenseman. Seven of the top 10 and 11 of the top 20 players in Central Scouting's midterm ranking are defensemen.

Sharing space with Murray in the top 10 are the Moose Jaw Warriors' Morgan Rielly, the London Knights' Olli Maatta, the Red Deer Rebels' Mathew Dumba, Griffin Reinhart of the Edmonton Oil Kings, Jacob Trouba of the U.S. National Team Development Program's under-18 team and Derrick Pouliot of the Portland Winterhawks.

All bring something different, but they all have one thing in common -- a high level of talent.

"I would say this year's group overall seems to be a fairly offensive group when you look at the offensive capabilities of the Pouliots and the Dumbas and the Reinharts and Riellys," Mahoney said.

Dumba might be the most explosive offensively. He's second among Western Hockey League defenseman with 16 goals, and has 38 points in 50 games. And at 6-foot and 183 pounds, he's willing and able to throw his weight around. His big third-period hit on Radek Faksa at the Top Prospects Game led to him engaging in a fight.

"He's a big kid, he can skate -- he's exciting," said three-time Stanley Cup champion Mark Recchi, who coached Dumba at the Top Prospects Game. "He loves being out there. Everything is full-speed ahead, and I love that. You can tell he loves being out here. His excitement for the game is great."

Murray and Dumba, along with Pouliot and Reinhart, were able to showcase their skill at the Top Prospects Game (Maatta missed the game due to illness), and all were impressive.

One player who didn't make the trip to Kelowna, B.C., for the game is a guy at least one scout was most looking forward to seeing -- Rielly, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in November. The 5-11 1/2, 190-pound blueliner had 18 points in 18 games prior to getting injured.

"He has the wow factor," San Jose Sharks Director of Scouting Tim Burke told NHL.com. "He's an exciting player you're going to have reel in a little bit, but if he's not hurt, he's a different kind of player. He's got the great speed. He's a risky guy, but he's fun to watch."

That's what scouts were saying about the crop of 2008 defensemen. At the 2008 Entry Draft, four went in the top five -- Doughty (second, Kings), Bogosian (third, Thrashers), Pietrangelo (fourth, Blues) and Schenn (fifth, Maple Leafs), and 12 went in the first round, including Myers, who went 12th to the Sabres; Erik Karlsson, taken 15th the Senators; Jake Gardiner, who went 17th to the Ducks; Del Zotto, taken No. 20 by the Rangers; and John Carlson, taken at No. 27 by the Capitals.

The Everett Silvertips' Ryan Murray is the top-rated blueliner in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters. (Photo: Frank Deines III)
"Scouts in general were saying they wouldn't be surprised at the end of the day if Myers ended up being better than some of the other guys (picked) ahead of him," said Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr, who worked for the Thrashers in 2008. "You can say the same thing about a couple of kids in this draft, too, like Pouliot or Reinhart could be better than some of the guys ranked ahead of him."

Scouts talked to by NHL.com said the 2012 Draft could feature as many as 15 defensemen -- half the first round -- among the first 30 picks.

"The defense core of this draft runs well into the second round," Button said. "At the top end, I think time will tell as far as who becomes the Drew Doughty and Alex Pietrangelo. As far as the depth for defensemen, this is a much deeper defense draft."

While there's a long way before this year's crop of blueliners can be compared to the rich crop of 2008 picks. The early results, however, make for a valid comparison.

"We can't see into the future there, but some of the kids from '08, they're just coming into their own now," Marr said. "The best is yet to come for a couple of those guys. It does take time. You can't accelerate development. You can do what you can, but these kids certainly have the abilities, the hockey sense, to make a same or better impact than the 2008 group."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

 
2012 NHL Draft