|Russian winger Nail Yakupov at the 2012 World Junior Championship (Photo by Getty Images).
Yes, they appear in Central Scouting’s ranking of top North American skaters, but many of the top forwards in the 2012 NHL draft class have a distinctly European flair to them.
It doesn’t take a big leap in logic to envision the 2012 NHL Draft kicking off with the selection of three Euro-born forwards: Russians Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko are the two top forwards playing in North America, according to Central Scouting Services, and big Swedish center Filip Forsberg currently sits atop CSS’s European skater rankings.
Though they hail from Eastern Europe, both Yakupov and Grigorenko have honed their craft in the Canadian junior hockey leagues – hence their rankings on the North American list – the former with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, and the latter on the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts.
But beyond those three top forwards is a deep draft, particularly in terms of the center position, and a wealth of NHL potential to select. Here is a breakdown of the draft’s top forwards, ranked with a combination of Central Scouting’s rankings, as well as NHL.com’s mock drafts.
Nail Yakupov, RW, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
CSS Ranking: 1st among N.A. Skaters
Despite missing time with an injury this season, Yakupov still posted impressive numbers in the Ontario Hockey League, compiling 69 points in 42 contests. His 101 points as a rookie in 2010-11 were the most by a first-year OHL player since Patrick Kane’s 145 points in 2006-07.
The Scouting Report: "His first step and ability to control bouncing pucks, knock them down and make a play are the best of any of the guys in the draft, in my opinion. He really gets up to top speed very quickly and his hands are outstanding. Like Pavel Bure, Yakupov is dangerous every shift. He may not have been dominant on every shift like Bure was, but he created something every shift … you have to be aware where he is on the ice all the time." [NHL Central Scouting]
Mikhail Grigorenko, C, Quebec (QMJHL)
CSS Ranking: 3rd among N.A. Skaters
In his first season playing the North American game, Grigorenko still managed to post impressive numbers in the Q, leading all rookies with 40 goals. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound center is already big enough to compete at the NHL level, and is known as a good passer and smooth skater.
The Scouting Report: “He's the type of player that controls the whole pace of the game. He can play with the puck at the same pace he plays without the puck. He sees the ice and opportunities really well. He can hang onto it longer than most players; some players might feel that they have to move it quickly, but Mikhail has the patience and the ability to see opportunities and let them develop, which is a special skill. He's got a big, long reach and an ability to move in traffic with his size. He's the kind of forward who will control the play and make things happen." [NHL Central Scouting]
Filip Forsberg, C, Leskand (SWE-2)
CENTER - LESKAND (SWE-2)
Goals: 8 | Assists: 9 | Pts: 17
CSS Ranking: 1st among European Skaters
One of the youngest players in the draft – his birthday isn’t until August – Forsberg played most of his season with Leskand of Sweden’s second division league. He compiled eight goals and nine assists in 43 games, playing against adults. He was also the youngest player on Team Sweden at the 2012 World Junior Championships, helping his team capture their first World Junior gold medal since 1981.
The Scouting Report: “A leader who shows by example -- I would compare him to Anaheim's Corey Perry a little bit. Has a nose for the net, and often scores the big goals. He's a creative playmaker, good skater with fine straight-ahead speed. He's a right-handed forward with an excellent shot and an effective two-way player with a great winning attitude. Filip's a solid puck carrier with very good puck-handling skills; mature, good size and physically strong. On top of that, he'll sacrifice himself to make the play.” [NHL Central Scouting]
Alex Galchenyuk, C, Sarnia (OHL)
CSS Ranking: 4th among N.A. Skaters
A preseason knee injury limited Galchenyuk to all but the last two regular season games and six games playoff games; he recorded four points (2-2--4) during Sarnia’s first round loss to Saginaw. The son of a former Russian-league and North American minor leaguer, Galchenyuk was born in Milwaukee when his father was playing for the IHL’s Admirals.
The Scouting Report: “He's a very talented playmaker who has a pass-first mentality, thinks the game at a high level, and his decisions require little processing time. He's very coordinated in tight, showing plus puck skills and great creativity. While he can do great things in open ice, he's also dangerous on the cycle with a big body and a good physical work ethic that makes it very hard for opponents to strip possession from him. Galchenyuk is a very hard worker who shows commitment at the defensive end of the rink, and outside of the knee injury, he has no aspect about his profile that you cannot praise.” [Hockey Prospectus]
Tuevo Teravainen, LW, Jokerit-Jr. (FIN-Jr.)
CSS Ranking: 2nd among European Skaters
Though he’s just a few days ahead of being eligible for the 2013 draft instead, Teravainen more than held his own in Finland’s top league this season, scoring 18 points (7G, 11A) in 40 games.
The Scouting Report: Teravainen is an impressive skater with a great first few steps who can get to a dangerous top speed that puts defenders on their heels, while also showing the ability to change gears quickly, and is very elusive from a standstill. His combination of quickness and speed is a great asset but his possession skills are even better and really drive top-end value. Teravainen has high-end puck skills which when combined with the ability he has with his feet, allow him to make very rapid movements with the puck and create space for himself in an instant. Tervainen has plus vision and regularly makes very aware distributions with regular moments of flash in his playmaking. He's the kind of player who scouts describe as "a player who sees everything." [Hockey Prospectus]
CENTER - BELLEVILLE (OHL)
Goals: 28 | Assists: 40 | Pts: 68
Radek Faska, C, Kitchener (OHL)
CSS Ranking: 7th among N.A. Skaters
The Scouting Report: “He's a solid to above-average skater with nice acceleration and who can get to a desirable top speed. Faksa's puck skills are above-average as well and he's certainly effective controlling the puck. He will show the ability to be a good puck distributer, though I have heard conflicting reports on this area of his game from scouts as some think he's just solid and other think potentially high end. How well he has adjusted to the OHL pace has been impressive as he makes quick decisions in a fast Junior league.” [Hockey Prospectus]
Brendan Gaunce, C, Belleville (OHL)
CSS Ranking: 13th among N.A. Skaters
The Scouting Report: “Gaunce has shown an ability to put the puck in the net, with 28 goals in 68 games, en route to a point-per-game season with the Bulls. He doesn't have NHL-caliber skating yet but is putting in the work to improve upon it. He is a true intangibles guy — he's an excellent face-off guy and is willing to work hard in the grittier areas of the ice. Gaunce's backchecking is solid and he's always a good bet to come out of the corner with the puck.” [HockeysFuture.com]
Stefan Matteau, C, USTDP
CSS Ranking: 17th among N.A. Skaters
The Scouting Report: “He was very polarizing in regards to his pure upside and what to degree each of his main tools were. He's an above-average skater who gets a lot of power generated from each stride. He's improved his acceleration and he's surprisingly quick now I would say for a power forward. I personally have been 50/50 on his skating when I've watched him, but just about every scout I've talked to has praised it. Matteau also has pretty good hands, showing the ability to make plays in tight spaces with the puck and create some offense at even strength. I don't see him as a particularly instinctive and awe-inspiring offensive player, but he has enough to his tool kit to make some things happen. Matteau is a pretty physical player, who despite average size, looks to be able to win battles against 6'3" or 6'4" opponents as he shows good physical effort, is very strong, and loves to throw his weight around.” [Hockey Prospectus]
Sebastian Collberg, RW, Frodula (SWE)
CSS Ranking: 3rd among European Skaters
The Scouting Report: “Collberg got a very small amount of minutes in the SEL after being a top scorer in the Swedish U20 league as a 16-year-old. In international events, he was much better and produced a lot. Collberg is a true plus skater who is very well rounded in that aspect of the game.” [Hockey Prospectus]
Martin Frk, RW, Halifax (QMJHL)
CSS Ranking: 20th among N.A. Skaters
The Scouting Report: “Frk is a very skilled player who has the ability that—if he pans out—to make a lot of highlight reels. He has excellent puck skills with a lot of flash to his game and looks very coordinated while handling the puck.” [Hockey Prospectus]
Other names to know: C Colton Sissons (Kelowna, WHL), RW Thomas Wilson (Plymouth, OHL), C Zemgus Girgensons (Dubuque, USHL), LW Phillip Di Giuseppe (U. of Michigan, CCHA), LW Pontus Aberg (Djurgardens, SWE), C Tomas Hertl (Slava, CZE)