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Wealth of defensemen top 2012 draft class

by Brad Boron / Chicago Blackhawks
Ryan Murray leads all 2012 draft-eligible defenseman in the Central Scouting rankings (Photo by Getty Images).

The 2012 NHL Draft could well be remembered as “the year of the defenseman,” at least as far as the top of the class is concerned. Though winger Nail Yakupov is the top-ranked prospect in the draft, eight of the next eleven North American skaters in the Central Scouting rankings are blueliners, and they could well dominate the early part of the first round.

Leading the group are WHL rearguards Ryan Murray and Morgan Rielly, who both landed in CSS’ top five draft-eligible skaters. Further down the list are offensive defensemen such as Matt Dumba and Cody Ceci, who scored 57 and 60 points, respectively, this season.

Should the Blackhawks look for defense when the 18th overall pick rolls around, chances are a highly-touted prospect will still be on the board.

Ryan Murray, Everett (WHL)
CSS Ranking: 2nd among N.A. skaters

The youngest captain in Everett Silvertips history, Murray is known as a very well-rounded defenseman. Despite an injury, he still managed to record 31 points (9G, 22A) in 46 WHL games. A 2012 World Junior Championship participant, he was also the youngest player on Canada’s 2012 Ivan Hlinka Tournament team.

The Scouting Report:
"I think Murray is more like a Scott Niedermayer; he just does everything under the radar and so smooth you hardly notice it. His skating is probably the best in the WHL, but you don't really notice that so much because you almost take it for granted he's been there for three years. He never gets out of position and I've never seen him lose a one-on-one battle. He's always, defensively, in the right spots." [NHL Central Scouting]

Goals: 3 | Assists: 15 | Pts: 18
Morgan Rielly, Moose Jaw (WHL)
CSS Ranking: 5th among N.A. skaters

Prior to missing five months with a torn ACL, Rielly was a point-per-game player for Moose Jaw, recording three goals and 15 assists in 18 games. He returned for the start of the WHL Eastern Conference Final against the Edmonton Oil Kings, recording three assists in five games.

The Scouting Report:
“I've seen Rielly do things on the ice that nobody else was doing. I saw him make those little passes to guys who weren't expecting the puck to get there. He's the type of player who can lead the rush and he'll be the first guy back. I think his creativity makes him one of the top players in the league. He's like a chess player; he's thinking one or two moves ahead. He sees stuff coming that a lot of players don't see." [NHL Central Scouting]

Cody Ceci, Ottawa (OHL)
CSS Ranking: 6th among N.A. skaters

Already a good-sized defenseman at 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, Ceci finished second among OHL defensemen with 60 points (17G, 43A) in 64 games. Ceci shot up the CSS rankings; at midyear, he was ranked 16th among North American skaters.

The Scouting Report: “
Ceci is a very sound all-around defenseman who doesn't have a standout skill other than his hockey sense, but he does everything else at a fine level which in the big picture makes for a very good defenseman. Ceci is an above-average skater who skates very well for a bigger player. He's fluid, but not extremely fast but he really gets around in all directions well, activates efficiently off the point, and looks technically sound in his movements. Ceci is a plus thinker who sees the ice very well, can make good split second decisions, and is able to quarter back the power play.” [Hockey Prospectus]

Olli Maatta, London (OHL)
CSS Ranking: 8th among N.A. skaters

A native of Finland, Maatta made his OHL debut this season leading all rookie defensemen with 32 points (5G, 27A) in 58 games. He was selected to represent Finland at the 2012 World Junior Championship, but was injured in Finland’s opening game and was unable to participate in the remainder of the tournament. Maatta played in six games at the 2011 World Junior Championship, becoming the first player since 1998 to represent Finland in the tournament at the age of 16.

The Scouting Report:
“Maatta is an extremely advanced defenseman who thinks the game at a very high level. He would have been the #1 defenseman for Finland at the World Juniors—a very rare feat for a top nation at his age—if it wasn't for a concussion early in the event. He regularly logged 25 minutes per game in his first North American season in London—sometimes touching 30 minutes—as he is such a mistake-free shutdown defenseman who makes a very good first pass.” [Hockey Prospectus]

Goals: 9 | Assists: 22 | Pts: 31
Jacob Trouba, USTDP
CSS Ranking: 9th among N.A. skaters

In 50 games with the U.S. Under-18 team, Trouba scored 31 points (9G, 22A) in 50 games. He was the youngest player on Team USA at the 2012 World Junior Championship, recording three assists in six games. He has won two gold medals at the World Under-18 Championships, in both 2011 and 2012.

The Scouting Report:
"He has offense skills and he really does defend well. You can just tell by how he plays in all areas of the ice that he's a big kid who skates really well, he loves to jump into the play and has confidence because he knows his skating can get him back, so he rarely gets caught out of position. He's going to be someone people are going to talk about; we've known about him for a couple years and he hasn't disappointed." [NHL Central Scouting]

Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton (WHL)
CSS Ranking: 10th among N.A. skaters

The Scouting Report:
“Reinhart is a very toolsy big defenseman who has progressed nicely over the last year and even since the start of the season. He looks like a legit offensive defenseman who is well above average skill-wise considering his 6'4" frame. He's a smart player who is able to be effective in all situations and has learnt how to make the most of his tools, rather than your usual big defenseman who at 17-18 typically are much more raw. Reinhart is above average with the puck, showing good poise, and is quite calm under pressure. What separates him from other big defensemen is that he has the puck skills to make people miss, execute all the little plays in tight quarters, and to deliver crisp, accurate passes consistently.”

Matt Dumba, Red Deer (WHL)
CSS Ranking: 11th among N.A. skaters

The Scouting Report:
“Dumba is an electrifying and energetic talent who is the second-best pure talent on the back-end in this draft behind Morgan Rielly, but Dumba comes without the worry of a torn knee. Dumba is a well above-average skater who may touch elite level. His agility and overall first few steps are certainly plus plus which makes him a joy to watch with how effortlessly he flies around the ice. He's so hard to check in open ice and his skating makes him a prototypical weapon to bring the puck up out of his zone due to how easily he avoids pressure with his direction-changing ability or the speed he hits in full flight. Dumba also looks impressive with the puck and can make things happen with his puck handling.”

Derrick Pouliot, Portland (WHL)
CSS Ranking: 12th among N.A. skaters

The Scouting Report: “
Pouliot makes his living with the puck as he's an above-average puck-handler who looks smooth and coordinated when he's controlling the puck and is able to make opponents miss. Pouliot shows good creativity and translates that into his distribution game too. He's an accurate passer who can make a great outlet, has confidence and poise under pressure and when distributing into tight lanes and also doesn't hesitate from attempting the difficult feeds and has the ability to be effective doing so.” [Hockey Prospectus]

Matthew Finn, Guelph (OHL)
CSS Ranking: 16th among N.A. skaters

The Scouting Report:
“Finn took a ton of steps forward in his 17-year-old OHL season and really emerged onto the prospect scene. Finn was looked at last year as a fine defensive defenseman, but now has the looks of a great two-way player. He is much more conditioned than last year, which shows up in his skating. Finn is an above-average skater with fluid mobility and good acceleration, but he also doesn't lose a step late in the game even after logging big minutes.” [Hockey Prospectus]

Brady Skjei, USTDP
CSS Ranking: 19th among N.A. skaters

The Scouting Report:
“Skjei is quite an intriguing prospect to scout, as while average across the board aside from his size and skating, it's the latter that is clearly visible every time he plays and generates his value. Skjei is a well above-average to elite skater who moves as well as you'll find in a 6'3" player. I've seen instances where forwards would get two or three steps behind him and with a few side steps he would catch up to them. His first step is pretty explosive and makes him very dangerous on the rush as he regularly will take the puck out of his own end and bring it up through the opponent's blue line with ease.”

Other names to know:
Slater Koekkoek (Peterborough, OHL), Hampus Lindholm (Rogle Jr., SWE-Jr.), Dalton Thrower (Saskatoon, WHL), Jordan Schmaltz (Green Bay, USHL), Michael Matheson (Dubuque, USHL), Patrick Sieloff (USTDP)

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