PITTSBURGH -- The trend of players stepping from the draft stage to the NHL seems to be one that grows every year.
Seven players picked in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft played in the League this past season, with four -- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Adam Larsson and Sean Couturier -- lasting all season.
Could that many -- or more -- from the 2012 draft do the same?
"I have a basic belief that I don't know if 18-year-olds should be playing in the League," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com. "But if they're ready , who's to say they can't or shouldn't?"
A growing number of teams seem to have more of a liberal approach with how they handle their newest prospects, allowing them to stick around deep into training camp and even making the opening-night roster.
So what makes a teenager ready to play in the NHL?
"That's a very individual decision the teams make if the player is ready for not," Marr said. "It's the physical maturity and the overall maturity of the player, whether or not he's capable of staying in the lineup and contributing. I think they want the player to be able to play and develop. It's no good for him to be sitting around and not playing."
The common belief is that defensemen generally take longer to develop their full skill set than forwards, and with this year's draft class deep in talented blueliners, it could mean we see fewer players stepping right into the League. However, Marr said some members of the 2012 draft class could be talented enough to buck that trend.
"This year is so deep in defensemen, and defensemen need a little extra time in their development before they're ready to play at a contributing level in the NHL," Marr said. "All along we've stated we think Ryan Murray and Olli Maatta have it in them to make an NHL team out of training camp, but there's nothing that says Alex Galchenyuk can't go in and make a team. [Nail] Yakupov is going to get every chance to make a team. [Mikhail] Grigorenko could go in and make a team out of training camp."
Murray, No. 2 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for this year's draft, already has a bit of high-level experience, having played for Canada at the 2012 IIHF World Championship. He's also played three full seasons with the Everett Silvertips in the Western Hockey League. He told NHL.com he believes he's ready to move on to the next level.
"That's my goal," he said of playing in the NHL next season. "It's obviously an extremely hard League to make, but it's my goal for next year. That's where I want to be, but I know I have a lot of work to do if I'm going to do that.
"I think you've got to go in there and want to make it and put everything out there. … I'm going to go in there with everything I've got and hopefully I can crack the lineup somewhere."
Yakupov, ranked No. 1 on Central Scouting's North American list, echoed those sentiments: "I want to play in the NHL, that's it. That's what my dream is. That simple."
The top-ranked players aren't the only ones who believe they have a chance to play in the NHL as teenagers. Red Deer's Mathew Dumba, No. 11 on Central Scouting's list, was emphatic when asked if he was ready to play in the NHL in 2012-13.
"Yes I do," he said. "I know myself, and knowing myself I know I'm a guy who loves to compete and will do anything it takes to get to the next level next year. Whatever the coach asks of me, I'll do it. I think my game allows me to [play in the NHL], being such a versatile guy."
Dumba said beyond his vast skill set, it's the attitude he plans to bring to his first NHL training camp -- it basically will be to make that team's decision on whether to keep him or send him back to juniors a difficult one.
"You have to approach it like an animal -- you're going out to destroy," he said. "You're going to be number one, you're going to be that guy that goes in there and you just have that confidence that you can't be stopped. I think that confidence and having that belief in yourself can get someone a very long way."
Not all prospects have that same level of bravado, but Marr said he's not ready to count out any of the top prospects from stepping into the NHL next season.
"These kids are all at that stage in their development where anything is possible," he said.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor