Expect the rumor mill to be at an all-time high when the 2012 NHL Draft is staged at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on June 22-23.
The reason is obvious. Many believe Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini will trade the No. 1 pick, a position he's held the past two years, in order to gain additional assets while selecting further down the order to draft a future star along the blue line. The organization covets a defenseman after striking it rich the past two seasons with top-pick forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011 and Taylor Hall in 2010.
"There's always so much talk on draft day of trading, but I feel this year there will be some significant movement," Tambellini said. "I do feel that.
"For us to move the No. 1 pick, it would have to be quite a significant proposal. The idea is to project on who will be the best player for your team. Most teams have different opinions on what's best for them. That's what we'll do. We'll decide which player is the best player for the Edmonton Oilers."
The Oilers finished 29th in the 2011-12 standings, but earned the No. 1 choice after winning the NHL Scotiabank Draft Lottery on April 10. So will Tambellini complete the natural hat trick and select NHL Central Scouting's No. 1-ranked North American skater, Sarnia Sting right wing Nail Yakupov?
Yakupov has been atop Central Scouting's list of draft-eligible North American skaters all season. With his explosive offensive abilities, placing Yakupov on a line with Hall and Nugent-Hopkins would have Edmonton fans on the edge of their seats for the foreseeable future.
The city of Pittsburgh is ready for the NHL Draft.
On June 22 and 23 at Consol Energy Center, one of the NHL's signature events will be returning to the Steel City for the first time since the summer of 1997.
That year, at the old Civic Arena, the Boston Bruins selected Joe Thornton at No. 1 and the San Jose Sharks chose Patrick Marleau second. The Penguins, who selected No. 17, chose forward Robert Dome.
Penguins GM Ray Shero anticipates plenty of fun and excitement in the week leading up to the draft.
"It's going to be a hockey week in Pittsburgh," Shero said. "It'll be great for fans. The events leading up to the event were something during the Winter Classic. My kids still talk about that. Let's face it, this is for the fans. Yes, it is for the kids being drafted, but we're also celebrating the game of hockey and that's great."
According to Penguins Chief Executive Officer David Morehouse, the draft should generate approximately $9.1 million in direct spending. The 2011 Bridgestone Winter Classic, featuring the Penguins and Washington Capitals, produced $22 million.
"So in the last couple of years, we've brought a lot of revenue to Pittsburgh," Morehouse said. "The Consol Energy Center is living up to its promise. We said we'd have a world-class facility and we do. We said we would host world-class events and we are. We want to attract more and more events: We hosted the Winter Classic last year, will host the draft this year, and now I'm going to be bugging the Commissioner [Gary Bettman] about hosting the All-Star Game."
-- Mike Morreale, NHL.com Staff Writer
There's a chance Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets right behind countryman Yakupov. If that happens, it would be the first time since 2004 that two Russian-born players were selected with the top two picks (Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin).
Yakupov and Grigorenko were invited to Edmonton for a meet-and-greet with the Oilers managerial team following the NHL Scouting Combine earlier this month. The club also had defenseman Ryan Murray of the Western Hockey League's Everett Silvertips in for a visit.
In addition to the Russian presence, there are several other storylines to consider at the draft.
"What is most intriguing is that eight of the top 12 players ranked by NHL Central Scouting are defensemen, and it's quite impressive that they all play a distinguishing and different style of game," NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr said. "This group is projected to have long, productive NHL careers and the NHL clubs will have a difficult yet rewarding decision to make when deciding on which defenseman to select."
The last time as many as six defensemen were among the top 10 players selected was 1996, and there's a good chance that could be equaled. In 2008, Central Scouting listed eight defenders among the top 15 North American skaters. That impressive group included Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Luke Schenn, Alex Pietrangelo, Tyler Myers and Michael Del Zotto.
This year, Central Scouting has six defenders ranked among the top 10 -- Murray (No. 2), Morgan Rielly of the Moose Jaw Warriors (No. 5), Cody Ceci of the Ottawa 67's (No. 6), Olli Maatta of the London Knights (No. 8), Jacob Trouba of the U.S. National Team Development Program (No. 9), and Griffin Reinhart of the Edmonton Oil Kings (No. 10)..
After Reinhart, defensemen Mathew Dumba of the Red Deer Rebels and Derrick Pouliot of the Portland Winterhawks were rated 11th and 12th, respectively, by Central Scouting.
"Dumba plays the kind of game where everyone will notice him. He could rush the puck and have that high-energy impact hit in the neutral zone that people will say, 'Wow,'" Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "A guy like Pouliot is playing behind a lot of strong defenders on his team, so he doesn't have to play that complete game, but he does everything very well. He always seems to make the right plays.
"A guy like Reinhart is the prototypical-type defenseman that you see in the NHL now … someone with size and strength. He could push it to the outside and he doesn't have to knock you into the first three rows because he knows he first has to knock you off the puck and then dish it off to a streaking winger through the neutral zone; that's something he's good at."
Murray, compared to a young Scott Niedermayer, was the only draft-eligible defenseman to win a bronze medal with Canada at the 2012 World Junior Championship. He had three assists and an impressive plus-6 rating in six games.
"Murray just does everything under the radar and does it so smoothly, you hardly notice it," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald said. "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. He just does everything so seamlessly that he reminds me of Niedermayer only because he does everything so well at such a high level, so after a while you just take him for granted."
Despite the depth on defense in this year's draft, Yakupov is the unanimous choice as the best prospect available.
"Yakupov is worth the price of admission to watch him in warm-ups," Central Scouting's Gary Eggleston said. "I haven't seen a kid like this with hand speed in some time. He has quick reflexes and his decision-making and reactions are lightning-quick. He's a franchise-type player in the waiting. He beats defenders with ease with the puck on a string."
There's no doubt the 18-year-old Yakupov, who patterns his game after former NHL great Pavel Bure, has captured the fancy of every NHL scout and general manager. Despite being sidelined on four different occasions this season due to a back injury, knee injury, suspension and upper-body ailment, the 5-foot-10, 189-pounder has proven capable of handling the adversity.
Is there any chance Grigorenko (6-3, 200), who is ranked No. 3 among North American prospects and compared to Ottawa's Jason Spezza, is drafted ahead of Yakupov?
"The [size of the player] might be something teams consider," Gregory told NHL.com. "The first time I saw Yakupov, I thought of Pavel Bure. But Yakupov and Grigorenko are different types of players. There's that sniper, finisher, get-to-the-net type of guy in Yakupov. Then there's that patient, make-the-play-come-to-him type of guy in Grigorenko. It's going to be interesting talk."
In addition to Yakupov and Grigorenko, center Filip Forsberg of Leksand in Sweden and left wing Teuvo Teravainen of Jokerit in Finland are the top European skaters. There's a very good chance Forsberg is taken among the top five picks.
"He's a leader and he shows it by example; I would compare him to Anaheim's Corey Perry a little bit," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb said. "[He] has a nose for the net, and often scores the big goals. He's a playmaker, good skater with fine straight-ahead speed. Filip's a solid puck-carrier, mature, good size and physically strong. On top of that, he'll sacrifice himself to make the play."
The other hot topic leading up to the draft has been the injury factor. Will the unusually high number of ailments to top-end prospects play on the minds of NHL scouts and GMs?
"I think the injuries played a big role this year," Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson said. "Players didn't really get to establish themselves [in their draft year]. It's a challenging thing for scouts."
In January, injuries to many of the top North American prospects eligible for the draft dominated the headlines. Rielly underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in November, but he was cleared for full participation in the fitness testing at the Combine.
"I've seen Rielly do things on the ice that nobody else was doing," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald said. "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 WHL. He's like a chess player, always thinking one or two moves ahead."
The injury list includes many players with either first- or second-round potential, including Yakupov and his linemate, Alex Galchenyuk (ACL surgery), Slater Koekkoek (dislocated shoulder) of the Peterborough Petes, and right wing Martin Frk (concussion) of the Halifax Mooseheads only started to regain his form late in the season and in the playoffs.
If not for his injury, Galchenyuk might have challenged Yakupov for top honors in the draft. He played just one regular-season game, but is fourth in the final rankings. He certainly proved how well his knee had healed at the Scouting Combine, as he registered the best score in the peak power output on the Wingate Ergometer Cycle test. That measures how explosive a skater could be, providing a good example of his first 2-3 strides in beginning the transition.
Unlike last season, when no goalie was selected in the opening round for the third time in five years, Marr said there might be a run on them.
"It would not surprise me to see an increase in the number of goaltenders selected earlier in the 2012 draft than where they have been selected in the last few seasons," he said.
The top three European goalies are Russia's Andrei Vasilevski (6-3.25, 204), Sweden's Oscar Dansk (6-2.5, 186) and Finland's Joonas Korpisalo (6-1.5, 163).
"Andrei is a big guy with excellent size, and that helps him cover the net very well," Stubb said of Vasilevski, who won a silver medal with Team Russia at the 2012 World Junior Championship. "His angles and positional play are excellent and he has very good instincts, reads the game well."
Central Scouting's the top-ranked North American goalie is Malcolm Subban (6-1, 188) of the Belleville Bulls. Subban is the brother of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban.
"I see Malcolm as Carey Price," Central Scouting's Al Jensen said. "He's calm, poised and very good with his positioning, with outstanding lateral ability and quickness."
Only time will tell where the big names ultimately fall in the order, but it all starts with the first pick of the first round, which begins at 7 p.m. ET on June 22. Rounds 2-7 begin at 10 a.m. on June 23.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale