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Russian forwards, d-men likely to lead CSS rankings

by Mike G. Morreale
Which Russian would you choose -- Nail or Mikhail?

Inquiring minds want to know prior to opening night of the 2012 NHL Draft on June 22 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Does the team holding the No. 1 pick opt for Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting or Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts?

Both are regarded as dynamic forwards with a different set of skills. Yet, the ultimate goal for each of them is landing an NHL contract.

It's sure to be a hot topic among NHL evaluators this weekend when they congregate one final time to determine Central Scouting's final rankings of the top 210 North American skaters and 30 goalies. The final scouting meetings will take place Saturday through Thursday. on location at meetings

Mike Morreale of will be on site for NHL Central Scouting's final meetings in Toronto from Saturday through Monday to provide readers an exclusive look at a few of the big stories coming out of the final gathering to discuss North American prospects.

A final list of the 210 North American skaters and 30 goaltender prospects is tentatively scheduled for release on April 9. The NHL Draft will be held at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa., June 22-23.

In addition to timely features, Morreale will provide a running blog of events each day as they happen. Additionally, follow Morreale on Twitter (@mike_morreale) for instant updates.

He'll also provide an exclusive alphabetical listing of the top 10 rated players from each of the leagues, including the WHL, OHL, QMJHL, USA-East, USA-West and the Canadian juniors and midgets.

Check back often.
"The final meeting is a fun time," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told "This year, there's a significant amount of guys injured and there's no question we would have liked to have seen them this year. It'll be interesting to see where it all shakes out; maybe they'll come back and play a few games before the season so we'll get some sort of idea where they stand."

One player Edwards and a few of the other scouts were able to see down the stretch was Sarnia's electrifying center Alex Galchenyuk, who was sidelined the first 65 games of the regular season after undergoing knee surgery Oct. 27.

Galchenyuk was listed as a "limited viewing" player on Central Scouting's mid-term rankings, but was No. 2 among Ontario Hockey League skaters -- behind Yakupov -- in the preliminary ranks in November.

At the time of the mid-term rankings, the scouts considered Yakupov first and Grigorenko second. Really, there's no reason to believe that will change, either, since both players have dominated their respective leagues ever since.

Prior to being sidelined with an upper-body injury he sustained after taking an open-ice hit from Owen Sound Attack forward Mike Halmo on March 10, Yakupov had 10 goals and 16 points in 16 regular-season games after Central Scouting's mid-term release on Jan. 11. Grigorenko produced 15 goals and 27 points in 23 contests since that mark.

Back in January, NHL Director of Central Scouting, Dan Marr, told that the ranking of Yakupov ahead of Grigorenko didn't come down to "one particular thing."

"We don't dwell on what players can't do … we were dwelling on what the players bring to the table and, right now, Yakupov has shown that he does have the ability to make a difference in the game," Marr said. "That's not saying that Grigorenko doesn't make a difference. Grigorenko controls the play, can dictate how the game is played when he's on the ice. But, right now, the consensus was Yakupov has the potential to be a difference-maker in a game. He can just turn a game around in a couple of shifts."

The scouts in attendance will debate, scrutinize and review the future of all those potential NHL prospects from within the Ontario Hockey League, Western Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, USA-West and USA-East, which includes all U.S. colleges and high schools, and the Canadian junior and midgets.
Is there an outside chance a defenseman might slip into the top slot when the final rankings are released in April? After all, defenders dominated the midterm rankings -- accounting for seven of the top 10 spots.

"The biggest challenge for Central Scouting is trying to place a star player in a commonly acknowledged lower league where his skills have made him a star and project him to a tougher league. But we need to project three years down the line in the best League in the world, so the discussions get pretty heated, but that's all part of the fun." -- The late E.J. McGuire, former Director of NHL Central Scouting

"You can't forget about defender Ryan Murray [of the Everett Silvertips] since he's having such a great second half here; he's just so composed, smooth and smart," Edwards said.

The 6-foot-1/2, 201-pound Murray had nine goals and 31 points in 46 regular-season games for the Silvertips (22-40-10).

After Murray, who was ranked No. 3 on Central Scouting's mid-term release, the list of prominent defensemen includes No. 5 Morgan Rielly of the Moose Jaw Warriors; No. 6 Olli Maatta of the London Knights; No. 7 Mathew Dumba of the Red Deer Rebels; No. 8 Griffin Reinhart of the Edmonton Oil Kings; No. 9 Jacob Trouba of the United States Under-18 National Team Development Program and No. 10 Derrick Pouliot of the Portland Winterhawks.

"What stands out with this group of D-men is their composure and presence on the ice," Marr said. "They can handle pressure well and they don't get rattled. A majority of them are strong skaters, so they have those puck-moving skills of guys who are successful in the NHL. For their age, they are as complete in development as you'll see."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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