The top Ontario Hockey League prospect for the 2012 NHL Draft is an offensive dynamo from the Sarnia Sting, with a string of solid defensemen next on the list.
It's a story reminiscent of the 2008 Draft, when Sarnia center Steven Stamkos
was the league's best prospect, ahead of a list of blueliners that included Guelph's Drew Doughty
, Peterborough's Zach Bogosian
and Niagara's Alex Pietrangelo
This year, the top player available is Nail Yakupov, who spent last season breaking Stamkos' Sarnia records.
In his first season in the OHL, the 5-foot-10 1/2, 189-pound right wing led all first-year players with 49 goals and 101 points, topping Stamkos' franchise rookie record of 92 points, set in 2006-07.
Yakupov is off to a similarly outstanding start this season, but he's far from the brightest star in the OHL. Here's a look at seven players NHL scouts are keeping close eyes on this season:
Cody Ceci, D, Ottawa --
"He's got a real good shot -- a hard, accurate shot. His play on the power play has been very good this year. He sees the ice very well. He skates well, has good mobility." -- NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards on Cody Ceci
Scouts already have turned a sharp eye on the 6-2 1/2, 207-pound blueliner, who was one of just two 2012 NHL Draft-eligible players invited to Hockey Canada's summer evaluation camp for the 2012 World Junior Championship team.
Ceci had 34 points in 62 games last season, his second in the OHL, and this season is off to an even better start, with 15 points in 14 games.
"He's got a real good shot -- a hard, accurate shot," NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "His play on the power play has been very good this year. He sees the ice very well. He skates well, has good mobility."
Radek Faksa, C, Kitchener --
A rapid climber in the eyes of scouts is the 6-3, 202-pound Czech-born center.
"I hadn't heard anything about him until he showed up in Kitchener," Edwards said, "and he's getting better every game."
Taken with the 22nd pick of the 2011 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, he's off to a strong start with 6 goals and 5 assists in 14 games for the Rangers. He's been playing on a line with Oilers' fourth-round pick Tobias Rieder
and top prospect Matia Marcantuoni.
"He's not afraid to play in traffic, go to the net, take hits, deliver hits," Edwards said. "He plays with a bit of an edge. He's got real good playmaking skills, good puck ability … he's got real good ability to get the puck through to the net and make plays."
Edwards said he's looking forward to watching Faksa as the season goes on.
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"This guy's involved and not afraid to play tough," he said. "He's a big enough kid. Not much not to like about him."
Alex Galchenyuk, C, Sarnia (OHL) --
The playmaking center is without doubt the wild card of this year's draft.
Galchenyuk had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee last month, and there's a chance he won't play this season.
However, scouts know just how good Galchenyuk can be when he's at his best. A U.S.-born center of Russian decent -- his father spent 20 years playing in the U.S. and Russia -- his 52 assists and 83 points were second among all first-year OHL players last season, and he was a standout performer at this summer's NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp.
"He's got lots of skills and playmaking ability," Edwards said. "Last year with Yakupov, the two of them really fed off each other."
As good a season as Yakupov is having in 2011-12, Edwards believes it could be even better if Galchenyuk was feeding him the puck.
"Yakupov is having a good season," Edwards said, "but he's missing it a bit without Galchenyuk."
Slater Koekkoek, D, Peterborough --
The Peterborough Petes are renowned for producing top-flight defenders, with current or former NHL players Larry Murphy
, Chris Pronger
, Luke Richardson
, Steve Montador
and Zach Bogosian
on the list. The 6-2, 184-pound Koekkoek could be next in their footsteps.
In his second OHL season, Koekkoek has 8 points in 15 games, putting him on pace to better last season's total of 23 points in 65 games.
"He eats up a lot of minutes," Edwards said. "When he's playing well is when he just takes the puck and moves it quickly. … He has the ability to make good passes, he's used on the power play and penalty kill. Peterborough is better this season and he's part of the reason why they are."
Edwards also likes that Koekkoek isn't afraid to throw his body around.
"Not many mistakes positionally," he said. "He's a good size guy, not afraid to take the body."
Olli Maatta, D, London (OHL) --
Olli Maatta playing with Team Finland. (Getty Images)
The Knights traded a player and three draft picks for the chance to select Maatta with the first pick of the 2011 CHL Import Draft, and so far the Finnish blueliner has proven to be worth the high price.
In 16 games, Maatta leads the team's defenseman with 8 points (all assists) and leads all first-year OHL defensemen with a plus-10 rating.
"The first think you notice is his outstanding skating ability," Edwards said. "He's smooth, agile, just gliding out there. … He's got good ability, he handles the puck well. He's used on the top defense pair, power-play and penalty-kill units. He showed no fear of being hit.
"At this point I'd say he's a pretty skilled defenseman."
Expect Maatta to increase his stock with the scouts when he plays for Team Finland at the 2012 World Junior Championship. He was scoreless in six games for Finland at last year's tournament.
Malcolm Subban, G, Belleville --
The middle of three hockey-playing siblings -- older brother P.K. is a defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens
; younger brother Jordan is a defenseman with the Bulls -- Subban has been limited to just three games due to an ankle injury.
However, scouts remain very high on the 6-1, 188-pound netminder. He had an outstanding showing at the NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp in August, and was the youngest goaltender invited to Hockey Canada's summer goalie development camp, where he auditioned for a spot on Canada's 2012 World Junior Championship team.
"He's a really good prospect. He's strong, he's athletic, he's got phenomenal leg strength. He plays big, got great drive and determination. He can make the big saves when the team needs them. He's in great condition. His positional play and net coverage is very good. He's got a good pro upside to him." -- NHL Central Scouting's Al Jensen on Malcolm Subban
"He's a really good prospect," said NHL Central Scouting's Al Jensen. "He's strong, he's athletic, he's got phenomenal leg strength. He plays big, got great drive and determination. He can make the big saves when the team needs them. He's in great condition. His positional play and net coverage is very good. He's got a good pro upside to him."
Jensen said the hope is Subban, who hasn't played since Sept. 29, could return by Nov. 11.
Nail Yakupov, RW, Sarnia --
The talented forward is the league's early scoring leader, with 34 points in 16 games. He's tied for second in the league with 12 goals; leads with 22 assists, power-play goals (5), game-winning goals (3); and he's second in the league with a plus-14 rating.
"He has extremely high-end skill puck skill and playmaking ability," Edwards said. "His skating is outstanding. His skill set is excellent."
Edwards also raved about Yakupov's tenacity, citing a recent game against the London Knights as an example.
"London had (Tyler) Ferry checking him and the kid did an outstanding job checking him, held him to 1 assist, but Nail was able to break away from him, create chances. He went to the front of the net and battled. He was just as tough with the London defense as they were with him.
"He'll play with toughness. He's not afraid to take a hit or deliver one."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK