Before the 2011 Entry Draft took place, the initial phase in sorting the top prospects for 2012 already was in motion as the scouts organized NHL Central Scouting's preliminary Futures List of North American and international players.
Among the 'A List' players in North America -- those considered to be potential high draft picks next June -- nine were from the Ontario Hockey League, eight each from the Western Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and five were starring in the United States Hockey League. The list was released to teams May 30.
Heading the field were standout defensemen from the WHL, including Mathew Dumba (5-foot-11, 171 pounds) of the Red Deer Rebels, Ryan Murray (6-0, 182) of the Everett Silvertips, Derrick Pouliot (5-11, 185) of the Portland Winterhawks, Griffin Reinhart (6-3, 202) of the Edmonton Oil Kings and Morgan Rielly (5-11, 189) of the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Murray, who had 6 goals, 40 assists and a plus-18 rating in 70 games last season, was one of two players eligible for the 2012 Draft invited to Hockey Canada's summer evaluation camp for its World Junior Championship team.
"He could have been drafted in 2011 and done very well," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com. "You wonder if another year of major-junior would be beneficial. The 2011-12 season will mark his third year in the (WHL) and he'll learn to be a leader. He's the captain of the team already and, really, I thought he should have been picked for Team Canada at the 2011 World Juniors -- he's that good. He's going to be high on everyone's list next year."
Among the top players from the OHL are two players with the Sarnia Sting -- center Alex Galchenyuk (6-0, 185) and right wing Nail Yakupov (6-0, 190).
Yakupov, born in Nizhnekamsk, Russia, led the team with 101 points, including 49 goals (16 power-play goals) and 52 assists in 2010-11. Galchenyuk meanwhile had 31 goals, including 10 with the man advantage, and 83 points in 68 games.
Central Scouting's Chris Edwards also likes what he sees in Windsor Spitfires defenseman Nick Ebert (5-11, 195), a native of Livingston, N.J. In 64 games, Ebert had 11 goals and 41 points. Ottawa 67's defenseman Cody Ceci (6-1, 203), also an 'A List' player, was the only other 2012 draft-eligible player besides Murray to receive an invite to Team Canada's summer WJC evaluation camp.
Kitchener Rangers center Matia Marcantuoni (5-11, 185) also will command plenty of attention next season.
"He's a very good skater, good skills and will definitely be one to watch," Central Scouting's Al Jensen said.
The top international star is Russian 'A List' center Mikhail Grigorenko (6-3, 185), who was chosen by the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts with the second pick during Wednesday's 2011 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.
Grigorenko had 17 goals and 18 assists in 43 games on CSKA's minor-league team. At the World Under-18s, he led the tournament with 14 assists in seven games, and his 18 points were second only to linemate Nikita Kucherov
Also expected to be given a good look at next year's draft is Finnish defenseman Olli Maatta, who was taken by the London Knights with the first pick of the CHL import draft. Maatta (6-1, 196) went scoreless as the youngest player (16) for Finland at the 2011 World Junior Championship. He rebounded at the World Under-18 Championship, producing 4 points in six games for Finland.
The top player from Sweden among the nine 'A List' players is left wing Filip Forsberg (6-1, 176), who had 21 goals and 40 points in 36 games with Leksand J20 in SuperElit this past season. He also produced 4 goals and 6 points in six games at the 2011 WJC.
Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau sees two standouts from the QMJHL at this juncture.
Right wing Martin Frk (6-foot, 203) of the Halifax Mooseheads scored 22 goals, including 5 on the power play, 50 points and 75 penalty minutes in 62 games. Frk also was a key member for the Czech Republic at the 2011 World Junior Championship, producing a team-high 3 goals, including 2 on the power play. He also had 3 assists, 31 penalty minutes, 14 shots on goal and a plus-2 rating.
Jeremie Fraser, a 6-0, 200-pound defenseman with the Acadie-Bathhurst Titan, had just 5 assists in 31 games, but did enough to make a believer out of Bordeleau.
There are four 'A List' skaters currently attending high school in the U.S. -- center Cristoval Nieves of the Kent School (Kent, Conn.), center Robert Baillargeon of Cushing Academy (Ashburnham, Mass.), left wing Devin Tringale of Lawrence Academy (Groton, Mass.), and right wing Brian Hart
of Phillips Exeter Academy (Exeter, N.H.).
The one player on most scouts' radar from the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., is 6-1, 175-pound defenseman Jacob Trouba. In 37 games with the Under-17 team last season, Trouba had 6 goals, 4 on the power play, and 19 points. He had 12 assists and 15 points in 14 international games. In 13 games with the U-18 Team, Trouba had 6 assists and 18 penalty minutes.
"This is a player who has a lot of ability and he played with the top national team even at the end of this season and didn't look out of place at all," Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com.
Central Scouting's Jack Barzee endorsed a pair of USHL performers. Dubuque's Zemgus Girgensons (6-1, 182) had 20 goals, including 9 on the power play, 47 points and a plus-8 rating in 48 games for the Fighting Saints. Also, despite being a defenseman, power-play specialist Jordan Schmaltz (6-2, 175) finished second in scoring for the Sioux City Musketeers with 41 points. He also had 8 goals and 27 points on the power play.
Girgensons, a native of Riga, Latvia, was drafted by the WHL's Kelowna Rockets with the No. 45 pick of Wednesday's CHL Import Drat.
"Zemgus has good size, hands and good hockey sense -- he's a power forward," Barzee said. "He makes people around him better and although a playmaker, he can also finish around the net."
Two other high-profile names are Shattuck-St. Mary's center Zach Stepan, the cousin of New York Rangers
center Derek Stepan
, in the Minnesota high school ranks and defenseman Clifford Watson of Wisconsin's Appleton United. Stepan (5-11, 160) is a 'B List' player to watch. Watson is Wisconsin's only 'A List' performer. Watson (6-1, 191) led his team in scoring despite manning the blue line, connecting for 18 goals, 40 points and a plus-12 rating in 21 games while also chipping in with a team-leading 36 hits and 14 blocked shots.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale