Now that we know where the 2012 NHL Draft will be held, the only question remaining is who will be selected.
Sarnia Sting forward Nail Yakupov
could become the first Russian-born player since Alex Ovechkin
in 2004 to be selected first overall. (Photo: OHL Images)
That's where your friends at NHL.com enter the picture. Sure, the draft is eight months away, but it's never too early for the self-proclaimed gurus at NHL.com to break out their crystal ball and project how the opening round at Consol Energy Center on June 22 in Pittsburgh might pan out.
This year, there could be a run on defensemen unlike anything we've seen. At the 2011 draft, there were 11 blueliners selected among the top 30 choices. It's very possible that number could multiply by two come June.
Despite the multitude of blue-chip defensemen available this year, it's looking more and more like forward Nail Yakupov
of the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League could become the first Russian-born player since Alex Ovechkin
in 2004 to be the first player taken.
Yakupov already has 12 goals, 34 points and a plus-14 rating in 16 games for the Sting this season. He leads the OHL in assists (22), points, power-play goals (5), and game-winning goals (3), is tied for second in goals and is second in plus/minus.
After Yakupov, however, who goes next? Does the run on defensemen begin? Or could it be another top forward -- perhaps Mikhail Grigorenko
of the Quebec Remparts, who even could be the first player from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League since the Rimouski Oceanic's Sidney Crosby
in 2005 to go No. 1.
2012 NHL DRAFT
Who's No. 1?
It's never too early for the NHL.com draft gurus to take out their crystal balls and start predicting the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft. READ MORE ›
Yakupov's linemate in Sarnia, Alex Galchenyuk
, might have been in the running -- and could still be -- to be a top-three pick if not for the fact he recently underwent surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Galchenyuk suffered his injury in the early stages of a 4-4 preseason tie with the Windsor Spitfires on Sept. 16.
"One element for Galchenyuk is the fact he played last year, and going into this season, he was already recognized as one of the top prospects," Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com. "I think most of the teams are pretty comfortable in knowing the type of player they'll be getting. Obviously, you'd like to see him play during his draft year, but the scouts and general managers are going to be more concerned with how the surgery went, what type of surgery it was and how the recovery process is going along."
While there are several top defensemen to choose from, the first blueliner off the board likely will be from the Western Hockey League. Ryan Murray
of the Everett Silvertips and Matt Dumba of the Red Deer Rebels are two of the frontrunners to be chosen early.
The draft order in place for our experts in this exercise was based on inverse order of the standings through games of Saturday, Oct. 29. Keep in mind that the Washington Capitals
acquired Colorado's first-round pick in the trade that sent goalie Semyon Varlamov
to the Avalanche over the summer.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale