By Allan Muir
June 21, 2012
2012 NHL Mock Draft -- First Round
When the Buffalo Sabres were able to pry a first rounder out of Nashville for Paul Gaustad at the trade deadline, that told you pretty much all you needed to know about this draft class. It's not that strong, buddy. Historically bad? No, but most of the prospects below come with enough question marks to fashion their own Riddler costumes. And that's what sets this up as one of the most compelling drafts in years. "It's a year when all 30 teams are going to have different top-10 lists," Montreal Canadiens scouting guru Trevor Timmins told a group of reporters."There's no set order amongst scouts. It's going to be fun and exciting for the fans to watch the draft because, who's No. 1? Nobody knows except the team that's drafting."

That's not exactly true. There's no mystery to No. 1. It'll be Nail Yakupov, the dazzling sniper from Sarnia. Which team takes him? That remains up in the air. After that, it's going to come down to the hunches -- and best guesses -- of each team's head scout. So many of the top players this year spent extended periods on injured reserve that teams have to do more projecting based on fewer viewings. Other hopefuls have glaring deficiencies in one area -- size, skating, finishing touch -- that forces teams to hold their noses while they swing for the fences.

"Everything is about tempering expectations" a scout told me. "There are going to be some players [that come out of this class], but a lot of these kids would have been second-round [picks] last year, or next year. It's a really tough year to accurately judge [some of] the talent. You just hope you're not the guy who argued against [drafting] the kid who turns out to be a star."

It's a tough year for mock drafts, too, but we're having fun, right? Here's my take on how Friday's first round will unfold, based on best player available, team drafting history, needs, opportunities and other mysterious factors (alright, what my gut says). As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
1 RW
Nail Yakupov
Sarnia, OHL
18. 5-11 190
Forget about the campaign of misinformation orchestrated by the Oilers. Sure, they probably wish they hadn't won the lottery so they could have addressed a pressing need for defense with the second pick, but that doesn't matter now. When you've got the first pick, you select the best player available. In terms of talent and potential, the consensus says Yakupov. To be sure, there have been a lot of questions about him over the last few weeks, but most of that tearing down is being done by teams with no chance to draft him, or by fellow journalists who choose to promulgate the anti-Russian angle. To be fair, the Oilers may yet trade out of the spot. But whoever holds it most certainly will take this winger who plays with flair. "He's an entertainer," one scout said. "He plays at top speed and executes plays that others couldn't imagine." Being the fastest, most creative player is one thing, but it's Yakupov's desire that makes him special. He's used to battling through the heaviest checking and he competes at both ends of the ice. He's not big, but he won't be intimidated. He takes the abuse, then finds a way to get to where he can make things happen. He'll be an All-Star caliber player.
2 D
Ryan Murray
Everett, WHL
18 6-0 195
The word every scout uses to describe him is "mature", as in "he plays a mature game." That's telling, because it suggests that with Murray, what you see is what you get. That's not to say he won't get better as he gets more experience under his belt, but there's not a lot of projection involved, either. If you saw him play (albeit sparingly) for Canada at the World Championships, you could see that he plays a reliable, all-around game. He won't put up big offensive numbers, but Columbus can count on him to step in immediately and eventually develop into a strong No. 2 defender. For a team that could really use some positive buzz short-term and can't afford to miss on its pick, Murray is the safest bet.
3 C
Alex Galchenyuk
Sarnia, OHL
18 6-1 197
More than a few scouts like Mikhail Grigorenko in this spot because of Montreal's obvious need for size up front. But with all the questions about how hot the fire burns for that kid, the Habs can't afford the risk. Galchenyuk comes with his own question marks -- a torn ACL limited him to just two regular season games this year -- but there's less uncertainty given how well ACL recoveries go these days. And there is so much upside with this kid. Born in Milwaukee but raised in Russia, Switzerland and Italy, he has tremendous hockey sense, plays a reliable defensive game and is equally adept at playmaking as he is at finishing. He'll need another year or two in juniors to compensate for lost development time, but he's a good bet to mature into a top-six role.
4 LW
Filip Forsberg
Leksands, Sweden
17 6-2 180
Some tantalizing blueliners remain on the board, but the Isles are well stocked with prospects at the position, so it's expected they'll take a forward. Forsberg, no relation to Peter, doesn't have the offensive upside of Grigorenko, but he is thought to be a safer pick. What he lacks in electricity, he makes up for in determination. "He has a lot of battle in him," a scout said. "He works hard for the puck, protects it well, and gets it to the net." Paired with a playmaking center, he'll be a consistent finisher. Scouts rave about his leadership qualities -- he's the sort of player who can rally a room around him and carry it during tough times.
5 D
Griffin Reinhart
Edmonton, WHL
18 6-2 207
Despite Brian Burke's protestations to the contrary, I'm not convinced the Leafs will be on the clock at this spot -- there's a good chance they move the pick as part of a package for a veteran or to jump up in the draft. And if they stick here, they might take a chance on Grigorenko, even though he seems like the antithesis of a Burke player. Ultimately though, I think Reinhart is too good for the Leafs to pass up. The son of former All-Star Paul Reinhart, he's blessed with an uncannily high hockey IQ and the patience of Job -- if Job had been a skilled puck-handler who showed incredible poise under pressure from hulking forecheckers. What really motivates scouts here is the sense that he's just scratched the surface of what he will become. And what should appeal to Toronto is an obvious maturity that will help him handle the rigors of the league's most demanding market.
6 D
Mathew Dumba
Red Deer, WHL
17 6-0 177
With free agent prospect Justin Schultz likely to sign elsewhere, Dumba fills Anaheim's need for a high-end blueline prospect. It's easy to get caught up in his offensive numbers -- he scored 20 goals this season, then led the Under-18 tournament in scoring, so he knows how to get the puck to the net -- but he's also an aggressive defender in his own zone who's capable of delivering a game-changing, open-ice hit. Of course, that's a tougher game to play at the pro level, especially at his size. He has a couple years to fill out a very skinny frame, but the hope is that he'll learn to rely more on his skating, puck skills and smarts. If he does that, he could be a dynamic defender.
7 D
Morgan Rielly
Moose Jaw, WHL
18 6-0 190
The Wild have a decent amount of forward talent in the cupboard, so the chance to add a highly skilled playmaking defender who draws comparisons to Duncan Keith makes a lot of sense here. Scouts didn't get much time to see Rielly this year -- he tore his ACL in his 18th game and missed the rest of the season plus two rounds of the playoffs -- but that didn't limit their enthusiasm. He scored 24 points in the 23 games he played, confirming his reputation as someone who can generate offense from the blueline. A beautiful skater before the injury, he looked fluid in those five playoff contests, and tests at the draft combine showed that his knee is fine. "He looked good," said a scout in attendance who praised Rielly as the best passer in the draft, and one of the sharpest minds.
8 C
Radek Faksa
Kitchener, OHL
18 6-3 203
Faksa might seem like a bit of a reach here, but so did Jeff Skinner back in 2010, and that stretch worked out fairly well for the Canes. In fact, Carolina clearly appreciates the way the Kitchener Rangers develop players (having also nabbed Ryan Murphy in the first round last year), so it wouldn't be a shock to see them take Faksa, a burgeoning power forward with a great work ethic. "He has that blend of size and skill that every team wants down the middle," a scout said. He'll need to add some muscle to play the same way in the NHL, but with a velvety touch and a responsible approach to defense, it's easy to see him maturing into a nice second line center behind Eric Staal.
9 LW
Teuvo Teravainen
Jokerit, Finland
17 5-11 165
The Jets might consider Grigorenko a value pick at this point, but I get the feeling they'll overlook Teravainen's Johnny Galecki-build and draft the dynamic winger who just might be the most creative scorer in this year's class. "Great vision, agile skater, handles the puck well in traffic," said one scout. He also earned praise as a shooter, but there are cautions that he tends to play on the perimeter in Finland. If he wants to score in the NHL, he needs to drive the net, and if he's not doing that at this size, he'll need at least a couple of years to add some muscle to his frame.
10 D
Jacob Trouba
18 6-2 196
The Lightning will be thrilled to have Trouba fall into their lap. Regarded as one of the best athletes in the draft, he's a defenseman in the mold of Dion Phaneuf -- nasty in his own end with the ability to make things happen in the offensive zone as well. He's quick on his feet and makes the most of his size to intimidate opposing forwards. If there's a chance to make the big hit, he's happy to oblige. He's aggressive with the puck and has a big bomb from the point. There are some questions about his ability to read the game defensively, but if a team thinks they can address this, Trouba could mature into a top-two defender.
11 D
Hampus Lindholm
Rogle Jr., Sweden
18 6-3 196
(Pick acquired from Colorado). Ask any scout about him and his description invariably starts with his skating. "He's quick off the mark, great balance, agile, can turn on a dime," one said. The top-rated European defender, Lindholm also earns praise for his passing and his poise under pressure. He's equally adept in his own end, where he uses his size effectively, if not aggressively. He's rated lower in the first round by most, but there's a buzz about him that suggests he'll be a mover on draft day.
12 C
Zemgus Girgensons
Dubuque, USHL
18 6-2 198
"I could see him going [top 10]," a scout said. It's easy to see why after a season in which Girgensons was the most effective draft-eligible player in the USHL. There are questions about his offensive upside -- scouts I spoke with pegged his at 15-25 goals and 45-60 points -- but what Girgensons lacks in finishing polish, he makes up for with grit. He always wants the puck and he'll run you over if that's what it takes to get it. "He's a miserable S.O.B. to play against," the same scout offered. Said another, "Relentless, great intensity, loves to compete." Sounds like a Ryan Kesler starter kit.
13 D
Cody Ceci
Ottawa, OHL
18 6-2 207
They might be tempted to nab Grigorenko here, but you know that the Stars regret having passed over some highly viable two-way defenders in the past couple of drafts. It won't happen again. Ceci projects as something like a poor-man's Dan Boyle, a second-pairing defender at worst. He has good size, is solid on his feet and makes sound decisions with and without the puck. He eats a lot of important minutes for Ottawa in the OHL because he can be counted on to play a complete, 200-foot game. The only thing that keeps him from going higher is the absence of a reliable physical game. "He doesn't shy away from contact, but when you see a player that size, you want to see him use the body more often," a scout warned.
14 C
Mikhail Grigorenko
Quebec, QMJHL
18 6-2 200
Don't be surprised if they cue up the chorus to Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" every time the broadcast cuts to a shot of a glum-looking Grigorenko on Friday night. There's a lot to like about him, including his size, scoring ability, speed, creativity, so why the drop? When you find a scout willing to offer up a comparable player, they name guys like Alexei Yashin and Olli Jokinen: good players, the kind that put up some solid numbers but aren't thought of as guys you win with. Add in concerns (fair or not) that Grigorenko might pull a Nikita Filatov and bolt to the KHL if things get rough, and you can see why he drops. So why do the Flames take him here? At this point, the value is worth the risk.
15 D
Slater Koekkoek
Peterborough, OHL
18 6-2 184
There are some interesting Swedes on the board -- and if Lindholm happens to drop, you know the Sens will grab him here -- but I'm thinking they'll stick a little closer to home this time. Another one of those asterisk players, Koekkoek missed all but 26 games due to a torn labrum. If not for the injury, the buzz would have been about the workhorse duty he pulled. It wasn't unusual for Koekkoek (pronounced koo-koo) to log 25-30 minutes a night for the Petes, playing in all situations. One scout compared him to former NHLer Daryl Sydor. "He won't be an elite defender, but he has all the tools to be a really, really good one," the scout said. "Great size, strong skater, good hockey sense, fierce competitor. Plays an all-around game," said another.
16 D
Matthew Finn
Guelph, OHL
18 6-0 192
Don't be surprised if a team makes a deal to move up in the draft, walks to the podium and announces the name Finn. He's the kind of kid that could inspire a bold move. A mid-round flyer to start the season, he turned his game around by keeping it simple. There's not a lot of flash, but he always seems to make the right play. "He's a smart hockey player, so he knows where to be and what to do when he gets there," one scout said. "He's always in position and you can't outwork him." He's also a huge minute muncher, soaking up time on the penalty kill and the power play. He's not a bomber from the point, but he gets the puck to the net and he's excellent in transition. "He'll never be an All-Star, but he's the type of player you can win with," the same scout said.
17 D
Olli Maatta
London, OHL
17 6-2 202
It's conceivable that he could go top-10 after making an impression during London's run to the Memorial Cup Final. Still, he plays such an unglamorous game that he's likely to slide to the Sharks in this spot. "He plays a meat-and-potatoes [style]," a scout said. "He's physical, he battles, he's got a lot of compete in him." Another suggested that while Maatta may develop enough of an offensive game one day to be trusted with first-pairing minutes, it would be a mistake to overvalue him based on the playoffs. "He makes a good first pass and he can get the puck to the net, but I don't expect him to be a point producer," that scout said. "He could be a reliable top-four defender, though."
18 C
Tomas Hertl
Slavia, Czech Republic
18 6-2 200
Say what you want about the diminished talent in the Czech league. It's still populated with men, and Hertl managed 25 points in 38 games playing against them. Scouts love his big body and believe he still has some filling out to do, which bodes well for a physical/defensive style that has earned comparisons to Martin Hanzal. Beyond that, he's a bit limited. Hertl's not the most agile skater or finisher, and he has a tendency to try to do too much. If he simplifies his game and learns to use his wingers more effectively, he could mature into a solid checking center.
19 C
Mark Jankowski
Stanstead, Quebec HS
17 6-5 175
(Pick acquired from Detroit.) He could drop further -- I believe a few teams that are drafting after Tampa Bay aren't sold on him -- but with two first round picks to play with, the Lightning can take a chance on a player regarded by many as boom or bust. Jankowski has great bloodlines ? his father Lou played for Detroit and his great-uncle is Red Kelly -- and he absolutely dominated his high school league, scoring 53 goals in 57 games. Scouts call him a "toolsy" player. "Great vision, soft hands, unselfish, protects the puck well," one said. And despite the fact that he grew more than six inches over the last 18 months, he plays a game that's more skill than power, similar to Vincent Lecavalier. But the question remains: how good is he, really? He whipped up on kids with limited hockey potential and he's very early in his development. If a team believes they've seen the start of something big, and can afford to give him the three or four more years of development he needs, then Jankowski would be a tremendous value pick here.
20 D
Brady Skjei
18 6-2 185
Not everyone likes Skjei -- who is slated to play for the Minnesota Gophers next season -- to go in the first round, but I think the Flyers might have fallen in love with his effortless skating and his big frame enough to grab him early. The rest of his skill set might drop him into the second round. He's not particularly physical, and his transition skills are average. If you feel like he can be taught to address these flaws, then Skjei might mature into a second-pairing defender. If not, he's going to frustrate a lot of folks for doing so little with so much.
21 D
Ludvik Bystrom
MoDo, Sweden
17 6-0 185
(Pick acquired from Nashville.) If Bystrom comes off the board this quickly (at least two bird dogs derided this positioning, believing he'll slide well into the second round), then he can thank Erik Karlsson, this season's Norris Trophy winner. One scout suggested that Bystrom's play is very reminiscent of Karlsson in his early days. A great skater and strong disher, he's built to key the transition game. And like Karlsson, he can get a little caught up in playmaking, putting his team at a disadvantage in the defensive zone. "I wonder if he's easily distracted, because sometimes he plays that way," one scout said. He's more physical than Karlsson (101 minutes in 34 junior league games), but that's not why Buffalo takes a chance here -- they pick him hoping the offense clicks with this boom or buster.
22 RW
Thomas Wilson
Plymouth, OHL
18 6-4 195
One scout described Wilson to me as this year's Taylor Pyatt. "He won't do much for you in the regular season, but you'll see what he's worth in the playoffs." Probably the toughest player among the top-tier prospects, Wilson's big and physical and strong on the cycle. He goes hard to the net and always gives an honest effort. But don't expect the kid to score much unless you have blueliners who can bank it in off his backside from the point. "He hasn't got much of a shot," another scout said. Of course, Mario Lemieux turned Warren Young into a 40-goal scorer. You never know what Sid or Geno could do with this kid.
23 D
Derrick Pouliot
Portland, WHL
18 6-0 192
The first-overall pick in the 2009 WHL Bantam draft is lauded as one of the best playmakers in this crop. He makes a great first pass, and his offensive reads are strong, tools that have teams projecting him as a second unit power play QB. But, as one scout said, "there are times when it looks like he's never played inside his own zone before." Learning to play away from the puck will be critical to his development, as will gaining the mental toughness to overcome what another scout called "teenage confidence issues -- sky high one minute, gone the next."
24 C
Scott Laughton
Oshawa, OHL
18 6-0 175
I have a feeling the Bruins trade this pick and move down unless the draft unwinds in such a way that a certain defenseman drops in their lap (it is thought that they covet Matthew Finn). But if that doesn't happen, Laughton plays a classic black-and-gold style that should make him a popular choice. His offense hasn't yet met the expectations set for a guy who was the third overall pick in the OHL draft, but he's a safe call because he is so competitive every time he steps on the ice. "He's motivated, sharp on the draw, a great defensive player. He works the body well and will drop the mitts when necessary," one scout said, adding, "he's a great team guy." His upside projects to a Dave Bolland-type, but if his offense doesn't come around, he'd slot perfectly into Chris Kelly's spot a few years down the road.
25 LW
Pontus Aberg
Djurgardens, Sweden
18 5-11 194
Aberg might be a reach at this spot, but the Blues have never been risk-averse. A finalist for rookie of the year in the Elitserien, he's regarded as a high upside offensive player. If you hate players who refuse to shoot the puck, you'll love this kid. He might take some criticism for being selfish, but he can, and will, fire it at the net, which could net him 25-30 goals a season. That said, offense is his one trick. Think of him in terms of Fabian Brunnstrom. Great talent, but if he's not scoring consistently as a top-six forward, there's not much else he can do for you.
26 RW
Henrik Samuelsson
Edmonton, WHL
18 6-2 195
The Canucks haven't exactly plundered the WHL for talent over the past few years -- in fact, it's been four since they've taken a player from their backyard junior league. Why start now? Maybe it was just a matter of waiting for the right guy?and Samuelsson looks like that guy. Henrik isn't exactly a chip off the block, but like his father Ulf, he's the guy that you love to have on your team but absolutely despise lining up against -- an element that might have served the Canucks well during their last couple of playoff runs. He probably tops out as a checking line winger, but with his size and fearlessness, he might be able to bring some value to the power play as well.
27 LW
Nicolas Kerdiles
18 6-2 201
The Coyotes recognize the value of a big body capable of working the trenches, so it's not a stretch to believe they'll nab Kerdiles early here. Most scouts have him rated as a second rounder, but hockey players that have his kind of size and drive can be molded into useful parts even if they don't have elite scoring skills. Not that Kerdiles is ham-fisted, but he's not a sniper, either, and concerns about his consistency might scare some teams away from taking him in the first round. But then you consider that big, projectable frame, quick feet and willingness to battle along the boards and in the slot, and maybe you can learn to live with his occasional off-night as he learns to deliver the same effort on a regular basis.
28 LW
Phil Di Giuseppe
Michigan, NCAA
18 6-0 200
The Rangers haven't drafted a player out of the U.S. college ranks since Derek Stepan in 2008, but Di Giuseppe might tempt them to break their pattern. There's no one standout element to his game, and so it might sound like he's being damned by faint praise. Decent size, but not big. Solid skater, but not quick. Aggressive when he's chasing the puck, but he can disappear without it. Drives the net but hasn't yet shown a lot of finish. All that said, there's a lot to like about the sum of his parts. Scouts see him developing into a skilled winger with second line potential if his scoring comes around. If not, his work ethic and determination will make him a reliable, two-way third-liner. "It might just be a matter of developing some confidence," one scout offered. "I think the hands are there." He's rated an early second rounder, but a team that agrees with that assessment would probably rate Di Giuseppe a safe pick at this spot.
29 RW
Sebastian Collberg
Frolunda, Sweden
18 5-11 174
Last summer, the Devils were ordered to surrender one of their next three first rounders as part of the penalty for Ilya Kovalchuk's rejected 17-year, $102 million contract. It seemed like a no-brainer that this weak class, coupled with owning the 29th selection as a result of their Cup final berth, would prompt Lou Lamoriello to cough up this year's pick. Nope. He's using it. Now maybe Lou missed the league-imposed deadline?or maybe there's someone he really likes that he "knows" will be there at this point. It could be a goalie -- Andrei Vasilevski is the better prospect, though Oscar Dansk is the safer choice -- or it might be a pure goal scorer like Martin Frk. Still, I like Collberg here. Sure, he's built like the guy who gets sand kicked in his face in the old Charles Atlas ads, but he has hands like Pavel Datsyuk. He's fast, creative, responsible and not afraid to play in the high traffic areas. You just have to hope that he can add some weight and strength. If he does, this could be a home run pick.
30 D
Dalton Thrower
Saskatoon, WHL
18 5-11 189
The Kings wouldn't have won the Cup without the hard-bodied steadiness of Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi on the back end, and with both of those players on the shady side of 30, it makes sense to bring a potential replacement in-house. Thrower's size drops him into the bottom first round area, but his ultra-competitive nature prevents him from sliding into the second. He patterns his game after another mid-sized defender: Vancouver's Kevin Bieksa. Though Thrower thrives on big hits and the occasional bout (he fought Tom Wilson at the CHL Top Prospects Game), he's also very reliable defensively with an improving offensive game that saw him running the Blades' power play. "He routinely played against the opposition's top lines and still managed to score [54 points]," a scout noted. There's a universal belief that Thrower needs to work on his skating, but given his work ethic, that's just part of his evolution.

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