For a description of the methodology in these rankings, please see the Introduction. We'll be revealing more of the Top 100 every few days leading up to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Full list of Top 100 NHL Draft Prospects
1. Nail Yakupov, Left Wing, Sarnia-OHL
The highly-skilled Sarnia forward was near the top of the OHL in scoring as a pre-draft player, although he was a late birthdate and continued his dominance in his draft season. He's a well above-average skater with plus speed and tremendous agility. He has the ability to push the tempo up the ice and keep defenders on their heels, but he's probably even more dangerous at a standstill with high-end agility, first step acceleration, and a real slippery aspect to his game. He has such a powerful stride that he can take a handful of strides and already have travelled half the distance of the ice. Yakupov is the kind of player who consistently keeps his feet moving and has a very desirable motor to his game that shines through on a regular basis either when he's jetting through open ice or when he's engaging along the physical areas. He plays with the energy and grit at times of a fourth line player, with the skill set of a top pick. His puck skills are plus and he can dangle with the puck well. He used to be the kind of player who sometimes would try to do too much with the puckwhich is a minor flaw in his game currentlybut he has addressed that to a large degree. This season, Yakupov added a high-end passing element to his game that has made him an even more dangerous offensive weapon as he can make quite impressive feeds to keep the defense from keying in on him and only him. His hockey sense is very good, with the creativity and instincts that tend to have him steps ahead of the pace at the OHL level. Yakupov shoots at an elite level, with a simply tremendous laser that can score from mid-distance with regularity. His size is slightly concerning and his overall physical traits likely top out as below-average at best. He also could use some work in the defensive end of the rink.
Ranking Explanation: In some draft years, the number one pick is a clear cut decision that requires little thinking, but this year wasn't one of those. On any given day this draft season, Mikhail Grigorenko or Nail Yakupov could have been number one in my mind. This needs to be stated because I do not by any stretch of the imagination think this is a clear cut decision and would not raise a finger to taking Grigorenko over Yakupov although I admit it is very unlikely. However, I would take issue if someone said Grigorenko was not in that discussion because he is an elite prospect with absolutely tremendous upside. Getting to the decision, though, the major argument that could have vaulted Grigorenko ahead of Yakupov is his hockey sense. While Yakupov is no slouch in that department, and in fact his sense is high end, Grigorenko has elite sense and that is a major difference between them. Their puck skills are both great but I would say Yakupov's are notably better; however, I would still say that overall in terms of puck possession skills, Grigorenko's got the edge. So the major arguments for Yakupov over Grigorenko are his skating and shot, which are better to the same degree to which Grigorenko's sense is better than Yakupov's. In terms of determining forward value, I consider hockey sense notably more valuable than skatingwhich is very important as wellhowever, while Grigorenko skates well, Yakupov is arguably elite in that area, so the slight possession separation Grigorenko had in my opinion gets nullified by Yakupov's off the charts skating. At this point, I was basically flipping a coin between the two, so things like finishing, physical game, and intangibles would make up the difference. Yakupov's finishing ability is a major argument in his favor because he has an elite shot and while Grigorenko is a good shooter, like with the skating gap, the degree of Yakupov's ability in that area created clear separation. In a possession-driven league, where finishing ability is hard to predict due to lack of persistence, I approach finishing ability with some caution because it is very hard to project even if on a scouting level in Junior it is very apparent. However, in Yakupov's case, I would be very surprised if he wasn't a true-talent high-end finisher in the pros. Bringing the physical game into the equation, you have a 5'11" forward who is very physical and a 6'3" forward who isn't a null factor but not that physical, so in my view it cancels each other out somewhat when it comes to abilities in board battles and overall physical game ability. There's also the much-asked intangibles question on Grigorenko; my answer is that while he doesn't go all-out every shift, he does not have an intangibles issue in the major sense. He does not have the energy of Yakupov, but he doesn't take games off. His style of game can sometimes come off as lazy, but he's really just a cerebral player and he does commit himself to his defense and will win some board battles. While many bring up his poor CHL playoffs where he seemed extremely lazy, I am under the impression he was playing hurt (and it was also recently reported he was suffering from mono), and in a neutral context over the long term based on the lengthy time I've been following him, I do not feel that is an accurate representation of Grigorenko's effort level. The fact Grigorenko is not that tough is taken into account in the aforementioned physical game arguments, but he's not the kind of player who doesn't backcheck or anything. I see the issue as a minor one, but at the same time we have a player in Grigorenko who even aside from that, has come out marginally behind in head-to-head comparisons skillset-wise, plays center as opposed to wing, and his raw upside is a notch higher due to his elite level possession skills/hockey sense. I have minor arguments in favor of Grigorenko or Yakupov, and like I said at the outset, I could have gone either way. However, I currently see Yakupov as slightly better, although I could potentially see Grigorenko as the slightly better player down the road, but in such a close call, the odd warning signeven if a marginal onecauses me to lean towards Yakupov.
2. Mikhail Grigorenko, Center, Quebec-QMJHL
Grigorenko is a very special kind of talent who scouts have been hearing about for many years. He absolutely burst onto the scene last year with a tremendous performance at the Under-18s. He's an exceptionally gifted player who can control the flow of a hockey game seemingly at will with elite puck skills, vision, offensive creativity, and overall hockey sense. He makes high level dekes seem effortless and is the kind of player who is able to slow the game down to his pace rather than try to keep up with it. His ability as a playmaker is really special as he is the classic "eyes in the back of his head" type of player who consistently makes high-level reads quickly and effectively. Grigorenko's hand skills allow him to keep the puck away from pursuers very well and when he's setting up in open ice, the chances of a defender being able to cleanly check him is low. When you combine his puck skills and sense, though, you get the combination of tools that allow him to make "unique" plays, that after they happen, you try to remember about the last time you saw a play similar to that. He is an above-average skater who industry sources have described with the kind of stride that looks like he's floating on the ice as he effortlessly picks up speed especially for a bigger player. Grigorenko also has a pretty decent array of shots and is certainly an above-average finisher. He is an advanced two-way thinker who gets the job done at a decent level in his own end, and while he struggled with that aspect of his game earlier in the year, he was much better later on. He has above-average size, and while he doesn't really use his frame as much as he could, he's decent in the physical aspects of hockey as he boxes out fine along the wall and will win some battles. His work ethic draws issues at times but he's not an extremely lazy player, though he's not one who gives it 100% every shift. He's also the kind of player who likes to slow the game down, so some observers perceive that as questionable work ethic. However, he's the kind of talent who NHL sources have described as the best guy on the ice while he's going at 75%.
Ranking Explanation: This ranking won't require the same amount of detail. I see Grigorenko as a better puck handler, and a much better thinker while Galchenyuk is a better skater, with a better physical game and intangibles. Outside of the difference in hockey sensewhere Galchenyuk is high endI don't see a massive gap that could really tilt the scales in any of those differences. They are both great players, but Grigorenko has top 15-20 forward in the league upside, whereas Galchenyuk's upside is an above-average first-line center, which in itself is tremendous, but it isn't Grigorenko. Grigorenko's intangibles I understand create concerns, as I've addressed above. I'm not promoting the fact Grigorenko goes 100%, but in a neutral environment, if you take his talent level + effort = output, over the long run, he gives enough effort level to project to deliver elite level output.
3. Alex Galchenyuk, Center, Sarnia-OHL:
At this time last year, there were three forwards who people in the industry thought had a chance to go first overall: Mikhail Grigorenko, Nail Yakupov, and Alex Galchenyuk. Grigorenko has the work ethic question mark but the highest upside, Yakupov has the scoring track record and a more explosive style of play but his possession skill set isn't as high end, and Galchenyuk brings a good median between the two which is why some NHL sources thought he had a great chance to go number one overall before tearing his [Editor: correction] ACL. Prior to the knee injury, Galchenyuk's skating showed anywhere from above-average to plus with significant improvement over the last year or two. His top speed is impressive and can certainly back defensemen up. With a major knee surgery lingering over him, though, what was once a strength of his game may be in question, but when he came back at the end of the season there seemed to be no lingering effects in that area. Galchenyuk's true strengths lie in his puck skills, vision, and overall possession ability. He's a very talented playmaker who has a pass-first mentality, thinks the game at a high level, and his decisions require little processing time. He's very coordinated in tight, showing plus puck skills and great creativity. While he can do great things in open ice, he's also dangerous on the cycle with a big body and a good physical work ethic that makes it very hard for opponents to strip possession from him. Galchenyuk is a very hard worker who shows commitment at the defensive end of the rink, and outside of the knee injury, he has no aspect about his profile that you cannot praise.
Ranking Explanation: This was an easy call for me. Despite losing an entire year, from knowing the kind of skill set Galchenyuk has, I don't see a single area besides maybe shot and his body being more developed where Forsberg is better. Galchenyuk is a better skater, has equal puck skills, on top of better offensive and defensive hockey sense. As I said in the Introduction, there is a talent fall off in my opinion after Grigorenko and after Galchenyuk.
4. Filip Forsberg, Right Wing, Leksands-Allsvenskan
Forsberg is a tremendous all-around talent with no clear weakness in his game and the ability to just about everything at an above-average level. Forsberg has high-end puck skills and looks unique when he's holding the puck as he shows a soft touch and a really slippery, yet coordinated way of how he holds it on his stick that allows him to consistently make tremendous moves with the puck and have it look seamless. He couples that level of skill with above-average vision as he's a pretty good passer who is creative, intuitive who can on occasion flash high-end ability in that area but not very often. Forsberg is an above-average skater whose top speed is average or a touch above average, but he's really aided by a great first step that looks very powerful off the line. Forsberg is a very good physical player who gets described by industry sources as "an instinctive physical player" and someone who throws his body around so regularly that it seems natural. His frame is pretty muscular for a 17-year-old born in August which is visible in his puck battles and how well he is able to control the puck. Another weapon Forsberg has is his shot, which isn't his best tool, but it's better than average and he can certainly finish chances. At this point, you can likely guess what all the hype is about as Forsberg has so many ways he can beat you with a great raw skill set, yet he's a smart player who gets his body work done and works very hard on the ice.
Ranking Explanation: In this ranking match-up, I was comparing a player in Forsberg who at certain points in the year, I would have had some red alarms go off in my head if I had placed him at number four on my boardversus a player in Teravainen who I have been pretty high on for most of the season. The red flags on Forsberg doesn't mean to infer I thought he was bad, but based on talks I had with some scouts who watched him overseas, there were some concerns if he had legit high-end upside. Towards the end of the year those concerns waned, but when taking or placing a guy this high, I felt it's something I should note. When comparing them, I would say their puck skills are about equivalent but Teravainen I would say has better hockey sense. I'd also say they are equal skaters, although I think some in the industry would favor Teravainen in that aspectbut I don't. That creates a value gap in favor of Teravainen when you compare those critical aspects, as the hockey sense gap I'd say is only about one notch, but considering the other elements being a push, it tips the scale way in Teravainen's direction. The thing that made me go with Forsberg was the massive gap in their physical games. Forsberg has slightly above-average size with great physical effort, while Teravainen, even with effort in the physical game, probably ends up replacement level at best there. The gap is small to me and I wouldn't be surprised if Teravainen ends up the better player, but today I give the edge to Forsberg.
5. Teuvo Teravainen, Left Wing, Jokerit-SM-Liiga
Teravainen is a tremendously skilled all-around winger who has played at a very impressive performance level considering how he's a few days removed from being a 2013 eligible and is still scoring in Finland's top pro league. Teravainen is an impressive skater with a great first few steps who can get to a dangerous top speed that puts defenders on their heels, while also showing the ability to change gears quickly, and is very elusive from a standstill. His combination of quickness and speed is a great asset but his possession skills are even better and really drive top-end value. Teravainen has high-end puck skills which when combined with the ability he has with his feet, allow him to make very rapid movements with the puck and create space for himself in an instant. He's a smart, creative player who knows how to miss checks and open up lanes. Tervainen has plus vision and regularly makes very aware distributions with regular moments of flash in his playmaking. He's the kind of player who scouts describe as "a player who sees everything." Teravainen has above-average finishing skills as well. While he usually on the power play creates plays from the right side, he can also open up his hips and wind up a big one-timer. He's small guy and that's his main issue, but he does have a decent compete level although it's hard to see his physical game being more than replacement level. If he improves his strength significantly however as he grows, I could possibly see that aspect getting to a half-grade above that level. His compete level shows up at both ends as he backchecks well, and overall despite his size, I tend to be pretty impressed with his defensive game although I've heard conflicting things about it. Teravainen commonly is listed as a winger, but I've also seen him play center with some effectiveness.
Ranking Explanation: This ranking is where the systematic change in my ranking approach in regards to defensemen that I mentioned in the Introduction came into play. I think Matt Dumba has a slightly higher talent level than Teuvo Teravainen and the same goes for Morgan Rielly. Ryan Murray I'd say is close. However, in regards to Dumba vs. Teravainen, I don't think the gap is sizeable, rather just moderate to slight. Despite the fact I don't see Dumba being high end or better at anything but skating and maybe shooting at the NHL level, the fact that he's a near elite-level skater along with being good in every other area makes me think he has average first-pairing defender upside. With that in mind, I think Teravainen has average to borderline below-average first-line upside. Dumba's ceiling is more valuable in the NHL today than Teravainen's while also having a slightly higher talent level as well. However, based on historical evidence on drafted defensemen, there is much higher uncertainty on him reaching his potential due to the position he plays; defense has a lot of elements to it. Young players tend to have quite a lot to learn about the position when they're drafted at 17 or 18, and it creates more bumps along the road than for forwards who much more often than defense, tend to produce at a high level if they're picked at the top of the draft. In summary, I think Dumba is slightly better than Teravainen today, I think his ceiling has notably more value in the NHL than Teravainen, but the risk/reward is way too high on the risk part to justify passing up on a first line talent.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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