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December 1, 2012
From Daigle To Datsyuk
How 2012 Draft's Top Picks Are Faring

by Corey Pronman and ESPN Insider

The season is well under way for many prospects, so this is a good time to check in on how some of the top picks from the 2012 draft are progressing. The following reports are based on conversations with scouts and executives and my own observations.

No. 1, Nail Yakupov, RW, Edmonton Oilers (Neftekhimik-KHL)

Yakupov has been off to a torrid start, with 10 goals and 18 points in 18 games. For a junior-aged player to be able to score at that rate in the second-best league in the world is very unusual. For some context, the points per game rates for super prospects Evgeny Kuznetsov (Capitals) and Vladimir Tarasenko (Blues) were 0.84 and 0.45 in the KHL at the same age. In two series this season versus Canada's top juniors, Yakupov was average, though he did show some elite flashes. When the NHL doors do open, though, he should be ready to start with the Oilers. And his form from the KHL is any indication, he could work himself into getting some scoring-line minutes from the start.

No. 2, Ryan Murray, D, Columbus Blue Jackets (Everett-WHL)

If training camps had opened as usual, Murray would have likely been in a battle for a roster spot on Columbus's blueline along with other top prospects Tim Erixon, John Moore and David Savard. However, in a game on Nov. 16, Murray injured his shoulder, tearing a labrum, and will miss a large chunk of the season. Before the injury he was leading Everett in scoring, showing significant two-way ability and would have been a top-pairing defenseman for Team Canada at the World Juniors.

No. 3, Alex Galchenyuk, C, Montreal Canadiens (Sarnia-OHL)

Despite his immense talent Galchenyuk was a risk to be picked at No. 3 due to a knee injury that forced him to miss most of his draft season. At the Under-20 tournament in Lake Placid in the summer he looked on and off at best, and his play raised at least some mild concern. He started off a little slow in his first few OHL games as well, but from the start of October onward he's been on fire. From talking to scouts he appears to be 100 percent, showing the combination of high-end speed, hands, hockey sense and grit the Habs saw in him before he got hurt.

No. 4, Griffin Reinhart, D, New York Islanders (Edmonton-WHL)

If one were to simply look at Reinhart's statistics early on it would not paint a pretty picture. In 25 games he's scored nine points, which would rank him 14th among WHL defensemen who have their rights owned by NHL teams. However, keep in mind that the Oil Kings' first power-play unit is made up of five forwards, so that certainly influences his scoring. Also Reinhart's main value comes from his top-end defensive play due to his physical game and hockey sense -- which he has displayed consistently this season.

No. 5, Morgan Rielly, D, Toronto Maple Leafs (Moose Jaw-WHL)

At the time of the draft Rielly was seen as a significant risk/reward type of pick. Not to the degree of Galchenyuk, but he too was battling a major knee injury. Rielly's an immensely gifted defenseman with great speed, puck skills and hockey sense but teams had to worry about a somewhat small, slight defenseman with an injury background. He's been nothing short of great this season though, turning heads all around, and may even be on the top pairing for Canada at the World Juniors. However, his strength level still needs a lot attention.

No. 6, Hampus Lindholm, D, Anaheim Ducks (Norfolk-AHL)

As I wrote about with Lindholm a few weeks ago, he's hit the ground running in the AHL, establishing himself in a top-four role. This isn't a surprise to some scouts who point to how he was logging big minutes towards the end of last season in Sweden's tier-two pro league. Should the NHL season start, the Ducks will probably come calling for defenseman Sami Vatanen first, but Lindholm seems to be tracking well to make a bid for a roster spot very soon, likely in 2013-14. With Jonas Brodin and Oscar Klefbom out with injuries, he may have to log huge minutes for Sweden at the World Juniors too. He was injured in a recent AHL game but should be fine for the tournament.

No. 7, Mathew Dumba, D, Minnesota Wild (Red Deer-WHL)

When I've talked to scouts who have seen Dumba this season I've gotten mixed messages. There will be one who's seen him perform very well, showing significant offensive ability and own-end value, while another will say he didn't stand out much or was making mistakes. This is understandable to a degree, given that last season the main criticism of Dumba's game was he needed to harness his raw elite tools, which tends to be a gradual process as a player matures.

No. 8, Derrick Pouliot, D, Pittsburgh Penguins (Portland-WHL)

At the time of the draft there were some eyebrows raised when Pittsburgh took Pouliot considering who else was left on the board, although I have asked several NHL sources who agreed with the pick and understood the upside Pittsburgh was going for. Pouliot is a dynamic offensive talent between his ability to rush the puck or move it, who is scoring at roughly a point per game, although his all-around game could still use some attention.

No. 9, Jacob Trouba, D, Winnipeg Jets (Michigan-CCHA)

When I heard from one scout about Trouba's play this year it was nothing short of a glowing review for the freshman. His strong points at the time of the draft were his skating, physical play and defensive game. Even though he did lead the U.S. National Team Development Program in scoring for defensemen last season (marginally ahead of potential 2013 No.1 pick Seth Jones), his offensive projection was above-average from his best supporters. This year he's shown the physical elements he can bring in his own end, but the offense has been there too at a very impressive level.

No. 10, Slater Koekkoek, D, Tampa Bay Lightning (Peterborough-OHL)

As with Pouliot, there was certainly some skepticism at the time of the draft when Tampa Bay took Koekkoek. When I asked a head scout about his thoughts on the pick, he responded that if they were drafting him based on his performance as a 16-year-old he'd understand. Koekkoek hurt his shoulder early on in his draft season and missed a significant portion of time. Tampa's top scout Al Murray said he believed the pick wouldn't have seemed odd at all if Koekkoek had stayed healthy all season. Koekkoek has generally been impressive this year, tied for 10th among defensemen in OHL scoring, while logging a ton of minutes and showing significant shutdown- and puck-moving ability.

No. 11, Filip Forsberg, RW, Washington Capitals (Leksands-Allsvenskan)

Forsberg has had a quality season thus far. He was absolutely terrific at the summer Under-20 camp in Lake Placid for Sweden and got off to a hot start for Leksands. He's lately bounced between a scoring line and third-line duty but he's still performing very well for a junior-aged player in a pro league, leading all U-20 forwards in scoring in that league. Forsberg recently suffered a minor injury but should he recover, his high-end offensive skill and power game would be a welcome addition to the top of Sweden's lineup at the World Juniors.

No. 12, Mikhail Grigorenko, C, Buffalo Sabres (Quebec-QMJHL)

Grigorenko has gotten off to a very fast start, leading the QMJHL in goals and is second in points. In fact over the last two seasons, 47 of Grigorenko's 64 goals have been at even-strength, which is a notable indicator of future success. After an average series against Canada in the summer, Grigorenko has been very impressive to observers in the QMJHL and during the recent Subway Super Series. Grigorenko's consistency issues can still be identified, although at a lesser degree these days. However, his elite skill set has shined through and he's playing at the level he displayed for most of last season.

A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Corey by clicking here or click here to see Corey's other articles.

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