One year ago, those who follow college hockey closely may have had some concerns after the first round of the NHL Entry Draft produced the fewest players with college hockey ties in recent memory.
If you pressed the panic button a year ago, you might want to escalate that concern to the next level now.
Friday’s opening round of the 2012 draft could produce one of the worst college hockey classes in history with the potential that only one — or possibly even zero — players with college ties hear their names called.
Jacob Trouba, a standout from last year’s U.S. World Junior team, is ranked ninth among North American skaters by NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau. He is scheduled to attend Michigan next season, though he also was drafted by Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League and could back out of his commitment to the Wolverines. International Scouting Services ranks Trouba fifth overall, which could be a good indication this prospect will end up in the top 10.
But something like that is hardly a guarantee when it comes to the draft.
While Trouba may seem like a first-round lock, there are few others that boast his credentials, particularly when it comes to the ranking bodies.
Vermont recruit Zemgus Girgensons, who grew up in Latvia but came to the U.S. to play junior hockey, is ranked 18th by the CSB and 20th by ISS. Like Trouba, he also was drafted by a Canadian Hockey League club — Kelowna of the Western Hockey League. But that team’s aggressive targeting of the 18 year old has rubbed him the wrong way, according to published reports, likely securing his road to Vermont.
At 6-foot-1 and 201 pounds, he’s already filled out and that could work to his advantage when teams are considering first-round talent.
The top current collegian is Michigan’s Phil Di Giuseppe, who is 22nd in the CSB’s rankings but 45th according to ISS. Some feel that Di Giuseppe’s year of college, in which he tallied 11 goals and 26 points in his 40 games for the Wolverines last season, could up his overall draft value.
Incoming Minnesota recruit Brady Skjei, a 6-foot-3 defenseman, is considered by some scouts to be the best skating defenseman in the draft.
His offensive skills may lack, having registered just 12 points last season for the U.S. Under-18 Team, and he may need to either fill out a bit (currently listed at 203 pounds) or use his size more to his advantage. But this talented blueliner could be the biggest upset of the first round if he jumps into the top 20.
Skjei concludes the list of collegians that have first-round potential.
That, however, doesn’t mean college hockey can’t dominate this draft.
The second round could be filled with college players. That list could include incoming Michigan center Cristoval “Boo” Nieves, who almost certainly needs to fill out his 6-foot-3 frame; Nicolas Kerdiles, a Wisconsin recruit who was listed among the top forwards for the U.S. National Team Development Program; and Nebraska-Omaha recruit Anthony Stolarz, the top-rated college-bound goaltender according to the CSB.
Union’s Shayne Gostisbehere, who stood out among the top undrafted players at last year’s NCAA tournament, is ranked 148th among North American born forwards though could be a threat to move up after his stellar postseason.
Russia’s Nail (pronounced “Nah-eel”) Yakupov is projected to be the top overall player selected by the Edmonton Oilers. If taken first, Yakupov would be the first Russian to be the top pick since Alexander Ovechkin in 2004. Yakupov surpassed Tampa Bay Lightning standout Steven Stamkos’ record for rookie points last season in Sarnia of the OHL, netting 49 goals and 101 points in 65 games. He was hampered by injuries last season but that shouldn’t drop his overall draft value.
Alex Galchenyuk, the son of a former Russian hockey player, was born in the U.S. and is thought to be the top American prospect. Galchenyuk is also a member of the Sarnia Sting, but he is coming off a significant knee injury that forced him to miss all but two games last season.
The 2012 NHL Entry Draft, being held at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, begins on Friday (7 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports Network) when the first-round picks will be announced. The second through seventh rounds will take place on Saturday (10 a.m., NHL Network).