Defense dominates top 10 NHL draft picks
PITTSBURGH – On a day that’s largely filled with uncertainly, there was one sure thing about Friday’s first round of the NHL draft: 2012 is a class dominated by talented defensemen.
And with the exception of the first- and third-overall selections (which we’ll get to in just a second), defense ruled the day on Friday. Eight of the top 10 picks were blueliners, a fact that surprised few of the fans and media who filled the CONSOL Energy Center to watch the first 30 players of this year’s draft class join their new teams.
For the third year in a row, it was the Edmonton Oilers who were granted the first-overall pick. In 2010, they used it to select left wing Taylor Hall. The following year, again with the top selection, they nabbed an impressive centerman in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
On Friday, the Oilers completed a “top pick” line by selecting Nail Yakupov, a right wing from Nizhnekamisk, Russia, generally regarded as the most naturally talented, gifted player available in the draft. No draft pick is ever a guarantee, of course, but Yakupov is a player who could very well make an impact next season – and will likely be fun to watch.
Should he make the Oilers’ roster right away, the Flyers will have to wait to face him. The Flyers play Edmonton only once next season, Feb. 9. The good news for Philly fans hoping to catch the young goal-scorer in action is that the game will take place at the Wells Fargo Center. Yakupov thinks he’ll be there.
"I think I'm ready for NHL,” he said. “I want to try. I have whole summer to train and work with Edmonton. This is a great team, a young team, and they play good hockey. It'll be good playing with those players.”
A little less flashy, the second-overall pick of the draft was defenseman Ryan Murray, who will head to a Columbus Blue Jackets team in need of a fortified blue line. Perhaps the only defenseman in the draft who’s immediately NHL-ready, Murray could be a welcomed protector for goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, whom the Flyers dealt to the Jackets earlier Friday (see story)
Like the pick that preceded him, Murray believes he’s ready to make it to the big club right away.
“That's what I want to do,” Murray said. “I want to jump into there as soon as I can. I got a lot of work to do this summer they have a lot of good D-men there.”
Yakupov and Murray for weeks have been considered the top two players in the draft. It was no surprise to see them end up in Edmonton and Columbus. And from there, at least through the first seven picks, most every selection seemed to follow the script.
The Montreal Canadiens, with pick No. 3, selected a teammate of Yakupov’s. Alex Galchenyuk, a center, plays alongside Yakupov with Sarnia of the OHL. The Habs liked Galchenyuk enough to overlook the fact that an ACL injury forced him to miss all but two of Sarnia’s regular-season games.
With the fourth-overall selection, the New York Islanders returned to the defense-first script and took Griffin Reinhart, son of Paul who played in the NHL for Atlanta, Calgary and Vancouver. A steady defenseman, Reinhart brings size (he’s 6-foot-4) and an offensive-minded game to the Island.
Morgan Rielly went to the Toronto Maple Leafs at No. 5 – And while Central Scouting has had him ranked at No. 5 for months, Leafs GM Brian Burke said Toronto had him pegged at No. 1 all along. Rielly, yet another defenseman, is a strong skater who’s adept at moving the puck.
The Anaheim Ducks picked up a smooth-skating Swede with the sixth-overall pick, Hampus Lindholm. At the 2012 World Juniors, Lindholm was named one of team Sweden’s three MVPs. While he was on CSNPhilly.com’s list of top defensemen of the draft, he did fly under the radar a bit – some analysts suggest he could be among this year’s bigger steals.
With Pick No. 7, the Minnesota Wild took Matt Dumba, a big defenseman with a strong shot and big offensive upside. Dumba, like each of the other players that took the stage at CONSOL on Friday, was all smiles when greeting the media.
“It is [surreal],” Dumba said. “Really. It's amazing. Just hugging my parents, my mom crying, and everyone being so happy for me. I couldn't have done it without them. I'm so thankful.”
Just as the crowd in the arena had seemed to have been lulled to sleep by the sluggish pace of the evening, commissioner Gary Bettman woke them up with the announcement of a trade directly affecting the hometown fan base. The Carolina Hurricanes, owners of the No. 8 pick, dished it to the Pittsburgh Penguins along with Brandon Sutter and prospect Brian Dumoulin for Jordan Staal.
With their new pick, the Pens grabbed Derrick Pouliot of the WHL. But whether or not Pouliot makes it to the big club next season, the Penguins certainly improved very quickly Friday night. And when Pouliot makes the roster, he’ll be something else the Flyers will have to look out for.
“I think I'm a good skater, I think that's one of my strengths,” Pouliot said. “Hopefully I'll be able to carry that on to [the Penguins].”
American Jacob Trouba headed to the Winnipeg Jets at No. 9. A solid, strong skater, Trouba will need some time to mature like most prospects, but could wind up in Winnipeg sooner rather than later. The team could certainly use his help on the power play.
Closing out the top 10 picks of the draft, the Tampa Bay Lightning selected yet another defenseman, Slater Koekkoek. A two-way player, Koekkoek wasn’t on CSNPhilly.com’s list of top D-men, but he has a reputation as a solid, all-around player, and he's happy to have landed with the Bolts.
“Tampa's nothing but up, here,” Koekkoek said. “And I'm hoping for the best in years to come, for sure. It shouldn't be too far down the road.”E-mail Sarah Baicker at firstname.lastname@example.org