The second day of the NHL Draft week here in Pittsburgh has been filled with activity -- for both the media and the 2012 top prospects. Thursday began with a media availability and luncheon on the Empress 2 riverboat. It was a gorgeous day (a little warm, but hey, it's summer!) and we had a nice meal before taking a cruise down the river.
Just don't ask me which river it was; there are three of them and two are almost impossible to spell (haha). We caught up with several of the prospects that were made available today and had some really entertaining conversations. The kids were relaxed, but each expressed a desire to get to tomorrow night's draft and get things going. There has been a lot of build-up and hype -- now they're ready to see how things unfold.
One of the biggest personalities of the week has easily been Nail Yakupov, this year's top-ranked North American skater. During the batting practice event over at PNC Park, Yakupov struggled to make solid contact -- but when he sent a chopper up the middle, he took off out of the batter's box...but ran to second base. We'll give him a pass, but he did show some good wheels.
Here's some highlights from Yakupov's conversation with the media during today's luncheon:
On the experience of draft week overall:
“I’m enjoying it here. I’m having fun with the guys, and I’m here with my family. I’m just waiting for the draft, and I don’t feel any pressure and I’m not nervous. We’ll just wait for tomorrow and see what happens.”
Have you started to think about going first overall?
“Not thinking about that. I’m just thinking about the draft, that’s it.”
When did you start to think that going No. 1 was realistic? “I think everyone wants to be first. You want to be first, too, right? I think it was my dream to play in the NHL and to make it here. First is first; I want to be the top player in the NHL.”
How nice is it to have a teammate/friend like Alex Galchenyuk here with you? “The first year (in North America) was tough because you don’t know the language, but Gally was with me always that year, helping to translate. He got tired of translating, so I tried to learn (English) and keep going, move forward and try to talk with the guys in the dressing room and on the bus. Gally helped me a lot, and his family. It’s great.”
Do you have any sense of what the Oilers might do with the No. 1 pick? Any ideas?
“We just talked about my life. Nothing about the draft, really. I don’t know what they’re going to do.”
NOTE: Stay tuned to the blog, as we'll have a lot more to come this afternoon and evening from Pittsburgh. Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson is scheduled to meet with the media around 5 p.m. (ET). JacketsTV will be there to film the media session, and we'll have highlights on Twitter (@BlueJacketsNHL) as well as a recap on the Draft Central blog.
Here is today's recap, hosted by Blue Jackets TV voice Jeff Rimer. We cover all the events on this pre-draft Wednesday, including the prospects clinic, an update on the Blue Jackets' draft preparations with Tyler Wright, and a whole lot more. Check it out:
The NHL Draft can be an "all-business" event for the prospects and others involved, but every once in a while, it's refreshing to see the players in a different element. That's where the annual prospects clinic comes in -- and you can see right away that the kids are much more comfortable being, well, kids.
JacketsTV and BlueJackets.com spent the afternoon at the Ice Castle in suburban Pittsburgh, where five of this year's top draft prospects gathered for a fun-filled clinic with local youth hockey players. No helmets, pads or systems-work required here; just a couple hours of skating, laughs and helpful tips for the mites as they get a unique chance to skate alongside future NHL stars.
Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray, Alex Galchenyuk, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Jacob Trouba participated in the clinic today and each took some time after the session to meet with the media. After the clinic, they headed over to the Roberto Clemente Bridge for a game of ball hockey with more kids from the area.
Here's the transcript of our conversation with top defense prospect Ryan Murray:
Asked what his emotions are as the NHL Draft approaches:
"I’m more anxious and excited than nervous, I think. Everyone doesn’t really know what’s going to happen, and that just makes it more exciting for Friday. The excitement level is pretty high, I think. We’ve all been talking amongst each other and everybody says the same thing. We really have no idea right now where anyone is going to go, so it’s pretty exciting."
On today's clinic:
"It was real fun. I don’t know how old those guys were, but they’re pretty young and just getting started with hockey. It’s good to give back to the kids – we all started somewhere. They didn’t really ask me any questions, they’re just fun to be around."
On the biggest difference between junior hockey and the NHL:
"I think probably just the speed and the size of the guys. It’s a lot faster, and they’re so much bigger and stronger than in the junior leagues, so yeah, that’s probably it."
On which NHL player(s) he models his game after:
"I really like the way Duncan Keith plays. I really like his style, and the way he handles himself on the ice. He’s so good in every single zone, and so good with the puck, as well. He always seems to make the right play. He’s just a great player to watch and a great player to learn from."
On if he thinks he's ready to make the jump to the NHL this season:
"That’s what I want to do. That’s my goal, and that’s what I want to do next year. With those guys – I think Fowler was 18 – I have an extra year, I have a late birthday so I’ve had an extra year in junior already. I want to make the jump, and obviously it’s a big one and I know I have a lot of work to do, but that’s the goal next year. I missed the cutoff date (for birthdays) by 12 days, so I’ve got a pretty big head start on the other guys. The scouts probably keep that in mind, too; I try to relate myself to the ‘93s a lot. It’s been a fun ride and I’m really excited for Friday."
On what he's worked on during his offseason training:
"I’ve tried to get more explosive, and get more quicker in the gym. (I’ve tried to) get stronger, too, but mostly get explosive and work on the legs quite a bit."
UPDATE 5:30 P.M.: We've got more quotes and comments from the prospects coming your way, but we'll start this update with a funny story from the clinic. The media was allowed into the prospects' dressing room shortly before they took the ice, and you could tell right off the bat that Yakupov was the most relaxed and easy-going of the group. He joked that he was going to keep it casual and wear a polo on the ice during the skate -- but ended up sporting his Sarnia Sting jersey anyway.
Rather than skate around the rink for a few laps and get warmed up, Yakupov immediately gravitated toward the youngsters partcipating in the clinic. Some could barely skate, some saw the end boards as a good place for a three-kid pile-up, and others got to shoot pucks with the prospects. Yakupov probably did six or seven sets of toe-drag moves through a couple dozen kids, as the mites stared in amazement and tried to take the puck from Nail (largely unsuccessful, but can't fault them for trying).
Then, after the clinic, Yakupov joined the media again for some on-camera interviews and opened by asking me (Rob) if I was Russian. In the best English I could muster, I replied "no" which made him chuckle. Next time we cross paths, I'm determined to conduct our interview in Russian. (As I type this, I may or may not be ordering Russian language-learning software online)...
Here are some of Yakupov's (fun, dry, and witty) comments from today's media session:
On today's clinic:
For me, it was a great time. Great to be with the kids. Some of them were crazy, and slashed me a few times (laughs), but I had fun so it's OK. There were too many kids asking tough questions...but there were some hard drills, too, and that was OK.
What kind of tough questions did the kids ask?
(They asked) 'what's your name?' I said Bobby.
On what it's like to finally be in Pittsburgh and preparing for the NHL Draft:
It's a great town, great city. It's good to see all the guys here, and just wait for the draft. Great hotel, great food, great location.
On if he feels any nerves as the draft gets closer:
No, no nerves. No pressure, nothing.
Asked if he thinks about the possibilities at the draft, or what team he may go to:
No, I'm just having fun here and not worrying (about where he could end up). Just sleeping and eating, that's it.
NOTE: We will have more coverage from the prospects clinic this afternoon and evening on both this blog and JacketsTV. Look for an interview with #CBJ director of amateur scouting Tyler Wright, and a recap of today's events with Jeff Rimer.
Q: Given the list of players who have been selected #2 overall, does that give you a sense of confidence heading into the draft with a high pick?
CP: You're definitely confident that you're going to get a player who can play at a high level. Of those names (in the past), I'm not sure there's anyone of that caliber in this draft, but there's some very good players in this draft and we're going to get someone who can play for us at some point down the road.
Q: Your staff and scouts have done a lot of work throughout the season, but now it's getting down to brass tacks. What are the conversations like as we get closer to the draft?
CP: We put our preliminary list together some time ago, and there's been some more work done since then. Now, we're sitting down talking about what's transpired in the last month and a half with some of these kids, and now how that might affect how we're thinking and what our list looks like. We'll talk some more, and then come up with our final list before we get to Friday.
Q: Is this year's draft class strong in any particular area?
CP: I think the early part of the draft is deeper at defense, but then you're talking quantity which isn't the same as quality. It's going to be a good draft, and everyone is going to get a good player out of the first round. I like picking second over picking 30th -- even though we might be picking 30th (laughs), or even over 29th...but we're looking forward to getting a pretty good player.
Q: How much of this process is planned, and how much is spontaneous based on what happens on the draft floor?
CP: We're pretty certain with what we're going to do, no matter what Edmonton does. We're set regardless, and we're going to pick a great player. After that, everybody approaches things differently. My approach has always been that you pick the best player available, and sometimes, you can have separate lists that vary based on the scenarios presented. When we get maybe three or four picks out, we'll start looking at our lists and talking about who's available, then narrow it down to two or three guys we're very interested in. No matter what the position is, we're looking for the best player available.
Top heavy. Weak. Strong. Convoluted. Dynamic.
We've heard those adjectives and lot more used to describe the prospect pools of this NHL Draft, as well as those of years past. The unpredictable nature of the draft makes it seem kind of like an annual trip to the farmer's market -- you don't truly know what's ripe until you get there, and there's a chance you might not get what you want when all is said and done.
With 72 hours left until the 2012 NHL Draft gets under way in Pittsburgh, teams are putting the finishing touches on their lists and having final meetings before the drama begins in earnest. The Blue Jackets, owners of the No. 2 overall pick, will sit and wait while most of the attention centers on the Edmonton Oilers -- winners of the draft lottery in April. With a stable of young and dynamic forwards that includes Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, will they go "best player available" and select Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting?
Could the Oilers opt to strengthen their blue line, and draft a defenseman? Anything is possible, and the Blue Jackets will certainly be paying close attention to the events on stage before they the podium. In recent years, the top five picks in the draft order have taught us at least one thing: there are top-end and (potentially) game-breaking players to be had at the top of the board.
The Blue Jackets will have an opportunity to select a player whom they hope will have an impact on the franchise at No. 2 -- a position that has yielded several current NHL superstars over the years.
2011 DRAFT: The Colorado Avalanche owned the second pick in this draft, and GM Greg Sherman stepped to the microphone to select power forward Gabriel Landeskog from the OHL's Kitchener Rangers. Landeskog made the jump to the NHL right away, and in his rookie season, scored 22 goals and put up 52 points to solidify his candidacy for the Calder Trophy.
2010 DRAFT: Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has to be thanking the Toronto Maple Leafs for this one -- after sending winger Phil Kessel to Toronto in a huge trade, the Bruins collected the Leafs' first-round pick in 2010, which ended up being a lottery pick at second overall. They took Seguin right after Hall was selected by Edmonton, and the 19-year-old center has become one of the Bruins' best scorers after a tremendous sophomore campaign in 2011-12.
2009 DRAFT: Victor Hedman drew comparisons to Chris Pronger throughout his draft year, but when he was drafted by the Lightning, the management team in Tampa knew their stud defenseman was going to need some time to develop. He's on the upward path now, and having recently signed a multi-year extension to remain with the Bolts, Hedman projects as a strong top-pair defenseman in the NHL.
2008 DRAFT: Much of the buzz leading up to this draft was generated by the Lightning's "Seen Stamkos" campaign, and after Stamkos was drafted with the top pick, Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi zeroed in on a young defenseman from the Guelph Storm (OHL): Drew Doughty. In the Kings' Stanley Cup run in 2012, Doughty was arguably their best offensive player and played big minutes with veteran rearguard Rob Scuderi.
2007 DRAFT: Former Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon may have drafted one of the most skilled players in the class (Patrick Kane), but the Flyers stepped to the podium at Nationwide Arena and selected James van Riemsdyk -- a young power forward who was a member of the hockey team at the University of New Hampshire. His injury troubles have been well-documented, but a recent long-term contract extension solidifies him as a potential top-six forward on Broad St. for years to come.
2006 DRAFT: The St. Louis Blues took some heat for drafting Erik Johnson at No. 1 overall, mainly because the strength of this draft class was at center ice. The Penguins and GM Ray Shero got it started by taking Jordan Staal at No. 2, and then the Blackhawks followed with Jonathan Toews at third overall. Staal has become a third-line fixture in Pittsburgh, playing shutdown minutes behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- but many believe he's got the ability to play a larger offensive role if given the opportunity.
2005 DRAFT: It took a while for Bobby Ryan to develop his game and emerge from the shadow of the player drafted right before him (some guy named Crosby), but once he hit the NHL stage on a full-time basis, he became a dynamic force for the Anaheim Ducks. Ryan was an offensive catalyst for Team USA at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, and at age 25, figures to be a building block at power forward for both the Ducks and USA Hockey.
If you read our top prospects feature series on BlueJackets.com, the name Filip Forsberg should not be unfamiliar. Much like top-ranked North American skater Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting (OHL), Forsberg finished the 2011-12 season atop the European draft rankings from NHL Central Scouting.
What's the scoop on Forsberg? He's young (17 years old) but many believe he's the next big thing to come out of the European hockey ranks. The big, lanky Swede played in the Swedish "second" league for Leskands IF this past season, and is considered one of the better two-way players available in this draft class. He can play both center and right wing, and has a "power forward" element to his game, as well.
Here's a brief scouting report on Forsberg, via Goran Stubb of NHL Central Scouting:
"A leader who shows by example -- I would compare him to Anaheim's Corey Perry a little bit. Has a nose for the net, and often scores the big goals. He's a creative playmaker, good skater with fine straight-ahead speed. He's a right-handed forward with an excellent shot and an effective two-way player with a great winning attitude. Filip's a solid puck carrier with very good puck-handling skills; mature, good size and physically strong. On top of that, he'll sacrifice himself to make the play.”
Since we're in the mock draft swing of things, let's have a look at another one. Blue Jackets television voice Jeff Rimer is one of the most connected people in the NHL, and he has been doing his homework leading up to this year's NHL Draft. There's a lot of intrigue and uncertainty at the top of the draft board, and based on the varying opinions and mock drafts out there, it's easy to decipher that there's no true consensus from picks 1-10.
We checked in with Rimer recently and he was kind enough to submit his projections for the top 10 selections. Here they are:
JEFF RIMER'S MOCK DRAFT:
1. EDMONTON OILERS: Nail Yakupov
2. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: Ryan Murray
3. MONTREAL CANADIENS: Filip Forsberg
4. NEW YORK ISLANDERS: Morgan Rielly
5. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: Mikhail Grigorenko
6. ANAHEIM DUCKS: Matthew Dumba
7. MINNESOTA WILD: Griffin Reinhart
8. CAROLINA HURRICANES: Alex Galchenyuk
9. WINNIPEG JETS: Radek Faksa
10. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: Malcolm Subban
As the NHL Draft week gets started, we're going to be tapping into our #CBJ community leaders' hockey brains to see what they're thinking. The Blue Jackets fanbase has some of the best bloggers in the NHL, and several terrific sites dedicated to opining on/covering the club. What better way to kick off the week than get their analysis on the upcoming draft?
First up is our friend @CBJProspects -- this guy is an information super-hub when it comes to prospects both in and outside the organization. He's also a featured writer for the new CBJ site known as The Union Blue. Got a question about a kid playing at Colgate, or a recent draft pick's +/- in junior hockey? Jas probably has the answer for you. He hopes to have (at least some of) the answers right in his mock draft:
@CBJProspects' 2012 MOCK DRAFT:
1. EDMONTON OILERS: Ryan Murray
2. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: Nail Yakupov
3. MONTREAL CANADIENS: Mikhail Grigroenko
4. NEW YORK ISLANDERS: Matt Dumba
5. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: Alex Galchenyuk
6. ANAHEIM DUCKS: Filip Forsberg
7. MINNESOTA WILD: Teuvo Teravainen
8. CAROLINA HURRICANES: Morgan Reilly
9. WINNIPEG JETS: Radek Faksa
10. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: Griffin Reinhart
11. WASHINGTON CAPITALS: Jacob Trouba
12. BUFFALO SABRES: Colton Sissons
13. DALLAS STARS: Cody Ceci
14. CALGARY FLAMES: Derrick Pouliot
15. OTTAWA SENATORS: Pontus Aberg
What do you think about Jas' mock draft? Tweet us @BlueJacketsNHL, and use the #CBJDraft hashtag to join the conversation!
Throughout the next few days, we will occasionally feature an NHL.com video inteview with several of this year's NHL Draft prospects. Today's subject is Anthony Stolarz of the Corpus Christi IceRays (NAHL), a 6-foot-5 goalie prospect that has garnered a lot of attention coming out of the Scouting Combine.
Not only is his size an appealing asset for NHL clubs in search of goaltending help, but Stolarz's path to this point is indicative of a fierce competitor. Prior to this past season, he didn't have a team to play for and it took a recommendation to earn him an invite to the IceRays' training camp. Stolarz earned his spot, and this fall, he will play college hockey for Dean Blais at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Here is a brief scouting report on Stolarz, via Al Jensen of NHL Central Scouting:
"He reminds me of Ben Bishop. He's tall and not wearing big equipment, but has great athleticism, great drive and determination. He's controlled, has great reflexes. He's got that quickness that's required in a pro goalie."
So, here we are. It's NHL Draft week.
This is always an exciting time of the year for hockey fans, and it's no different for those who work for an NHL team. We've just come off the high of the Stanley Cup Final -- and it was a terrific series this year -- but now, the draft gives us our first taste of what's to come during the summer.
One of the most intrguing parts of this week (for me, at least) is seeing all of the preparation and legwork put into action. Scouts have scoured the globe for an entire year, logged many sleepless nights, taken the red-eye on too many occasions, and engulfed countless cups of coffee all for the same reason: to make sure their team is in the best possible position once the clock starts ticking on Friday night.
It doesn't stop with the scouts, either. Hockey operations staffs have discussed, debated and deliberated among themselves for weeks to make sure they get it right. I think back to a conversation I had with Blue Jackets director of amateur scouting Tyler Wright, just a few weeks back.
He reiterated this point: they are doing everything in their power to get this right. They want to draft the best player available at No. 2 overall, and they've put in a lot of work to help make their decision.
And that's where the intrigue begins. The options are plentiful and the possibilities endless. Teams could get aggressive and move up the draft board, and other teams could opt to move back in the draft order and collect multiple picks in return. We have seen big names on the move during draft week, and the rumors/speculation/chatter have picked up just as they typically do this time of year.
The best part: you never know what's going to happen.
Most people you talk to about the draft are in agreement that this week and weekend could be very entertaining. Let's hope so, because the suspense and drama are a large part of what makes draft week an edge-of-the-seat experience for hockey fans.
You can follow all of the news right here on this blog. I'll be posting regular updates all week long, and our friends at JacketsTV will be supplying video content, as well. So keep it locked to the CBJ.com Draft Central blog, and join the battle with us as the offseason unofficially gets under way.