Here are some photos from the NHL Draft week in Pittsburgh:
Top prospect Nail Yakupov takes a couple swings at batting practice today at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Mikhail Grigorenko and Yakupov take part in a fun game of ball hockey on the Roberto Clemente Bridge.
Yakupov, Grigorenko and Ryan Murray listen in during instructions at the prospects clinic.
American defense prospect Jacob Trouba hangs with the kids during the clinic at the Ice Castle.
Swedish center Filip Forsberg is the top-ranked European skater in this year's draft, based on the final rankings from NHL Central Scouting. He's an impressive kid; very honest and compelling with his answers to every question and seems to have a genuine enthusiasm for his draft week.
He admitted that he has no idea where he's going to go -- and that his mother has been back home in Sweden keeping tabs on teams that may be interested in selecting him. Scouts think Forsberg can be a player much like Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks -- a competitive, two-way player that can play center or wing and score a ton of goals.
We caught up with Forsberg during today's media session. Here's what he had to say:
On if he can play in the NHL right away:
"It's always my dream to play in the NHL, as with most of the players. I have one year left on my contract in Sweden, so that's where I will play next season and then we'll see, we'll take it (one day at a time)."
Asked what it would mean to take his Leksands club to the Elite level next year:
"That's one of my biggest goals this season -- to be a key player on that team to take the step up to the highest league. I think Leksands is one of the best teams historically in Sweden, and I think they should be in the highest league. That would be a huge honor."
On what he learned in last year's playoffs over in Sweden:
"We were pretty close to making the step up earlier this season. But hopefully we can take that experience playing against good teams that came down from Elites, and win those games next year. We have almost the same team, so hopefully we can make it."
Do you expect to have a bigger role on the team next year?
"That's what I'm aiming for. I think I have the qualities to play a bigger role."
What sports did you play back home in Sweden, other than hockey?
"I played baseball, but that was for only like two years (laughs). In the summer we played, and with hockey, we didn't work out that much. I tried to play both. Baseball isn't that big in Sweden, but Leksands had a team and I thought it was fun."
Is it a goal for you to go in the top three, or top five?
"No, I don't have any goals (with regard to draft order). There's so many good players here in the draft, and anything can happen. We'll see. I'll have a new favorite team after this weekend."
Will you sleep well tonight?
"Yeah, I think I will be pretty tired after this day."
Is this year's draft less nerve-wracking because of all the uncertainty?
"I don't know, actually. I try to put away the rankings. Most of my friends are telling me when I'm up or when I'm down in the rankings, so it's kind of hard to not think about it. I try to enjoy the week, and then we'll see what happens tomorrow night."
What's your thought process when you think about the teams that could potentially select you (in terms of fit, etc.)?
"It's hard to know, because right now I don't know much about the teams. Of course, I've been watching them on TV home in Sweden or I'm playing with them on NHL 12. We'll see; it's hard to think about. Maybe when it's time for me to go over, teams that weren't too good will be good."
More to come!
Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson met with the media this afternoon, and updated topics such as Rick Nash trade negotiations, the club's plans for the No. 2 overall pick, and more. The following is the transcript of Howson's comments to the media:
On his meeting with Joe Resnick, agent for Rick Nash:
“We just exchanged some information, and we prefer to keep what was said quiet. I think that’s the best way to operate. It was a good meeting, lasted almost an hour and we exchanged a lot ideas.”
Asked if he’s close to any deals:
Less optimistic of getting a deal done this weekend?
“Not at all. A lot of things can happen between now and when the draft is over. I’m not counting on anything. Obviously our goal is to do what’s best for our hockey club, and that’s how we’ll keep operating.”
Any concern that things don’t remain amicable the longer the process continues?
“No, I don’t sense that at all.”
Do you feel you’re in a better position now than you were at the deadline?
“I believe we are, yes. But we’re no closer to a deal than we were at the trade deadline.”
“I think there’s more legitimate possibilities out there right now.”
Did you speak to Resnick about what should happen if Rick isn’t moved this weekend, or beyond?
“No, we didn’t talk about that at all.”
Are you in on any trade offers to move up and acquire the first overall pick?
“We’re not interested in moving up. We’re going to stay at No. 2 or move back.”
Have you made your decision (on a player), or is there still work to be done?
“We’ll still be working at it tonight. I think there’s a few possibilities, in terms of us moving back, so we’re going to look at that and see if it’s something we want to do. If we stick at No. 2, we’re pretty confident with the player we’re going to take.”
If you do move back, how much is due to interest from other teams, or is it because you’ve identified a player you think you can get lower in the draft?
“Teams are interested in the second pick.”
How frustrating has this process been for you?
“It hasn’t been frustrating. It’s part of our job. We’re here to try to build a team that’s competitive, that’s exciting and can win the Stanley Cup. And we want to make our team better; that’s part of our job and that’s what we’ll try to do.”
Have you moved past the possibility that Rick could stay with the Blue Jackets?
“I think anything’s possible in this game. No one knows how people are going to feel a week from now, or two weeks from now or how we’re going to feel. Rick’s a great guy, and he’s been a tremendous ambassador for our team, our city. And I wouldn’t want to put any certainty to anything right now.”
Do you have any idea who Edmonton is taking?
“I think I have a guess, but that’s all it is.”
Why no interest in moving up?
“The players that we have rated No. 1 and No. 2 are very close, and we would be delighted to get either one of them.”
Is there a player at No. 2 that’s ready to step in right away, or does that affect your decision?
“It doesn’t really affect our decision. But I do think there are one or two players in this draft that will be able to step in right away.”
Are you still in the mode of taking the best player available?
“Best player who we think is going to be the best player, not necessarily the player today. It’s going to be who we think who the best player is. Regardless of passport, regardless of position.”
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.