While we were hoping to see a lot more big trades at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft (see: Roberto Luongo, Rick Nash), we instead saw a fairly quite weekend of action. Turns out all of the focus was kept on…well…drafting players.
In recent years, NHL rookies have continued to have a bigger impact on the game much sooner than expected. For example, last season Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Ladeskog, Adam Larsson and Sean Couturier all had major impacts on their team’s success.
Now that the picks are in for the 2012 draft, let’s have a look at who is most likely to have a major impact on the 2012-13 season:
1. Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers
The first pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft figures to have as much of an impact on the stat sheet as any rookie in the entire class. The Edmonton Oilers are young, fast and inexperienced, which means there will be plenty of playing time for Yakupov.
The Oilers are going to throw him right into the fire just as they did Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and you can expect him to collect plenty of points just like the previous first overall pick did. Yakupov has drawn comparisons to players like Pavel Bure and inserting him into a freewheeling, freeskating team that has skilled forwards should produce fantastic results.
2. Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks
Another defenseman that should have an immediate impact is Swedish prospect Hampus Lindholm. The Ducks traded away Lubomir Visnovsky on draft day, which creates an immediate hole in the roster for the sixth pick in the 2012 draft to fill.
Lindholm wowed scouts with his VO2 Max testing by setting a new record, so it’s fairly clear that his body is very close to being NHL-ready – if not there already.
The Ducks used a high draft pick on Cam Fowler early in the 2010 draft and threw him into the fire; look for them to do the same with Lindholm.
3. Mikhail Grigorenko, Buffalo Sabres
Mikhail Grigorenko was rated as a top-three prospect on many NHL draft boards, so the Buffalo Sabres are definitely pleased that they landed him with the 12th pick overall.
Buffalo is already close to being an Eastern Conference contender and Grigorenko should be able to help their case. In some other situations, he might need some seasoning first but because the Sabres are a complete team, they can put him in the lineup right away because they won’t expect the world from him.
He’s got size, which the Sabres are short on, and he’s a gifted scorer as evidenced by his 85 points in 59 games in the QMJHL last season. Look for Buffalo to give him a long look in the early part of the 2012-13 season and, if he plays as expected, he could pay dividends.
4. Ryan Murray, Columbus Blue Jackets
The second pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft should have a big impact on the upcoming season. The Blue Jackets have already shown that they plan to build from back-to-front, signing defenseman James Wisniewski in free agency last season, then adding goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky via trade this offseason. Now they used the second pick of the draft on Murray, who should be one of the team’s anchors in the back for the next 10 years.
He’s the perfect fit for the Blue Jackets, who are desperately searching for an identity. He is big, reliable and even experienced after playing with men for Canada in the 2012 World Championships.
More importantly, he’s been a team captain at almost every level he’s played. The Blue Jackets could use a man like him to be a cornerstone piece of the future.
5. Mathew Dumba, Minnesota Wild
Given how the Minnesota Wild finished the 2011-12 season, they are desperate for help just about everywhere on the ice. The selection of defenseman Mathew Dumba should help right away.
The Wild lack leadership and it’s not hard to envision this guy being a future captain. He captained Team Canada’s Under 18 team, so look for his voice to grow louder and louder in the locker room as he gets more comfortable.
For now, though, the rookie will be relied upon for his excellent shot from the point and big hits. The Wild need some kind of spark and Dumba should be afforded every opportunity to be just that.