With the NHL draft just days away on June 22, there is still much speculation as to what direction Day 1 will take. As we wrote on Monday in the NHL Draft Blog, there seems to be a heightened level of uncertainty at the top of the draft.
Part of it stems from the franchise needs of the Edmonton Oilers, owners of the No. 1 overall pick. Part of it stems from the nationality of the consensus top prospect. And part of it stems from the questionable developmental track record of the Columbus Blue Jackets and a paramount need to hit it big with the No. 2 pick in 2012. All of it has combined to shroud the top of Round 1 in mystery.
While the element of the unknown can add some excitement for fans, it can be a real headache for prognosticators. So with our final mock draft of 2012, it's important to note two things: (1) Unlike our Top 50 prospect rankings, this is not a straight representation of prospect talent. Like all mock drafts, we're operating on what we know about team needs and the talent level of available draft picks. (2) This can all change in a heartbeat. To my knowledge, there has never been a mock draft that's been set in stone. And this one is no different.
What follows is the best projection we can make for the 2012 draft, based on published reports and our knowledge of team preferences regarding prospects. Will it play out precisely as we have it? It's unlikely, but we hope we provide a glimpse of what teams are looking for from this prospect crop, and what players can fill those team needs.
With that said, here's a look at how we think the draft will play out. And the Edmonton Oilers are on the clock.
Ryan Murray, D, Everett (WHL)
It's a bit of a surprise, but it's not a stunner based on what we know. The Oilers have come out and said they will not trade the pick, so we're led to believe they'll use the pick themselves. After drafting heavy at forward the past two drafts, Edmonton needs a blue-chip blueliner, and we know they like Murray from his time at the recent IIHF Men's World Championships. Taking a defenseman at No. 1 overall is risky, but Murray projects as a smooth skater who can make the smart play with and without the puck. If the Oilers have Murray comparably rated to Nail Yakupov, our No. 1 prospect in this class, then this isn't an odd move at all. We just happen to like Yakupov as a clear-cut top choice.
Even given the Oilers' declaration that they won't trade the pick, there's still a chance they spin off one of their current top forwards in exchange for a more-developed defenseman who could help them a little faster than an 18-year-old can. In that case, Yakupov could still be in play here. But if not, the young Russian -- long projected as the pick of the 2012 litter -- could actually slip down the draft board a bit.