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OHL teammates Nail Yakupov, Alexander Galchenyuk could be in debate for No.1 pick of 2012 draft

Jul 17, 2011, 9:17 PM EDT

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If NHL draft history teaches us anything, it’s that forecasting the race to be the No. 1 pick of most drafts is risky at best. Sure, there are can’t-miss top picks like Sidney Crosby every now and then, but there are many times in which a could-be top prospect falls far. Sean Couturier’s descent from possibly being the top pick to being drafted eighth overall in 2011 and Cam Fowler‘s fall from being the odds-on No. 3 pick to going No. 12 in 2010 are two recent examples, but those are far from the most precipitous drops.

Again, it’s true that predicting the top prospects of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft can be a risky proposition, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun trying. Gare Joyce is one of the best at doing just that (or at least attempting to do so in an entertaining way), so let’s take a second to pour over his latest insights about what could be one of the most interesting storylines going into the next year’s draft.

Although Joyce himself ranks Nail Yakupov (pictured) as the odds-on pick to go first and places his teammate Alexander Galchenyuk eighth (subscription required), Joyce writes that “positional bias” could produce some serious debates regarding the two forwards. Yakupov is a right wing who broke the Sarnia Sting’s rookie record (previously held by Steven Stamkos) by scoring 49 goals, 18 more than Galchenyuk. That being said, Galchenyuk might gather more interest because he plays the more complete game one might expect from a center (subscription required).

Just as it was with the Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin debate, opinions are divided, at least for now. If Yakupov had been eligible for this year’s draft, some scouts would have taken him ahead of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but others think that Galchenyuk will turn out to be a better pro than his winger.

Said one scout: “Galchenyuk has off-the-charts hockey intelligence and vision. He’s more of a complete player at both ends of the rink than Yakupov.” That motion was seconded by one OHL opponent: “If it comes down to who’s harder to play against, I’d go with Galchenyuk. Yakupov is a better skater and he might have some better skills, but he doesn’t control the game the way Galchenyuk does.”

If you talk to defensemen who face Yakupov in one-on-one situations, you hear another story entirely. One described him as “the most dangerous guy in the whole Ontario league.”

Either way, it seems like both players are gearing up to make the NHL sooner rather than later, which is a concern with many Russian prospects. After all, it’s tough to imagine Yakupov making the sacrifice to learn the North American game for two seasons only to go back to Russia. (That’s no guarantee, though, because these things are rarely stable.)

Assuming both are poised to eventually make the NHL, the two teammates could be a prime example of the mystery involved with drafting teenagers. Do you go for the guy who might be more well-rounded right ow (Galchenyuk) or the one whose sublime skills could create a higher ceiling (Yakupov)?

A lot can change between today and June 2012, but if the two players maintain their current paths, the answer to that question might also tell us which guy ends up being the top pick.

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