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

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.

Gryba sticks with Edmonton on two-year, $1.8 million deal

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After spending the last two seasons with the Oilers, Eric Gryba has signed on for two more.

Gryba, the veteran blueliner that was set to go unrestricted on Saturday, has signed a two-year, $1.8 million extension with Edmonton, per TSN. The deal comes after the 29-year-old appeared in 40 games for the Oilers last year, and three during the club’s playoff run.

Gryba is the second UFA blueliner Edmonton has re-upped with, having previously inked Kris Russell to a four-year, $16 million pact. It’s the byproduct of available cap space GM Peter Chiarelli created by shipping out Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome.

It’s likely Gryba will continue to play his existing role in Edmonton — a physical, hard-nosed depth defenseman that won’t play every night, but can jump into the lineup in case of injury or when the Oilers face a particular matchup.

This move also gives the Oilers seven defensemen under contract for next season: Gryba, Russell, Andrej Sekera (who could miss extensive time with a torn ACL), Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse.

So, perhaps Chiarelli isn’t done signing blueliners.

 

 

Report: Kings in contact with Joe Thornton

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Yesterday, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported 12 teams were in contact with San Jose’s Joe Thorton who, on Saturday, will become an unrestricted free agent.

Now, it’s been revealed that one of those teams is also one of San Jose’s biggest rivals — the Los Angeles Kings.

Per LA Kings Insider, the Kings have “been in contact” with Thornton, who just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M average annual cap hit.

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On top of Thornton’s abilities are his relationships with key figures in Los Angeles’ front office. He played with Kings General Manager Rob Blake in San Jose, while Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Development Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager when he played in Boston.

On top of these relationships, Thornton also remains very close with Glen Murray, a figure in Los Angeles’ player development, and I’m told the two, who played together with the Bruins for three and a half seasons, regularly communicate.

LeBrun reported that staying with the Sharks remains Thornton’s No. 1 option, but it’s pretty clear interest in him is sky-high — and coming from a number of different places.

Los Angeles has been making moves to clear cap space, recently buying out the remainder of defenseman Matt Greene’s contract. The Kings also lost blueliner Brayden McNabb to Vegas at the expansion draft.

What happens with Marian Gaborik‘s $4.875M cap hit remains to be seen. The veteran winger underwent an offseason procedure for a “chronic” knee issue and, depending on his recovery, could open the year on long-term injured reserve.

Thornton would give L.A. a formidable one-two punch at center along with Anze Kopitar (and a truly formidable 1-2-3 punch with Kopitar and Jeff Carter, for that matter). It’s also worth noting that as he’s gotten longer in the tooth, Thornton has successfully platooned as a winger — most notably during San Jose’s Stanley Cup run in 2016.

Report: Markov wants $12 million over two years from Montreal

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At the draft, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin said his club had many roster holes.

Now he knows the cost of filling one.

Per TVA, veteran blueliner Andrei Markov is seeking a two-year, $12 million extension to stick with the club — one that would carry a $6M cap hit, up slightly from the $5.75M he was making on his previous deal.

Markov, an unrestricted free agent, is 38 but coming off a pretty productive year — he scored 36 points in just 62 games played, and averaged 21:50 TOI per night.

His ice time significantly jumped in the playoffs, up to 26:09 in Montreal’s opening-round playoff loss to the Rangers.

Bergevin has said he’d like to have Markov back, but noted the club has limits. The term of Markov’s reported ask isn’t too unwieldy — it’s a two-year commitment — but the cap hit could be an issue. Remember, Bergevin is also trying to re-sign last year’s second-leading scorer, Alex Radulov. Alex Galchenyuk needs a new deal as well.

(Unless he’s traded.)

On top of all this — oh yes, there’s more — is the looming contract extension for Carey Price. The star goalie is heading into the last year of his deal and eligible to sign an extension on July 1, which promises to be a monster contract. Price is currently the NHL’s fifth highest-paid netminder at $7 million per, but could join Sergei Bobrovsky and Henrik Lundqvist as the only goalies to earn more than $8M annually.

Which brings us back to Markov who, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, is representing himself in negotiations. One has to think that dollar figure will come down, especially if Montreal starts entertaining other options — like Karl Alzner, the former Caps d-man who says he’s interested in playing in Montreal.

Whatever the case, Bergevin is going to have to address this situation soon. There are plenty of moving parts, but rounding out the defense has to be near the top of his priority list. Right now Montreal has just five blueliners under contract: Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Brandon Davidson, Jordie Benn and David Schlemko.

Alzner wants long-term deal, says he’s interested in Habs

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You can hardly blame Karl Alzner for wanting to cash in July 1.

Not that he’s hard up for money or anything, but the last contract Alzner signed in Washington was a club-friendly deal that paid him $11.2 million over four years. That’s a cap hit of just $2.8 million for a guy that plays top-four minutes against tough competition.

Now an unrestricted free agent, Alzner’s got the opportunity to make much more on the open market.

He wants some security, too.

“I will wait to see my options, but I am only 28 years old and I can tell you that I would like to get a long-term contract,” Alzner told Le Journal de Montréal (translated). “It is always attractive for a player to be able to settle in the same city for a long time. It would be my dream to sign a long-term agreement.”

Alzner added that the Canadiens are an intriguing team that he’d be willing to join. He also said that talks with the Capitals seem to have stalled.

Related: Alzner meets with Vegas, but will test free agency