The Ontario Hockey League will look to re-stake its claim as the league producing the number one pick heading into the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting will be looking to join the likes of Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Taylor Hall as former top dogs in their respective draft classes.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins narrowly edged out Gabriel Landeskog last June ending a run by the OHL in which they produced the top pick in the NHL Entry Draft consecutively since 2007. Even more interesting is that since 2005, the OHL has produced at least one of the top two picks in each draft, their best coming in 2008 when seven of the top 10 came from the OHL.
While Yakupov proved to be a dominant player as a rookie in Sarnia last season, he left a lot for fans to get excited about heading into his sophomore campaign. He can dictate the pace of a game and is extremely dangerous whenever he steps on the ice. Yakupov broke the Sting record for most goals in a season with 47, eclipsing none other than Steven Stamkos’ 42 along the way.
There will be a number of other draft eligible players jockeying for position in the OHL this season and as a result, we should be in for some entertaining hockey this winter.
Alex Galchenyuk is Yakupov’s teammate in Sarnia. As rookies last season, they provided a dominating one-two punch for the Sting. Galchenyuk will push Yakupov all season to be the top draft eligible forward. Before draft day rolls around however, do not be surprised when other projected first round forwards like Matia Marcantuoni (Kitchener Rangers) and Andreas Athanasiou (London Knights) break out offensively for their respective teams.
Also in the running for a position in the first round are Scott Laughton (Oshawa Generals), Brendan Gaunce (Belleville Bulls) and Jarrod Maidens (Owen Sound Attack). Each of whom joined Athanasiou and Marcantuoni as part of the gold medal winning Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament. Each player will look to build off of his successes both last year in the OHL and at that tournament moving forward into this season.
From the back-end, Nick Ebert (Windsor Spitfires), Slater Koekkoek (Peterborough Petes) and Cody Ceci (Ottawa 67’s) will push for the top defensive spot in June. At one point, Ebert was one of the top defensive prospects in this draft. He will be looking to regain that spot on the Windsor team that will desperately need him to step up, now that stalwart Ryan Ellis has moved onto pro hockey. Import pick Olli Maatta (London Knights) and Adam Pelech (Erie Otters) will also look to make themselves noticed this year.
Not to be left out are forwards Matthew Campagna (Sudbury Wolves), Gemel Smith (Owen Sound Attack), defenseman Gianluca Curcuruto (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) and goaltender Malcolm Subban (Belleville Bulls), each of whom can thrust themselves, into better positioning at the draft with solid performances this season.
One thing is for sure the road to the 2012 entry draft will be making several stops through Ontario, and coming to an arena near you.