For a description of the methodology in these rankings, please see the Introduction. We'll be revealing more of the Top 100 every few days leading up to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Full list of Top 100 NHL Draft Prospects
6. Matt Dumba, Defense, Red Deer-WHL
Dumba is an electrifying and energetic talent who is the second-best pure talent on the back-end in this draft behind Morgan Rielly, but Dumba comes without the worry of a torn knee. Dumba is a well above-average skater who may touch elite level. His agility and overall first few steps are certainly plus plus which makes him a joy to watch with how effortlessly he flies around the ice. He's so hard to check in open ice and his skating makes him a prototypical weapon to bring the puck up out of his zone due to how easily he avoids pressure with his direction-changing ability or the speed he hits in full flight. Dumba also looks impressive with the puck and can make things happen with his puck handling. He's quite coordinated skating with speed and can make some nice moves. He does try to do too much which is one of his main issues, but one shouldn't mistake that for selfishness, as he will distribute the puck quite well and isn't a puck hog but just will try to overdo it at times when he does have the puck. His hockey sense is up and down, as while at times he does display good vision, there will be other instances where he has tunnel vision but more the former than the latter. Dumba is an aware defensive player, though, and is more than capable of shutting down good players. While he can defend with his mobility and reads, he also is a player who regularly throws big hits, embraces the physical aspect of the game, and is effective doing so despite being under six feet tall. His physicality can go too far sometimes, though, when it comes to going for the big hit. He's also quite strong for a player his age. Dumba can shoot the puck with great effectiveness with a hard slapper from the point and can be looked to as a trigger man on the point.
Ranking Explanation: Dumba and Rielly's talent levels are a coin flip. What ultimately gave Dumba the edge here was Rielly's injury and being out most of the year. Morgan has more high-end skills than Dumba as he's a slightly worse but still high-end skater, but also a high-end passer and puck handler. The small frame and questionable physical game was what made it about a tie in my opinion from a tools standpoint, as Rielly projects to be replacement level in that aspect whereas I see Dumba as being above-average in that area in the NHL despite his average sizealthough not elite as he has been in Junior because the forwards indeed will get bigger and stronger. Rielly certainly has slightly more upside due to his better puck possession skills, and if he's one of those players with great hockey sense who learns to defend without a good physical game, he'll end up the better player. They're just both so close in my opinion on a talent level, so with the risk on Rielly, I gave the slight edge to Dumba.
7. Morgan Rielly, Defense, Moose Jaw-WHL
Rielly is a very gifted and advanced defender whose season was cut short early on by a torn ACL, limiting him to 18 WHL games. Prior to the injury, Rielly was seen as a plus skater but as with all knee injuries that is an aspect of his game to monitor going into next season to see if any effectiveness is lost. However, when he came back during the playoffs, his skating seemed to be in its usual great form. His speed is good with a dangerous top gear and Rielly can be especially impressive from a standstill with his acceleration, four-way mobility, and his elusive quickness. He can also really make things happen on a power play with his footwork and ability to maneuver in tight spaces. Rielly is a very skilled offensive player with plus puck skills and passing ability who can dangle an opponent out of his skates or thread a bullet pass through a tight lane. He creates a lot with his individual ability but much more so with his hockey sense and ability to control the flow. Rielly is very aware of his time and space and rarely seems pressured when making plays. That hockey sense also translates to the other end of the ice as Rielly reads his assignments well, makes a lot of good little plays defensively, and works hard in that aspect. He's a small guy in terms of height but especially his muscle mass. Despite his advanced sense, Rielly likely will take a few years before being ready to make the jump so he can fill out and get physically prepared to the next level.
Ranking Explanation: I struggled a lot with ranking Ryan Murray but ultimately I feel the top three defensemen were still mostly interchangeable. He's been on the prospect scene for a while, but I still got very diverging thoughts from scouts and from my own viewings about how good offensively he will be. Depending who you talk to, one scout will praise the elite vision while another will say he lacks the puck skills and doesn't play that much of an offensive style. I took a median approach to those two schools of thought. His hockey sense is tremendous while his puck skills are probably average, so when you put those two together, his raw possession skills are high-end. However, it is certainly tilted to the defensive end, and as one Head Scout put it, "One quality of a great defensive defenseman is being able to move the puck out of his zone, and that's what I see with Murray." When you take into account that he does have tremendous vision, average puck abilities, and a high-end skating, he could certainly be above-average offensively at the NHL level while also being high-end defensively despite his small frame. That package looks to me like an average first-pairing defender although if the offense doesn't translate he could end up bordering between a below-average first pairing defender to a tremendous number three defenseman. When putting him up against Morgan Rielly, I see Rielly as an equal or slightly better skater, a much better puck handler with less defensive hockey sense but as good if not better offensive hockey sense and a notch worse physical game. I see the talent levels as close, but in my opinion Rielly has a tad more. Rielly has the injury question mark, and Murray the offense one but in a virtual tie like with Dumba the injury played a part. However, I don't see Rielly's injury as a major concern, and Murray has a question mark himself. I like the fact Rielly's talent level is geared more towards the offensive side where those tools have less risk to project to the NHL level as opposed to defensive skills, so the edge here goes to Rielly.
8. Ryan Murray, Defense, Everett-WHL
At the Under-18s last year, Carolina Hurricanes defense prospect Ryan Murphy set a record for Team Canada in terms of points scored in the tournament including forwards, yet Ryan Murray's performance was arguably better than Ryan Murphy. That, in a very simplistic manner, describes what Murray brings to the table. He is advanced beyond his years with well above-average hockey sense and the rare kind of game-processing ability and vision that makes him a significant two-way threat even without elite offensive tools. Murray is a great presence on the back-end with the puck because he rarely makes a mistake and even though he doesn't limit himself to the basic plays, he not will force the big passes if they are not there. He doesn't get rushed by opposing forechecks and is one of the best outlet passers in this draft. Murray makes smart reads defensively, takes his assignments well, and will not shy from using his body to separate his check from the puck. He's an above-average to plus skater although he isn't the kind of player to threaten regularly with a speed game on the rush, rather he relies on a great first step and all-around mobility to keep the play in front of him and close on the puck. Murray's puck skills are solid, and while he's not a dangler, he can certainly hold his own in open ice. On the power play, he is a pass-first guy who makes the smart plays and the difficult passes with consistency. He also has a pretty hard shot and can wire it through legs when he needs to. While Murray does not project as an elite prospect, he has a low risk tag on his projection. He will be the kind of player to log over 20 minutes a game while playing tough minutes against the opposition's best players while still managing to put up impressive possession numbers.
Ranking Explanation: I made that whole big deal in the Teravainen vs. Dumba match-up about drafting defense vs. forwards, so what gives here? As I mentioned in the Introduction, there is a notable talent drop-off after Ryan Murray to Pontus Aberg. If I was drafting and my top five forwards were off the board but any of those three defensemen were still on the boards, I would likely grit my teeth but still take the defenseman because there's a notable drop-off to the next best forward. The top-eight players in these rankings in my opinion are legit first-line or first-pairing talents. For a player like Aberg, his absolute ceiling is bordering between below-average first-line to above-average second-line forward. His raw possession skills are above-average, although he's a high-end skater and shooter but he's also a little small. If you're not elite at one thing and above-average at everything else like Dumba or high-end at a lot of critical things like Rielly, you can't claim to reach that talent tier and while Aberg is great I don't see him fitting those descriptions. This was an easy call.
9. Pontus Aberg, Left Wing, Djurgarden-SEL
Pontus Aberg has had a nice year over in Sweden from a counting numbers perspective for an 18-year-old, logging over 10 minutes per game, which is good for a player his age in that league. He got off to a hot start, but injuries impeded him somewhat in the second half of the year. Aberg is a plus skater with very good acceleration off his first few steps and a pretty dangerous top speed. He also has a plus shot which will drive a decent portion of his offensive value and allow him to maintain an above league average shooting percentage over his career. His shot is pretty accurate with good technique on his release, his one-timers fly off his stick with remarkable speed, and Aberg has the makings of a dangerous power play triggerman. Aberg has great hands and can show some flash in that area in terms of being able to make great individual plays in creating space for himself. His true strength isn't about being a dangerous puck controller, though, as it is playing a speed game and getting the puck to the net. At times, he can move the puck around at an average level, but he doesn't overly impress with his vision. Aberg also needs to work on his defense, although with his on-ice work ethic, there is reason to believe the finer points of his defensive game will come along. Aberg's physical game also likely tops out as below-average because of his size but he does work hard and has a gritty edge to his game.
Ranking Explanation: This was a much closer call than the Murray vs. Aberg decision. It also was one where the two players were very different, which certainly made me think hard about the decision. Aberg is a really fast, really skilled sniper, whereas Faksa is a good do-everything player without a lot of high-end flash to his game. Aberg is a better skater, has better puck skills, and a better shot, whereas Faksa is a better passer with better overall hockey sense in both ends on top of a much better physical game. For the evaluations, I determined their raw possession skills are about the same with maybe a marginal edge to Faksa, although Aberg's was more on puck skills whereas Faksa's was from his puck skills but also puck-moving skills. Aberg is a notch better skater, but in regards to physical game, the gap was more than just a notch as Aberg's ceiling in that regard is below-average whereas I see Faksa being above average. If I had stopped the evaluation there, it likely would have been a dead tie or a marginal edge to Faksa. However, two factors made me go with Aberg. One was his shot, which is high end. In a possession driven league, I tend not to favor shooting ability so much in my evaluations because it is incredibly hard to identify with the eye or over a season or two and isn't a very persistent talent in the NHL. However, I will consider it a secondary factor that can play into ties when there is not really a gap between the two players considered. The second factor that helped Aberg was how impressive he was in the first half versus men in a top pro league, albeit at 18 as a late birthdate.
10. Radek Faksa, Center, Kitchener-OHL
Faksa had a great first season in North America, rocketing to the top of the charts in OHL rookie scoring and playing a key role for Kitchener. Faksa is a pretty well-rounded player who doesn't have a clear weakness but is notably strong at all areas of the game. He's a solid to above-average skater with nice acceleration and who can get to a desirable top speed. Faksa's puck skills are above-average as well and he's certainly effective controlling the puck. He will show the ability to be a good puck distributer, though I have heard conflicting reports on this area of his game from scouts as some think he's just solid and other think potentially high end. How well he has adjusted to the OHL pace has been impressive as he makes quick decisions in a fast Junior league. Faksa shows very good dependability in the defensive end and scouts I've talked to rave about his defensive game which is high-end potentially and creates a lot of value when combined with his skill set. He can kill penalties effectively and has been regularly relied on to play high-leverage minutes in both ends. He also has no fear of getting involved with the physical game as he will battle hard in the corners, take his checks with the body, and drive the net with regularity.
Ranking Explanation: The Faksa vs. Collberg match-up is somewhat similar in skill set arguments to Aberg vs. Faksa. Collberg is a better skater, with slightly better puck skills, slightly worse hockey sense, and much worse physical game. The two are very close, and with all that in mind, Faksa has a marginal edge. Like Aberg, Collberg is a high-end shooter and that could arguably give him an edge in this match-up on a secondary level. However, there is one little thing that made me put Faksa over Collberg and that was his production this year. I need to say a few things on that front to clarify: 1. I am quite aware that Collberg does produce. Even outside of the Under-18s and WJC where he played well, he has performed in other International events throughout the year and the last two seasons he has played well in Junior hockey in Sweden. 2. For the traditionalists out there, I am clearly using stats as a very secondary measure in my evaluation when the primary scouting methods make it too close to call. 3. To the stats guys out there, I also know there is a significant lack of context in counting numbers like goals and points, never mind those where the player got a handful of minutes per game. However, I see 42 games and 0 points and all kinds of alarm bells start going off in my head. While I am aware that most top 17-year-old forwards don't produce a whole lot in the SELand Collberg only played 6:55 a gamea big goose egg in the points column is enough to at least play a factor in a tie-breaking scenario.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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