5-Years Later: Evaluation of Top Forwards Picked in 2012 Draft

Leading into the NHL Entry Draft of 2012, the consensus #1 pick was expected to be Nail Yakupov, a Russian-born player who played Juniors with the Sarnia Sting. One slogan for slumping teams in tank mode was “Fail for Nail”. 

Other talented forwards expected to be chosen early in the draft were Yakupov’s Sarnia Sting teammate, Alexander Galchenyuk, the American born son of Belorussian parents, and Filip Forsberg, no relation to Peter. There was a chance that Galchenyuk might get drafted later than expected due to missing much of his 2011-2012 season in junior hockey due to injury.

When the draft occurred, Yakupov was chosen first overall, as expected. After that, the Columbus Blue Jackets chose defenseman Ryan Murray. Montreal then chose Galchenyuk with the #3 pick.  The next seven teams all chose defensemen. Hence, forward Filip Forsberg was available for the Washington Capitals to choose with pick #11 overall, which they had obtained from the Colorado Avalanche the previous year.

At the end of Round 1, 15 forwards, 13 defensemen, and 2 goalies were selected. This was a smaller number of forwards and a greater number of defensemen picked in Round 1 than is typical. Even before the draft took place, it was perceived to be a defenseman-heavy draft by NHL pundits.

This article examines the productivity of the forwards selected in that draft, five years later. There were many defensemen drafted in this draft, especially during the first round. However, this article does not discuss the defensemen, except in passing. Notable defensemen drafted in the first round included Ryan Murray, Morgan Reilly, Hampus Lindholm, Matthew Dumba, Jacob Trouba, Codi Ceci, and Olli Maatta. Notable defensemen drafted in later rounds included Shayne Gostisbehere and Colton Parayko.

Top Two Forwards – Russian Heritage from Sarnia Sting
Nail Yakupov and Alexander Galchenyuk had been productive forwards and a great 1-2 punch for the Sarnia Sting. While playing with the Sting, Yakupov lived with the Galchenyuk family and the two young players roomed together on the road. At that time, they both shared the same agent, Igor Larionov, the former Detroit Red Wings star.

The Yakupov Bust
The Edmonton Oilers drafted Nail Yakupov with the first overall pick, as the “best player available”, despite the fact they had a wealth of  talented forwards and needs on the back-end. In each of the two previous years, the Oilers had the #1 pick overall and had drafted a forward each time (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall).

Yakupov had a fine initial season with the Oilers in 2012-2013, scoring 17 goals and 14 assists for 31 points overall in just 48 games, in a season shorted by the NHL lockout. Unfortunately, his career did not go well after that and the 17 goals he scored during his rookie year ended up being his career high.

Photo: Oilers Nation

The Oilers hired coach Dallas Eakins, whose coaching style proved incompatible with Yakupov’s game. Yakupov’s second season and first under Eakins was marked with healthy scratches and being moved throughout the lineup with no consistent role. He ended up with 11 goals and 13 assists in 2013-2014.

Eakins was fired less than midway through the 2014-2015 season and replaced with Todd Nelson. For that season, Yakupov had 14 goals and 19 assists for an overall point total of 33, a career high in points. The following season (2015-2016), with still another coaching change, this time with Todd McLellan, Yakupov had 8 goals and 15 assists in 60 games during a season marred by injuries.

With it being clear that he was not living up to his early promise, the Oilers traded him to the St Louis Blues. His fortunes fared even worse in 2016-2017 as he had just 3 goals and 6 assists in just 40 games and spent much of the latter part of the season as a healthy scratch.

Yakupov signed with the Colorado Avalanche as a free agent prior to the 2017-2018 season. For his career, he has scored 53 goals, had 67 assists, and 120 points overall.

Gally Ho!
The Montreal Canadiens drafted Alex Galchenyuk with the third overall pick, despite the fact he missed much of the 2011-2012 season with Sarnia, due to a knee injury. Galchenyuk was drafted as a center, but ended up playing wing for Montreal his first two seasons. After that, he was shuffled back and forth between the center and wing position, which included stints on both the first and second lines.

Photo: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

To this day, Galchenyuk has not settled in at either position. Discussion of what position he should play has been a constant subject by Montreal media and fans.

Regardless of the position and line switches, Galchenyuk has been a productive forward. During 2016-2017, he had 17 goals and 27 assists in just 61 games as he missed time with injuries. His highest scoring year was 2015-2016, where he had 30 goals and 26 assists for 56 points overall.

Career-wise he has 89 goals and 115 assists for 204 points overall. As of this writing, Galchenyuk is top in his draft class for overall points and second in career goals.

Living up to his Name
To the shock of many observers, Filip Forsberg, the most highly regarded offensive player in the draft, outside of Yakupov and Galchenyuk, was still available for selection at #11. Prior to the draft, Forsberg was the top ranked European skater and was part of the Swedish team who had won the Gold Medal at the World Junior Games the previous winter.

Washington Capitals General Manager, George McPhee, had been more focused on defensemen, but with Forsberg being available he selected him instead. Unfortunately, for the Caps, McPhee traded him the following season at the trading deadline to Nashville for winger Martin Erat and prospect Michael Latta.

Forsberg did not settle in the NHL until the 2014-2015 season. He had 26 goals and 37 assists that season and followed that up with two consecutive seasons of topping 30 goals, with 33 goals and 31 assists in 2015-2016 and 31 goals and 27 assists in 2016-2017.

Career-wise he has 91 goals to lead his draft class in goals, 100 assists, and 191 points overall, which is second in his draft class only to Alex Galchenyuk.

His scoring and his last name evokes memories of hockey great, Peter Forsberg. (Ironically, Peter Forsberg had played in Nashville at the tail end of the 2006-2007 season). To add insult to injury for Capitals fans, Forsberg was an important part of the Nashville Predators’ team that reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2016-2017.

Baffaloed in the Middle (Mid Round Picks)
The next forward chosen was Mikhail Grigorenko, taken with pick #12 overall. Prior to the draft, Grigorenko was expected to be chosen sooner with some mock drafts even projecting him to be chosen as high as third overall.

After the draft, he bounced between the NHL and either his Junior team, the Quebec Remparts, or the Sabres AHL affiliate in Rochester, New York.

Photo: Cliff Welch

After the 2014-2015 season, Buffalo traded him with two other prospects and an early second round pick to the Colorado Avalanche in return for Ryan O’Reilly and James McGinn. He remained with the Avalanche for the next two seasons scoring 6 goals and 21 assists in 2015-2016 and 10 goals with 13 assists in 2016-2017.

Grigorenko was an unrestricted free agent after 2016-2017 and the Avalanche did not tender him an offer. Thus, he signed a three-year deal with CSKA in the KHL. Career-wise, in the NHL, he ended up with 22 goals and 42 assists in 217 games.

The Best of the Rest?
Following Grigorenko in the draft was Radek Faksa who the Dallas Stars chose with pick #13. He did not make it to the NHL until the 2015-2016 season where he had 5 goals and 7 assists for 12 points overall in 45 games.

He remained with Dallas for the 2016-2017 season and had 12 goals and 21 assists for 33 points overall. Career-wise he has had 17 goals and 28 assists for 33 points overall.

In addition to choosing Grigorenko at #12, Buffalo also had pick #14 overall. With that pick they chose another forward, Zemgus Girgensons.

The selection of him marked the highest that a Latvian had ever been selected in the NHL Entry draft. Fortunately for Buffalo, he was more productive for them than their earlier pick, Grigorenko, had been.

During his first season with the Sabres, in 2013-2014, he scored 8 goals and had 14 assists for 20 points in all. He improved in the 2014-2015 season where he nearly doubled his goal total by scoring 15 goals and contributing 15 assists for 30 points overall. That year he also was the runaway leader in fan voting for the 2015 All-Star Game, which was helped in a large part by fans from his native Latvia.

He did not score as much in subsequent seasons. In 2015-2016, he had 7 goals and 11 assists, while in 2016-2017 he had 7 goals and 9 assists. Career-wise, he has scored 37 goals and had 49 assists. It appears that his best season of 2014-2015 was an outlier, aided by a shooting percentage of 13.0% which was much higher than his shooting percentage in other years, which ranged from 6.3-7.0%. It appears he will mostly be a “bottom six” forward rather than a “top six” forward.

Tom Wilson
The Washington Capitals chose the next forward with Pick #16. They chose Tom Wilson, a forward with a physical presence who they hoped would develop into a power forward in the Milan Lucic mold.

After playing one year in junior hockey, post draft, he made the Caps team in the 2012-2013 season. Playing mostly in a fourth line role, he scored 3 goals and had 7 assists that year. In 2015-2016, he started playing as part of the Caps penalty kill unit.

In each of the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons, he scored 7 goals. In four seasons with the Capitals, he has 21 goals and 48 assists in 313 career games. So far, he has not developed into the offensive player the Caps hoped for when drafting him.

You Gotta Have Hertl And Teuvo, Too
San Jose chose Czech forward, Tomas Hertl, with Pick #17, which ironically was where many mock drafts figured he would land. Hertl continued to play with HC Slavia Praha, his team in the Czech Republic, in the first year after being drafted. Hertl came overseas to play with the Sharks for the 2013-2014 season.

In October of that year, in just his second NHL game, Hertl scored 2 goals. He followed that up by scoring 4 goals in his very next game. Hertl was named NHL Rookie of the Month in October for having 8 goals and 11 points.

Unfortunately, Hertl injured his knee in a collision in December of that year and needed surgery. In just 37 games, he had 15 goals and 10 assists for 15 points overall. He played more games during the 2014-2015 season, but he only scored 13 goals with 18 assists.

Hertl rebounded the next season, 2015-2016, with 21 goals and 25 assists for 46 points overall. In 2016-2017, Hertl experienced another injury plagued year. He had 10 goals and 12 assists in just 49 games. During his 249 game NHL career, he scored 59 goals and contributed 65 assists for 165 points overall.

The Chicago Blackhawks chose the Finnish forward, Teuvo Teravainen, with the following pick, #18. After a “cup of coffee” in 2013-2014, he played half a season in the NHL in 2014-2015, scoring 4 goals with 5 assists in 34 games.

2015-2016 was his first full season in the NHL where he had 13 goals and 22 assists. He was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, along with Brian Bickell, after that season.

His production has slightly improved with the Canes as he had 15 goals and 27 assists for 42 points overall. During his career, he has had 32 goals and 54 assists for 86 points.

Late First Round Busts
Most of the rest of the forwards chosen in the first round could be considered “busts”. Scott Laughton, who the Philadelphia Flyers chose with pick #20, has had 9 goals and 18 assists in 109 total NHL games. He spent one full season in the NHL, the 2015-2016 season, but spent most of 2016-2017 season with their AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

The Calgary Flames chose Mark Jankowski with their pick. He has played only one game during his NHL career so far and that was in 2016-2017 where he scored no points.

Vancouver chose Brandon Gaunce with their pick. Most of the mock drafts had predicted he would go sooner. After a very productive junior hockey career, he still has not spent a full season in the NHL. In 2016-2017, he played in 57 games where he had no goals and 5 assists. He has scored just one goal in his entire NHL career.

With pick #27 overall, the Arizona Coyotes chose Pittsburgh native, Henrik Samuelsson. Samuelsson only appeared in three NHL games in his career and those occurred in the 2014-2015 season. He has played in the AHL ever since and is no longer in the Coyotes’ organization.

The New Jersey Devils chose Stefan Matteau with pick #29. Matteau played in 27 games for the Devils before getting traded to the Montreal Canadiens. He has had 3 goals and 3 assists in 57 NHL games. He is currently on the roster for the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

Last But Not Least
The last pick of the first round was a forward who was anything but a bust. The Los Angeles Kings chose Tanner Pearson with pick #30. He made his NHL debut in the 2012-2013 playoffs.

In 2013-2014, he spent time with both the Kings and their AHL affiliate and had 3 goals and 4 assists with the Kings. His career since then was an upward trajectory in productivity.

In 2014-2015, he had 12 goals and 4 assists. In 2015-2016, he had 15 goals and 21 assists. In 2016-2017, he cracked the 20-goal barrier for the first time with 24 goals and contributed 20 assists. Overall, in the NHL, he has had 54 goals and 49 assists for 103 points overall. He was the only forward in the first round drafted after Pick #18 who was not a bust.

Later Round Finds
So far, none of the forwards drafted after the first round have yet topped 30 goals for their NHL career. Some of them show promise in that department even though they are relatively “late” bloomers. This includes Jimmy Vesey who was drafted in Round 3 and, after a productive college career, scored 16 goals in his first NHL season.

There is also Josh Anderson who was drafted in Round 4. Anderson had 17 goals and 12 assists in his first full season. Similarly, another fourth-round pick, Andreas Athanasiou had 18 goals and 11 assists in his first full season after one partial season.

One sixth-round pick, Connor Brown, scored 20 goals and had 16 assists during 2016-2017, his first full NHL season. They were not included in the chart but, if they continue their present trajectories, will likely be included in future updates.

The common theme among the forwards drafted in the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft is lost promise and disappointment, all for different reasons. The first pick overall, Nail Yakupov, had a promising first season but, between coaching changes and injuries, could not duplicate his earlier success and was traded away from his drafting team and is trying out for his third team in a last-ditch effort to remain in the NHL.

Montreal still has not established whether Galchenyuk is a center or a wing, even though he was drafted as a center. Forsberg has lived up to offensive expectations, but not with the team that originally drafted him. Capitals fans are still upset that he was traded away, with so little return and wonder what their then General Manager, George McPhee, was thinking when he made that fateful trade with Nashville.

Mikhail Grigorenko did not live up to expectations for Buffalo and was traded to the Colorado Avalanche and ultimately ended up in the KHL. Zemgus Girgensons had one season of getting selected to the All-Star team, but had not produced as much offensively in other seasons.

Tom Wilson has not developed as much offensively as the Caps had hoped. Tomas Hertl has had some periods of great production, but has been hampered by injuries. Teuvo Teravainen is promising, but is no longer with Chicago, his drafting team, as he was traded to Carolina as part of a salary dump.

The rest of the forwards drafted that round were busts, save for Tanner Pearson. For Washington Capitals fans, this draft was a disappointment in that they drafted two players, traded the better of the two away, while the player they kept has not developed as much offensively as expected.

Other teams with multiple picks also had disappointing returns. Buffalo had drafted Grigorenko and Girgensons. The former is no longer with the team while the latter does not appear to be “Top 6” caliber.

The Pittsburgh Penguins had drafted two defensemen, Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta. The former has not been able to stick in the NHL for a full season. The latter is promising, but has been injury prone throughout his career.

For career totals, Forsberg leads in goals with 91. Following him are Galchenyuk with 89, Hertl with 59, and Yakupov with 53. No other forward drafted in that round has exceeded 40 goals in their career yet.

For overall points in their career, Galchenyuk is the leader with 204, followed by Forsberg with 191. Next in career totals are Hertl with 124 and Yakupov with 120. No other forward has exceeded 90 career points.

Several defensemen have earned that many points, including Morgan Reilly of Toronto, Hampus Lindholm of Anaheim, and Jacob Trouba of Winnipeg.

During the 2016-2017 season, only two forwards drafted in Round 1 exceeded the 20-goal threshold, Filip Forsberg and Tanner Pearson, with Forsberg the only one to exceed 30 goals. Alex Galchenyuk would have likely exceeded that total except that he missed time with injury. The same is true of Tomas Hertl. Connor Brown, drafted in Round 6, reached 20 goals this past season.

Related articles:
Evaluation of Forwards Picked in the First-Round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft
Evaluation of Forwards Selected in the First-round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft
Evaluation of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft
Evaluation of Forwards Picked in 2013 Draft

By Diane Doyle

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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