Question: What do the 2011-2012 Buffalo Sabres and the upcoming NHL Draft have in common? Answer: Injuries. The injuries to the top prospects have made it a bit harder to nail down just where these prospects really should be picked. Inside we break down the player, the injury, and the implication.
Each draft has its own identity and frankly this year seems to be the year of the injury. The first round is chock full of talent, but values on players are a bit murky because of the volume of players that have an incomplete resume. From the very top it becomes clear that this year it’s tough to know whether or not a player has put an injury behind them. It’s also tough to know if a nagging, or hidden injury is behind a drop in production.
For Scouting Session 9 we’ll turn again to Kris Baker of SabresProspects.com and cut through all of the bone, tendon, and muscle (I know that’s gross but I’m going with the cutting through metaphor) to get to the truth on the top prospects.
Jer: Kris, let’s start at the top with Nail Yakupov.
Kris: Nail Yakupov suffered a concussion but also a battled a bit of a back problem. He’s the clear cut #1 pick. Fast, lightning quick, elite-level sniper. You can’t say enough good things about him offensively. Upon returning from the concussion, Yakupov played without fear. There is one speed to his game and it didn’t appear to play a factor. Yakupov didn’t appear to get a lot of ice time in key situations during the playoffs, but I don’t think it was concussion-based. He played the same speed, his one speed he has. Hockey players ALL seem to get concussions these days so, welcome to the club Nail.
Jer: How about our mystery man, Mikhail Grigorenko?
Kris: Mikhail Grigorenko picked up an ankle injury in World Jrs. December. He was knocked out of the tournament and missed several weeks. When he first returned to Quebec, they were very careful with him. There was still production, but the consistency dropped a bit. The numbers appear to show that it coincides with the ankle, but it’s not totally clear if the injury is a factor, or a crutch. The drop in consistency could also be a reflection of his work ethic, which had been questioned before the injury. He played - which is a plus. In a year with limited talent it shouldn’t hurt him too much. The work ethic discussion is the one that they’ll have in board rooms, rather than any discussions about a lingering injury.
Jer: Another guy we talk about a lot is Alex Galchenyuk. His injury was simply some bad luck, and really hit Sarnia hard. Galchenyuk was supposed to be part of Sarnia’s dynamic duo (with Yakupov) and that went off the rails with his injury.
Kris: The injury was a huge letdown. He returned to the ice and played one game in the regular season with limited minutes. He didn’t play particularly well and on top of that...he got hurt again. He left with an arm injury. While it’s nothing long-term, it was a bummer on top of a bummer. His return from that was a success. He looked like the Galchenyuk of old. He didn’t quite light the world on fire, but he did play well. It’s entirely possible that some teams might have concerns about his recovery.
For a really good look into Galchenyuk’s rehab and mindset, check his blog. It’s clear that he missed the game.
Jer: While I tend to stray away from the blue line from time to time I know that it’s important in this draft. While the Sabres (in my opinion) are likely to go heavy at forward, what about the top players on D? What kind of injuries there?
Kris: It starts with Ryan Murray. Right before World Jrs he suffered a high ankle sprain that set him back a bit. Now being talked about as a potential #1 pick in the draft, he’s the first player that scouts have consistently said will step right into a lineup in 2012-2013. He’s ready. He will play this year. He missed about 2 months. He came back and played one game for Everett of the WHL, and then went off to camp with Team Canada for World Jrs. Draft standing wasn’t really affected at all by the injury...(if anything it was hit by his performance in the game against Russia). He healed well. The ankle should not be a question at all. Murray maintained his draft standing, and looks to have a bright future. Truth is the injury might have helped him...sometimes it gives a player a chance to work out more and bulk up.
Jer: The other top target on D is Morgan Rielly who, surprise surprise, suffered a serious injury.
Kris: An ACL injury forced him to miss most of season. Rielly played 18 games for Moose Jaw and put up big numbers. He’s considered to be the best pure puck-mover in the draft. He moves end to end up the ice. Great skater, and gifted puck mover so it was key to see him move again once he was healthy. Rielly was able to return for the playoffs, and he played like a beast. Appeared to be very well rested...a player who without a doubt has NHL game. The injury was a huge concern because of the way that he plays the game. He was able to quickly make it clear that he’s ok.
Jer: 5 big time prospects with 5 big time injuries.
Kris: And it goes so much deeper. All in all the list is a long one:
Radek Faksa - Concussion suffered in the playoffs.
Olli Maatta - Hurt at World Jrs.
Jarrod Maidens - Played 28 games before suffering a concussion.
Slater Koekkoek - Played 26 games left in November with a torn labrum.
Martin Frk - Suffered a concussion and returned later in the year
Colton Sissons - Concussion
Tom Wilson - Later first round pick, hurt in a fight (broken knuckle)
Jake McCabe - Had a tendon sliced by a skate, missed extensive period of time
Tanner Pierson - Broke his ankle in last game of regular season, missed playoffs
Zemgus Girgensons - Broke his jaw at the end of the season
Malcolm Subban - Top goalie in the draft - Groin and ankle injuries plagued him. Missed all of October and January.
Jer: And this is just a part of it. How much have these injuries contributed to the general grade of the entire draft heading in?
Kris: I think that a lot of the talk of a “weak draft class” comes down to injuries. Top guys missed time. Alex Galchenyuk was a top 3 guy in the draft and his injury has dropped him a bit on some boards. You actually have to assess Galchenyuk’s value based on his 17 year old resume.
If you go through the top 10 players, a lot of the players that were there before injury. The talent is still there, but you have smaller sample sizes.
The landscape is such that the draft can go in several directions after that first pick.
Prepare yourself for this year's NHL Draft with our "Scouting Session" Series. Below are the links to previous installments:
1 - Draft Overview
2 - Sabres Forward Depth
3 - Sabres Depth on D
4 - Life after Ryan Miller
5 - The Russian Discussion
6 - Sabres two 1sts - 12 and 21
7 - Mystery Man Mikhail Grigorenko
8 - America's Got Talent