Russian draft stock soaring

Updated: January 12, 2012, 4:12 PM ET
By Doug McIntyre

Shortly after NHL Central Scouting released its annual midseason rankings on Wednesday -- four separate lists comprised of the North American-based skaters and goalies and their counterparts playing in Europe (here and here) -- we spoke to five prominent NHL scouts to try to find out where some of the top prospects stand in the real world. In other words, where are these blue-chippers likely to be picked in June's draft?

Before we begin, a few caveats: As much as NHL teams' internal lists have changed to this point (and the director of amateur scouting for one Western Conference team says his "changes daily"), there will be even more movement as the games get tougher during the second half of the season.

Also, while a few players definitely upped their stocks with strong showings at the recently concluded World Junior Championship, nobody really damaged their reputation too much there, according to another Western scout.

"If a kid just sort of blends in, we don't hold that against him," he says. "That's a tough tournament. You're playing against the best in the world and, in most cases, they're two years older."

That said, with the 2012 draft now just six months away, a few things are coming into clearer focus. Here are a few things we've learned.

Nail Yakupov is still No. 1 ...
The Russian sniper, who plays for Sarnia in the OHL, only reinforced his reputation in Alberta. "No changes there at all," one scout says. For another Eastern Conference evaluator, any doubts about Yakupov's compete level were allayed as the World Juniors progressed. "He was a little bit quieter earlier in the tournament, [but] when it mattered most, that's when he came to play and showed a lot of desire," he says.