10 things to watch for at the NHL Draft

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer

Yakupov

There is no bigger event during the offseason than the NHL Draft, and it all kicks off in Pittsburgh on Friday night.

It's not only a huge event because the NHL's future stars will find out a lot about their future but because all 30 general managers -- and just about every person of importance in the league -- are centered in one location, which will give them an opportunity to wheel and deal face to face.

It's when most of the big trades and roster moves will be made this summer, and the future of every team in the league is at stake in more ways than one.

With that in mind, here are 10 things to watch for as we head into what will be one of the busiest weekends of the summer for hockey fans.

1. The Edmonton Oilers will select...

For the third year in a row the Edmonton Oilers have the pole position in the NHL Draft, and unless something drastic and unforeseen happens before 7 p.m. ET on Friday they will have their choice of the top prospects.

The consensus is that Sarnia Sting forward Nail Yakupov will be (and should be) the pick. But there seems to be enough of a discussion -- whether it's just baseless speculation remains to be seen -- that defenseman Ryan Murray could potentially be an option as the Oilers' greater need is on defense.

It would be awfully difficult to pass on a talent like Yakupov, and it would be a pretty big upset at this point if his name isn't the first one called on Friday evening.

2. Will Mikhail Grigorenko fall in the first round?

It wasn't that long ago that Mikhail Grigorenko was considered one of the top two or three prospects in the draft. However, his name has suddenly started to fall down draft boards. Is it due to questions about his ability and long-term potential? Or is it because some teams still have a fear or a bias against selecting players with a Russian background out of an unsubstantiated concern that he might one day leave to play in the KHL?

(Keep in mind, he has already been playing in North America as a member of the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL.)

Or is it a third possibility, as relayed by Damien Cox, that one unnamed Western Conference general manager thinks Grigorenko is actually 20 years old instead of 18. This would be a relatively big deal if it's true, but on the surface, and without much else to back it up, it sounds more like the type of misinformation that would be put out by a general manager later in the draft looking to get a steal in the form of a top talent sliding down into his range.

3. What does Columbus do at No. 2?

It was such a miserable season for the Columbus Blue Jackets that even after finishing with the worst record in the NHL they still weren't able to get the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, losing the draft lottery and pushing them back to the second pick. If, as we all assume, Yakupov goes first to the Oilers, does that mean Columbus automatically takes the defenseman, Murray? Or do they go with a scorer like Alex Galchenyuk, Filip Forsberg or perhaps even Grigorenko? Or another option: Do they trade out?

Something to keep in mind: The Blue Jackets have had a top-10 pick 10 times in their existence (not good) and have taken a forward with nine of those picks.

4. Will Rick Nash still be in Columbus when it's all over?

The NHL Draft is what the trade deadline is supposed to be, and so much more.

In recent years all of the big trades have happened here and there are quite a few big names rumored to be on the market. Let's start with Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash. After his name was connected to rumors throughout the month of February the Blue Jackets held on to him at the trade deadline, setting the stage for what could be a move this weekend.

The Rangers seem to be the favorites (again) if a move happens, but at what cost? There's also the issue as to whether or not Nash's best days are behind him as his production has seen a slight decrease in each of the past few years, and he still has a few years left on a pretty substantial contract.

Luongo5. Roberto Luongo

Speaking of high-level players with a lot of years remaining on a big contract, will anything happen with Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo? Mike Gillis said on Thursday that he has fielded calls on both of his goalies (Cory Schneider being the other).

It seems as if the number of potential partners has already taken a hit in recent weeks, especially with a team like Tampa Bay already acquiring what it hopes to be its goalie of the future in Anders Lindback.

Toronto and Columbus are the two teams with the biggest glaring weaknesses in net right now, but would either one be willing to give up the assets required to take on Luongo's remaining contract?

One thing is for sure, the few teams still in the market for a starting goalie don't have many options remaining in free agency and a trade may be the best (and only) course of action.

6. Bobby Ryan

While Nash and Luongo are the two big "names" circulating the rumor mill, Bobby Ryan is the player teams should be most interested in trading for ... if the Ducks have really made him available (again).

Ryan is younger than Nash, cheaper than Nash, more versatile than Nash (Ryan can play center if he has to) and arguably the better player.

And not currently mired in the middle of a three-year decline in production.

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7.What will the Devils do with their first-round pick?

The New Jersey Devils raised a few eyebrows when they decided to keep their first-round pick this year instead of forfeiting it to complete their punishment for the Ilya Kovalchuk contract saga two years ago. They currently own the 29th overall pick. Since they kept the pick it certainly makes you wonder what general manager Lou Lamiorello has up his sleeve.

Perhaps a move up to land a player high on his board? Or perhaps he and his scouts just like the depth in this year's class.

One name we're looking at as a possibility: goaltender Malcolm Subban. And speaking of goalies...

8. How soon will the first goalie be taken off the board?

Since the start of the 2006 draft only five goalies have been selected in the first round: Jack Campbell (Dallas, 2010), Chet Pickard (Nashville, 2008), Tomas McCollum (Detroit, 2008), Riku Helenius (Tampa Bay, 2006), Semyon Varlamov (Washington, 2006) and Leland Irving (Calgary, 2006). None of them went higher than 11th overall.

Only three went in the top 20. Teams don't like investing high draft picks in goalies given the difficulty when it comes to projecting them going forward, and just how unpredictable the position can be on a year-to-year basis. Subban figures to be the best bet to go in the first round this year, but it's far from a given.

9. Will Nashville make a move to get back into the first round?

David Poile went all in at the trade deadline in an effort to strengthen his team for a Stanley Cup run this past season, and that meant selling off a number of draft picks. That, of course, included his first-round pick that was sent to Buffalo in exchange for center Paul Gaustad.

Last week he acquired a number of picks, including two second-rounders this year, for goalie Anders Lindback, which would seemingly give him the assets needed to make a move back into the first round.

Even though they don't have a first-round selection, they still have three of the top 66 picks in the draft.

10.Will there be a surprise blockbuster?

It wouldn't be a huge shock if Nash or Luongo gets moved before the weekend comes to a close. Actually, it would probably be expected at this point. But as we said earlier, this is one of the few times of the year all 30 general managers are together in a setting where they can deal with one another and there always seems to be a surprise move that comes out of it. Remember. this was the time last year that Philadelphia rebuilt its team on the fly by trading Mike Richards to the Kings and Jeff Carter to the Blue Jackets.

Photos: Getty Images

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