- Doug McIntyre
The start of the Stanley Cup playoffs is still more than a week away, but for top prospects in the 2012 NHL draft who perform in the three Canadian major junior leagues, the postseason has already begun.
That means that for most of the Canadian Hockey League's blue-chippers, the next few weeks could be their last and best chance to impress scouts before stepping to the podium in Pittsburgh in June.
There are a few exceptions, of course. Moose Jaw's Morgan Rielly is still on the injury shelf, and Matt Dumba's Red Deer Rebels failed to make the Western Hockey League playoffs. Dumba, a surefire top-10 pick, is expected to join Team Canada for next month's U-18 World Championships, and some of the players on the list below could join him in the Czech Republic if and when their teams are eliminated. But right now, the ultimate goal for most of them is still the Memorial Cup. Here's how eight of the biggest names, in alphabetical order, have shown in the postseason so far.
Cody Ceci, D, Ottawa 67's (Ontario Hockey League)
Ceci shot up the draft rankings with a late-season surge. Friend of the blog Craig Button, writing over on TSN.ca, has the 6-foot-2, 207-pound blueliner as the biggest riser on his latest list. But with just two points in the first round against Belleville, Ceci has been quiet offensively in the postseason so far, and he's been on the ice for five of the Bulls' 12 goals in the series.
Matt Finn, D, Guelph Storm (OHL)
Finn hasn't gotten much attention this year, but the slick D-man has come on strong of late, quietly leading his team into the postseason and helping the Storm jump out to a two-games-to-one lead against Plymouth in their current playoff series, which continues Thursday in Guelph. Now that he's squarely on the radar, scouts will be watching closely to see if Finn, still raw but with tons of potential, is really worthy of a first-round pick.
Alex Galchenyuk, C, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
After missing almost the entire year recovering from a torn ACL suffered in a September exhibition, Galchenyuk returned to the Sting lineup for the final two regular-season games. He went scoreless in limited minutes but has rediscovered some of the ability that helped him notch 83 points in 70 games in 2010-11 in the playoffs, picking up four points (two goals, two helpers) in as many games. Sarnia's first-round series with the Saginaw Spirit is tied at two games apiece.
Mikhail Girgorenko, C, Quebec Remparts (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League)
The big Russian's stock has fallen since the season's halfway point, when some scouts suggested he could surpass compatriot Nail Yakupov as the top pick. Still, Grigorenko's up for MVP honors in the Q and is the Remparts second-leading playoff scorer (Quebec leads Drummondville 3-0). Where he goes in June probably depends on who's picking: It's hard to envision the Montreal Canadiens passing on the local star, especially if Remparts' coach (and Canadiens legend) Patrick Roy takes the Habs' job this summer.
Ryan Murray, D, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Murray continues to be the most polarizing projected lottery selection. Some pundits have the 6-foot Scott Niedermayer clone going as high as second overall. Others, who will surely point to the Tips quick elimination (Everett, the heavy underdog, was eliminated in the Western Conference quarterfinals Wednesday night, getting swept by top seed Tri-City) as more evidence that he's overrated, even if Murray did notch five points in the four games for his overmatched team.
Griffin Reinhart, D, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
The son of former NHLer Paul Reinhardt has put some of the concerns about his toughness to rest with a strong showing in the first three games of Edmonton's series against Kootenay, which they lead 3-0. The 6-4, hard-shooting, shutdown blueliner has impressed scouts with his mobility for a big man, and he could jump a few more places on the board if the powerful Oil Kings make a deep run this spring.
Malcolm Subban, G, Belleville Bulls (OHL)
The highest-ranked netminder on Central Scouting's list has been huge for Belleville in the first round against Guelph, keeping his team in the series by averaging almost 39 saves in the four games -- stopping more than 92 percent of the shots he's faced. Subban is already a projected top-30 pick. If he backstops the Bulls to an upset and keeps up his stellar play in the next round, don't be surprised to see him jump into the 15-20 range.
Nail Yakupov, RW, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Injuries and international duty for Russia at the World Junior Championship has limited the consensus No. 1 pick to just 46 games this season, and Yakupov has looked banged-up in the first round of the playoffs. He's picked up five points but is a minus-7 in the four games after finishing the regular season plus-15. Still, it seems nothing will knock him out of the top spot at this point.
The NHL playoffs haven't begun, but the CHL playoffs are well underway, and ESPN Insider Doug McIntyre reviews how some of the top NHL draft prospects have performed.