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2012 NHL Mock Draft: Lighthouse Hockey Selects Alex Galchenyuk with No. 4 Pick

Who will be posing for silly photos this month?
Who will be posing for silly photos this month?

The 30 SB Nation NHL team blogs (not counting the conjoined Battle of California, which must be both hung over and in civil war this morning. Update: Actually, BOC handled the Ducks' pick after all...and didn't pick a Finn) are running our annual mock draft for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. The first three teams blogs selected yesterday, putting us in a dilemma we didn't expect: Ryan Murray or Alex Galchenyuk? Defense, or offense?

I'd expected one or the other to be left on the table when our turn came up for the Islanders at #4. There has been ample draft discussion among writers and readers here, but I took this assignment solo, making an executive decision. Which means this pick is biased by my reluctance to pick a defenseman so high in the draft unless you're pretty sure he will be a franchise defenseman.

It's not that I don't recognize defense as a weakness on the current Islanders' roster -- it's that a team really shouldn't make draft decisions based on the needs of next year's (or even the following year's) roster. Defensemen are hard to project, and we've seen some really good ones can fall to later in the first or second rounds because of that.

Meanwhile, forward talent is a little easier to identify correctly at age 18, and Alex Galchenyuk possesses it in spades.

That's not to say selecting Galchenyuk carries no risk. Every pick does, but especially one used on a forward who missed most of his draft year with a serious knee injury. As referenced yesterday, Cory Pronman at Hockey Prospectus had a great roundup of those risks and rewards and why a scout's lens on a prospect is limited when nearly a full year, the most important pre-draft year, is missing from the data.

In fact, if the Islanders scouting team didn't think it had seen enough of Galchenyuk to feel good about this pick, I'd understand why they'd pass over him. (Likewise, if the injury gave them too much concern at the #4 slot.)

But looking at all the talent lined up for this draft and the names available after Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko are off the table (and considering my reluctance to bet on these defensemen), Galchenyuk has the most enticing package of strengths to my eyes. As Pronman described in his earlier write-up on his top five:

...Galchenyuk's true strengths lie in his puck skills, vision, and overall possession ability. He's a very talented playmaker who has a pass-first mentality, thinks the game at a high level, and his decisions require little processing time. He's very coordinated in tight, showing plus puck skills and great creativity. While he can do great things in open ice, he's also dangerous on the cycle with a big body and a good physical work ethic that makes it very hard for opponents to strip possession from him...

And here's The Scouting Report (which ranked Galchenyuk 3rd):

In full form, Galchenyuk is a dynamic offensive forward who can flat out produce. He is often a very deceptive player and lurks around the ice, always seeming to be around the puck. Galchenyuk has great hands and an even better shot with a pro-calibre release and pin-point accuracy. If he can continue to improve his skating, his style is somewhat comparable to Evgeni Malkin.

At #4, it's not about filling a need -- not even a long-term talent depth need. It's about grabbing the player you think has the best chance of being a very good difference-maker. You can adjust depth disparities later; it's always easier to do that when you have the highest-quality assets possible.

Murray is a favorite among many readers here, and the other promising defensemen like Matthew Dumba, Jacob Trouba and Morgan Rielly have drawn attention. But for my money, if Galchenyuk is left on the board at #4, it's an easy decision.

Well, as "easy" as these draft coin-flips get, anyway.