The 2012 NHL Draft saw its share of prominent falling stocks such as first-rounders Filip Forsberg (WAS) and Mikhail Grigorenko (BUF). Even “Mr. Irrelevant,” 211th pick Nick Ebert (LAK), fell from a potential first-round projection in 2011. Yet there were several players who were passed over entirely that raised the eyebrows of the Hockey’s Future staff.
Below are three prospects that missed the cut but may be making inroads to the NHL through tryouts or future entry drafts.
Makarov’s name might suggest some “Russian factor” question marks or that he was stashed in some obscure league like the MHL. Yet the MHL produced a first-rounder at his position and the reality is that Makarov has already played in not one but two prominent North American junior leagues. He made the switch from the QMJHL, where he played for Lewiston in 2010-11 to the WHL, where he competed for the Saskatoon Blades.
Makarov’s numbers improved literally across the board despite his workload doubling for a team that fared slightly worse overall and allowed a higher volume of shots on goal. He also appeared in three games for the silver medal-winning Russian Under-20 National Team, shining brightly as a backup.
In short, Makarov’s profile and performance were more than high enough to merit a mid to late-round selection. At 6’1 and roughly 180 pounds, he is not undersized. He faced some adversity after the World Juniors, but that may have been a result of his heavy workload and also a testament to the quality of play he turned in earlier in the season. Makarov has been compared to Evgeni Nabokov in terms of his potential and makeup. While he remains raw technically, his athletic ability and big-game poise should have been enough to get at least one skate into the NHL’s door.
Slepyshev is more of a classic case of Russian Roulette. He is a supreme dangler with good speed and a strong enough shot to finish consistently. He has even produced respectably for a teenager in Russia’s top mens league, the KHL, where he was the top overall selection in the 2011 KHL Junior Draft.
Slepyshev seemed like a solid bet to get drafted, but was not without his share of detractors. While no one denied his wizardry with the puck, few if any observers identified him as a big-time playmaker. At 6’2 and nearly 190 pounds, his size wasn’t a knock, but his lack of strength and the ease with which he was knocked off the puck were. A low skill-to-production ratio and a lack of willingness to engage physically seemed to be the biggest concerns.
Nevertheless, players with similar question marks and much lower talent levels were selected. Slepyshev has many of the things that cannot be taught to players at his level and lacks many of the things that his peers also need. Plenty of prospects need to add strength, even out their effort and otherwise make adjustments. Very few of them can carry the puck end-to-end, free themselves up in prime scoring position and bury a puck in the opposing net.
The son of former NHLer Al Iafrate, Max carried the added prominence of being a potential second-generation NHLer. Initially, he played an offensive-minded game like his father. Yet his skills did not seem to transfer into the OHL as his offensive confidence and decision-making came into question as a member of the Plymouth Whalers.
A trade to Kitchener revitalized Iafrate’s career and redefined his style of play. While he may not have his father’s 105 mph shot or offensive skills, he certainly has his size. The Rangers saw that and converted him into a defensive defenseman. The stay-at-home role suited him very well and he made an astonishingly quick adaptation to the shutdown role. Despite the shift, his offensive numbers improved as well.
Iafrate may not be a future All Star but he has the size, mobility, toughness and pedigree to compete in the NHL one day. With a recognizable name and a solid junior program, it was more than a slight surprise that Iafrate was passed over unanimously on draft day.