Those of you that have followed me in past years know my monthly Top 20 draft eligible rankings and are aware that the end of February brings the first of the top 50 rankings. Thanks to it being a leap year, I’ve had an extra day to prepare.

This is the first of three top 50 skaters and top 5 goaltender rankings eligible for the first time in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. The second ranking comes after the OHL regular season is completed and the final rankings prior to the draft come after the OHL playoffs are completed – giving a chance for players to solidify or improve their rankings.

So let the debating begin !

As he has since last season, Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting is the unchallenged number one and has been throughout the year. Injuries have kept Yakupov from playing a full schedule, but it’s evident that there isn’t another player available that can control or change the complexion of a game in the way Yakupov can in the OHL – or for that matter the entire CHL. Yakupov is ranked first in the NHL Central Scouting Services (CSS) rankings both in the OHL and overall in North America.

We struggled like we have all season with the number two spot. For all intents and purposes the spot is being held for Yakupov’s Sting teammate Alex Galchenyuk as it has almost all season long. He’s been ranked at number 4 throughout the season only because of injury. If reports are true that he could return this month, even before the playoffs, all he has to do is show that he has no ill effects from his surgery and he will take his rightful place behind Yakupov. Galchenyuk is ranked as a limited viewing by CSS.

My sentiments on Galchenyuk however should not be taken as a knock on my number 2 ranked player, Ottawa 67’s defenseman Cody Ceci. He has the size and the talent that NHL teams look for.  Ceci plays both sides of the puck, plays in any situation, quarterbacks the power play and is second to only Dougie Hamilton of the Niagara Ice Dogs in points among defensemen. Ceci is ranked 6th in the OHL and 16th in North America by CSS.

The Kitchener Rangers’ Radek Faksa has climbed up to the number three spot.  Faksa is another of those big bodied forwards NHL teams love. He can play in any situation, isn’t afraid to use his size and has been consistent with his performance throughout the season. Faksa is ranked 2nd in the OHL and 4th in North America by CSS.

In the fifth spot is London Knights defenseman Olli Maatta. The Knights rookie needed an adjustment period coming over to North America and once he became comfortable his game started to improve. The smooth skating rookie slipped in some rankings when he was injured in his first game at the World Junior Championships. Others question his offensive upside, but I believe he has a whole other level in him. CSS has him ranked 3rd from the OHL and 6th from North America.

In the number six spot is yet another defenseman, Matt Finn of the Guelph Storm. Finn came into the season already known for his great defensive game and needed to take the next step offensively. And did he ever. Many said to wait until after Christmas to see if he could keep producing and he has. Finn doesn’t quite have the size of Maatta or Ceci, but he could very well be the better all around defenseman of the three when it’s all said and done. Finn is ranked 5th in the OHL and 15th in North America by CSS.

In the number seven spot is Belleville Bulls forward Brendan Gaunce. He already possesses NHL size and readiness and trails only Nail Yakupov in goals, assists and points among the OHL’s draft eligible players.  Gaunce has been consistent throughout the season and is as close as they come to being NHL ready in terms of his defence, offense and size. CSS has Gaunce ranked 4th in the OHL and 11th among North American Skaters.

In the number eights spot is Peterborough Petes defenseman Slater Koekkoek.  He’s another of those quality players where a season ending injury limited him to just 26 games. Koekkoek is a project but has the raw tools and talent who, had he played the entire season, would be talked about along with Matt Finn as probably the best all around defenseman available. He’s ranked 7th from the OHL and 17th from North America by CSS.

We’ll look at the 9. 10, 11 positions together because, depending on whom you talk to, the three are interchangeable.  At number 11 is the Owen Sound Attacks Jarrod Maidens. He’s been out since November with a concussion and could very well be in the top ten if not for that. Maidens is ranked 10th from the OHL and 21st  in North America by CSS.

At number 10 is Belleville Bulls forward Daniil Zharkov. He began the season late because of injury and started his OHL and North American career blazing. He has all the tools except can be very inconsistent at times as shown by a poor January, followed by a subpar February. He could very well be, if he gets his consistency in order, the best pure goal scorer from the OHL.  Zharkov is ranked 8th from the OHL and 19th from North America by CSS.

At Number 9 I went with the Owen Sound Attacks Gemel Smith. He’s great skater, passer and scorer who is consistent.  He creates offense for himself and his team mates every time he is on the ice. There are concerns about his size, not so much the 5’11” but the 161 pounds. Some worry that if he adds the 30 pounds necessary to his bulk, that it will affect his skating. I’m a firm believer that if it does, skating is one thing that can be improved on. Smith is ranked 9th from the OHL and 20th from North America by CSS.

When viewing the rankings, please note that these are first time draft eligible players only. Those passed over in the 2010 and 2011 NHL Entry Draft are not ranked, such as Tanner Pearson, Seth Griffith and Michael Houser, among others. The list shows where CSS had them ranked in their midterm rankings both from the OHL and overall among North American Skaters.

To view the rankings click https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Anhf0akZmu64dHdlSnd3ODd5M2VRVWNNalI4SExyTmc#gid=0