Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 2/8/12

Just a few months away from the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, rankings indicate that June's draft will have a Russian flavor as in 2004's draft, when Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin went first and second, the first time two Russians ever went 1-2 in the NHL draft. And, like 2010, the year of Taylor or Tyler, this year's two top draft prospects are so close, either player could be chosen first.

Central Scouting midterm rankings have Sarnia Sting winger Nail Yakupov ranked as the top-ranked skater for 2012, but Quebec Remparts center Mikhail Grigorenko could steal the spotlight come June. Central Scouting admits that it's close.

"We're almost at the point where we sort of like to reference them as 1A and 1B," instead of 1 and 2, said NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr. The two have such similar skill sets that they are very close to each other in point this season, each averaging over 1.5 points per game. Yakupov has 55 points (22g, 33a) in 29 games, and Grigorenko has 66 points (29g, 37a) in 44 games. Both are fast, dynamic, and can also provide defense when needed.

Countering NHL's Central Scouting, International Scouting Services (ISS) put Mikhail Grigorenko in first place over Yakupov for the first time in their November 2011 rankings, and Grigorenko has remained in the top position ever since. Yakupov and Grigorenko are both very skilled offensively, but ISS points to Grigorenko's ability to make those around him better as the difference.

ISS has had Yakupov at second since November, but he could slide with other scouts due to a knee injury he sustained at the World Junior Championship Final against Sweden in January. Yakupov has since recovered and returned to the Sting, but he was out for nearly a month, and recent events indicate that he may still be feeling the effects of the injury.

Three games into his return, Yakupov was expected to play at the CHL Top Prospects game hosted by the Kelowna Rockets Jan. 31-Feb. 1, but released a statement saying that his doctor suggested he skip the game to rest. The CHL suspended him for two games for declining to participate in the event.

Coincidentally, Mikhail Grigorenko was also injured going into the Top Prospects game, but participated anyway despite an ankle injury (also sustained during the WJC) that he said is only "80 percent healed." Grigorenko had made his return from the injury with the Remparts just over a week before the Top Prospects game.

Grigorenko could have used the short break to rest and complete his recovery, but he complied with the league's request for him to participate. Kelowna doctors cleared him to play, but knowing that he was still experiencing symptoms, limited his activities.

However, the situation was such that Remparts coach Patrick Roy was later fined by the QMJHL after he suggested the league commissioner rushed Grigorenko back from injury in order to sell tickets for the Top Prospects game.

But Grigorenko's participation despite injury is something the CHL considered when they suspended Yakupov. The league said that Yakupov should have flown to Kelowna and been examined by the doctors on site at the Top Prospects game to evaluate whether or not he could participate. Grigorenko did so -- Yakupov did not.

Though the reasoning behind Yakupov's suspension is suspect, as he produced evidence that doctors advised him not to play, Grigorenko might come out of the situation looking more attractive to general managers. It shows that he toughs it out, he's easy to work with and he follows instructions (however questionable).

With the Russians' on-ice skills so similar, the draft could come down to the results of off-ice incidents like these.

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