This is getting old.
The pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the scouting community. The world juniors had just begun when Omicron struck and forced a cancellation (or postponement) of the event just three days in. Scouts were so excited about getting a chance to see potentially one half of the first round of the NHL draft play in this tournament. The pandemic ripped the pens right out of the hands of scouts and the opportunity right out of the sticks of several first-year draft eligibles.
In three days, here’s what scouts got to see from the higher end of the 2022 draft crop.
The final game of the tournament featured Canada in an 11-2 rout over Austria. Sixteen-year-old Connor Bedard bested Wayne Gretzky’s mark as the youngest Canadian to score four goals in a game, but he’s not draft eligible until 2023. Austria’s Marco Kasper was overmatched, playing 18:18 while winning just 30 per cent of his face offs. He recorded one shot and was a minus-2 during the game. Through two games, he didn’t record a point and was a minus-6. On the flip side, Shane Wright won all three of his draws, recorded one assist on three shots, was a plus-2 in 15:50. Other than that, not much to see here.
Highly touted Czechia defenceman David Jiricek played a total of 9:05, with one assist, before injuring his knee. He’s not likely to be back before season’s end.
Finland’s Joakim Kemell who tore up Liiga play before an upper-body injury slowed him down, seemed off the mark, nowhere near 100 per cent health-wise. He did not record a point in two games.
How about Ivan Miroshnichenko not even making Russia’s team? His running mate, Danila Yurov, scored once but played just over 23:35 minutes in Russia’s two games.
The three projected first-round Slovaks in defenceman Simon Nemec, and forwards Juraj Slafkovsky and Filip Mesar, each played two games, but had one assist between them.
The Swedes didn’t bring a first-year draft eligible, while the Americans had two: a back-up goalie in Dylan Silverstein and the highly thought of Logan Cooley. At least Cooley recorded an assist in the one game played by the Americans.
Get the picture?
On a much more positive note, Finn Brad Lambert looked every bit the part of a top-10 pick. He displayed his blazing speed and playmaking ability, picking up five points in Finland’s two games, playing a part in half of Finland’s 10 goals. He returned home to find out his next three Liiga games were postponed and, just like that, the momentum gained is lost.
Plans for the BioSteel All-American game are still in place for Monday, January 17, featuring the best draft eligible players mixed in with the USNTDP U18 team and then split into two squads. This event was tweaked from last year where the U18’s faced the USHL draft eligibles and ended in a 7-1 U18 (Team Blue) route.
The CHL/NHL Top Prospects game looks to be in peril and set for a postponement at best. It is still scheduled to go Feb. 2 in Kitchener. There remain a ton of challenges to get players in from two countries and then have them disperse back to their regular season teams, praying there’s no outbreak that could affect the entire 60-team loop.
It was announced Tuesday that all scouting events in the U17, U18 and U20 age groups have been cancelled, save for one Four Nations event in Slovakia, which is likely to get eliminated as well.
What does all this mean? Well, there is a bit more to chew on from last year, especially from the OHL, where they didn’t play a single game in 2020-21. It also means more difficulty in getting across the pond to see European players, and there are plenty of them projected to go in the first round. It means a return to more video and analytic based scouting and it also places much more significance on the World U18 Championship, scheduled to begin April 21 in Landshut and Kaufbeuren, Germany.
The interrupted season also makes for more work behind the scenes. How is a player’s mental health, his overall disposition? Are there any issues with school, billets or family life? How does a player interact with teammates and coaches? These things are typically investigated, but in uncertain times, they are given more prominence.
In the long-term, I hope this means NHL teams will spend more money on player development, not just on the ice, but in terms of mental health and wellness. Such expenditures are a pittance compared to player salaries and money spent in these areas will go a long way in improving the draft and development, salary-cap world the NHL lives in.
Without a ton of new hockey to report on, here’s our January rankings.
*denotes late 2003 birthday
1. Shane Wright, C, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL): Caught fire before the WJC, then had two average games there. He’s still the undisputed top player available.
*2. Brad Lambert, LW, JYP (Liiga): It was only two games at the WJC, but great to see Lambert apply himself playing with his peers. The pandemic is wreaking havoc on Liiga play, likely making for a two-week break between games.
3. Joakim Kemell, LW, JYP (Liiga): Didn’t look to be at the top of his game at the WJC, and rumours about lingering shoulder issues support that theory.
4. Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Omsk (VHL): A mystery as to why he wasn’t on Russia’s WJC team, but after the flight home, maybe it was better he wasn’t.
5. Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Thinks the game so well and has the hands and vision to execute and complement his high hockey IQ.
6. Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, TPS Turku (Liiga): Too good for the U20 league and not quite ready to log top-six minutes in Liiga, but with his size, puck-handling ability and power to his game, there’s plenty to like.
*7. Danila Yurov, RW, Magnitogorsk (KHL): Solid, steady, two-way player with plenty of skill to be an effective point producer at the next level.
8. Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Looks like the break came just in time. There’s some immaturity to his game, but from a projection standpoint, he’s still very highly regarded in the scouting world.
9. Logan Cooley, C, USNTDP: Not deterred about missing an opportunity to centre the Americans’ second line at the WJC. Has picked up where he left off, with four points in four tight games back with the program.
10. Frank Nazar III, C, USNTDP: Plays with a dog-on-bone mentality when hunting pucks. The relentless work ethic fits in perfect harmony with his dual-threat ability.
*11. David Jiricek, D, HC Plzen (Extraliiga): Difficult to see him suffer a serious knee injury in Czechia’s first WJC game. Injured players such as Morgan Rielly and Brett Connolly still found their way into the top 10 despite draft year injuries.
12. Simon Nemec, D, HK Nitra (Slovakia): Displays great two-way capabilities and possesses high-end puck moving ability that makes him a threat on the rush.
13. Cutter Gauthier, LW, USNTDP: Key to success in his play is engaging physically and consistently challenging inside ice.
14. Isaac Howard, LW, USNTDP: Has taken better advantage of utilizing his teammates to create offence. Is a true finisher.
15. Filip Mesar, LW, HK Poprad (Slovakia): Extremely intelligent player who knows how to find open lanes for others and open ice for himself.
16. Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Djurgarden (SWE U20): Super creative player who can change pace, make plays and finish accordingly.
17. Ryan Chesley, D, USNTDP: Takes defending seriously. Uses thought process and mobility to close gaps and kill plays quickly.
18. Marco Kasper, C, Rogle (SHL): Another gifted offensive player who is continuously applying himself all over the ice.
19. Seamus Casey, D, USNTDP: Offensive game continues to show improvements, thanks to playing a more simple one on the defensive side.
*20. Pavel Mintyukov, D, Saginaw Spirit (OHL): May end up in a 10-15 spot by the time we get to July.
21. Alexander Perevalov, LW, Yaroslavl: Has played five games in the KHL, albeit sparingly, but another fast-rising player who dazzles with the puck on his stick.
22. Elias Salomonsson, D, Skelleftea (SWE U20): It’s nice that he plays with poise, but it would also be nice if he played with more urgency.
*23. Nathan Gaucher, C, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL): Is as safe a bet as this draft class has to offer. Won’t be a high-end producer at the next level, but is the type of player every team needs.
24. Liam Ohgren, LW, Djurgarden (SWE U20): Leans a little more to the will side than the skill side, but is underrated for his offensive talents.
*25. Danny Zhilkin, C, Guelph Storm (OHL): Still a work in progress on his play away from the puck. He understands the how and the why, it’s now about applying that knowledge to execute.
26. Michael Buchinger, D, Guelph Storm (OHL): Super competitive player who challenges the opposition from the offensive zone blue line right back to his own net front.
27. Denton Mateychuk, D, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): Plenty of calm to his game. Thinks the game well and already displays pro habits.
28. Filip Bystedt, C, Linkoping (SWE U20): Never underestimate size down the middle of the ice.
29. Maveric Lamoureux, D, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL): Will go in the first round based on size alone (6-foot-7). There’s plenty of development to take place as he continues to grow into his body and realize that he can dominate a game without producing points.
30. Lian Bichsel, D, Leksand (SHL): Has a little old-school defenceman in him. Owns a big-time shot from the point.
31. Owen Pickering, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL): More of a projection pick. There’s a high ceiling to be achieved thanks to a strong skating foundation.
32. Jimmy Snuggerud, RW, USNTDP: Has continued a steady path of improvement dating back to last season. Skating is a concern, but all other parts of his game are of first round caliber.