We can never disregard the loss of human life, the displacement of families and the atrocity of war. We have seen this take place in real-time with Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Hockey will always pale in comparison to what's happening in that part of the world right now. As the NHL marches on, and with this being a sports network, we will do our best to relate what’s happening as it pertains to hockey.
There are a number of teams that have shied away from drafting Russian players in the past, especially early in the draft. Some teams fear that a player may not want to play in North America, or that they may try their hand playing on this side of the pond and then decide to leave. There’s also the concern of players wanting to earn big money back home as opposed to developing in the AHL. Contract concerns also enter into the discussion and, lastly, some players fear the backlash of leaving their home country to pursue their dreams in the best league in the world.
The war in Ukraine exasperates the thinking process immensely.
Before we get to that, we would like to wish Ivan Miroshnichenko the very best in his recovery from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. From a pure talent perspective he is a deserving top 10 pick in this draft class. Health issues and his passport now make him a questionable first-round pick and there is an expectation there will be more clarity on his health situation as we inch closer to July 7.
Back to the impact of the war. Here’s just a few of the many questions to be answered in regards to the plight of Russian players moving forward as it pertains to the draft: Will there be visa issues in Canada or the U.S? Will organizations fear fan backlash for selecting Russian players? Will the players themselves feel comfortable coming over to North America?
With all that in mind, I would expect Russian players in this draft class to slide considerably. Not including Miroshnichenko, this month's ranking includes four Russian players slotted where I believe they should be based on talent. This list does not reflect the ideology of a mock draft, where we’re thinking about what teams might do on draft day.
On a more positive note, Juraj Slafkovsky has emerged as the new front-runner to challenge Shane Wright for the projected first overall pick. His MVP performance at the Olympics vaulted what was already a high ranking prospect even higher. There’ve been a few shifts inside the top 10 this month and defencemen continue to emerge. In basic terms we have a lot of smaller, skilled forwards and an emergence of larger defencemen to muddy the waters.
Here’s our March rankings...
*denotes late 2003 birthday
1. Shane Wright, C, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL): The gap continues to close, but at this point, Wright remains the top-rated prospect for this draft.
2. Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, TPS Turku (Liiga): A goal per game performance earned him the Olympic MVP at age 17 and made him a real challenger to Wright.
3. Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Was starting to heat up again with 10 points over his past nine games before a minor injury set-back.
4. Logan Cooley, C, USNTDP: A gifted skater who can create separation with top-notched acceleration. Is highly coachable and implements instruction instantly into his game.
5. Simon Nemec, D, HK Nitra (Slovakia): With David Jiricek out with a knee injury and Nemec winning a bronze at the Olympics -- albeit in a limited role -- he now looks to be the first D to go in this draft.
6. Joakim Kemell, LW, JYP (Liiga): Competes all over the ice and there’s plenty of currency from his international play and the first half of the Liiga season. His lack of production since returning from a shoulder issue is a concern.
*7. Brad Lambert, C, Pelicans (Liiga): Has played for a number of teams the past couple years, and switching Liiga teams mid-season isn’t the best look. From a pure play perspective, there’s everything to like about his speed, playmaking ability and creativity.
*8. Danila Yurov, RW, Magnitogorsk (KHL): Not quite ready for primetime play in the KHL, but against his peer group he’s effective managing the puck with speed, strength and has the ability to get to open ice.
*9. David Jiricek, D, HC Plzen (Extraliiga): As more defencemen emerge as first-rounders, Jiricek remains at or near the top of almost every list.
10. Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Djurgarden (SWE U20): Driver of play with elite finishing ability.
11. Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Projects as a skilled power forward. The skill part is evident now, while the power forward part is a work in progress.
12. Cutter Gauthier, LW, USNTDP: Has emerged as the program’s top goal getter by a lengthy margin over the field.
*13. Pavel Mintyukov, D, Saginaw Spirit (OHL): Effective at keeping pucks alive and creating chances in the offensive zone. Utilizing some of those same offensive skills in the defensive zone would help his overall game.
14. Marco Kasper, C, Rogle (SHL): Slick and speedy. Can make things happen when nothing presents itself. Is extremely agile.
15. Jimmy Snuggerud, RW, USNTDP: A world class release on his shot is a desirable weapon. Has employed more patience in his game, which has created more production opportunities.
16. Frank Nazar III, C, USNTDP: Hands and feet work well to change pace, create space and drive play.
17. Filip Mesar, RW, HK Poprad (Slovakia): Gifted offensive player who moves around the ice well with good edge work and acceleration.
18. Isaac Howard, LW, USNTDP: Continues to add layers to his all-around game. Consistently produces scoring chances for himself and linemates.
19. Tristan Luneau, D, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): With four multi-point efforts in his past 10 games, the picture is coming into focus as to projecting an adequate point producer at the next level.
*20. Jack Hughes, C, Northeastern (NCAA): Played a major role as Hockey East’s Player of the Week, helping the Huskies to their first regular season Hockey East title.
21. Kevin Korchinski, D, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL): Continues to make great gains northbound on many teams’ lists.
22. Denton Mateychuk, D, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): Mature beyond his years, he has the ability to adjust his game based on team needs, and that is typically helpful in hastening the path to the NHL.
23. Seamus Casey, D, USNTDP: Using his great offensive skills as a weapon to help break the puck out more efficiently is near the top of the list of priorities for him to improve.
24. Alexander Perevalov, LW, Yaroslavl (MHL): The player most affected by Russia not being allowed to participate in the U18s.
25. Owen Pickering, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL): Projection as a top 3 defenceman is based on his upside as a late blooming player with raw tools.
*26. Nathan Gaucher, C, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL): Hybrid player between skilled and power forward. Has a strong work ethic that makes him effective in the faceoff circle and on the PK.
27. Rutger McGroarty, LW, USNTDP: Where his feet may lag some, his hockey sense and compete allow him to contribute consistently at a high rate. With decent size, there’s a chance he ends up going earlier than this ranking.
*28. Adam Ingram, LW, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL): Would like to see more consistency in his effort. Shooting ability is translatable now.
*29. Luca Del Bel Belluz, C, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): Plays both sides effectively. Will need to add weight and strength to steepen the developmental curve.
30. Liam Ohgren, LW, Djurgarden (SWE U20): Has been able to work through some background noise to have a very productive season.
31. Lian Bichsel, D, Leksand (SHL): Uses size and reach effectively to defend. Puck skills and playmaking ability are improving, but there’s still a rawness in these areas.
32. Michael Buchinger, D, Guelph Storm (OHL): Is always in the middle of whatever is happening out there. Point production has come in fits and spurts.
HONOURABLE MENTION: Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Omsk (VHL): Next to impossible to assess his placement due to his Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis. With all things being equal and based on the last assumption of when he was playing healthy at the U18s, he is definitely a top 10 talent.