League play is well underway, so it’s time to get down to the business of the 2022 NHL Draft.
With an elongated season due to the Olympics, NHL teams will have an additional two weeks in which to evaluate and meet potential draftees. The Olympic break will also offer the opportunity for many of the league’s GMs to get out and see more live games than they might otherwise in a typical season.
In a more diverse draft, the Finns are expected to make a return to the first round, in particular inside the top 10. The 2021 draft did not produce a Finnish-born player until Aleksi Heimosalmi was taken by Carolina with the 44th pick. From 2010 to 2020, there was at least one Finnish-born player taken in the first round. In 2017, six Finns went in Round 1, while in 2016 three Finns were taken within the first five picks. Brad Lambert and Joakim Kemmell will carry the Finnish flag to Montreal in July.
While this group will not mirror the 2001-born Americans in terms of high-end talent, expect a return to prominence for the USNTDP, with as many as seven projected first-round picks in our October rankings -- it’s expected at least five of them are first-round locks. The 2001-born group set records for most players taken in Round 1 (eight), seven of whom were taken in the top 15 picks.
The Swedes are in a different place than a year ago. From Simon Edvinsson through William Eklund on down to Oskar Olausson, six Tre Kronor were taken in the first round last year, and 24 in total. This year’s Swedish content will not have as many first round picks, but there should be significant depth through the first four rounds. There’s a thought that especially in the U20 league, early statistics have been inflated thanks to missed developmental time from the pandemic. In simple terms, you don’t forget how to score, but defending is an entirely different skill set where experience is essential.
A silver medal showing at the 2021 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup showcased a few high-end Slovakian-born players, a couple of whom went on to play in the men’s world championships. The Slovaks have been mostly absent from first round consideration in recent times, but that will change in July, thanks to Juraj Slafkovsky and Simon Nemec.
Of course, there will be a couple of Russians who will make some noise, in particular Ivan Miroshnichenko and Danila Yurov. Russians are always an interesting study in that some teams are scared of a potential for an "NHL or nothing" mentality. The KHL has become such a viable option for Russians to stay and play at home, with the allure of big money at a young age. Having said that, these two players in particular are super high-end talents.
As the world continues to play catch-up, Canadian talent has been on a slow downward trend, yet still accounts for more than 40 per cent of all NHLers from 2021-22 opening night NHL rosters. Shane Wright will carry the flag as the top Canadian prospect for the 2022 draft.
In terms of scouting, the pandemic is still wreaking havoc. Travel is not nearly as easy, scouting budgets are down, and of course there’s essentially a season and a half worth of development lost by this year’s draft eligibles. In and of itself that will lead to some volatility and surprises based on where players are picked and how successful they become.
A recently completed USHL showcase resulted in an outbreak amongst scouts, prompting the NHL to ensure all scouts and NHL personnel adhere strictly to local protocols or else put themselves at risk of not being allowed into buildings to do their jobs.
Teams will flock to Europe during the international break in order to see national team competition. Those events will be heavily scrutinized as teams want to do their best to ensure the potential of any further outbreaks will limit or eliminate overseas travel.
When it comes to the OHL, scouts will be looking at both the 2003-born players who may have been overlooked or never seen in their first year of draft eligibility, as well as a 2004-born class that looks to be promising but still must prove its worth in league play.
All told, this draft class projects several top-notched forwards in the first half of the first round, with a number of defencemen making their way into the conversation in the latter stages.
For now, as best as possible, and based on previous international events, video work and the start to the 2021-22 season, here’s our initial top 32.
*denotes late 2003 birthday
1. Shane Wright, C, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL): There’s no reason to think he won’t be the wire-to-wire No. 1 prospect.
*2. Brad Lambert, LW, JYP (Liiga): He proved he could hang with the big boys by getting into 46 Liiga games during the pandemic. With a teammate under similar scrutiny, the expectations of raising his game to another level are real.
3. Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Omsk (VHL): Gone are the days where we think about Russian players being all offence, no defence. This player can do it all, and do it all at a high level.
*4. David Jiricek, D, HC Plzen (Extraliiga): A wide array of skills make him a deadly two-way d-man. He plays with physicality, is not afraid to block shots and is highly effective with the one-timer. He does all this with swagger despite constantly playing well above his age group.
5. Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): A unicorn in that he moves well, has excellent hands, and a brother’s path to follow (Morgan). All this in a plus-size package at the most coveted position.
6. Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, TPS Turku (Liiga): Plays the game with reckless abandon. Moves well north and south, has hands that can work in tight and with reach to spare to protect the puck. Has great net-front presence.
*7. Danila Yurov, RW, Magnitogorsk (KHL): Carried a dynamite U18 to the MHL for a two-game, six-point start to the season, leading to a promotion to the KHL.
8. Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Supremely gifted offensive player who benefitted greatly from playing a full season in USHL Dubuque last season during the pandemic.
9. Joakim Kemell, LW, JYP (Liiga): The aforementioned teammate of Brad Lambert, Kemell should help create good internal competition.
10. Logan Cooley, C, USNTDP: Possesses a lightning quick release, especially while in stride. Has a goal-scorer’s nose for the net and works to find good ice. Don’t sleep on his playmaking skills.
11. Simon Nemec, C, HK Nitra (Slovakia): Poised right shot defenceman who makes a good first pass. Plays with some risk, but has the skating ability to cover up most mistakes made out of aggression.
12. Rutger McGroarty, LW, USNTDP: One of, if not the most pure goal-scorer in the class. One-timer is deadly accurate as his as his hard, heavy wrist shot.
13. Elias Salomonsson, D, Skelleftea (SWE U20): Has put up good numbers in league play, but that has yet to translate to the international stage.
14. Isaac Howard, LW, USNTDP: Took the Shattuck path to the program and is committed to play at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Rose to prominence with a seven-goal effort in silver medal performance at the Youth Olympic games two years ago.
15. Tristan Luneau, D, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): With nagging lower body issues in the rear-view, he looks like a different skater from a year ago and that was the only cause for concern in an otherwise complete game.
16. Frank Nazar, C, USNTDP: Uses deception and an extra gear to elude defenders. It’s clear to see why he’s produced well over a point per game for the past four seasons, at all levels and against all competition.
17. Filip Mesar, LW, HK Poprad (Slovakia): Smooth skating and responsible centre who may be better suited to play the off-wing moving forward. Had an effective kick-start to the season with a solid Hlinka-Gretzky tournament where he put up eight points in five games.
18. Seamus Casey, D, USNTDP: Has a forward’s ability to handle the puck from the back-end. Vision and creativity make him effective as an efficient breakout player, and a constant threat in the offensive zone.
*19. Jack Hughes, C, Northeastern (NCAA): May be a bit of a stretch ranking him this high, but the hands are silky smooth. Deception in his game is a result of excellent edge work and the ability to jump quickly into open ice.
20. Denton Mateychuk, D, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): Has under 30 games of WHL experience. Won a gold medal with Canada at the U18, but played in only three games. Lack of seasoning allows for massive growth potential if a full season can be played in Moose Jaw.
21. Hunter Haight, C, Barrie Colts (OHL): With only four Jr. B games to show in the past two seasons, he’s already centring Barrie’s top line and getting minutes in all situations, including PP1. Skating and edge work are the key elements to his success.
*22. Nathan Gaucher, C, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL): Was the only other 2022 eligible (Shane Wright) invited to Canada’s U20 summer showcase. As a late birthday, Gaucher has helped hasten the rebuild in Quebec.
23. David Goyette, C, Sudbury Wolves (OHL): The next edition of high-end talent being developed in Sudbury. Quebec-born, grew up in Ontario and tore it up in Connecticut prep school before making his way to Northern Ontario with the Wolves.
24. Cruz Lucius, RW, USNTDP: Looks a lot like brother Chaz in the way he moves, and with his edgework. Where Chaz is more of a shooter, Cruz’s calling card is his vision and awareness used to make plays.
25. Ryan Chesley, D, USNTDP: Smooth skating transitional defenceman who moves pucks efficiently, while having a good understanding of when not to be part of the rush.
*26. Danny Zhilkin, C, Guelph Storm (OHL): Has been a part of all key events from the Youth Olympic games right on through the world U18s, where he played a small role en route to a gold medal.
27. Pano Fimis, LW, Niagara IceDogs (OHL): Hard-working, two-way player who can play up and down the lineup. Thinks the game well and is dedicated to the craft.
28. Mattias Havelid, D, Linkoping (SWE U20): Cerebral defenceman who thinks the game well and doesn’t panic. Has innate ability to quickly process the play and execute on the best decision possible.
29. Ty Nelson, D, North Bay Battalion (OHL): Built like a bulldog (5-foot-10, 196 pounds), he plays like one too. Max-effort guy who is at his best playing a simple, straight line game. There’s definitely some offensive tools at the OHL level, but will they translate?
*30. Simon Forsmark, D, Orebro (SWE U20): A sleeper whose point per game plus start helped earned a promotion to the SHL roster, where he’s been used sparingly.
31. Markus Vidicek, C, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): Looks a lot like Vladimir Tkachev, who made LA’s Opening night NHL roster. Height and weight are fudged, but every time you watch, he’s making good things happen.
*32. Tyler Brennan, G, Prince George Cougars (WHL): A tough start to the season notwithstanding, there’s enough currency and track record to project him as a late first round pick.