NHL Prospect Notebook: Wright still No. 1, but Cooley enters conversation

United States' Logan Cooley (18) checks Finland's Eemil Viro (6) during second period IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship exhibition action in Edmonton. (Jason Franson/CP)

The NHL Draft and draft lottery are still months away, but the Montreal Canadiens look more and more destined for best odds at the No. 1 pick after losing what many called the “disaster bowl” against the Arizona Coyotes, and NHL Central Scouting is starting to release lists ranking the available prospects.

With that in mind, here’s an update on all things NHL prospects in my latest notebook:

Men of Steel

The 10th edition of the BioSteel All-American game took place Monday in Plymouth, Michigan and Team Blue defeated Team White 4-3 in overtime. It was the most tightly contested game in the history of the event as USA Hockey has tweaked the format over the last few years. The current format, where USNTDP team players and the top draft-eligible players from the USHL were pooled together and then divided into two teams, seems to provide the most competitive environment.

Green Bay’s Damien Carfagna scored the game-winner. Program players Cutter Gauthier and Rutger McGroarty, both of Team Blue, led the way with two points each. McGroarty was named the Player of the Game.

Draft Central

Last week, NHL Central Scouting released its first numbered rankings for the 2022 NHL Draft.

A number of players made quantum leaps, so here are a few new names to keep an eye on for the rest of the season:

• No. 5 — D Pavel Mintyukov (Saginaw)
• No. 7 — F Jack Hughes (Northeastern)
• No. 11 — F Luca Dal Bel Belluz (Mississauga)
• No. 13 — F Matyas Sapovaliv (Saginaw)
• No. 14 — F Adam Ingram (Youngstown)
• No. 19 — F Owen Beck (Mississauga)

And from the international list, here are a few more:

• No. 12 — F Gleb Trikozov
• No. 13 — D Calle Odelius
• No. 17 — F Kirill Dolzhenkov
• No. 18 — D Otto Salin.

A few interesting comments were made by NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr on the NHL Draft Class podcast on NHL.com.

To paraphrase:

1. Shane Wright is still the top-rated prospect, but Marr feels Logan Cooley has entered the first overall pick conversation.

2. Thanks to the stops and starts in the schedule, Marr and his staff had time away from the rink before Christmas. The additional time allowed staff to view more video, update reports and complete lists previous to their meetings surrounding the release of the midterm rankings. The preparedness made for thoughtful and engaging conversation while building the rankings.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Not Again

The CHL made it official, it has postponed the 2022 CHL/NHL Top Prospects game originally scheduled for Feb. 2 in Kitchener. The league’s desire is to keep the game in Kitchener, as it is central Toronto and relatively easy to get to from the Buffalo and Detroit borders, making it highly accessible to scouts. There’s plenty to be determined as to when it may be rescheduled, but timing will be a challenge.

Groundhog Day

The QMJHL extended its pause to Feb. 1, while the OHL and WHL continue to plow through the schedule, making concessions whenever teams have to go into COVID protocols.

Ouchie

In seeing Shane Wright (SN No.1) live in Hamilton Sunday, I couldn’t help but think about the adversity he’s faced since coming into the league. Three years into his OHL career, he has yet to complete a full season, and hasn’t yet to be afforded a chance to play in a playoff game. The adversity continued Sunday when he was hit in the face by an errant dump-in attempt by a teammate.

Draft eligible Paul Ludwinski looked good, playing with speed, energy and passion despite being mired in an 8-1 loss.

On the other side of the ledger, Bulldogs defenceman Jorian Donovan (son of former NHLer Shean) played solidly, skating well, moving pucks efficiently and chipping in with an assist.

Both players are expected to go in the top three rounds in July.

Where’s Joakim?

As far as Liiga play is concerned, here are a few updates. Players returned from the world juniors to find out the schedule had been paused. JYP’s Joakim Kemmell (SN No.3) is rumoured to have an injured shoulder and has still not played since returning from Canada.

Move Along

Brad Lambert (SN No.2) on the other hand, has switched clubs and is now playing for the Lahden Pelicans. It’s rare this happens, but a move to a new club should help rejuvenate Lambert who had just six points in 24 games with JYP before the move. Lambert made his Pelicans debut Monday, playing a season-high 21:37 without a point on five shots and a plus-1 rating.

Five Rings Chatter

With NHL players not participating in the Olympics, there will be several NHL prospects getting the opportunity to represent their countries.

With Canada soon to announce its Olympic roster, we know Owen Power will be on the team, but there’s potential for a couple other junior players to be there as well. Think Mason McTavish or Kaiden Guhle.

The US Olympic team features five players that were on their world junior team: forwards Matty Beniers and Matthew Knies, defencemen Brock Faber and Jake Sanderson, and goalie Drew Commesso.

The Slovaks have also included two players from their world junior team in Juraj Slafkovsky (SN No.6) and defenceman Simon Nemec (SN No.12)

The Russians have invited Nashville goalie prospect Yaroslav Askarov and New Jersey first-round defenceman Shakir Mukhamadullin.

Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers will have a keen interest in what happens in Beijing. His dad Heinz is the Head Coach of the Danish National team.

Draft Winds Blowing

With all that has gone on in Quebec, and the current state of the province, there has to be questions surrounding whether or not the Bell Centre is a viable venue to host the July 7-8 draft. The last two drafts have been held virtually, and surely the NHL will not want to see that happen again. With several US-based NHL markets open for business, the league may consider moving the draft again and deferring Montreal for yet another year.

Hughes for Thought

When Kent Hughes took the Montreal Canadiens GM job, you couldn’t help but think about his son Jack who plays for NCAA Northeastern. The shifty forward has nine points in 22 games as a freshman. He was the seventh rated North American prospect in the latest release of NHL Central Scouring rankings.

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