It’s ironic how size has made a resurgence when speaking about prospects. Several scouts I’ve talked to harken to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final and how both Tampa Bay and Montreal were big and heavy, especially on the back end. For a long stretch of time, fuelled mostly by rule changes and a gentler game, smaller players were all the rage. Up front they were referred to as “speedy, skilled players,” while on the back, smaller players were, and to some extent still are, referred to as, “new-aged defencemen.”
While there is a place in the game for the smaller player, size still matters. The impact of size is mitigated in the regular season, where the grind of an 82-game schedule combined with league-wide travel doesn’t allow for playoff-like intensity. The post-season is a completely different animal. And while the Presidents’ Trophy is nice, I can’t remember the last time the guys in white gloves travelled the world with that trophy.
Having said all that, when looking at the upper-end of the 2022 NHL draft class, size is notably absent. The top two prospects in our rankings are both listed at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, which isn’t small per se, but does pale in comparison to the 6-foot-6 Owen Power who was selected first overall by Buffalo in 2021, or the 6-foot-4 Simon Edvinsson, whom the Red Wings selected with the sixth overall pick, or even 6-foot-6 netminder Sebastian Cossa, Detroit’s second first round pick at the 15th overall selection last summer.
In fact, only one player in the top 10 of the 2021 class, William Eklund (San Jose, ninth overall), and six players in the first round were sub-six-foot players. Even those hovering in the six-foot range such as third overall Mason McTavish, or Ottawa’s 10th overall pick Tyler Boucher, or Cole Sillinger (12th to Columbus) all checked-in at over 200 pounds.
In the November release of NHL Central Scouting’s Players to Watch list, nine of 26 A-listed players were under six feet. Oddly, only one of them is a defenceman, Moose Jaw’s Denton Mateychuk, who is listed at 5-foot-11, 188 pounds. What does all of this mean? Well, it’s still early, and there’s a lot of runway leading up to the draft in July, but, for the first time in a long-time, we may see teams bend a little on talent to procure size.
Here’s our December top 32 rankings for the 2022 NHL Draft.
*denotes late 2003 birthday
1. Shane Wright, C, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL): Where there may have been concerns regarding scoring totals, No. 51 has put up multi-point efforts in four of his past five games, just in time to leave for Canada’s WJC camp.
2. Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Omsk (VHL): Combines the assets of a power and skill game with an elite goal-scorer’s finishing ability.
3. Joakim Kemell, LW, JYP (Liiga): Missed some time due to injury, but has come back into JYP’s lineup playing big minutes (12 goals, 18 points in 18 games). The WJC comes at the perfect time to get back up to speed, closer to his age group.
4. Isaac Howard, LW, USNTDP: Killed it at the Five Nations in Switzerland and the momentum from that event has carried forward with points in nine of 10 games.
5. Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Surely will be fired-up for not being named to Canada’s WJC camp roster. While he may not be quite ready for top six minutes in the U20s, his sights will be set on the WHL scoring and league titles. He currently leads the league with 41 points in 25 games.
6. Logan Cooley, C, USNTDP: Is just one of two first-year draft eligibles invited to USA Hockey’s WJC camp.
*7. Danila Yurov, RW, Magnitogorsk (KHL): Similar to his countryman listed above, Yurov has a power element to his game, he competes well in all areas, but doesn’t have the same elite finishing ability as Miroshnichenko.
*8. David Jiricek, D, HC Plzen (Extraliiga): Is effective from the point in, finding the best way to get pucks through to the net. Can evade defenders with good puck skills and has the confidence to make plays at the men’s top level.
9. Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, TPS Turku (Liiga): Picked up his first goal in Liiga play at the start of the month. Will be leaned on heavily by Slovakia at the world juniors.
10. Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Makes plays you don’t typically see made by someone his size (6-foot-4, 205 pounds). The poise in his game is greatly appreciated, but at times you would like to see decisions made quicker.
11. Frank Nazar III, C, USNTDP: Plays with an abundance of energy and is starting to use his great skating ability in change-of-pace fashion to create additional space.
12. Simon Nemec, D, HK Nitra (Slovakia): Plays with his head up, allowing him to effectively utilize teammates. An able defender who uses his stick well to break-up plays.
13. Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Djurgarden (SWE U20): Plays with great energy. Displays creativity, the ability to handle the puck at high speed and can finish in tight.
14. Filip Mesar, LW, HK Poprad (Slovakia): Another slight of frame offensive dynamo. He has really quick hands that work well in the offensive zone, but also when hunting pucks.
*15. Brad Lambert, LW, JYP (Liiga): Without a doubt this draft class’ biggest enigma. To date, Lambert’s season is reminiscent of Aatu Raty from last draft. Raty was a top prospect who ended up being taken in the second round.
16. Cutter Gauthier, LW, USNTDP: Moving his feet and playing more consistently at a higher pace has made him a net-drive threat. His has a big-league release.
17. Tristan Luneau, D, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): Back up to speed and applying himself well in league play. Point production now starting to come into focus.
18. Seamus Casey, D, USNTDP: Has played well of late. Using his shot more often will help accelerate the maturity in his offensive game.
19. Marco Kasper, C, Rogle (SHL): Shows no signs of fear, especially at the net-front. Moves well laterally and can shoot it on the fly.
20. Ryan Chesley, D, USNTDP: Has risen to the challenge of defending against the opposition’s best. Shoots it well and, as a righty, this adds value.
21. Elias Salomonsson, D, Skelleftea (SWE U20): Can look awfully casual at times, but then again, I remember thinking the same thing about Simon Edvinsson a year ago.
*22. Jack Hughes, C, Northeastern (NCAA): Slight of frame (6-foot, 165 pounds), but extremely agile. Has excellent vision and hands to make plays.
23. Rutger McGroarty, LW, USNTDP: There’s inconsistency to his game, but there’s also plenty of upside in a player with his high hockey intelligence.
24. Denton Mateychuk, D, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): A true leader, he speaks to excellent character. On the ice, he’s effective breaking pucks out and defending with some jam.
25. Liam Ohgren, LW, Djurgarden (SWE U20): Steep developmental curve that got off to a bang in the summer has been stunted with limited minutes at the SHL level.
*26. Simon Forsmark, D, Orebro (SHL): A great start to the season with a bronze at the U18s followed by a point per game stint in the U20. Has recently started to play a bigger role for Orebro in the top league.
*27. Pavel Mintyukov, D, Saginaw Spirit (OHL): Another OHL high riser from a Saginaw program that recently helped develop Calgary pick Ilya Solovyov.
*28. Nathan Gaucher, C, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL): A pro-style player who can play in a number of situations, and whose numbers aren’t always reflective of his effectiveness.
29. Michael Buchinger, D, Guelph Storm (OHL): Highly effective snuffing out zone entries, defending with some edge and transitioning the puck up ice with clean, crisp passes.
30. Lian Bichsel, D, Leksand (SHL): Closes quickly on plays thanks to an ability to anticipate, a long-reach and a lengthy stride.
31. Maveric Lamoureux, D, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL): Plenty of work has gone into his game as size alone will not get it done (6-foot-7, 196 pounds). He’s starting to play more confidently with the puck and as a result, points have followed.
32. Matthew Poitras, C, Guelph Storm (OHL): Another fast riser from the Guelph program, Poitras is ultra competitive, super skilled and effective at driving play.