Typically drafts have some measure of predictability, but 2022 is not a typical draft year. Out goes the notion that there is any certainty as to whom will be picked where. For a broadcaster/writer, it’s quite exciting.
Usually, there are discernible tiers to a draft class, making it easier to group players and have some measure of what other teams will do and which players might be available to them at their pick. This year, I would say there is a group of 10 players who should fill out the first 10 picks, but even then, the order of those names will vary greatly from team to team.
Heck, we still aren’t sure who will go first overall. I do believe it to be a two-horse race between Shane Wright and Juraj Slafkovsky, and I truly believe Kent Hughes and the Montreal Canadiens don’t have a final decision on which one they will take yet. In a perfect world, the Habs find a way to acquire the second overall pick from New Jersey, likely for a player who can help the Devils right away (think Josh Anderson), make a big splash for the home crowd, and make it fun for us media types. In that scenario, the internal debate in the Montreal war room ends, and the Canadiens can get two building blocks for the long-term plan.
What also makes this draft so interesting is the number of teams that need to have rapid improvement. New Jersey is one of them. So too is Seattle, picking fourth, Philadelphia, picking fifth and Ottawa picking seventh. It just so happens those teams also have the best asset in the league: cap space. If we marry the win-now teams with the nine teams currently without a first round pick in hand, it should make for some draft-floor movement.
One more element that teams will have to weigh is the gravity of the conflict in Ukraine. There are three surefire first-round Russian-born players in Danila Yurov, Ivan Miroshnichenko and Pavel Mintyukov. The first two played in Russia this year and so getting second-half viewings of those players was limited to scouts who are based in that country. For Mintyukov, who played in OHL Saginaw this season, the path to remain in North America may be a little easier. Additionally, the recent reported incident involving Philadelphia netminder Ivan Fedotov may also impact how teams approach drafting Russian-born players.
Ultimately, will a player based in Russia be allowed to come to North America? Will the player fear coming to North America? Will teams be worried about public backlash for selecting Russian players? There are varying answers to these questions amongst the 32 NHL teams.
Our final rankings were reposted earlier this week. It’s important to understand rankings are one thing, but trying to think along the lines of an NHL team for a mock draft, based on recent history, scouting staffs, trends and needs, is entirely different. I always like to make this distinction for casual fans, or those just tuning in to our draft coverage for the first time. What’s great about our coverage this year is the addition of former Florida Panthers Director of Amateur Scouting and current owner of the Pro Hockey Group Jason Bukala.
I would strongly encourage reading JB’s draft list, which will come out on Wednesday. He is approaching his work as if he were still a Director of Amateur Scouting for an NHL team and thus adds an entirely new and exciting layer to our coverage. JB will also share his experience on our main draft panel.
Without further delay, here’s my 2022 NHL Mock Draft:
1. Montreal: Shane Wright, C, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL): The decision won’t be final until Kent Hughes leaves the table with a jersey in his hand. And that jersey, like many others in the stands, will have “Wright,” on the back. Flawless character wins out in the internal debate.
2. New Jersey: Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, TPS Turku (Liiga): This is exactly the type of player the Devils need. Having said that, if they plan to address that element (scoring winger) through trade or free agency, this pick will look different…and may be made by another team.
3. Arizona: Cutter Gauthier, LW, USNTDP: The first curve ball of the draft is thrown by GM Bill Armstrong and his propensity for size (Gauthier is 6-foot-2, 189 pounds). If playing centre works for Gauthier at Boston College, this pick will not look out of place.
4. Seattle: Simon Nemec, D, HK Nitra (Slovakia): The Kraken hit their target and utilize their veteran defence corps to hasten the developmental process with Nemec.
5. Philadelphia: Logan Cooley, C, USNTDP: This pick will look brilliant as the Flyers are the beneficiary of Arizona’s curve ball.
6. Columbus: Marco Kasper, C, Rogle (SHL): This is the player most likely to shake-up the top part of the draft, and slotting him at No. 6 may be too low.
7. Ottawa: Joakim Kemell, LW, JYP (Liiga): An injection of smaller sized skill (5-foot-9, 176 pounds) is added to Ottawa here. A shoulder issue interrupted what could’ve been one of the best draft eligible seasons in Liiga history.
8. Detroit: David Jiricek, D, HC Plzen (Extraliiga): This year’s version of Mo Seider minus some of the offence.
9. Buffalo: Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Djurgarden (SWE U20): The more scorers you have, the better. Would fit in alongside the likes of Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka in the Sabres system.
10. Anaheim: Kevin Korchinski, D, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL): Dynamic offensive defenceman who has been moved up many lists thanks to the recency bias from watching Cale Makar and Bo Byram during Colorado’s Cup triumph.
11. San Jose: Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): This is the point where it’s too difficult to pass up on the immense talent Savoie possesses.
12. Columbus: Pavel Mintyukov, D, Saginaw Spirit (OHL): Addressed their forward need with the sixth overall pick and now go to a defenceman whose game is tilted heavily to the offensive side. This pick is in play.
13. NY Islanders: Brad Lambert, C, Pelicans (Liiga): The Islanders have selected six Finns in their last 11 picks over two drafts. Lou Lamoriello selected last year’s Brad Lambert — a highly regarded prospect who fell in order — with the 52nd over pick in Aatu Raty. Is he willing to go down that road again?
14. Winnipeg: Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Hometown centre with plenty of talent, and size to go with it.
15. Vancouver, RW, Jimmy Snuggerud, USNTDP: Has great touch around the net, and is a fierce competitor.
16. Buffalo: Noah Ostlund, C, Djurgarden Jr.: Great work at the U18’s to go along with a regular season resume that kept improving.
17. Nashville: Ryan Chesley, D, USNTDP: Defends well and moves pucks efficiently. While he’s known for his defensive play, there is an undercurrent of offence that has moved him up the board.
18. Dallas: Lian Bichsel, D, Leksand (SHL): With a promising forward group knocking on the door, GM Jim Nill addresses an organizational need and a player suited for playoff hockey.
19. Minnesota: Frank Nazar III, C, USNTDP: Has the ability to play fast and be effective in today’s small area game. Grounded character with a great work ethic.
20. Washington: Danila Yurov, RW, Magnitogorsk (KHL): If there’s one team that will consider drafting Russian players, it has to be Washington.
21. Pittsburgh: Isaac Howard, LW, USNTDP: Another player with a strong end to the season, where he was seen buzzing all over the ice at the U18’s.
22. Anaheim: Nathan Gaucher, C, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL): As safe and steady a pick as you will find in this draft class. Reminds me of the very serviceable Nicolas Roy in Vegas.
23. St. Louis: Liam Ohgren, LW, Djurgarden (SWE U20): Is very much indicative of a Doug Armstrong pick, with grit, determination and goal-scoring ability.
24. Minnesota: Rutger McGroarty, LW, USNTDP: A rugged winger who can score. Has shown leadership qualities and has been around the game since he was born.
25. Toronto: Jagger Firkus, RW, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): A trade back is likely here for a Leafs team without a second round pick this year and next. Firkus, though, walks into a room and shoots the puck like he’s 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, even though he’s listed at 5-foot-10, 151 pounds.
26. Montreal: Denton Mateychuk, D, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): Character-plus. There has been some debate in the scouting world as to whether or not his high-end offence will translate at the next level.
27. Arizona: Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Omsk (VHL): A risky pick on a number of fronts, but if the projection were to continue on a path from what we saw at the U18’s in 2021, this has the potential to be a home run.
28. Buffalo: Owen Pickering, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL): With two forwards in the bag from picks nine and 16, Buffalo goes with a longer-term project here, who possesses an elite skating foundation.
29. Edmonton: Mattias Havelid, D, Linkoping Jr.: There is some risk with the size of this pick (5-foot-9, 165 pounds), but this type of player doesn’t exist in the Oilers system.
30. Winnipeg: Jiri Kulich, C, HC Karlovy Vary (CZE): Was his nine-goal effort at the U18’s a mirage, or a true representation of what he will be able to do in the NHL?
31. Tampa Bay: Luca Del Bel Belluz, C, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): May not have the same jam, but the overall package is Anthony Cirelli-like.
32. Arizona: Noah Warren, D, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): GM Bill Armstrong appreciates size and nastiness, and this player possesses both in a big way.