Other than the Memorial Cup, which begins next week, the scouting season for the 2022 NHL draft has come to a close. And what a ride it’s been. Stops and starts, players spread out all over the world and the conflict in Ukraine are just a few of the challenges scouts have had to navigate during the 2021-22 season.
The wonkiness of the NHL season forced all draft related items to be scheduled differently. The draft lottery, the NHL Combine and the draft itself have all been a little less than normal in timing and in content. Based on how things look today, the 2023 scouting season will be as close to normal as we’ve seen in the past three years. Of course we will finish the 2022 world juniors in August, and that should feature prominently into the start of the next scouting season as it follows the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament, which is the crown jewel of all events.
From a developmental stand point, the 2020-21 season was a disaster. European players too young to compete at the pro level had little opportunity to play, and when they did play at the pro level, they were used sparingly. We had OHL players who missed an entire season, WHL players who played a limited schedule and QMJHL players who played a modified, often interrupted schedule. Those who participated in the USHL were up against much stronger competition in an older league in general.
The first half of the 2021-22 season was used to get players back up to speed and it was clearly evident in the quality of play. Once we got past Christmas, a couple of weeks were needed to return to the expected pace and quality of play we’ve become accustomed to from these talented young men.
On the flip side, many players were able to use the pandemic time off to strength and skill train, but development in its finest form accelerates with the experience of playing games.
This draft projects to be one full of volatility and two key elements are contributing to the uncertainty. First, we have players who have missed significant development time. Second, we will have teams back on the draft floor, live and in-person which should lead to more conversation and more business getting done on or before July 7.
The volatility may start as early as the first pick. Shane Wright, granted exceptional status into the OHL, has owned top spot for the better part of three years. But now he has two challengers in Logan Cooley and Juraj Slafkovsky, who had strong finishes to their respective seasons. It was clearly evident speaking to scouts and executives at the NHL Combine that the gap between Wright, Cooley and Slafkovsky is as tight as any draft we have experienced in recent times. Often there’s a debate over the top two projected picks — think Tavares/Hedman, or Taylor vs. Tyler — but rarely the top three.
Aside from this talented trio, things will start to scattershoot after the top eight picks, which is much earlier than we are used to. Typically, we have some certainty as to the first half of the draft, but this year we have some level of certainty in the first quarter of the opening round, or the first eight picks.
There’s also volatility based on where we project the top-end defensemen to go, and how early will they go? Simon Nemec and David Jiricek sit in one tier, with the added value of shooting from the right side. Kevin Korchinski, Pavel Mintyukov, Denton Mateychuk and Owen Pickering occupy the second tier. After that, who knows?
Additionally, the conflict in Ukraine will definitely have an impact on this draft. How confident are NHL teams in spending a draft pick on a player who may never come to North America, if he isn’t already playing here? Will the player be interested in coming over, and how hard will it be for NHL teams to produce visas for said players?
With all of that to consider, here are our final rankings for the 2022 NHL Draft, with player cards from our own scout, Jason Bukala of Pro Hockey Group. Be sure to stay tuned for our Mock Draft which will be released closer to July 7.
1. Shane Wright, C, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL): Despite teams and the media questioning a perceived lack of compete at times, we still have to project, and Wright projects to be the most complete player in this draft class.
2. Logan Cooley, C, USNTDP: Is confident enough to attempt and often execute the unthinkable. Plays with pace and skill and is a fierce competitor.
3. Juraj Slafkovsky, RW, TPS Turku (Liiga): His physical alone commands presence. His production from the Olympics on has given him a chance to be the first player off the board.
4. Simon Nemec, D, HK Nitra (Slovakia): Has two-plus years of experience playing in the top men’s league in Slovakia, but also the benefit of two worlds and an Olympics, and he’s never looked out of place.
5. David Jiricek, D, HC Plzen (Extraliiga): A return to play in the men’s worlds proved to be fruitful after a knee injury kept him out almost four months.
6. Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Today’s game is all about speed and skill and both of these elements are present at an elite level with this player.
7. Cutter Gauthier, LW, USNTDP: His own opinion is that he should be in the conversation as the first player taken. While that assessment may be a little heady, he does fit inside the top 10 of this class.
8. Marco Kasper, C, Rogle (SHL): Hard not to like a guy who plays such a well-rounded game, but is also willing to do whatever it takes to continue improving.
9. Joakim Kemell, RW, JYP (Liiga): Ended his campaign on a high-note, resembling more of the player we saw lead the Liiga in scoring and not the banged-up shadow of himself that detracted from his play mid-season.
10. Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Djurgarden (SWE U20): Will shoot from anywhere because he can score from anywhere. But there are some red flags for consistent effort and indifferent play. ThinkWilliam Nylander.
11. Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Personality plus with an abundance of confidence, he brings size, skill and unexpected playmaking ability to the table.
12. 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.
13. Kevin Korchinski, D, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL): Great skating ability that allows him to get back on pucks quickly, initiate the rush and walk the offensive zone blue line.
14. Frank Nazar III, RW, USNTDP: Adept at playing a small area game, this player is highly competitive and shows great character. He’s quick off the mark, although offense doesn’t come naturally.
15. Danila Yurov, RW, Magnitogorsk (KHL): Highly effective off the rush, and in finding seams. Can beat defenders to the outside, but also manages the puck well away from the body to take it to the middle of the ice.
16. Denton Mateychuk, D, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): Is adept at breaking pucks out, and remaining a part of the rush. Has plenty of hockey IQ and ability to adapt to what the game throws at him.
17. Pavel Mintyukov, D, Saginaw Spirit (OHL): A high-risk player with excellent offensive instincts. Applying some of those gifts on the defensive side is a work in progress.
18. Jimmy Snuggerud, RW, USNTDP: His shot is big-league ready. Can score from distance, but also very effective with the one-timer. Possesses net front presence.
19. Noah Ostlund, C, Djurgarden Jr. (SWE U20): Gained a lot of steam with a dominant performance in the U18 worlds. A determined player motivated even when without the puck.
20. Brad Lambert, C, Pelicans (Liiga): Despite possessing all the offensive tools to play a top-six role in the NHL, he will enter this draft as a wildcard who could go anywhere from top 10 to Day 2. This year’s Aatu Raty?
21. Owen Pickering, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL): Has climbed steadily from the start of the season, and that climb is not expected to slow now.
22. Nathan Gaucher, C, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL): There’s no pure elite element to his game, but he plays a pro style, utilizing his size efficiently. A safe pick.
23. Liam Ohgren, RW, Djurgarden Jr. (SWE U20): Showed plenty of character as Sweden’s captain, playing effectively while injured at the U18’s.
24. Lian Bichsel, D, Leksand (SHL): Another big, powerful defender (6-foot-5, 216 pounds), who can gap well thanks to a long stride, massive reach and excellent mobility.
25. Rutger McGroarty, C, USNTDP: As a solid two-way option, his personality and leadership qualities make him a viable pick in the latter stages of round one.
26. Luca Del Bel Belluz, C, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): Really light on his skates and anticipates the play well. Is an effective defender, distributor and shooter.
27. Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Omsk (VHL): The projection of a return-to-play next season has hastened, and as a result, he’s back on track to be a first round pick.
28. Jagger Firkus, RW, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): A cool customer with a high compete level. He’s never deterred despite his slight stature (5-foot-10, 154 pounds). His shot and release are something to behold.
29. Alexander Perevalov, LW, Yaroslavl (MHL): In terms of a skilled forward who isn’t just an offensive juggernaut, there’s plenty of NHL potential as a producer here.
30. 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. Ryan Chesley, D, USNTDP: Defends well and moves pucks efficiently. May not be a major point getter, but another player aware of what his strengths are.
32. Noah Warren, D, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): Possesses rare asset with the wherewithal to know what he is and how he has to play.