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2022 setting up to be an unpredictable draft

For the first time in three years, draft eligible prospects gathered in Buffalo for the NHL Combine, a key event in wrapping up the scouting season. It offers teams a chance to gather and have an opportunity to meet with the players face-to-face, while providing an abundance of physical testing data that can then be dissected before compiling the final draft lists.

Further, because all teams are present, the Combine provides a more informal setting to lay the groundwork for future trades. The event also provides a forum for prospects to get to know one another. Finally, it gives prospects a taste of the NHL as the first step in the lifelong dream to get drafted.

Here are a few takeaways from my time in Buffalo.

Three-Horse Race

The main takeaway from the Combine is that the conversation for first overall is no longer just about Shane Wright. Juraj Slafkovsky and Logan Cooley are legit contenders and if you ask Cutter Gauthier, he would say the list should include his name as well.

Anything Can Happen

Just about every scout or executive I spoke to feels this draft will be as unpredictable as any they’ve ever seen. Typically, we start to see the draft splatter after the first 10-15 picks, but that splatter will start well inside the top 10 of this draft. The effects of the pandemic will once again wreak havoc on this class.

Action Plan

Informally canvassing some GMs and scouts, the general consensus is that the in-person draft will make for more action on draft day. It’s much easier to walk over to another GM’s table than it is to try and text, or conference a GM to initiate discussion while the clock is ticking.

Two Worth Watching

1. Brad Lambert: A top 10 talent who struggled to produce numbers on two different Finnish Liiga teams, Lambert reads it up for two games at the world juniors and has a decent international resume within his peer group. I can see a range of 5-15 for the nephew of new Isles’ coach Lane.

2. Lane Hutson: The USNTDP defenseman was measured at 5-foot-8, 148 pounds in Central Scouting’s final rankings. From an on-ice perspective, he’s a surefire first-rounder. From a size perspective, he would be the smallest defenseman in the NHL, if and when he plays. Of note, Hutson brought a report from an endocrinologist to the Combine, which indicates he has almost two more years of bone growth left in his body. Essentially, growing to 5-foot-10 is not out of the question. If Hutson was 5-foot-10 today, he would be projected to go inside the top 15 picks of this draft.

Not That Jack Hughes

There’s another Jack Hughes available in 2022, but he isn’t related to the family of Jack, Quinn and Luke.

Son of Montreal Canadiens GM Kent Hughes, this Jack Hughes could still be a first-round pick (No. 20 in pre-lottery rankings).

If he’s not taken by the Habs, I asked Jack if whenever he got selected he would take a pass by the Canadians’ table to hug his dad. It’s not something he had thought of previously but said he would definitely consider it after all his dad has done for him.

Of note, it was debated as to whether or not Kent should’ve been in the room for Jack’s interview with Montreal. At first Kent tried to leave, and that would’ve been the preference for Jack, but the rest of team management thought it would be better if he stayed in the room.

More Hughes

Attending his first combine as GM, he must’ve been hard for Kent not to pick Jack’s brain in terms of how the interview process works for other teams.

Three and Counting

Austrian Marco Kasper was one of the most impressive interviews we conducted. He learned Swedish in three months, adding to his Austrian and German language repertoire. And, by the way, he’s also learning French in school.

Kasper left Austria at 16 to play for Rogle in Sweden’s SHL. His parents dropped him off in the small Swedish town and stayed with him for two weeks before leaving him on his own.

Show and Tell

Imagine going to school and taking class next to an NHLer? That’s exactly the case for Kasper’s classmates, who, whenever time permits, still attends regular school classes when not playing or traveling with his Rogle team in the SHL.

GAUT

The best trick performed in our interviews was executed by Cutter Gauthier of the USNTDP. When asked about a hidden talent, he claimed he could juggle. Producer Scott Lennox then proceeded to get him to juggle four Timbits and Gauthier nailed it, ending his session by having the last Timbit end up in his mouth.

Combine Karaoke

A self-described lyrics scholar, Conor Geekie was challenged to sing a few lines of Zach Bryan’s Heading South and he knocked it out of the park. Geekie was one of the most engaging interviews in the draft class.

CatchingJuraj

You couldn’t help but notice Juraj Slafkovsky’s physical presence. As soon as he walked into our room, you understood why he’s so highly thought of. Not only is he massive, but had a gregarious personality and a quiet confidence that suggests he will be a star in the league.

All the Wright Reasons

Shane Wright’s pursuit of learning guitar continues. Learning an instrument challenges the brain in a different way than hockey and it’s a great escape from the pressure of being the projected first overall pick.

stone stone

Really impressed with what we heard out of Pierre Dorion’s exit meeting with Brady Tkachuk. The Sens captain came to the meeting with a prepared list of questions/concerns from teammates.

Go Leafs Go

Toronto had a unique way of interacting with players over the week. The Maple Leafs showed prospects video clips of themselves and asked them to explain the clip and the prospect’s role in it.

Chesley vs. The Field

USNTDP defender Ryan Chesley made the bold claim that he’s the best pure defender in the draft class.

Out of Left Field

The Colorado Avalanche welcomed players into their interview room by having them compete in a candy tossing competition against a person on their scouting staff. Ottawa’s Vinzenz Rohrer went five-for-five and let them know it with a little trash talk afterwards.

Favorites

The Combine provides a forum in which you can talk to players casually before or after their testing, or in the hallways of the hotel. Had great conversations with Luca Del Bel Belluz, Noah Warren, Owen Beck, and Tristan Luneau. One player I sought to speak with was Kingston’s Paul Ludwinski. Awesome young man who has experienced his fair share of adversity in his life and it shows in his play. He plays like his hair’s on fire, and does so consistently.

go-fishing

One player who absolutely blew me away with his maturity was Michael Fisher of St. Mark’s High School. He spoke at length about how St. Mark’s not only produces good athletes, but more importantly, good people. He had high praise for his parents, both plastics engineers, and head coach Carl Corazzini. No wonder why the Northeastern commit was the captain of his team. Earlier in the season, he was awarded the Boston Bruins John Carlton Memorial Award as the most outstanding male athlete in high school or junior hockey.

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