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We are one week away from the 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal, and it is time shine up the crystal ball and put a mock draft together. McKeen’s Director of Scouting, Brock Otten, turns his attention to the NHL teams, their organizational needs, tendencies and who he can see them targeting at the draft. Of course, it does not include trades which are always an exciting part of the draft and can shake up the best predictions.
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Thank you for reading along all season and enjoy the NHL Draft!
1. Montreal Canadiens - Shane Wright, C Kingston (OHL)
Far from the slam dunk we thought it would be, but I still believe Montreal will select Wright. While a heavy winger like Slafkovsky is going to be tempting, especially given it fills an organizational need, the opportunity to shore up the middle with a Wright/Suzuki combo is even more tempting. While big, physical, yet skilled wingers are commonplace on the teams going far in the playoffs, so is the prerequisite that you have a dynamic one/two punch at center. The cerebral Wright may not have had the kind of year many expected, but his overall body of work is impressive, and his well-rounded profile should make him a quality NHL player.
2. New Jersey Devils - Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, TPS (Liiga)
I believe that the most likely scenario sees the Devils trade this pick. If they stay with it, I think Slafkovsky is their man (so long as he is available). The ironic part is that the Devils appear to be open to dealing this pick for immediate help, yet Slafkovsky is probably the most NHL ready prospect eligible in this draft. Would he not be the perfect winger to help insulate someone like Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier? If it’s not the Devils selecting here, I still believe that Slafkovsky will be the pick.
3. Arizona Coyotes - Logan Cooley, C, USN U18 (USDP)
Arizona will be very tempted to take a defender here given that the organization needs to find another defensive anchor. They could obviously trade down and capitalize on someone really liking Cooley. The best option available to them would be to simply select Cooley. As much as Arizona could stand to build better from the back end out, the lack of development of Barrett Hayton (even if he took some positive steps forward this year) has left this team with a massive hole down the middle too. Cooley is the best player available, and he really helps this team in a year or two. Wouldn’t it be crazy if they took Arizona native Cutter Gauthier instead? I don’t think that’s far-fetched either.
4. Seattle Kraken - David Jiricek, D, HC Plzen (Cze)
I would be shocked if the Kraken didn’t go defense here. Best player available and it allows them to have a future cornerstone down the middle (Beniers) and on defense (#4, 2022) after their first two drafts. Is it Nemec? Is it Jiricek? Is it Kevin Korchinski who plays in Seattle already and would make for an unreal story? Again, not all that farfetched this year. This draft is going to be wild. For my money, I think Jiricek fits the profile of the type of player that Ron Francis and Robert Kron seemed to target last year and when they were drafting in Carolina. Plus, Kron is of Czech heritage himself. Jiricek gives them a potential top three defender who can play in all situations, but who may require a bit of patience as his game becomes more refined.
5. Philadelphia Flyers - Cutter Gauthier, LW/C, USN U18 (USDP)
This is something that I’ve seen mocked elsewhere, and I’m fully on board with this. The Flyers have had success taking players from the NTDP lately and Gauthier is just that. If Philadelphia is taking him this early it is because they believe that he can stick down the middle and be an all situations, aggressive, top six center who would complement what they have in place currently really well. This may be high for some in the public scouting community, but the reality is that Gauthier’s game should translate quite well to the NHL, and he is the type of player NHL scouts and executives value more than amateur ones.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets (via Chicago) - Simon Nemec, D, HK Nitra (Svk)
It wouldn’t shock me one bit if this was Korchinski or Mintyukov instead of Nemec. I could see Columbus wanting a defender with a bit more offensive potential in this spot. That’s not to say that Nemec does not possess that, but he’s also more of a steady, intelligent, two-way type. He’s not likely to develop into an elite powerplay quarterback, something someone like Korchinski could be. That said, draft tendencies matter. Columbus hasn’t taken a WHL player in the top two rounds since 2015 (Paul Bittner). They just don’t draft a lot out of the Dub. Stranger things have happened, but I think Nemec would be their guy here.
7. Ottawa Senators - Frank Nazar, C, USN U18 (USDP)
The focus of the Senators in recent drafts is the addition of athletes. You can make fun of their 2021 draft all you want, but it seems clear that they have a vision on the way that they want to play in the future. Nazar fits that, in my opinion. One of the draft’s elite skaters, Nazar would help Ottawa with their pace of play in the future and would give the team another speedy playmaker. They have also loved going to the US NTDP of late. Part of me also thinks that Korchinski or Mintyukov could fit here too. Or you know, another surprise selection from lower down, like public lists…like say Marco Kasper.
8. Detroit Red Wings - Marco Kasper, C, Rogle (SHL)
Is this crazy? Honestly, I’m not sure at this point. He is a player who is trending way up heading into the draft much like Cutter Gauthier. The reason? He can play center. He plays a pro-ready game. He plays with pace. The last time the Wings took a swing on a player who looked great at the World Championships, it worked out pretty well for them (Moritz Seider). Kasper could end up really being a terrific support piece on this Wings roster moving forward and I think Detroit could see him being an elite level middle six player that could help them win in the playoffs in four/five years.
9. Buffalo Sabres - Kevin Korchinski, D, Seattle (WHL)
Another late season riser, Korchinski had a terrific playoff for Seattle of the WHL, helping them make it all the way to the WHL final. Is there some concern over his ability to defend? Absolutely. However, his offensive ceiling and potential may be the highest of any defender in this draft and Buffalo loves the opportunity to add him into the fold as a potential puck mover and powerplay quarterback. With three first round picks, they can take the swing here in case his defense never truly comes around.
10. Anaheim Ducks - Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg (WHL)
I believe Anaheim will be one of the teams that finally jumps up to take one of the undersized, but skilled forwards available. Lots of options here, but Savoie makes the most sense for me given what they have targeted in the past. He could play down the middle. He could play the wing with McTavish or Zegras. He can be a lethal powerplay option for a team that will already have a tremendous powerplay soon. They also would have seen a lot of him after checking in on goaltender (and Ducks’ pick) Gage Alexander in Winnipeg.
11. San Jose Sharks - Denton Mateychuk, D, Moose Jaw (WHL)
I really wanted to put Pavel Mintyukov here. San Jose has drafted a lot out of the OHL recently and I believe he deserves to be selected this high (and higher). But I think some of his defensive inadequacies might scare them given the lack of development shown by Ryan Merkley as a pro thus far. Whereas Mateychuk just seems like a San Jose Shark to me. Strong two-way player, although undersized. Strong skater. Yes, he takes risks offensively, but the upside is high. I just have a feeling that there is a fit here.
12. Columbus Blue Jackets - Joakim Kemell, RW, JYP (Liiga)
Columbus could be another good landing spot for one of those smaller wingers other teams might be afraid to take. I think what gets Kemell taken first is that he plays with a little bit of jam, compared to Lekkerimaki and Lambert. The poor second half in Liiga may scare teams, but the strong finish at the U18’s has to be worth something. Kemell’s goal scoring ability would fit in really well with what this team is building. This could also be a great spot for Danila Yurov. The Jackets have had success with Russian players recently and with two first rounders, they could see the risk/reward.
13. New York Islanders - Pavel Mintyukov, D, Saginaw (OHL)
The Islanders used to have a great drafting relationship with the Saginaw program. No reason to suggest that not still being the case. This is a team that badly needs to inject more youth and skill into the lineup and Mintyukov has among the highest upside of any defender available. Maybe there’s a bit too much Bode Wilde in his game to scare them off, but I think they’re different. The Islanders also have not been shy to take Russian players, even if Mintyukov has been in North America for a bit. The million-dollar question is how do the Isles pass on new bench boss’ nephew Brad Lambert? Certainly, possible that they take him. But I’d bet against it. Too risky if things go sour with the coach before Lambert is ready to take that next step. A late round gamble? Sure. But the downside in mixing home and work life may be too much pressure for both.
14. Winnipeg Jets - Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg (WHL)
The Jets have been willing to take chances on players with perceived skating issues in recent drafts and Geekie is one of the most polarizing players available this year because of it. However, they would also be extremely familiar with him given where he plays in the WHL…in Winnipeg. Geekie has the potential to be an absolute load to handle if he can improve his consistency and his skating. Look at the massive improvement that Mason McTavish has made in a year. Can Geekie do the same? This feels like it could be a match. Could also see this being a landing spot for Yurov. The Jets are kind of in limbo right now and may try to compete again next year, meaning they might be open to taking on a project that they might have to wait for like Yurov.
15. Vancouver Canucks - Noah Ostlund, C, Djurgardens (SWE J20)
This is the first time Vancouver has had a first-round pick in the last couple years. That could mean that they really swing for the fences on a player with significant upside. Or it could mean that they opt for a safer player with a chance of playing in the NHL in a year or two. Could see this being a Lambert landing spot. Could see Kulich or Isaac Howard. Could also see someone like Jimmy Snuggerud. But I like Ostlund here. Strong Swedish connection with the organization and Ostlund had a heck of a coming out party at the U18’s. His processing ability is impressive and once he adds strength, he could be a really strong top six player.
16. Buffalo Sabres (via Vegas) - Danila Yurov, RW, Stalnye Lisy (MHL)
In for a penny, in for a pound. The Sabres already have quite a few prospects in Russia, but when you have three first round picks, you can take the chance on Yurov despite the political climate. On talent, he’s a top ten prospect for this draft. He has upside because of his ability to play with pace and create in transition, but he’s also a safe bet to be an NHL player because of his high work rate.
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17. Nashville Predators - Lian Bischel, D, Leksands (SHL)
I’m not entirely sure I would take Bichsel this high, but it seems like a very likely scenario given his very raw, but intriguing athletic tools. Big defender with good mobility who plays a very physical game. How much the offensive game comes around remains to be seen, but I see Nashville being very interested in this type of defender. Owen Pickering could be another option here.
18. Dallas Stars - Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Djurgardens (SWE J20)
Someone will bite on Lekkerimaki eventually and I like Dallas to be the one if he’s still there. They have drafted insanely well lately and have a real abundance of playmakers in the organization now. But they could use a pure goal scorer like Lekkerimaki. He needs to find a way to play through the middle more consistently, but there is a strong Swedish connection in Dallas. I could also see them targeting Liam Ohgren given how much value they put on IQ or even Ivan Miroschnichenko because of how well they have drafted (and he is that high end goal scorer too).
19. Minnesota Wild (via Los Angeles) - Isaac Howard LW, USN U18 (USDP)
Recently acquired pick from Los Angeles for forward Kevin Fiala, Howard just seems like a good fit here for the Wild. Thinks the game at a high level. He is skilled. He can play with pace. He has upside but fits in well with the players Minnesota already has in the fold. In reality, Howard probably projects as a similar player as Fiala if all goes according to plan. There’s also a Minnesota connection too, from where he played his minor hockey and where he will play college (Minnesota-Duluth). I think there’s a very clear fit.
20. Washington Capitals - Nathan Gaucher, C, Quebec (QMJHL)
I think the Caps see their window of opportunity closing relatively soon. Quite often when that happens, the one thing you see at the draft is teams taking very pro ready players. Not always the best course of action (one could argue that they should be swinging for the fences for high upside), but trends are trends. The Capitals have seen how critical it is to have a strong skating, workhorse playing through the middle on the third line in recent years and Gaucher projects as that kind of player. He could be a true shutdown type for Washington and move quickly through the organization.
21. Pittsburgh Penguins - Brad Lambert, C, JYP-Pelicans (Liiga)
Pittsburgh doesn’t pick in the first round very often, so it makes sense for them to try to restock with a true boom type. Maybe they also go with a more safe, pro ready type (like Jimmy Snuggerud, Liam Ohgren, or Jiri Kulich), but this would be a very interesting spot for Lambert. Look, I’m not even sure I’m convinced that it makes sense or that Pittsburgh would do it. But I think they should at this point in the draft. Imagine if you can help him turn things around? Another great story would be if they took Ivan Miroschnichenko, who could connect with Mario Lemieux as a cancer survivor.
22. Anaheim Ducks (via Boston) - Ryan Chesley, D, USN U18 (USDP)
Wouldn’t Chesley be the perfect future partner for Drysdale or Zellweger? His hardnosed approach would be great for the organization and his mobility should definitely allow him to play in the league. There is a NTDP connection here too with the Ducks loving drafting out of the program. Under the same umbrella, Lian Bichsel or Noah Warren would be really interesting here too. How about Rutger McGroarty too? His physical approach would be interesting alongside Mason McTavish in the future.
23. St. Louis Blues - Owen Pickering, D, Swift Current (WHL)
You have to know that Pickering is going to go high. He just oozes raw potential because of his late growth spurt and mobility. His game lacks refinement, but he shows great potential at both ends. Maybe the Blues see a lot of Colton Parayko in Pickering. This one just seems like a good fit based on draft tendency, need, and best player available.
24. Minnesota Wild - Jiri Kulich, C, Karlovy Vary (Cze)
Kulich had a heck of a U18’s for Czechia and there is a strong chance that he goes well before this. However, I also think that he could end up being one of those guys that falls a bit because scouts like him, but don’t love him. What position does he play in the future? Can the athletic tools improve further? His goal scoring ability is mighty impressive though and he does show potential as a heady two-way player. Could see this as a landing spot for Jagger Firkus too, who should go higher.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs - Luca Del Bel Belluz, C, Mississauga (OHL)
Where the Leafs go with this pick is a true mystery. Maybe it’s dealt for a goaltender (like John Gibson). Maybe they go against the grain and draft the mobile, physical stay at home type that the team needs like Noah Warren. Maybe it’s Filip Mesar or Liam Ohgren. Could even be Jimmy Snuggerud. But I could see Toronto having a lot of interest in Del Bel Belluz. High IQ player who needs to improve his feet, something Toronto has not shied away from taking. A natural center, he could blossom into a two-way middle six player for them.
26. Montreal Canadiens (via Calgary) - Ivan Miroschnichenko, LW, Omskie Krylya (VHL)
If you don’t take Slafkovsky at one and Miro is still here at #26, I think you absolutely need to take the chance if you’re Montreal. His power game fills a need, and he has among the higher upsides of any forward available so long as you can overlook his health and Russian politics. But Montreal has taken Russian players and they also have the great Saku Koivu as an ambassador to Miro to get him to NA earlier. This would be a heck of a selection IMO.
27. Arizona Coyotes (via Carolina) - Sam Rinzel, D, Chaska (USHS – MIN)
Look, when you’re rebuilding forever, you need to take some big swings to try to turn things around. Rinzel is just that. He is incredibly talented offensively. He has that size and skating package on the back end. He is unquestionably a long-term project, but he also would be a very interesting one for Arizona to take a chance on. Could see Mattias Havelid going here too, because of his high upside offensively too. Rutger McGroarty could be in play for them I believe as well.
28. Buffalo Sabres (via Florida) - Rutger McGroarty, LW, USN U18 (USDP)
With their third first rounder this year, the Sabres opt for McGroarty who has everything you’d want in a power winger save for the dynamic skating ability. He offers a really nice contrast to some of the wingers already in the system and gives them another player like Alex Tuch to help insulate skill. He also happens to be the best player available at this point too. Could see Buffalo going for someone like Lian Bichsel here too. Going with a real high end tools type. But McGroarty is just too good to pass up.
29. Edmonton Oilers - Noah Warren, D, Gatineau (QMJHL)
Part of me wanted to put Lian Bichsel here. It could easily be him if the Oilers want to target an athletic and physically aggressive defender. However, the Oilers have a very strong scouting influence in Quebec and would have a great read on Warren because of it. Warren could develop into a Brandon Carlo type for Edmonton and does represent a large need for them to help take them to the next level. He could be seen as a potential partner for the likes of Bouchard and Broberg in the future. Of course, they could go in a totally different route here. Liam Ohgren would look great here. Same with Mesar or any of the other guys I have falling a bit. But if you really like Warren or Bichsel, you’ll need to take them early IMO.
30. Winnipeg Jets (via NYR) - Jagger Firkus, RW, Moose Jaw (WHL)
The Jets went with a very Winnipeg style selection with Geekie at #14, so how about a totally different kind of player in Firkus at 30. IMO, Firkus should be gone well before this pick. I’m a big fan. One thing the Jets are really lacking is someone who can push pace and make skilled plays in transition. Insert Firkus. Could also see them going with Ohgren or Mesar. Mesar is a similar kind of player, but I think their WHL biases and familiarity would lead them more to Firkus.
31. Tampa Bay Lightning - Filip Mesar, C, HK Poprad (Svk)
I think you would have to be ecstatic if you are Tampa and Mesar is still there in the first where you are picking. His offensive upside is significant, and he can play with the kind of pace Tampa likes their forward prospects to have. This is only the Lightning’s second first round pick in the last five years, so they need to take a big swing here to help replenish a system that is starting to really look sparse. Ohgren would look good here too. So would one of the talented Russian wingers like Trikozov or Perevalov.
32. Arizona Coyotes (via Colorado) - Jimmy Snuggerud, RW, USN U18 (USDP)
The Coyotes go back to the NTDP to take Snuggerud, one of the draft’s most improved players from the start of the year to the finish. His skating continues to make strides, but his ability to think the game is a highlight and his positional versatility makes him a potential swiss army knife at the pro level. Snuggerud’s profile as a strong complementary middle six player makes sense for Arizona as they try to accelerate their rebuild.