Some more potential options for Nashville in round one.
The first round of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft looks to be far less predictable than years past, but the Nashville Predators should have a solid group of forwards to choose from at pick #17 in July. That group includes Austrian center Marco Kasper, Slovak forward Filip Mešár, and Swedish center Noah Östlund.
In the third installment of my draft notebook, I take a look at each below, breaking down their game tape and more.
Marco Kasper | C | Rögle BK (SHL); Rögle BK J20 (J20 Nationell)
Marco Kasper has been on many a radar for a couple of seasons now as it’s rare for an Austrian skater to make as much noise near the top of a draft class. Moving to Sweden for the 2020-21 season, Kasper joined the Rögle BK organization and immediately played his first ten SHL games as a 16-year-old.
He also turned heads in four games for Austria at the 2021 World Junior Championship, playing notable minutes despite being one of the youngest players in the tournament. This season, Kasper notched seven goals and 11 points in 46 SHL games for Rögle, leading all draft-eligible skaters in the league in scoring, He just recently wrapped up a seven-game, two-point stint for Austria at the World Championship too.
Kasper (#24, green) is a strong skater who reads the ice well and consistently puts himself in good puck-support positions. While I think he could increase his knee bend a little more to unlock some acceleration, Kasper plays at a pro-level pace and demonstrated that in the SHL this year. The clip above highlights another strong aspect of his game, which is how he scans the ice. As Kasper comes into the offensive zone, notice how he does one shoulder check before hunting down the puck. As he comes up the wall with possession, he does another shoulder check, scanning for potential passing lanes, and then he does one final one before shooting with the intent to capitalize on his team’s double screen in the slot.
Kasper is also a tenacious forechecker who jumps into plays after he passes, shoots, or dumps the puck in. In the clip above, notice how he takes an excellent forechecking angle to the defender. While he has no choice but to engage physically, he responds with a better check and immediately focuses on the pending takeaway. After a failed centering pass, Kasper makes life difficult for the defenders below the goal line, using his 6’1” frame to disrupt possession and box his opponent from out of the net-front.
A natural center, Kasper (#46, green) has proven in the J20 Nationell how well he can orchestrate a forward group’s transition through the neutral zone. He also regularly demonstrates a great ability to find soft spots on the ice and consistently wins battles for prime real estate in the offensive zone, getting his stick on any puck that comes his way.
While I think Kasper is a good puck handler and can certainly do damage off the rush, he doesn’t feel as confident yet navigating the middle of the offensive zone with possession. But, for now, he’s made up for that by being one of the biggest net-front threats in this draft class, demonstrating physical maturity in a pro league already.
Whoever selects Kasper this summer will be tasked with developing a strong, gifted, intelligent center with good skating skills who could become an excellent second-line forward one day.
Filip Mešár | F | HK Poprad (Slovakia)
While much of the attention out of Slovakia has been on Juraj Slafkovský and Šimon Nemec, Filip Mešár could be the historic third Slovak taken in this year’s first round. While he stands at just 5’10”, Mešár is one of the most cerebral and exciting playmakers outside of the top tier of this draft class.
He’s played in Slovakia’s pro league the last two seasons, finishing with eight goals and 16 points in 37 games this year before adding another four points in six playoff games. That comes after a star performance at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last year where he notched two goals and eight points in five games for Slovakia’s U18 team.
Mešár (#10, white) is an excellent skater who maintains his pace at both ends of the ice, and he can execute his finest plays at his top speed. He’s no slouch in the defensive zone, demonstrating good positioning and timing for his breakout positioning as shown above. Even when he loses the puck in the neutral zone, he immediately takes up a good pressure position behind his teammate to guarantee they recover the puck. Once Poprad establishes the offensive zone, Mešár does what he does best, finding open ice to set up a scoring chance. He knows he has two teammates crashing the net and takes the opportunity to shoot for a deflection from F1 or a rebound goal from F2, who ultimately cashes in.
This clip shows a similar play. Poprad regroups through the neutral zone and Mešár crosses the blue line to the right of the puck carrier. Few players are registering scans of the ice as much as he is each night, and we get a taste of that here and in the previous clip. Much like Kasper, Mešár does one shoulder check pre-pass and one post-pass before deciding to again shoot for a rebound with two teammates crashing the net.
This clip gives us a great view of Mešár’s mobility and skating mechanics. He wisely uses linear crossovers to maintain speed and can stickhandle out in front of his body, to the side of his body, and behind his stance, opening his body up for a perfect cross-ice pass. While he’s much more of a playmaker than a scorer, Mešár has an underrated wrist shot release that he should be able to utilize in tighter spaces as he matures.
While he doesn’t have elite foot speed, I think Mešár plays with great pace that he maintains on defense too. His confident edgework also allows him to respond laterally to opponents’ direction changes and gives him good stop-and-start acceleration. I love his shoulder checks and active stick in the defensive zone and his ability to stickhandle out of tricky spaces as well.
Teams may be tempted to move him to the wing given his size, but regardless, Mešár projects to be a creative, responsible playmaker as a middle-six forward in the NHL.
Noah Östlund | C | Djurgårdens IF J20 (J20 Nationell); Djurgårdens IF (SHL)
Noah Östlund is part of a strong draft-eligible delegation from Djurgårdens IF this year, including Liam Öhgren and Jonathan Lekkerimäki. The 5’11” center notched nine goals and 42 points in 32 games for the J20 squad this season—finishing third on the team in scoring behind Öhgren and Bruins’ prospect Oskar Jellvik—and skated in his first 11 SHL games. On top of that, Östlund shined at the U18 World Junior Championship this year for Sweden, finishing third on the team in scoring with four goals and ten points in six games.
Like Mešár, Östlund (#45, blue) is more of a playmaker than his two linemates. I’m consistently impressed with his off-puck positioning and how active he keeps his stick to fill potential passing lanes and force opponents into quicker decisions with the puck. He’s got a long skating stride, and good balance on his edges helps him be an effective two-way pivot, but I have concerns about his skating stride recovery and the lack of good acceleration. Regardless, Östlund has a crafty handle on the puck and attempts passes and shot assists from any distance.
Similar to Kasper and Mešár, Östlund conducts regular shoulder checks off and on the puck and is constantly mapping the ice in front of him. I think his decision-making is just a step slower than the other two, but in the power-play clip shown above, he has the time to find some soft ice after dishing off the puck, leading to a tip-in goal from just outside of the crease.
Despite a smaller frame, Östlund is strong on his stick and can fight off stick checks from opponents well. He mostly handles the puck pretty far out in front of his body, but the clip above shows the solid coordination he has between his feet and hands. That confidence with the puck allows him to digest the movement around him. He then makes a nice play on the puck down low in the zone, setting up a primary assist for his own goal.
Östlund seems likely to slip to round two, taking him off of Nashville’s radar for now. With some refinements to his skating mechanics and added strength, he could become a useful third-line forward who can help run a power play as well.