My first installment in ranking this year’s draft class.
It’s been an unpredictable year for NHL draft-eligible prospects—maybe even weirder than the last two seasons disrupted by COVID-19. This draft class, while deep, is an average one, and there are not many clearly defined tiers at the top of most draft boards. The Nashville Predators currently hold six picks next month: picks #17, 82, 84, 114, 146, and 210 overall.
Below are the top-32 of my 2022 NHL Entry Draft ranking. There are many external factors that could have impacted this ranking, including potential hesitancy to draft Russian prospects. However, my ranking does not, and could not accurately, reflect those factors. This is an evaluation of who has the best chance to become a top player in the NHL, not a mock draft. Between now and July 7, this list will expand to three rounds of prospects, but for now, enjoy.
1. Shane Wright | C | Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Although it’s been an up and down year for Wright, he’s still firmly the top prospect in this draft class. He may not be as exciting Slafkovský or Cooley, but Wright already plays a pro-style game. He doesn’t have elite speed, but his skating mechanics are excellent. Wright plays a methodical game; he doesn’t overhandle pucks and rarely finds himself out of position in any zone. He reads the ice well and thinks his movements and puck touches several steps ahead of those around him.
2. Juraj Slafkovský | W | HC TPS (Liiga)
Slafkovský’s draft stock has been rising all season, and it’s been well-deserved. He’s everything an NHL club wants: a 6’4” winger who skates smoothly, has good hands, and is a threat to score from anywhere in the offensive zone. He’s got a powerful shot release that can deceive goalies, and he’s an excellent puck protector who can stickhandle his way out of tight spaces. There’s some work to do on his defensive positioning here and there, but Slafkovský is an electrifying talent who could easily end up being the highest-scoring player from this class a decade from now.
3. Šimon Nemec | D | HK Nitra (Slovakia)
Many evaluators may have Logan Cooley in this spot, but anytime I watch his games, I can’t take my eyes off of Šimon Nemec. He’s a 6’1” right-shot defender who has no serious flaws in his game. Nemec is subtle with his skill, but he rarely makes a bad outlet pass and is willing to jump into the rush when it’s smart to do so. He never panics with the puck and has the skating skills and hands to evade forecheckers and circle back to make the right play. With added strength and maturity, Nemec’s gap control and closures will improve. He projects to be a number one defender in the NHL.
4. Logan Cooley | C | U.S. NTDP (USHL)
In another deep group from the U.S. National Team Development Program, Logan Cooley is by far their best player. He’s a dynamic skater with great accelerating crossover steps that allow him to win many puck races. Nearly every time he touches the puck, he makes some sort of smart play due to his dazzling puck skills and excellent awareness of his teammates and opponents at all times. I have some mild concerns about his shift-to-shift consistency, but he’s a top-line center in the making.
5. David Jiříček | D | HC Plzen (Czechia)
Jiříček and Nemec have been battling all year long for who’s the best right-shot defender in this draft class. I don’t think there’s much separation between these two, but the Czech does have a size advantage (6’3”). Jiříček doesn’t have elite-level speed, but his skating mechanics are phenomenal for his size. He handles the puck well, albeit clumsily at times, but he can make forecheckers miss with ease and spring into a transition through the neutral zone. On top of that, Jiříček has a great shot from the point and is constantly conducting shoulder checks on and off the puck to plot his next move.
6. Matthew Savoie | C | Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
If there’s any challenger to Logan Cooley’s puck skills, it’s Matthew Savoie. The 5’9” center has size limitations, but he’s so comfortable with the puck on his stick that he can work his way out of any tight space, handle the puck on either side of his body, and control small-area play in the offensive zone better than most. Savoie is a good skater, but he doesn’t have the acceleration to blow by NHL defenders, which may cause problems moving forward. Regardless, he’s got pinpoint accuracy with his passes and shots, and he can rip the puck past goalies from nearly any position.
7. Brad Lambert | F | Pelicans (Liiga)
Once thought to be a challenger for the first overall pick, Lambert has had a challenging year. But, I still think there’s an excellent NHL prospect here. He’s a dynamic, powerful skater who attacks the offensive zone with great forechecking angles. He isn’t afraid to engage physically, and he’s frequently searching out soft spots of the ice to get open for a scoring chance. He’s a good puck handler but could tighten up his skills under pressure and work on his neutral-zone decision-making.
8. Liam Öhgren | W | Djurgårdens IF J20 (J20 Nationell)
I may be higher on Öhgren than most, but I think he’s closer to being NHL ready than he’s given credit for. He doesn’t have the offensive ceiling that those above him do, but Öhgren frequently executes difficult passes, makes crisp plays with the puck, attacks open ice in the offensive zone, and buries a lot of his scoring chances, especially at even strength. His defensive pace and coverage could improve, but he’s got the skating fundamentals to do so.
9. Cutter Gauthier | F | U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Gauthier is a 6’3” center who plays a game that’s a hybrid of Shane Wright’s and Logan Cooley’s. He’s methodical off the puck, patrolling the ice in a good puck-support position, and then he attacks when he has possession with his powerful skating stride that allows him to excel in transition. He’ll shoot from anywhere, and that sometimes leads to careless turnovers, but developing at Boston College should tighten up his game well.
10. Joakim Kemell | W | JYP (Liiga)
While Brad Lambert struggled to start the year, Kemell came out of the gates scoring at a scorching rate. He plays with a good motor but doesn’t have elite speed. He can pull pucks off the wall and turn up the ice with quickness, but his standing accelerating steps aren’t amazing. He’s a phenomenal shooter and uses that threat to buy time and space for teammates in the offensive zone. I’d like to see some improvements to his skating mechanics and more aggressive forechecking, and I worry he’s more of a one-dimensional scorer at higher levels.
11. Frank Nazar | F | U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Nazar may be the most technically sound skater in this draft class; there’s no noticeable flaw in his stride, and his speed through the neutral zone is impressive. He’s constantly weaving in and out of open space in the offensive zone, finding passing lanes to exploit with teammates or soft spots to sneak behind the defense into. He’s difficult to knock off the puck but more of a playmaker than a shooter. I like his defensive positioning, but he doesn’t engage physically that much and sometimes gets caught chasing the play in his own end.
12. Danila Yurov | F | Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk (MHL)
Yurov is such a mature player in my eyes but didn’t earn a ton of ice time in the KHL this year. He scans the ice well, putting his stick into traffic on defense and away from it on offense. He’s a good, not great skater but has a power to his stride that helps him drive to the net with the puck. I’d like to see some increased speed to better his forechecking skills and transition abilities.
13. Jonathan Lekkerimäki | W | Djurgårdens IF (SHL)
Lekkerimäki is one-third of a Djurgårdens trio that could all be taken in the first round next month. He’s a pure goal scorer that lacks size (5’11”) but has a dynamite wrist shot and can sneak his way behind lines of defense regularly. He could add consistency to his skating mechanics, and that will help bring stability to his stickhandling skills, which are already quite good.
14. Ivan Miroshnichenko | W | Omskie Krylia (VHL)
A Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis has created much uncertainty about where Miroshnichenko will be picked, but on the ice, he’s a dynamic talent and disruptive force in all three zones. His hands and feet coordinate so well when the puck is on his stick, and he’s a lethal shooter that needs little time or space to score. His stride extension is wonky, but he can still direct the pace of play through so much manipulation in his game.
15. Pavel Mintyukov | D | Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Mintyukov is another defender who is a net positive in all three zones. He’s a good, physical defender (for the most part), but he does make mistakes here and there in attacking his gaps or staying with the play after his man dishes the puck. He smartly decides when to join the rush or when to drop low in the offensive zone, and he’s a good shooter from the point. If he cleans up some careless puck errors in the middle of the ice, he could be an impactful top-three defender in the NHL.
16. Marco Kasper | C | Rögle BK (SHL)
Kasper is a tenacious forechecker who has a good reach with his stick and can pressure defenders into making mistakes. He conducts regular shoulder checks off the puck and stays in good defensive and puck-support positions. Kasper is a good skater with an okay pace and decent but not great hands. He’s dynamic as a screener for opposing goalies.
17. Filip Mešár | F | HK Poprad (Slovakia)
Mešár’s engine is constantly running in all three zones. While he has a slight and small frame, he compensates with excellent awareness of those on the ice and solid defensive abilities for his age. He’s creative with the puck, tempting defenders to bite while he prepares a crafty cross-zone pass or an evasive punch turn to set up a scoring chance.
18. Jiri Kulich | C | HC Karlovy Vary (Czechia)
Though lanky, Kulich is a good-skating center who uses a long stride extension to his advantage. He’s got good hands and can maintain his pace whenever he receives the puck. He can overskate plays and needs to be stronger on his stick, but he also comes with an underrated shooting release.
19. Gleb Trikozov | F | Omskie Yastreby (MHL)
In comparing the first three Russian skaters, Trikozov may be the most talented; he would be a real swing-for-the-fences pick over Yurov or Miroshnichenko, and that could be okay! Defense is frequently optional for Trikozov, and his skating has a lot going on, but he peels pucks out of corners and away from defenders constantly, creatively protects and pushes it in transition, hunts down loose pucks in the offensive zone, and lulls opponents into his orbit before ripping a wrist shot into the back of the net from all over the offensive zone.
20. Conor Geekie | C | Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
Geekie is a 6’3” center who handles the puck very well for someone of his size. His skating is his big limitation, but his flaws are very fixable. He’s never going to be a burner at the pro level, but he can improve his mechanics to increase his pace and allow himself to better take advantage of his puck protection skills, shooting talent, and scanning ability in the offensive zone.
21. Lian Bichsel | D | Leksands IF (SHL)
Bichsel is a bruising, physical defender who stands at 6’5” and 225 pounds. He loves to engage opponents with shoulder and stick checks, and he can be extremely effective at tying opponents up in front of the net. He’s very offensive-minded and loves to blast the puck from the blue line. Bichsel isn’t a bad skater, but I think he can improve some things to get better separation from forecheckers and improve his pivot timing against opposing puck-carriers.
22. Denton Mateychuk | D | Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Mateychuk is a good skater who is one of the most active defenders I’ve ever evaluated. He loves to lead or join the rush up the ice and is constantly directing play in the offensive zone. At top speed, some of his skating mechanics begin to falter, and I have concerns about his gap control abilities in the pros. But he’s a crisp passer and confident in his puck touches in all three zones.
23. Isaac Howard | W | U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Howard is a scoring winger with a powerful shot and a good ability to exploit the most difficult passing or shooting lanes in the offensive zone. He’s got great puck skills, but there are still inconsistencies in his handling, and he stares at his own pucks too much. Another benefit to his game is that he rarely stops moving his feet and is always willing to attack high-danger scoring areas.
24. Kevin Korchinski | D | Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Korchinski is a good example of a modern-day NHL defender in the making. He loves carrying the puck out of his own zone and will double or triple back if he doesn’t have the right lane. He evades opponents with great edge work and solid concentration with possession, and he manipulates the ice with his above-average passing skills. But, he’s a weak shooter and has his defensive deficiencies, particularly when it comes to winning footraces to loose pucks.
25. Rutger McGroarty | C | U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Like Conor Geekie, McGroarty’s biggest weakness is his skating. He stumbles when accelerating often, and his stride drives down into the ice before extending out. He’s got tons of power in his legs and is a dangerous puck-carrier with how well he can protect the puck, but he lacks NHL-level speed right now. Regardless, he competes for every puck, has above-average puck skills, and never hesitates to pull the trigger on his accurate passes or shots.
26. Calle Odelius | D | Djurgårdens IF J20 (J20 Nationell)
Odelius is an extremely mobile defender who’s constantly buzzing around the offensive zone with his head on a swivel. He’s got great balance and control on his inside and outside edges that allows him to time his defensive pivots well. He’s constantly attacking open ice in the neutral zone or below the offensive-zone circles, and that’s where he’s most dangerous with the puck. He’s solid defensively, but I’d like to see him engage opponents first more and keep a more active stick.
27. Nathan Gaucher | C | Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
Gaucher is another 6’3” center who feels like he could carve out a role in the NHL sooner rather than later. He generated a ton of even-strength, primary-point production this season for a player who doesn’t dazzle you with the puck. He works hard to make life difficult for opponents with his backchecks and forechecks. Gaucher isn’t the fastest skater but he leverages his body in puck battles so well and has surprisingly good hands (although he is careless with his offensive zone passing at times).
28. Owen Beck | C | Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
Beck is a strong-skating center who plays a heavy north-south game. He rarely moves laterally through the neutral zone and uses his powerful, albeit not overly fast strides to bully his way up the ice with the puck. He’s got excellent vision and can find teammates with creative, difficult passes. He’s also strong on his stick but needs to work on his puck-protection skills and decision-making speed when breaking out of the defensive zone and when pressured by defenders.
29. Mattias Hävelid | D | Linköping HC J20
Hävelid is a smooth puck-mover who flies through the neutral zone in transition with linear crossovers and strong stride extensions. He’s not great at confronting forwards off the rush and reaches with his stick as a crutch too often. He’s confident in his lateral movements, so when he times his gap closures well, he can really pin opponents to the perimeter of the zone. Hävelid has a good wrist shot from the point but could improve his timing and passing decisions.
30. Ryan Chesley | D | U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Chesley does so many things well but won’t likely stand out to the casual viewer on most nights. He’s got average speed but is a good skater who can explode well in all four directions. You can tell he scans the ice well, but he needs to make his passing decisions a little quicker. He’s not a strong shooter, but he can distribute the puck well from the blue line and recover to defend against the rush and crowd opponents’ passing and shooting lanes.
31. Noah Östlund | C | Djurgårdens IF J20 (J20 Nationell)
Östlund is a shifty center who has a noticeable fluidity to his game. He covers so much of the ice so quickly and doesn’t shirk his defensive responsibilities. If he can improve his stride recovery just a bit, he’ll be that much quicker. He’s a playmaker first and foremost and won’t just commit to the first passing lane he sees but has the stick skills to hang on for options two or three while evading defenders.
32. Jimmy Snuggerud | F | U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Snuggerud is a 6’2” winger who’s really improved his skating skills this season. His posture is still a little too upright at full speed, and his accelerating crossover steps are often slow. He anticipates plays wells but will need to work on his feet so that they can match that pace, which will allow him to better capitalize on his unbelievable release and adept passing skills.