2022 NHL Draft Big Board: B/R's Final Rankings

Adam HermanJuly 1, 2022

2022 NHL Draft Big Board: B/R's Final Rankings

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    The 2022 NHL draft is fast approaching, with the first round taking place in Montreal on July 7. On the heels of the Stanley Cup playoffs in which the top teams attempted to convert years of building into a championship, the spotlight will soon shine brightest on teams at the bottom of the pecking order that are eager to build something anew.

    The Montreal Canadiens will start the party with the first overall pick, while the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes project to be extremely busy with three first-round picks each. In total, 23 of the 32 NHL teams currently own 2022 first-round picks, though of course trades could change the outlook both before and during draft night. You can view the current draft order at CapFriendly.

    With most leagues having played a full season, the 2022 draft class is easier to analyze than the 2021 class, which had most of their seasons shortened or even canceled altogether because of COVID-19. That also impacted the ability to assess the 2022 class ahead of the season, though we tried. Players’ stocks go up and down over the course of a draft season even in normal circumstances, and that’s even more true for this group.

    The 2022 World Junior Championship was postponed almost as soon as it began in December, and some NHL scouts are wondering how to weigh the fact that some of these players didn’t play hockey at all last season while others benefited developmentally from partial seasons or even close to full seasons.

    What’s also noteworthy and uncommon is that there is currently little indication of who will go first overall. The Montreal Canadiens have not tipped their hand, while the public sphere is split on Shane Wright and Juraj Slafkovsky; Logan Cooley has also received some consideration as well.

    Here are Bleacher Report’s top 32 available prospects in the 2022 NHL draft.

1. Shane Wright, Center, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

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    Wright is an unusual type of top prospect. Typically, these players are dominant on an individual level at lower levels of hockey and need to adjust to the unforgiving structural play of five-on-five at the NHL level. It took recent former first overall picks Jack Hughes and Rasmus Dahlin a few years to catch their bearings, while Alexis Lafreniere is in that process.

    Where the 6'0", 199-pound Wright falls short compared to most first overall picks in recent memory is a lack of any signature physical tools. When it comes to skating, physical play, passing finesse, stickhandling and shooting, he rates as a 7 or 8 out of 10 across the board. The right-hander's shot is the closest thing to a standout skill. He gets off quick releases even from awkward weight transfers and beats goaltenders from the top of the circle.

    But on the power play, he's more of a dual threat who gets lots of touches and dictates play rather than a team's primary shooting threat.

    TSN @TSN_Sports

    Back and forth we go!!<br><br>Canadian captain Shane Wright's seeing-eye shot ends up a power-play goal. 🇨🇦 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/U18Worlds?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#U18Worlds</a><br><br>WE. ARE. TIED. <a href="https://t.co/7ekyNyOUHO">pic.twitter.com/7ekyNyOUHO</a>

    A lot of scouts want to see Wright complement that superb group play with more of a willingness to take on defenders and beat them with more individual efforts. Even if none of his tools are elite, he still has the skating, stickhandling and vision to put defenders on their heels and beat them in isolation.

    After entering the season as the runaway favorite to go first overall, Wright struggled during the first half of the OHL season, registering "only" 1.36 points per game prior to the 2022 World Junior Championship for Canada. Some scouts began to question whether first overall was inevitable. He somewhat rebounded afterward, improving to a 1.56 point-per-game pace the rest of the season, playoffs included.

    There is still some talk that the Montreal Canadiens could take a different player first overall, but that would be a major miscalculation.

    The Ontario native may lack the "wow" factor of some other prospects, but in a cost-benefit analysis, nobody comes close to matching him. A "200-foot center" with leadership qualities is incredibly hard to come by, and what Wright may lack in upside, he makes up for in maturity and security. In some ways, his game will translate better in the NHL than it does in juniors. His game relies on collaboration from his teammates, and NHL players will be able to read and react to his movements and decision-making far better.

    It's hard to imagine him as any worse than a first-line center and team leader in the mold of a Jonathan Toews. Wright will not routinely challenge for individual awards, but he's the type of organizational linchpin a head coach dreams of and who could anchor his team to a Stanley Cup.

2. Logan Cooley, Center, US National Team Development Program (USHL)

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    Cooley entered the season as the premier American available in the 2022 NHL draft and has since further separated himself from the pack. The Pennsylvania native was the only under-18 skater to make the cut for the US World Junior Championship roster, and he dominated the U18 World Championship with 10 points in six games as the Americans won silver.

    Simply put, Cooley drives offense. He's the player a team wants with the puck on his stick in all situations. He was a menace at creating zone entries, gaining the zone with possession and finding pockets of space in which to post up and set up the offense. He's not nearly as good of a skater as the New Jersey Devils' Jack Hughes, but there is a similar stylistic ability to skate with the puck and make plays at a high pace. He uses different leg and stick trajectories to fool defenders and beat them both to the outside or in the middle of the ice.

    He is probably the best stickhandler in the draft. Cooley will constantly pull pucks between his legs or behind his back to change angles of attack and fool defenders. His left-handed shot beats goaltenders not with power but instead a deceptive release. The puck gets off his stick in a hurry with minimal "tell," and he doesn't need the puck in his wheelhouse to shoot it where he wants it.

    While he is a dual threat, Cooley slightly leans toward the role of playmaker. He disguises his passes well, selling a move in one direction before passing into an unexpected lane. He's adept on passes across the slot and has a knack for always hitting his teammates on their blades. What's special is his ability to maneuver from the middle of the offensive zone despite his 5'10½", 180-pound frame. He does not get pushed around and makes plays so quickly that defenders can't converge on him in time. This opens up the ice for everyone around him.

    His only downside offensively is that he sometimes try to do too much. This is not a case of him making bad turnovers that will get him benched. Rather, sometimes he attempts to pull out an extra move or deke when there's a path of less resistance to getting where he wants, whether that's more directly attacking the net or shooting after one quick move. The skill is highly appreciated, but there are instances when keeping it simple is better.

    While Cooley might not be a coach's first choice for a penalty kill, he's a deceptively capable defensive center. He backchecks hard and stops odd-man or transition rushes. He's decent positionally and quite skilled at using his stick to tie up players, force turnovers and win puck battles.

    There just aren't any gaping holes in Cooley's game. Any necessary improvements will be between the margins. He's well rounded and extremely dynamic with the puck. The Minnesota commit is a future first-line NHL center.

3. Juraj Slafkovsky, Left Wing, TPS (Finnish Liiga)

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    At face value, Slafkovsky is a physical player at 6'4" and 218 pounds. And while he uses his size well, he's not playing the type of physical game you might expect. It's not about the pain he's inflicting on others but rather his ability to absorb contact. Along the walls, he wins a lot of battles and is hard to separate from the puck, shrugging off contact as he cuts toward the middle of the ice.

    You see a lot of this on his carries up the ice as well. Slafkovsky generates speed through the neutral zone and almost looks like a heavy NFL running back, not breaking stride even after initial contact and pushing the possession forward.

    He complements this with a finesse game. Although he is willing to take on contact, he also avoids it with the type of deftness one would expect from small, quick forwards. He changes directions while maintaining speed and a tight possession of the puck.

    Slafkovsky is a plus shooter and gets off quick, hard releases upon receiving passes, but what stands out is his ability to generate his own shots. He attacks defenders through the middle of the ice and uses both his size and ability to stickhandle in tight spaces to create his own shooting lanes.

    The general theme to Slafkovsky's game is an awareness of the ice around him and quick decisions.

    He is always trying to push the pace. When he collects the puck in the defensive or neutral zones, he's immediately looking to drive forward with the puck either down the wing or in the middle lane. When he collects loose pucks in the offensive zone, it's either a quick curl for a shot or pass to an open teammate.

    A lot of physically gifted forwards get a harsh reality check at higher levels when they aren't afforded the room to waltz around with the puck. Slafkovsky's desire to immediately push the pace lends well to his NHL future, and although his ambitious efforts don't always work out, he is undeterred and has enough successes to make the overall desire for big plays worthwhile.

    Although he's not a slacker, Slafkovsky could become a more effective defensive presence by pressuring pucks more frequently. While his skating is far from a problem, increased explosiveness would make him an even more threatening player on the rush.

    He started slowly in Finland's Liiga but ended the season, playoff games included, with a respectable 13 points in his final 25 games. The 18-year-old also dominated at the junior level and had statement showings at both the Olympics and World Championships for Slovakia.

    While it's unlikely he reaches this type of ceiling, Slafkovsky shares some stylistic similarities to former NHL star Rick Nash: a heavy winger who has unusual puck skills, a willingness to drive through contact and the shot to put the puck in the back of the net with frequency. He projects comfortably as a top-six winger with tangible All-Star potential.

4. Simon Nemec, HK Nitra (Slovakian Extraliga)

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    The Slovakian defenseman is your traditional puck-mover from the back end. He starts possessions from the defensive zone both by carrying the puck into the neutral zone or by finding outlets. He's not going to weave through a bunch of bodies like a Quinn Hughes, but he has poise carrying through the neutral zone and creates plenty of controlled zone entries.

    The way to describe his skating is not "fast" but instead "mobile." He's not going to beat an average player in a sprint, but Nemec moves well in all four directions. He can sidestep pressure and is quick enough from standing positions. When his team is on the transition, he's frequently joining the rush as the trailer to give his team the numbers advantage.

    In the offensive zone, Nemec is a dual threat. He has a knack for getting his wrist shot through traffic that either beats screened goaltenders or creates the types of scrambles that lead to greasy goals.

    That being said, his decision-making needs to improve. Sometimes he'll force plays that aren't there, resulting in turnovers in dangerous areas. It's not a serious issue, and he'll likely develop better risk/reward analysis as he gains more experience.

    Defensively, Nemec plays good gaps and will use his 6'1", 190-pound frame to leverage players off the puck. His one-on-one defending ability is very good. Where he struggles at times is in zone-defending schemes. He'll sometimes get confused during a rotation when the puck is being moved around, leading to a chance for the other team as he finds himself in no man's land.

    The issues in Nemec's game are workable, while his strengths separate him from the pack. It's difficult to find comparisons for him simply because the Slovakian Extraliga has produced very few NHL defensemen over the last two decades. The 18-year-old fared well while averaging over 20 minutes per game against older competition, although not in one of the top European leagues. His 26 points in 39 games was solid, but he really played his best hockey during the playoffs, putting up five goals and 12 assists in 19 games.

    Nemec projects comfortably as a top-four offensive defenseman, with legitimate upside as a first-pairing defenseman who quarterbacks the top power-play unit.

5. David Jiricek, Right Defense, HC Plzen (Czech Extraliga)

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    It took me a while to get the Jiricek hype—I ranked him all the way down at No. 17 in October—but I'll concede I got it wrong. The Czech defenseman had a tremendous season in which the only major negative was an untimely knee injury one game into the World Junior Championship in December that kept him sidelined for nearly four months.

    Fortunately, Jiricek built up enough of a resume playing in the top Czech league and representing his home country in multiple international competitions. Against fairly high levels of competition, he hardly looked out of place.

    Already possessing a strong defensive foundation, Jiricek displays impressive gap control and times his jumps in the neutral zone well to break up zone-entry attempts. Teams will have to game-plan around him and aim their zone entries to the other side of the ice. At 6'3" and 189 pounds, he is already a physical presence on the ice even against players five-plus years older. He is a tough, persistent battler in the slot and boxes his man out above the crease to prevent rebound chances and affords his goalie sight of the puck.

    His five goals and six assists in 29 Czech Extraliga games set the league record for points per game by a draft-eligible defenseman and even rivals the numbers put up by two great former Czech defensemen in Tomas Kaberle and Jaroslav Spacek in their post-draft seasons before their NHL debuts.

    The right-handed Jiricek has a dangerous slap shot. It's very heavy and low, which means it stays on net and generates a lot of rebound chances. He's pretty good at escaping pressure laterally at the blue line and shows a willingness to move below the circles along the perimeter to make himself available for low-to-high passes or to keep plays alive at the half-wall.

    He has yet to display an ability to pass through traffic and find lateral seams through the slot. This leaves questions regarding his offensive upside at the NHL level, as he'll have less ice to work with and top goaltenders aren't going to be beat from the perimeter as often. However, it's hard to reconcile that potential with the numbers. Something that did stand out is that Jiricek seemed to get a fair number of his assists through secondary or incidental passes where the recipient did a lot of the work to create the goal.

    The reasonable projection for Jiricek is a top-pairing defenseman who thrives in suppressing offense and adds complementary scoring. He is a good skater once he gets going, but there is some room for improvement in his initial steps. He's already made significant strides offensively, and if he can continue to do so, then he could find his way on a top power-play unit. He's neck-and-neck with Simon Nemec as the top defenseman of the 2022 draft class.

6. Mathew Savoie, Center, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)

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    Savoie is a gifted offensive center who does everything at high speed. He is an above-average skater who combines a high peak velocity with an ability to seamlessly change directions without breaking stride. Defenders who attempt to play tight gaps and apply aggressive pressure often get burned by his ability to cut diagonally and beat them inside or outside. If defenders play loose gaps, they offer him the space to enter the zone with speed.

    The right-handed Savoie uses his savvy stickhandling with his skating, using misdirection to wrong-foot defenders or to adjust to the lanes available. He's fearless carrying the puck through the neutral zone. In the offensive zone he can walk around defenders or change potential passing angles. A quick move laterally also opens up shooting lanes, and he has a quick release that can beat goaltenders from above the circles. Savoie also can embarrass goaltenders with creative dekes on partial breakaways.

    The Alberta native equally excels as a playmaker. He sometimes looks like he has eyes in the back of his head, dishing laterally or behind while looking straight ahead. He finds tight seams across the slot and makes quick one-touch passes, including from behind the net.

    The broad theme to Savoie's game is creative offense-creation while at a high speed. The quickness with his hands and feet, and his ability to fluidly combine those tools in the same efforts, makes him a difficult player to contain. He executes dynamic plays more quickly than the opposition can often react to them. The one criticism is that he only almost always operates at a high speed. If Savoie can learn to sometimes slow the game down, holding the puck longer or cutting back at the blue line on zone entries to let plays develop, it would make him a complete player in the offensive zone.

    Fairly average off the puck, Savoie does works hard. He uses his skating ability to get behind defenders on the forecheck or to close down on pucks in the neutral and defensive zones. At 5'9" and 170 pounds, he lacks the size to be a true physical presence, although he will occasionally check an unsuspecting player to the ice. Savoie will also sometimes look around in the defensive zone and realize he's lost his coverage, though this is definitely an area he should be able to fine-tune with decent coaching.

    Savoie has diverse and high-end offensive abilities and diligence off the puck. There is work to be done. He should become more consistently engaged in the offensive zone, and although this may sound harsh, his 90 points in 65 regular-season WHL games is actually somewhat underwhelming for a prospect who entered the season as a strong contender to go second overall. Still, Savoie confidently projects as a top-six forward with upside to become a bona fide first-liner.

7. Frank Nazar, Center, US National Team Development Program (USHL)

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    He's not the best player on the USNTDP, but the Michigan native is the most complete player. Name an aspect of hockey and he is most likely very good at it.

    Nazar's motor is always running. He combines quick-moving feet with an ability to process plays rapidly, making him a dangerous threat with the puck. He's a machine when it comes to zone entries, and what stands out is his willingness to drive the middle lane without many failures. Defensemen are forced to converge on him, and that opens up the wings, where he has no problem locating teammates. The right-hander's release is quite good, particularly for someone his size (5'10", 180 lbs).

    His most translatable offensive gift is managing the pace of the game. He knows when to push plays versus when to slow the game down and wait for plays to develop. He may lack the high-end individual skill of some of his teammates, but his decision-making is unmatched.

    Off the puck, Nazar is relentless. When his team loses possession, he immediately goes into recovery mode. He keeps a lot of plays alive in the offensive zone and recycles possession for his team by forcing turnovers or snuffing out zone exit attempts. He works hard in the defensive end and pairs the effort with great spatial awareness.

    The only knock is his size, which is on the lighter side for a center. It would have been a bigger problem in 2002 than it is in 2022, as undersized pivots are having success in the NHL with increasing frequency. Nazar's tenacity and quick mind will offset a lot of the problems that may arise because of his build.

    The Michigan commit is going to be a versatile NHLer who can play a number of roles while adapting to the strengths and weaknesses of his linemates. His upside is as a second-line center who drives play, gets his share of goals and assists, and features on both sides of special teams.

8. Danila Yurov, Wing, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)

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    Yurov is one of the trickiest draft prospects to evaluate. Metallurg Magnitogorsk were the top team in the KHL this season, and as such, Yurov had a tough time cracking the lineup despite clearly being up to the pro standard, averaging a little over four minutes per game. To get him playing time, Metallurg sent him to the MHL (Eurasia's junior league) for 23 regular-season games, where he posted 36 points and faced weak competition. International play would have offered a glimpse into how he matches up against credible competition, but the World Junior Championship was postponed because of COVID-19 and Russia was banned from the U18 World Championship after its invasion of Ukraine.

    One of the most polished players in this draft class, Yurov is already close to NHL size (6'1", 178 lbs) and has incredible balance on his skates. While he's not going to blaze past people, his skating mechanics are solid and he does show some separation speed. He has the hands of an offensive winger. The right wing beats defenders with inside-out dekes or by waiting them out until they overcommit. His lefty release is effortless, and he has a knack for locating the goaltender's vulnerable spots. He is a quality playmaker and, to stay with the theme, is patient with the puck until he finds optimal passing options. Yurov's poise with the puck is unmatched.

    Yurov's effort off the puck is outstanding. He's a puck hawk who immediately transitions to recovery mode once his team loses possession. He is a diligent, aggressive forechecker who is active in the defensive zone and looks to disrupt play with an active stick. Despite the lack of KHL playing time, Metallurg's coaching staff did occasionally trust him to play on the penalty kill and on late shifts while protecting a lead. Yurov does play with an edge and will instinctively step in if he feels a teammate received a cheap shot or bad hit.

    Some teams are hesitant to draft Russians even in normal times, as there's a chance they remain in the KHL for several years. Those concerns will be accentuated this year by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which may make certain teams nervous about if and when these players may be willing or able to make the move to North America.

    Combine that with his lack of playing time against valid competition and Yurov may fall in the draft. On makeup alone, though, he is a clear top-10 prospect and one could reasonably argue he's in the top five. Yurov projects as a top-six winger who plays a complete game and maybe even earns a spot on the penalty kill.

9. Joakim Kemell, Right Wing, JYP (Finnish Liiga)

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    Kemell was on fire to start the season, scoring 12 goals plus six assists in his first 16 Liiga games. However, he suffered a shoulder injury in November that kept him out for a month and it took him a long time to get back to form. He finished the season with just three goals and two assists in his final 23 games.

    Still, 15 goals in 39 games is impressive for a 17-year-old in Finland's top league. His 0.38 goals per game rivals or surpasses the Liiga numbers put up by Patrik Laine, Mikko Rantanen and Jesse Puljujarvi in their draft seasons.

    Kemell scores off one-timers above the circles thanks to a heavy shot, but he is not solely an opportunist. He creates his own shooting opportunities with speed and vision. He takes defenders on, carrying the puck through high-traffic areas and using his agility to slip by forecheckers. Kemell uses his speed to beat defensemen wide and he also penetrates the middle of the ice, carrying to the interior and often across the slot, forcing goaltenders to move laterally and leave portions of the net exposed. His release is quick, and he can threaten even if he is off-balance.

    It's almost hard to believe Kemell measured 5'9½" at the NHL combine, since he looks bigger on the ice. Part of that is a sturdy, 185-pound frame, but his assertive, aggressive style is almost a bluff of sorts. He is not going to face the typical questions concerning undersized forwards.

    The inconsistencies this season will cool the October discussions of Kemell as a potential top-five pick, but his total body of work is still impressive enough that there are no major red flags. On upside alone, he remains one of the top prospects in this draft and projects as a top-six goal scorer who also drives offense.

10. Denton Mateychuk, Left Defense, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)

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    Mateychuk mostly lacks standout physical traits, though he isn't deficient anywhere either. At 5'10½" and 194 pounds, he's slightly undersized. He is an average straight-line skater. His shot is nondescript. He won't "wow" anyone with stickhandling.

    And yet, Mateychuk is arguably the third-best defenseman in this draft class. Although his overall skating may be average, his agility is off the charts. He changes directions smoothly and can escape immense pressure like it's nothing. He leads the rush for his team by beating the lead forechecker with ease.

    The Winnipeg native is always engaged in the play in some manner. His teammates defer to him at all possible moments, and when he doesn't have the puck, he's quick to find a soft spot where he can make himself a part of the play. That often means roaming beyond where a defenseman is typically anchored and joining the rush, moving below the opponent's goal line or rotating into the slot.

    While he may not have any high-end tools aside from his agility, Mateychuk's acumen is what separates him from the pack. He rarely makes mistakes both with and without the puck. Mateychuk plays the game like he sees everything in slow motion. During puck scrums with three or four bodies along the walls, he has a knack for somehow exiting the pile with possession. When the puck is turned over in his defensive end, he immediately seeks out teammates flying the zone and pinpoints them for transition passes.

    His ability to walk the blue line forces the opposition to scramble, buying him the space and time necessary to decide on the next play. His shot velocity isn't threatening, but he finds ways to shoot through layers. He makes great feeds diagonally from the point to teammates for one-timers. His 64 points in 65 regular-season games is remarkable on its own, but particularly encouraging is how he created so much offense at even strength.

    Defensively, Mateychuk again thrives off his hockey IQ. His agility and geometric intuition allows him to take great angles to the puck and cut off puck-carriers in the neutral zone. He makes great reads in his own end, and while he lacks the size to overwhelm anyone in board or slot battles, he is strong enough on his feet to not get bullied.

    Agility aside, Mateychuk has a number of average or slightly above-average attributes, but his high-end ability to think the game allows him to activate the right skills at the right time. Moose Jaw was a strong WHL team this season, finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference, and much of its success can be credited to Mateychuk. Despite being the youngest defenseman on the team, the 2019 WHL first-round pick led the Warriors with nearly 27 minutes of ice time per game.

    He projects to have a similar role in the NHL as a top-four, if not outright first-pairing, workhorse who impacts every area of the game and makes a lot of plays with the puck.

11. Marco Kasper, Forward, Rogle BK (Swedish Hockey League)

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    The Austrian, who turned 18 in April, had such an impressive season, playing most of the season with Rogle of the SHL and earning a credible role on the team. He averaged over 12 minutes per game, tallying seven goals and four assists in 46 games plus six points in 13 playoff games.

    Kasper plays with a tremendous amount of swagger. Despite his age, he was fearless in the SHL this season. Often, predraft forwards in the SHL stick to the perimeter. The 6'1", 187-pounder, on the other hand, played an active, 200-foot game. He carried pucks through the middle of the ice. He shot frequently and with confidence. He asserted himself in board battles and persevered through contact. Even in playoff overtime, when some far more veteran players might wilt, Kasper played bravely and with the intention of making a difference.

    An above-average skater who carries the puck with speed, Kasper is comfortable skating in the offensive zone with possession and creates lanes of opportunity, especially in finding shooting chances. He has always been a strong presence around the net, providing screens or peeling off checks to make himself available for rebounds. Over the course of the season, he showed more ability to also score from distance. Kasper is a huge asset in cycle offense as he outworks the opposition often and never gives up on plays. He created a lot of second and third opportunities after hustling to pressure the puck when the other team gained possession.

    Kasper is a diligent defensive forward. He works hard on the backcheck and keeps up with his man in the defensive zone. He pressures the points aggressively but also knows when to drop down to cut off low-to-high pass attempts.

    Outside of the elite prospects in this draft class, Kasper's game may translate to the NHL better than anyone else's. He played left wing at Rogle this season but also has experience at center. He's going to be a great driver of play in the NHL, but average puck skills may limit his offensive production to complementary levels. He may lack All-Star upside, but Kasper projects to be a difference-maker. It won't be a surprise if an NHL team falls in love with his makeup and drafts him earlier than expected.

12. Cutter Gauthier, Left Wing, US National Team Development Program (USHL)

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    The perfect sidekick to a playmaking center, Cutter Gauthier is the type of pseudo-power forward the modern NHL game demands. At 6'2½" and 200 pounds, Gauthier already has a sturdy frame with room to grow. He's not going to skate circles around opponents, but the Arizonan is one of the top north-south skaters in the draft. The moment his team forces a turnover, he's immediately flying up the ice and making himself a transition threat.

    It's his shot that truly makes him an effective offensively. Gauthier has the uncommon gift of being able to get the puck off his stick quickly without sacrificing velocity. His catch-and-release is high-caliber and he absolutely rips it, making him a threat from distance. He similarly can pick corners while in stride, lending further credibility to his transition offense. What's key here is that, while Gauthier can torch teams with his one-timer, he can create his own shot and score in different scenarios; he's not a passenger waiting for his teammates to set him up.

    He uses that size and speed off the puck. He's a threatening forechecker who gets behind the net quickly and has the strength to knock defenders to the ice. In the defensive zone, he gets to the points and closes space in an instant. This makes him an effective penalty-killing winger, and it's easy to imagine him scoring a short-handed goal by forcing turnovers at the blue line.

    The rest of Gauthier's offensive game grades out as average. He can gain the offensive zone with possession but that's by pushing defenders back with his speed. He isn't much of a stickhandler. He reads and reacts rather than being an intuitive puck-mover who threads passes in tight lines. He's going to be a shoot-first player, but there's enough otherwise to supplement that scoring ability and keep the other team honest. That he has developed those areas of his game to respectable levels is why he has jumped up so high from our October rankings, when he ranked 28th.

    The Boston College commit has played both center and wing. Some NHL teams apparently view him as a center, but his speed and ability to pressure the puck may translate better on the outside. His upside is as a top-six forward on a line complementing a playmaker with a role on the top penalty-killing unit.

13. Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Right Wing, Djugardens (Swedish Hockey League)

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    No need to overthink this scouting report: Lekkerimaki is a goal scorer. His release is the best among all draft-eligible players. There is little lag time in between receiving a pass and firing off a heavy shot that is well placed, making him a huge threat on lateral passing plays across the slot or the low-to-high one-timers. Assuming he makes the NHL, the 17-year-old will be the primary shooting option on the first power play.

    Pure shooters who are dependent on linemates setting them up for scoring chances have a tough time sustaining productive NHL careers. NHL defenses are too well structured and will limit those opportunities. Fortunately, Lekkerimaki is more than that. He has high-end skating ability that pushes defensemen back, and while he's not going to overwhelm with dangles, he can outskate his coverage or use a quick push of the puck on his forehand to create his shooting lanes. While the Swede's shot is threatening from distance, he will also drive the net and score from in tight with a quick move as well.

    Lekkerimaki has also shown moderate playmaking abilities. He might not make highlight-reel passes, but when lanes are open, he can find his teammates without much hesitation.

    The rest of his game is fairly uninspiring. He can close space on the forecheck with his speed and similarly has some moments when he can extinguish transition rushes. At 5'10", 171 pounds, Lekkerimaki is not going to get involved physically and is unremarkable at best cycling the puck. He is not a meaningful defensive presence. Be that as it may, his play off the puck, even if below average, is at least passable. He's not going to routinely find himself in the coach's doghouse. With some hands-on coaching and patience, he may be able to refine these areas of his game in the next five years.

    Lekkerimaki is a high-upside player, albeit not a complete one now. His strengths as a goal scorer with wheels are difficult to find, while his weaknesses are at least salvageable enough. Whoever drafts him does so understanding that he's purely a top-six offensive winger and power-play goal scorer.

14. Pavel Mintyukov, Left Defense, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)

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    For better or worse, Mintyukov is one of the most entertaining prospects to watch. He's a pure rover on the ice and is unabashed about flying in the defensive zone or even becoming the lead forechecker. He not only pinches aggressively but will even rotate behind the net or into the slot areas. He keeps viewers, the opposition—and probably even his own teammates—on their toes.

    Mintyukov is classified as an offensive defenseman, and his toolbox is multifaceted. The Russian has both the touch on the puck and vision to lead the attack from the back end. He creates his own entries with changes in direction and both vertical and diagonal feeds through the neutral zone. Inside the offensive zone, Mintyukov is a lot to handle. With both clever stickhandling and vision, Mintyukov manipulates the defense with unpredictability. His eagerness to move around the offensive zone combined with the skills to make defenders whiff not only creates immediate opportunities for himself, but also lead to a teamwide cascade of problems for the opponents that leave them scrambling.

    When Mintyukov's aggressive style works, it really works; he scored 62 points in 67 games last season. When it does not, it causes serious problems for his team. While his mobility on the whole is at the NHL standard—with solid straight-line speed and above-average four-way agility—the 6'2", 194-pounder lacks the sprinting speed that a Ryan McDonagh or Thomas Chabot possesses to make recovery bursts from the offensive zone. He also puts himself out of position in the neutral zone or defensive end, overstacking one side of the ice. As long as he's starting from a good position, Mintyukov usually makes good decisions at the blue line, using both his stick and body to slow down puck-carriers.

    It's easy to attribute his style as recklessness on his part, and there is a hint of truth to that, but his coaches in Saginaw were actively encouraging it.

    "His play is a result of coaching. At least that's what they told me," one NHL scout told Bleacher Report. "They want him to be aggressive and are willing for him … to push up and make mistakes."

    Saginaw believe it's worth it in the long run, and while some NHL teams may agree, others may insist Mintyukov simplify his game. This uncertainty makes it somewhat tough to know what type of player he'll be five years from now. Some scouts have fallen in love with his ambition and creativity and will put him top-10 on their boards on the account of top-pairing upside. Others see something of a project and will put him in the early 20s. His being already based in North America lends mitigates many of the issues associated with Russians in this draft, but it's not a complete non-factor, either. Almost everyone agrees that he's a Grade-A prospect who will likely make the NHL as a play-driving offensive defenseman in some capacity.

15. Ivan Miroshnichenko, Wing, Omskie Krylia (VHL)

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    When he's on his game, Miroshnichenko is explosive. He is such a dynamic skater both with and without the puck. When he carries through the neutral zone, he comes at defenders vertically with such force that they tend to play large gaps. When they do step up, he has the edgework to move laterally and bypass them.

    His skating becomes exponentially more valuable when he combines it with his shooting ability. Miroshnichenko may be the best player in the draft when it comes to shooting while in motion. His wrist shot is a massive threat from distance, and he does exceptionally well to use defenders as screens or shoot off-balance.

    Miroshnichenko is a high-end stickhandler, which he puts to use even while skating at high speeds. He also puts his edgework to use here, feinting moves in one direction before toe-dragging or maneuvering in a different. The right-handed shooter often plays on his off side, allowing him to make a move to the inside and automatically be set up for a prime scoring opportunity. Miroshnichenko is primarily a shooter, but he also exhibits playmaking instincts as well, making no-look passes or finding feeds over long distances.

    The necessary criticism of Miroshnichenko's offensive game is that, while he showcases incredible skill at a high speed, the Russian doesn't show either a willingness or an ability to think the game at slower speeds. He is confident and ambitious, which dictates so much of his value, but when Plan A doesn't work, he has yet to prove capable of working his way out of trouble or finding the next-best decision. Miroshnichenko's offensive game is incredible, but it is too reliant on his ability to utilize his physical tools and execute before the defense can read him.

    Miroshnichenko has received some criticisms for consistency, but his work rate off the puck might be underappreciated by some. He forechecks hard and makes the most of his 6'1", 185-pound frame with crunching hits. He instantly goes into recovery mode when his team loses possession in the offensive zone, and Miroshnichenko also backchecks hard and will come from behind to tie up the sticks of puck carriers in the neutral zone. Perhaps he won't be a go-to penalty killer at the professional level, but with good coaching, he should have no problems providing some value in all three zones.

    On hockey ability alone, Miroshnichenko is probably one of the top 10 players in the 2022 draft. So-so production (16 points in 31 games) in the VHL, Eurasia's minor league, dropped his stock. But there are two other major complications that will make NHL teams hesitant.

    One is the Russian dilemma, as the invasion of Ukraine and its geopolitical fallout create questions about his ability to play in the United States in the near future. The other is that Miroshnichenko was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in March and missed the final third of the season. The great news is that he completed his treatment and has been cleared to return for next season. It's uncomfortable to discuss Miroshnichenko's draft stock in the context of life circumstances beyond his control, but NHL teams are forced to weigh these issues. Regardless, Miroshnichenko oozes talent and is one of the few players in this draft with legitimate 40-goal upside.

16. Brad Lambert, Forward, Pelicans (Finnish Liiga)

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    The nephew of Lane Lambert, the Islanders' new head coach, this Finnish-born forward is the most baffling player in the draft. Once viewed as a borderline first overall pick, Lambert had a rough season. He struggled to produce for JYP and earned a spot in the coach's doghouse before he was moved to Pelicans, whose youth team is where he first made a name for himself. Lambert had a better showing for Pelicans but did not do enough to assuage concerns over his subpar season. His 10 points in 49 Liiga games was actually a downgrade from his 16-year-old season, when he produced 15 points in 46 games with JYP.

    When Lambert has the puck on his stick, he's arguably the most dynamic player in this draft. His skating earns a B+ or A- grade. The 6'½", 183-pounder flies in open ice and changes directions with ease, weaving through traffic or using quick pivots to evade pressure. He has a scoring touch with a well-disguised release, but Lambert is at his best when he's in the role of playmaker. His vision from the half-wall is unmatched, and he can thread some incredible passes through layers off defenders. The power play runs through him.

    There are a number of red flags in his game away from the puck. He has too many passive shifts. He waits for the puck to come to him rather than inserting himself into positions to win or receive pucks. He plays largely from the perimeter. He deserves some credit for showing more willingness to use his speed to forecheck later last season, but too often Lambert will make a lazy effort with his stick before flying by the puck-carrier. He gets bullied in physical battles and is overly reliant on his ability to escape pressure with his feet, as any contact too often leads to loss of possession.

    Lambert will show ambition at moments, but he has not showed good habits from game to game. The offensive abilities are impossible to ignore, though. Though he has played often at center, Lambert's future is probably on the wing. If he can get the rest of his game to even passable levels, he'll provide his team with the type of skill that is hard to find. Lambert has credible All-Star potential and the ability to be a dynamo on the power play, but he has a lot of work to do if NHL coaches are going to trust him.

17. Kevin Korchinski, Left Defense, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)

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    No defenseman in this draft has more offensive upside than Kevin Korchinski. Yes, that includes potential top-five picks Simon Nemec and David Jiricek.

    Korchinski already has above-average posture and edgework. He has a heavy appetite for carrying the puck up the ice and maneuvers around forecheckers as if they are minor inconveniences. Most importantly, he will carry through danger, forcing the opposing team to gravitate toward him while he effortlessly lays the puck off to teammates. Korchinski jump-starts the offense by leading from the back.

    And he shines in the offensive zone as well. He quarterbacks play, again sucking in defenders while walking the blue line or carrying into the circles before either changing directions himself or finding a teammate that now has wide open ice in front of them thanks to Korchinski's drawing them towards himself. He is a power play quarterback in the truest sense: He had 27 power play assists in 67 regular-season games. His shot is nothing to get excited, as evidenced by just four goals comprising his 65 points, about but he can pick corners. In fact, Korchinski underutilized his shot this season and would score more if he just let it rip. Some moderate concern has to be given to the over-reliance on power play production. Of course, it's fantastic that he is first-class with the man advantage, but most of the game is played at even strength. He also benefited from a Seattle Thunderbirds team that had a number of highly capable goal scorers.

    The bigger concern is his defensive acumen, or the lack of any. He's overly aggressive defending in the neutral zone and often leaves his defense partner out to dry with odd-man rush opportunities for the opposition. He daydreams in the defensive zone and loses his coverages. To his credit, he uses his speed to smother puck carriers in transition one-on-one, and in playoff overtime moments in the WHL he curbed his chaotic tendencies.

    Korchinski is uber-talented offensively. He's a high-end puck distributor and has the kind of talent that can single-handedly create goals when his team otherwise is stuck in the mud. But no NHL coaching staff is going to trust him in big minutes unless he seriously reins in his recklessness on the other side of the puck. The path is there for Korchinski to become an All-Star offensive defenseman and one of the top power play quarterbacks in the NHL, but that upside comes with some major growing pains ahead and uncertainty about his ability to stick the landing.

18. Conor Geekie, Center, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)

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    The brother of Seattle Kraken forward Morgan Geekie, the Manitoba native began the season as arguably the most intriguing prospect in the draft. As a 6'4", 190-pound center who produced 23 points in 24 WHL games as a 16-year-old, Geekie appeared to offer the kind of size and skill at a premium position that is rare to find. While he had a perfectly fine 2021-22, he failed to meaningfully elevate his play; one indicator of that is a barely improved points per game (70 points in 63 games) despite averaging roughly 2:30 more ice time per game.

    Despite what his size might indicate, Geekie is not really a power forward. He uses his frame and reach to withstand checks and protect the puck, but Geekie doesn't assert himself physically. Instead, he relies primarily on a skill game. The center is an adept stickhandler, particularly in the middle of ice, and he keeps control of the puck tight to his body; that's not easy for someone with his wingspan.

    Geekie has credible shooting ability, but the left-hander primarily serves as a playmaker in the offensive zone. He always keeps his head on a swivel, which allows him to identify passing options before he even receives the puck. The capability to anticipate plays rather than purely reacting is key for any playmaker, and Geekie's ability to protect the puck affords him time to wait until passing options develop. When defenders are forced to converge on him, he can create openings for his teammates. He has a wide range of passing angles, using his long reach to pass around defenders or pulling the puck in for tighter passes. He can makes these plays in motion, albeit slower than is ideal.

    At present, there are two main issues in the pivot's game. First, his skating leaves a lot to be desired. He sort of lumbers around the ice. His agility is average at best; it takes him a while to accelerate and his top speed is mediocre. It's not so bad as to single-handedly sink his projection, particularly given his size, but it's the biggest hindrance to unlocking his offensive potential.

    More generally, Geekie is underbaked. He has a lot of desirable physical traits, but he has yet to figure out how to make them work synchronously. A counterpoint would be that Geekie, who turned 18 in May, is on the younger end of this draft class and therefore has more time to develop. As he gets older, and potentially even taller and stronger, he stands a chance of better coordinating his abilities. His draft team may be tempted to push him up the ranks quickly because of his size, but Geekie may be better served by a more gradual career arc.

    How high Geekie gets drafted will depend on how each team rates its ability to get the most out of himself. Conservatively, he projects as a two-way, third-line center. There is immense untapped potential, however, and if the developmental dice roll in his favor, then Geekie could conceivably become a quality top-six center.

19. Rutger McGroarty, Left Wing, US National Team Development Team (USHL)

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    His game does not pop the way it does for some of his teammates, but McGroarty has a habit of doing something every game to remind everyone that he was USNTDP captain for a reason.

    His skating is a problem. The stride looks ugly, which may exaggerate some concerns, as he finds his way around the ice capably enough. Bad skating can be overcome to some extent by smart routes and a relentless nature, both of which McGroarty displays.

    The most prominent feature of the Nebraska native's game is his goal-scoring ability. The shot itself is lethal. Despite his lack of speed, McGroarty finds himself on a lot of transition rushes that give him shots from the circles. He beats goaltenders in all sorts of ways, both over their shoulders on the near side or low on the far post. He can connect on one-timers or delay the release. As a secondary trait, he gets to the front of the net and holds his ground to put home passes from below the goal line.

    McGroarty (6'1", 204 lbs) is a diligent worker off the puck. He works hard on the forecheck, and his efforts in the defensive zone, although sometimes held back by his skating, are apparent.

    In some ways, the Michigan commit brings back memories of former NHL winger Ryan Callahan. He's not the most visually pleasing player to watch and the skating is subpar, but a strong work ethic, a commanding presence and high-end scoring ability could definitely be enough to overachieve and turn into a top-six winger who kills penalties.

20. Liam Ohgren, Left Wing, Djugardens (Swedish Hockey League)

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    Some players have skill sets that are immediately detectable at first glance. Other players have more subtle but effective games that take a number of viewings to appreciate. Ohgren is an average skater, but the Swede nonetheless plays a fast game. He will make a decision and then confidently act on it. He rarely carries the puck into trouble nor does he overthink plays. This cerebral style will translate well at higher levels of hockey, where there is far less time and space.

    The hallmark of the 18-year-old's game is his goalscoring; he potted 33 goals in 30 games at Sweden's under-20 level. He has a knack for for finding soft areas in the slot and timing his movements to put himself in areas to receive passes as the lanes of opportunity develop. His release upon receiving the pass is smooth, which is great from any area but is pertinent to being able to score from the middle of the ice. Ohgren also has the ability to beat goaltenders from greater distances, disguising his release and picking his spots well. He also displays respectable skill on the puck, able to beat defenders with stickhandling and burning goaltenders on breakaways with clever dekes. The 6'1", 201-pounder also has solid playmaking skills, though he is primarily a scorer.

    Ohgren is a "200-foot" winger. He works hard behind the net and defends diligently. Although he competes, he'd do well to add feistiness to his game.

    The major hindrance in Ohgren's game is his skating. It's not a liability, but the inability to find a top gear inhibits him from being able to beat defenders wide or capitalize on transition rushes.

    His 1.93 points per game last season is the J20 Nationell's second-most all-time from a draft-eligible player, and what's encouraging is that most of his offense came at even strength. A caveat is that he played on a line with two other top prospects in Jonathan Lekkerimaki and Noah Ostlund, and though he was hardly a passenger on that line, they definitely heightened his production.

    Ohgren will be a first-round pick based on his production and a diverse skill set that will have an impact in pro hockey. There is top-six upside as a scoring winger, but his complete game also offers a safety net as a bottom-six forward should his offensive output plateau.

21. Juri Kulich, Forward, Energie Karlovy Vary (Czech Extraliga)

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    It's easy to see the ways that Jiri Kulich's game can translate at the NHL level. At 5'11¼" and 178 pounds, the Czech forward has a sturdy frame and plays a physical game. He has a high work rate, engages physically and is willing to take hits in order to make plays. As fast straight-line skater, Kulich embraces the role of advancing the puck through the neutral zone through purposeful chips and dumps, then immediately pursuing the puck on the forecheck.

    The left-handed shooter has played both center and wing for different teams but spent his fair share of time as a pivot with Energie Karlovy Vary. He forces turnovers, gets in shooting lanes and takes the pain to block shots.

    What accentuates Kulich's physical capabilities and high motor are some impressive abilities on the puck. Kulich is an imposing shooter. He's not one to fool goaltenders with quick releases, but his one-timer comes off his stick hard and his wrist shot is heavy. There is a respectable amount of skill in his game in terms of stickhandling and precision passing. Those won't be his calling cards, but as supplementary qualities, they fill out his game to render it pretty complete.

    Kulich played in the top Czech league against older men and he had some good and bad moments, finishing the season with nine goals and five assists in 49 games. His bad moments weren't ones that cause alarms but fall under the category of learning experiences, and the maturity of his game really showed at the U18 World Championship, where he dominated with nine goals and two assists in six games and earned the tournament's MVP award.

    Kulich's overall game makes him one of more likely players to carve out an NHL role. We discuss a prospect's upside often in the form of future lineup placement so as to give a general indicator of a player's future outlook. In the abstract, Kulich's makeup is that of one of the best third-liners in the league or perhaps a fringe second-liner who plays a checking and defensive role and provides complementary scoring.

    In reality, building an NHL lineup is a puzzle and coaches have to put the pieces together in a way that optimizes the team's performance. Arturi Lehkkonen is nobody's dream of a first-line left winger, but he was exactly what the Colorado Avalanche needed alongside Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. Kulich has the potential or a similar kind of dynamic where his compelling two-way game and shooting ability could be enough to propel him as a great complement to more dynamic forwards in a top-six role.

22. Isaac Howard, Left Wing, US National Team Development Program (USHL)

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    Just as it was last season, when it comes to Isaac Howard, it's hard to reconcile the numbers with the video.

    On a stacked USNTDP team, the Wisconsin native posted 82 point in 60 games; his 1.37 points per game was second only to likely top-five pick Logan Cooley.

    Howard's toolbox is phenomenal. He is one of the most agile skaters in this draft and gets up the ice in a hurry. He is both fearless and creative from the wing, always trying to take on defenders or attempting to thread a difficult pass through layers. Everything he does is at a high pace, and when he's at his best, he can make opposing players look foolish.

    HIs off-the-puck movement is top-notch. Howard is proficient at scoring from the slot areas despite his 5'9¾", 180-pound frame. This is largely because of his ability to anticipate the flow of play and time his movements perfectly to receive passes and quickly get them off his stick. He's a huge threat on low-to-high passing plays that originate below the goal line.

    Howard's high-risk, high-reward goes both ways, though. Sometimes he tries to do too much, and while his quick decision-making can lead to the defense having no time to react, it also can result in some poor decisions. He makes a lot of turnovers either trying to make ill-advised passes or by stickhandling himself into trouble. No doubt, his capacity for highlight-reel plays is evident and his point total indicate he is arguably the second-best prospect on the USNTDP, but on a shift-by-shift basis, three or four teammates are more consistent in their impacts.

    Here is the good news: Once a defensive liability, Howard has improved his effort in pursuing the puck and playing his part in the defensive zone. This indicates an ability to adapt and a willingness to take constructive criticisms. The mismatch between his point totals and visual scouting takeaways and the hit-or-miss characteristic to his game make him a difficult prospect to project. While "boom or bust" would be the incorrect way to describe him, as there are ways to imagine him playing NHL minutes in secondary role, there is a lot of uncertainty in terms of exactly what type of player he will be going forward. A dual-threat offensive driver, a playmaker from the wing or empty-calorie point-producer—all are possibilities.

    Howard could justifiably get drafted in the top 10 or fall outside of the first round altogether. Whichever team drafts him needs to have a lot of trust in its developmental staff, as a delicate balance must be struck between maturing the Minnesota commit's decision-making without suffocating the skill and creativity that makes him such an intriguing prospect.

23. Owen Pickering, Left Defense, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)

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    Pickering certainly has the attention of NHL scouts. Today's game may not be the physical, rugged brand of the '80s anymore, but a 6'4¼" defenseman won't go undetected for long.

    The 18-year-old sports an impressive skating ability, and his mechanics are polished for someone of his age and stature. Pickering's long stride eats up ice in a hurry, and while he's not going to blow anyone away with his agility, he pivots well and does not require the labored turns that tall players sometimes require.

    This skating lends well to Pickering's primary ability: moving the puck. He's a retrieval fiend in the defensive zone. Pickering effortlessly collects pucks in his own end has a poise about him to find the right outlets. He mostly skirts forecheck pressure by quickly finding a teammate, though every once in a while, he'll stretch the ice by sending a long feed. And he can beat the first forechecker when he has room to skate.

    The best way to describe Pickering's possession game is "comfortable." He evokes a sense of calm whenever the puck is on his stick, always scanning the ice and rarely panicking when under pressure. He has a hard slap shot from the point, and his nine goals and 24 points in 62 WHL games is respectable production for a defenseman on a young, subpar team. Beyond the basics, though, Pickering's offensive game rings hollow. He'll gain the offensive zone only if there's open ice in front of him. He doesn't have the ability to unlock defenses with improvisations or sophisticated passes. The Manitoba native isn't a major roamer around the offensive zone. For the most part, Pickering is deferential offensively.

    At the junior level, Pickering is a proficient defender. He battles to box out players in front of the net, and his long stick interrupts possessions. He's incredibly difficult to gain zone entries against, using his long wingspan to break up rushes. Perhaps counterintuitively, he needs to become more physically engaged. Pickering is overreliant on his stick and needs to make more of his size by angling puck-carriers to the boards and eliminating them with hip checks.

    Pickering was merely 5'7" and 131 pounds three years ago and is just 180 pounds today; he has a lot of room on his frame to add muscle. An argument can be made that Pickering is still learning how to make the most of his physical gifts that still haven't reached their final form. If everything goes right, Pickering could turn into a No. 3 defenseman. More likely, based on his lack of offensive creativity, the lefty looks like someone who will have a long NHL career as a No. 4 or 5 defenseman who kills penalties.

24. Ryan Chesley, Right Defense, US National Team Development Program (USHL)

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    Chesley is a well-rounded defenseman who has made strides in practically every facet of the game over the last year.

    What primarily impressed scouts was his polished defensive game. At 6'½" and 201 pounds, Chesley's skating is average, but he has great timing for stepping up to break up rushes in the middle of the ice and is consistent in his ability to angling puck-carriers toward the boards and then punishing them with heavy hits. He defends well around the net, boxing out forwards and allowing the goaltender a sightline to the puck. He's not afraid to get in shooting lanes and block shots.

    The Minnesotan has also been a solid point-producer in junior hockey, though that likely won't hold up as he moves up the pro ladder. He has decent puck skills, but at the NHL level, he's going to be more of a participant in the offensive zone rather than a difference-maker. What will translate, though, is his ability to move the puck. Shutdown defensemen don't need to produce points, but in the modern game, they need to be able to find outlets and be able to skate the puck out with their nerves in check.

    Chesley fits that standard. He's not going to stretch the opposition from the defensive zone, but he consistently finds passing options both into and out of the neutral zone.

    There may be other players available who offer the dream of a future star that Chesley does not, but the trade-off is that he is a solid bet to make the NHL and is more likely to hit his upside. The reasonable hope for the Minnesota commit is that he becomes a top-four shutdown blueliner who kills penalties and contributes occasionally on offense. That's a player who makes life a lot easier for his general manager and head coach.

25. Noah Ostlund, Center, Djugardens (Swedish Hockey League)

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    Don't let the diminutive size (5'10", 164 lbs) fool you: Few draft prospects are more noticeable shift to shift than Noah Ostlund, and the reasons are varied.

    From the beginning to the end of his shifts, his motor is always running. Ostlund buzzes around the ice. He's a delicate skater to the point that it almost appears as if he floats around the ice. Although his top straight-line speed won't scare defenders, his ability to quickly decelerate and turn on a dime makes it difficult for defenders. No matter where the puck is, he's involved in the play ether directly or passively. When the other team has the puck, he's a hawk trying to pressure the carrier, clog up lanes or tie up someone in the slot. He makes a lot of interceptions on passes across the middle of the ice and disrupts attempts at receiving attempts with well-timed stick lifts or tie-ups.

    For any soccer fans, Ostlund is reminiscent of a No. 8 midfielder. He is proficient in link-up play to transition the puck from defense to offense. He makes himself available for short passes, and when he himself passes, he immediately moves his feet to make himself available again. His quick decision-making lends to a lot of combination plays to release his team from pressure or make goal-scoring opportunities in the offensive end.

    He's primarily a playmaker. Ostlund is proficient at changing the angle of attack, driving forward before curling back and dishing laterally or moving east to west before sending a puck toward the goal. Off the puck, he is supporting the puck and constantly making himself available. If his first movement into a space doesn't result in a pass, he'll immediately move to try to find another option or create a lane for another teammate.

    Ostlund's issues are twofold. First, he hasn't displaying goalscoring ability. Although he has good instincts, the left-hander's shot leaves a lot to be desired. He had just 14 goals in 37 games at Sweden's under-20 level, which is low even for playmakers in that league. To his credit, eight of those goals came in the last 11 games of the season in addition to five in seven playoff games, and he potted four in six games at the U18 World Championship in late April. He's shown growth in that area, and his ability to find scoring chances offers upside if he can improve his shooting mechanics.

    The other obvious concern is his size. Ostlund loses a lot of physical battles, though to his credit, he is unafraid to engage and pops right up when he's knocked over. He may also struggle in the high-traffic slot areas at both ends of the rink. He can evade contact in small spaces with his skating, and he could add some muscle in the coming years.

    Whichever team drafts Ostlund is acquiring an underipened player with a lot of talent. The fact that he will have as many as four seasons in Swedish pro leagues offers a long runway for maturing physically at an intermediary level. While the size issues may eventually force him to wing, but he currently projects as a middle-six NHL center.

26. Jagger Firkus, Right Wing, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)

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    Jagger Firkus scores goals. He has one of the best shots in the draft. His one-touch release is borderline elite. He doesn't need a big windup, instead relying on snapshots to slingshot the puck top-shelf as quickly as he received it. He's a major one-timer threat and certainly will be the go-to shooting option on any power play. Because of how smooth his release is, Firkus can flick pucks over a goaltender's shoulders from in tight just as easily as he can rip it from above the faceoff dots.

    However, Firkus doesn't need to be handed the puck in shooting areas in order to score. The right wing will work for his opportunities, moving around the offensive zone to find opportunities for receiving passes. The Alberta native displays creativity in possession and an ability to create his own shots. Firkus is willing and able to take on defenders, particularly beating them inside with direction changes. He has good enough handles to deke past goaltenders on partial breakaways. His signature move on the puck is to carry into the offensive zone wide, then cut across the slot and either use the defenseman as a screen or beat a goaltender who is forced to open up his body as he moves post-to-post.

    Firkus does not need brute-force shots through defenders because he has good enough hands to create his own openings. In fact, he made the highlight reel this season with a lacrosse-style goal in Moose Jaw's opening playoff game against Saskatoon. Indeed, any team would be thrilled to add a player with moves like Jagger.

    Though Firkus is primarily a shooter, he uses that threat to establish other opportunities. He has quality secondary playmaking instincts. Sometimes when he's cutting across the slot and dragging defenders with him as he threatens to shoot, he'll instead drop the puck for a teammate cutting across in another direction. Firkus plays at a high tempo, and viewers can't help but notice him when he's in the offensive zone.

    The rest of Firkus' game rates as average or underdeveloped. Though he's quick on his feet, his skating stride lacks power. He works hard off the puck but isn't a physical presence; the 5'10" frame doesn't do any favors and, even for that height, his 151 pounds is well below where he needs to be. For that reason, his development is going to take some time, but it also offers a higher ceiling. He only turned 18 in late April and has a lot of room for more muscle. If and when gets stronger, his skating and physicality could see upticks. With that rounding out his game, Firkus could turn into a top-six scoring winger.

27. Filip Mesar, Wing, HK Proprad (Slovak Extraliga)

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    Mesar is a smooth skater whom one could credibly argue has the best vertical speed of anyone in the draft. The winger uses that ability with and without the puck. In possession, he will start with a long arc to build up speed and then blow past the opposition's neutral-zone setup, able to adapt to the setup in front of him and quickly change directions to exploit the open lanes. When he's not on the puck, Mesar stretches the ice, finding pockets in the neutral zone to receive passes from the defensive zone while in stride.

    What's more, Mesar is able to skate at full speed while maintaining possession. Some players have great straight-line speed with their sticks in the air but are forced to take their feet off the gas with the puck. He won't amaze anyone with arrays of dangles, but Mesar can maintain his pace and effortlessly change direction even in possession. For all of these reasons, he's difficult to defend off the rush.

    His offensive contributions are less noteworthy, though he did end the season on a high note with three goals in six playoff games. He's always had a decent ability to shoot off the rush. The right-hander has worked hard to improve his shot, once a clear weakness, and now has the ability to beat goaltenders from the middle of the offensive zone. In general, though, Mesar is not a major weapon in controlled offensive-zone possessions.

    Mesar has a high motor and is attentive off the puck. His quickness is a major asset on the backcheck, and he is conscientious in tying up sticks. It's easy to imagine his speed helping him become a threat to force turnovers and pot the occasional goal on the penalty kill. At 5'10" and 174 pounds, he lacks the strength to play a meaningful physical game.

    Mesar projects as a top-nine winger, with his placement among those three lines to be determined by how much he develops between the margins. As a high-pace winger thriving mostly in transition, Mesar could be loosely compared to former NHLer Michael Grabner.

28. Calle Odelius, Left Defense, Djurgardens J20 (J20 Nationell)

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    Odelius is a glimpse into the current hockey generation that is increasingly accepting the premise that one does not have to be 6'4" and 220 pounds to be an effective shutdown defenseman.

    The native of Sodertalje, Sweden, may not be a mammoth on the ice, but at 6'¼" and 188 pounds, Odelius is balanced on his skates and has the requisite strength to parry away questions about size. His game is built on his prominent skating ability. His crossovers are effortless, and he has adept four-way mobility. Because his skating is so effortless going backward, he can defend against the rush by playing tight gaps. He breaks up a number of plays in the neutral zone. He was called up for seven games in the SHL, although earning only limited minutes.

    Odelius infuses his mobility in his sophisticated game. He proactively scans his blind spots ahead of time when retrieving pucks in his own end, so he collects with a solid idea of what options are available to him. From there, his agility takes over. He is highly skilled at skirting contact in the corners with tight turns. He's not a masterful distributor of the puck, but he is a critical thinker and makes smart low- and medium-risk passes. He has also shown some willingness to carry the puck when passing outlets are cut off or there's space to skate into.

    His limiting factor, at least for now, is offensive output. Odelius will collect some points because of his strong fundamentals, but he's not going to be the catalyst for the creation nor finishing high-danger scoring chances. His 30 points in 43 junior games in Sweden is considered mundane production.

    Odelius is a strong shutdown defenseman, and while he may not create offense for his team, he will give more gifted teammates the offensive-zone time they need to create. He has legitimate second-pairing upside with also high fallback cushioning as a depth defenseman.

29. Owen Beck, Center, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

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    If Owen Beck makes the NHL, he's going to be a player whom coaches and fans love. The center is at full throttle every shift who simultaneously manages to play a cerebral game.

    His 21 goals and 30 assists in 68 regular-season OHL games is far from inspiring—fellow draft-eligible teammate Lucas Del Bel Belluz transcended in that department with 76 points—but when watching Mississauga, it was obvious who has the better NHL makeup. Beck is simply a well-rounded prospect.

    The foundations of Beck's game are work ethic and discipline. The Ontario native is a shutdown center who wins faceoffs, picks up his coverages in the defensive zone in an anticipatory rather than reactionary manner and battles for pucks. While he's not running around looking to hit someone, the 5'11¼", 187-pounder creates turnovers with heavy hits in open ice.

    His offensive skill set is varied, even if not superlative in any manner. He's a forceful skater who carries the puck north-to-south, often beating defenders with his speed or pushing them back. The right-hander drives the net decisively and can score occasionally from the high slot. It's a similar story with his passing ability: present but unspectacular. Beck's offensive output is the product of athleticism accentuated by respectable enough hands. He produces a lot of offense this way against defensemen in juniors, but at the pro level, he's going to meet his match physically and won't be able to blow by players. He has yet to display the vision or manipulation ability to beat defenders in more sophisticated ways.

    One can see a path where Beck adds more dimensions offensively and forces his way to a low-end second-line role. Much more likely is that Beck settles in as a bottom-six center who offers depth scoring and whom his head coach matches up against top lines.

30. Lane Hutson, Left Defense, US National Team Development Program (USHL)

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    In terms of managing the puck, Hutson is the best defenseman in this draft. The 5'8¼", 158-pounder takes advantage of his small stature by darting in and out of tight spaces and changing directions frequently. He is confident in possession and shows no problems starting rushes and creating zone entries by himself. He is both a responsible and sophisticated passer. He finds opportunities to stretch the ice from his own zone and executes tough passes through small seams in the offensive zone, setting up teammates for scoring chances. The 18-year-old has scored at the junior level, but it's typically by moving into the circles when receiving low-to-high passes. He's not a particular threat from the point.

    Hutson's 63 points in 60 games this season set a points-per-game record (1.05) by a draft-eligible USNTDP defenseman, beating out some notable names such as Erik Johnson, Adam Fox and 2021 fourth overall pick Luke Hughes. Some of Hutson's production was inflated by a stacked roster, but he also moved the needle for the team and was clearly head coach Dan Muse's top offensive defenseman despite some valiant competition from Seamus Casey.

    The concerns with Hutson are unsurprisingly on the defensive side. He is small even compared to the typical offensive defenseman. He can get in lanes but is generally overwhelmed, and he's also an easy target for puck-carriers in the neutral zone. Hutson's problems in this regard are hampered by his skating, which is generally fine but nowhere near the high level one would hope for from someone his ilk.

    The Chicago native is a boom-or-bust type of pick; it's hard to imagine him as, say, a No. 6 defenseman in the NHL. The defensive game is probably not going to be there, so it's all about how much of an impact he can make with the puck. If all works out, the Boston University commit could be a sheltered top-four defenseman and power-play quarterback in the mold of the St. Louis Blues' Torey Krug.

31. Jimmy Snuggerud, Right Wing, US National Team Development Program (USHL)

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    Ostensibly, Snuggerud plays the role of power forward. At 6'1¼" and 188 pounds, the Minnesota native is strong on his feet. He is hard to knock off the puck when he's carrying in open ice and along the walls. He's difficult to move once he plants himself in front of the net. He skates at a slow pace. He works hard on the forecheck and is on task in the defensive zone.

    Despite this brutish posture, Snuggerud has deceptive skill. He is an above-average stickhandler, which comes in use when he wants to cut inside but his skating won't allow for quicker turns. He can make quick one-touch passes. His most influential tool is a heavy wrist shot. Sound resonates when his shot hits a goal post. He beats goaltenders clean, including from the high slot, making him a huge threat when on a line with teammates who can find him on cross-seam passers from the half-wall or behind the net. And while he's at his best when he has the time and space to torque his stick and slingshot the puck, Snuggerud also has a quick enough release to get powerful shots off on releases immediately after receiving the puck.

    There's a good chance Snuggerud makes the NHL because of his strength, physical tendencies and sneaky finesse with the puck. However, questions about his upside remain. He benefited massively from having Logan Cooley centering his line last season, and it remains to be seen how the Minnesota commit might perform without players around him who can drive possession and earn the primary focus of defenders. His skating leaves much to be desired and while he may make improvements there, he could just as easily struggle against better players that he can't overpower so easily.

    If Snuggerud plays himself into a top-six role in the NHL, it will likely be because his skill set happens to complement more dynamic linemates. Without major improvements to his skating, he may instead project more realistically as a bottom-six forward who plays net-front on the power play.

32. David Goyette, Center, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)

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    Goyette is a crafty, playmaking center. He's not necessarily someone who is going to quarterback at higher levels of hockey, but when he has the puck on his stick, he manages connect with teammates in impressive and unsuspecting ways. His touch passes to escape pressure are among the best in the draft. He doesn't telegraph his intentions with his head, and he has a golfer's instinct of combining visual perception with stick mechanics to put the perfect weight behind his passes.

    He stands 5'10¼" and 175 pounds, but Goyette scores his fair share of goals around the front of the net. The Quebec native doesn't power his way to the net but instead floats into soft spots above the crease. Occasionally the left-hander will carry the puck into the offensive zone, beat the defender wide and then drive across the goalmouth and score from in tight. Goyette's engagement is inconsistent, but that's between the margins of "OK" and "very good." In some games he presents as more passive, while in others he displayed a lot more ambition. Never does he come off as lazy.

    Some see Goyette topping out as a good AHLer. It's easy to see the argument. His abilities on the puck are very good but not great, and the rest of his game is unremarkable. He's an average defender and is disadvantaged physically. If his skill alone doesn't present clear top-six upside, then what kind of role would that leave for him in the NHL?

    Here's the counterpoint: Goyette excelled in difficult circumstances last season. He missed an entire year of development after the 2020-21 OHL season was canceled because of COVID-19. The Sudbury Wolves were a bad team, and Goyette had virtually no help around him. Nonetheless, he kept a good attitude and produced a remarkable 30 goals and 40 assists in 73 games, with most of his success coming at even strength. Sudbury will be much better next season and it wouldn't be a surprise to see his production explode. What kind of player he could turn into is hard to pin down, but the bet on his talent is worth it.


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