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5 Last-Minute Storylines to Watch Ahead of the 2022 NHL Draft

Abbey MastraccoJuly 7, 2022

Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

MONTREAL — The Stanley Cup Final was completed less than two weeks ago, but there's no break in the hockey calendar yet. The 2022 NHL Entry Draft begins Thursday night at Bell Centre with the first round and will continue on Friday with Rounds 2-7. Free agency opens on July 13, which could make for a much busier draft than usual.

It's already been an eventful week with a slew of new hires and even two major trades, with the Minnesota Wild sending forward Kevin Fiala to the Los Angeles Kings and the Tampa Bay Lightning getting under the salary cap by trading veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh to the Nashville Predators.

These moves were just the beginning of what could be a wild summer in the NHL.

With the draft fast approaching, let's take a look at a few key storylines to monitor in Montreal and beyond.

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Could we see a surprise at No. 1?

The Montreal Canadiens have the top pick in the draft and the New Jersey Devils will pick second.

Shane Wright, a skilled Canadian center, has been the undisputed No. 1 pick for a year, if not more. He's been on a top-pick trajectory since he was granted exceptional status and drafted No. 1 overall in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection, but he may have lost a little luster this season. Some draft analysts say he had a down year in the OHL with *only* 94 points in 63 games. Juraj Slafkovsky, a 6'4" winger from Slovakia who has been playing in the Finnish Liiga, jumped onto the scene late with strong performances in international competitions since last summer.

NHL scouts love European players who play above their age in leagues with men, much like Kaapo Kakko, who was drafted No. 2 overall out of Finland in 2019.

There may not be a true consensus No. 1 pick this year as there has been in recent years. United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) product Logan Cooley, an undersized center headed for the University of Minnesota next season, could be a wild-card pick at No. 1.

New Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes holds all the cards in his hands, and the dominoes will fall from there.

"We've got it mapped out," Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald said on a Zoom call with reporters. "I'll continue to talk to teams tonight on what they're trying to do. At the end of the day, Montreal's going to pick a player and then we're going to have a decision to make."

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What will the New Jersey Devils do with the No. 2 pick?

There has been a lot of talk about whether Fitzgerald would like to trade the No. 2 pick. The Devils selected first overall in 2017 and 2019, choosing two centers in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. The rebuilding process has not gone smoothly, and Fitzgerald and the club are eager to contend again, so trading the second pick might make sense if they can get an asset that could help them win now. He made it clear that he would like the Devils to return to the playoffs next season for the first time since 2018 and just the second time since they went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2012.

Fitzgerald isn't showing his hand, but it's adding an extra layer of intrigue to an already intriguing draft.

"If you can get a player you can control for an X amount of years in a move-up or move-back scenario, switch the picks and get something that helps you right now," Fitzgerald said about trading the pick. "Maybe it's got a little bit more term, which is what you want. Maybe it's future picks. You take those future picks later on that night and maybe they get you a player that helps you now. There's all kinds of scenarios that really goes through all of our heads."

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Trade SZN

Given the shortened timeline between the draft and free agency, cap-strapped teams only have a few days left to get underneath the $82.5 million mark. The result of that could mean draft-day blockbusters and a bevy of transactions.

New Chicago Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson will be in the spotlight with speedy winger Alex DeBrincat rumored to be on the trading block. J.T. Miller of the Vancouver Canucks has emerged as a name to watch once again as the two parties have not been able to work out a contract extension. And according to Frank Seravalli of DailyFaceoff.com, Vladimir Tarasenko has not rescinded his trade request that was made last year during the Stanley Cup Final.

However, Boston Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk did rescind his request. The club signed him to a two-year extension at $4 million AAV shortly ahead of the trade deadline in March in an effort to facilitate a trade, but the B's will now get to keep him on a team-friendly deal.

"We're very happy Jake has turned a corner in how he feels about the Boston Bruins," general manager Don Sweeney said. "He had a hell of a second part of the year and deserves a hell of a lot of credit for the production he put forth, and he's looking forward to being back. He's just in a better place than when the season ended."

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Status of Russian and Belarusian Players

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has continued to have a ripple effect throughout the NHL.

Russian law enforcement reportedly detained Finnish-born Russian goalie and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Ivan Fedotov, who was planning to move to the U.S. and is now at a remote military base, his agent J.P. Barry told the Associated Press.

There have also been conflicting reports about Minnesota Wild star Kirill Kaprizov, who returned home to Russia in the offseason. Wild GM Bill Guerin said Kaprizov is doing well in Russia, correcting a report that he had returned to the U.S.

Philadelphia GM Chuck Fletcher said he has received no guidelines from the league as to how to handle the situation, and questions have been raised as to whether Russian and Belarusian players will be able to join their respective NHL teams next season.

"I haven't really spoken to a lot of [other GMs] about that. This is a relatively recent development. But I think every situation's probably different. In view of the current situation, I'll probably just be a little bit careful what I say."

It could affect the draft status of prospects from those two countries. Teams have to decide whether it's worth it to use a high pick on a player who might not be able to leave their country.

Devils Belarusian winger Yegor Sharangovich has also decided to stay in the U.S., according to Fitzgerald. It's an unprecedented situation that no one is quite sure how to handle yet.

"It's out of our hands," Fitzgerald said.

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Diverse Hires

Significant barriers weren't just broken this week—they were smashed.

The Seattle Kraken hired Jessica Campbell as an assistant coach for their new AHL affiliate in the Coachella Valley area of California, making her the first woman to work behind an AHL bench. Two women were promoted to assistant general managers of their respective clubs, with the Toronto Maple Leafs promoting Hayley Wickenheiser and the New Jersey Devils promoting Kate Madigan. Two weeks ago, Meghan Hunter was promoted to AGM of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Mike Grier was named the general manager of the San Jose Sharks, making him the first Black GM in the history of the league. Grier's brother Chris holds the same position with the Miami Dolphins.

"It means a lot for me personally and for other minorities in the hockey world," Grier said. "I think the game has gotten more and more diverse since my playing days. There's more minorities and Black players playing and there's more minorities in the front office and coaching and in the staff, and then there's more women involved in the game as well. So the game's growing and getting more diverse. And you know, I'm part of that luckily, and hopefully I can do a good job and keep opening some doors for people to follow behind me."

This follows a trend started by the Vancouver Canucks. President of hockey operations Jim Rutherford and GM Patrick Allvin made three big moves in recent months, hiring former agent Emilie Castonguay and former scout Cammi Granato as assistant general managers and Rachel Doerrie as an analyst.

"The pendulum is really swinging to sort of add diversity," Granato said. "You've seen a lot of change, and it's more about adapting to understanding that adding diversity is important and representation. But I do think the hires, they're people that are qualified, too. There's naysayers that say, 'Oh, you're just trying to catch up and you're just adding people to add them,' but they are qualified people. But I'm not surprised—I'm excited about it."

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