The 2021-22 season is officially over with the Colorado Avalanche hoisting the Stanley Cup. Which means the next meaningful NHL event is the annual Entry Draft, set to begin on Thursday July 7th in Montreal. The recent Cup winners are a franchise that could be studied as an example of how to draft and develop players. The Avalanche boast home grown talents such as MacKinnon, Rantanen, Makar, Byram, Newhook and Landeskog. Some will immediately point out how early some of those players were taken but only Landeskog and MacKinnon were top 2 picks. Rantanen was taken 10th overall, Makar and Byram were both 4th overall and Newhook was taken 16th overall. Some of these players were consensus picks at their positions but the consistent success the Avs has experienced with high picks is the model struggling teams like the San Jose Sharks should strive to achieve.
There are several ways the Sharks can go on Thursday. With the fresh announcement of Mike Grier as the new GM he could be looking to make a big splash and dangle the first round pick as trade bait for one of the top scorers rumored to be available. Currently slated to draft 11th overall, the Sharks are a few picks outside of what I would consider the elite players of this draft. Depending on the cost and how much they covet a specific player on their board, Grier might also attempt to trade into the top 10 to snag one of the higher end players. However, the Sharks are without a 2nd round pick (traded for Adin Hill last year) and there are some solid players who could be available in the 2nd half of the first round so trading down while picking up additional picks could be the move if the players available at number 11 don’t excite Sharks front office.
Generally when it comes to drafting in the NHL I think teams should select “Best Player Available” (BPA) rather than selecting for team need, especially in the top 2 rounds. With that established, the below list is NOT a mock draft. These rankings are the BPA I would select in each spot given their talent, abilities, and projection. On draft day there will likely be a lot of shuffling due to over-valuing a position such as center or defenseman. There’s also the Russia factor to consider which could lead to Russian prospects dropping due to the uncertainty of their future. I listed William Eklund as the number two prospect in my 2021 Draft Preview and was elated to see him fall to the Sharks at number 7. I could see something similar happening this year with any of the players I have listed in the 4-10 range.
Top 15 Prospects for the 2022 Draft
1.) Shane Wright – Center
Shane Wright is the top player for this years draft. He is a complete package with loads of offensive talent. Wright has great vision and hockey IQ which is matched with skill and skating abilities. However, his stock has somewhat declined over the past 12-18 months. Originally projected as a generational talent after an unreal rookie season with Kingston (OHL) as a 15/16 year old, he is now likely projecting as more of a potential star. This “downgrade” could be attributed to missing a whole season of development when the OHL shut down for Covid. He just hasn’t progressed as much as expected over the past season and doesn’t visibly or statistically compare to other generational first overall draftees such as McDavid, Matthews and 2023 super prospect Connor Bedard. That being said Shane Wright is still an intriguing prospect and should go first overall. He has a very high floor which at a minimum should see him become a solid number 2 center. The real question with Wright is what’s his ceiling?
2.) Juraj Slafkovsky – Left Wing
The hype train has been “tooting” since Juraj Slafkovsky played like a star veteran for Slovakia during the Winter Olympics. Scoring 7 goals in 7 games while winning MVP of the tournament and carrying his nation to a Bronze medal was no small feat. Slafkovsky has an NHL ready shot that is lethal from anywhere inside the offensive zone. He also has great hands and battles hard with a physical brand of hockey. Slafkovsky also performed very well during the recent World Championships against professionals (some NHLers). He did not have as much success producing for TPS of the Finnish Liiga but that isn’t terribly surprising considering his age and the competition level. Some scouts question whether he can be elite at the NHL level but I think his tools show that he can. If all goes well with his development, Slafkovsky could develop into a top line goal scoring winger.
3.) Logan Cooley – Center
Logan Cooley is a super fun player to watch. He has elite puck skills and can dangle opponents fairly easily. Cooley likely projects as more of a playmaker than a goal scorer at the pro level as well as being a player who can thrive on the power play. He possesses the puck very well and can often be seen circling in the offensive zone, drawing opposing skaters in and opening space for his line-mates. This past season Cooley scored 27 goals and 75 points in 51 games with the US National Development Program. On top of the offensive abilities he’s a very responsible player defensively. Cooley is slightly undersized but that shouldn’t be an issue with the modern NHL. If his offense translates to the NHL level Cooley could be the most valuable player to come from this draft.
4.) Joakim Kemell – Right Wing
The fourth pick is where I expect things to start getting interesting. Joakim Kemell is a sniper who looks like he could become a top line winger for the NHL team lucky enough to select him. Along with high-end finishing abilities Kemell has pretty good hands and is a solid skater. This past season he scored 15 goals and 23 points for JYP of the Finnish Liiga, strong numbers for a draft eligible player. Kemell doesn’t project to be a franchise player but he could develop into a goal scoring top line winger. At a minimum he looks like a top 6 winger who will contribute offensively at the NHL level and is already fairly close to being NHL ready, possibly even making the jump as early as next season.
5.) Matt Savoie – Center
Matt Savoie is one of the most skilled draft eligible players and is the complete package offensively. He posses a very strong shot but when watching him you’ll immediately notice his elusiveness and speed. With Winnipeg of the WHL, Savoie scored 35 goals and 90 points this past season. He is a bit small at 5 foot 9 which could lead to teams going with other options inside the top 10. Savoie could be a prime candidate to drop to the Sharks pick similar to Eklund last season. Savoie has top line upside but is likely a couple of years away from playing in the NHL.
6.) Jonathan Lekkerimaki – Right Wing
Speaking of William Eklund, our next player was his teammate this past season in Djurgarden of the SHL. Lekkerimaki is a pure goal scorer, netting 7 goals in 26 games as a 17 year old this past season which is super impressive for the SHL. He is a solid skater with good offensive instincts and his playmaking abilities shouldn’t be overlooked. As a July ’04 birthday, Lekkerimaki won’t turn 18 until just after the draft. He is under 6 feet but doesn’t play a soft game so I don’t think size will hold him back. Lekkerimaki could develop into a top line goal scorer but is probably 1-2 years away from the NHL.
7.) Simon Nemec – Defenseman
Finally we have our first defenseman of the 2022 draft. Simon Nemec is a strong skating all-around defenseman coming out of Slovakia. I am a bit lower on Nemec than the general consensus because I am not sure he has the elite offensive abilities to warrant a top 5 pick. He is a smart player with skill and projects as a top 4 d-man at a minimum but I question if he has the elite upside that I see in the other players ranked inside the top 10. I could easily see him going as high as number 3 of this draft due to his position but in the top 10 I think you have to target elite players. Nemec could be only a year away from playing in the NHL due to his skating abilities and strength defensively.
8.) Cutter Gauthier – Left Wing / Center
Cutter Gauthier is a big guy and plays a big game. This past season with the US National Development Program, Cutter scored 34 goals and 65 points in 54 games. He skates very well for a guy who is 6 foot 3. Cutter has an NHL ready shot and can play a power forward styled game so I could see him going as early as the 4th pick. Currently committed to attend Boston College of the NCAA, Cutter is likely a few years away from making the jump to the pro level. He does project to be a top 6 winger with top line upside.
9.) Pavel Mintyukov – Defenseman
I really like Pavel Mintyukov’s game and considered ranking him as the top defenseman, but being a late ’03 birthday and only a couple months away from being eligible for the 2021 draft stopped me from listing him higher. Mintyukov won’t be seen as a risky pick like some of the other top Russian skaters as he’s already playing in North America. This past season with Saginaw of the OHL he registered 17 goals and 62 points in 67 games. Pavel is a smooth skating defenseman with strong edgework and equally strong puck-handling abilities. Defensively he is not bad albeit a bit “erratic” at times. I see a high ceiling for Pavel and the possibility of becoming a top pairing, all situations d-man in the future. The overall package that he brings is what separates him for me from the other defensemen projected in this range (Korchinski and Mateychuk). Pavel is likely 1-2 years away from playing at the pro level.
10.) Marco Kasper – Center
Marco Kasper is a strong skating high energy forward from Austria. This past season he scored 7 goals and 11 points in 46 games with Rogle of the SHL, impressive numbers for a 17 year old. He has a decent amount of skill, a good shot and plays a smart 2-way game, but the main question with Kasper is regarding his offensive upside. It’s fairly easy to see him developing into a productive 3rd line center, but can he take the next steps to being a 2nd line center. I believe he can, as he has shown good offensive instincts and abilities against professionals in one of the stronger leagues in Europe. Kasper is likely a few years away from the NHL but he has an NHL future down the middle which any team will be happy to walk away with on draft day.
11.) Frank Nazar – Right Wing
Frank Nazar joins a deep group of players coming out of the US National Development Program. This past season he scored 28 goals and 70 points in 56 games. Nazar is an elite skater, among the best in this draft class and he frequently uses that speed to skate around defenders. Nazar also has a solid shot and is a decent playmaker. Overall there isn’t much question about whether Nazar is a high-end offensive talent. Defensively Nazar isn’t necessarily a liability, but it isn’t one of his strengths. He is under 6 feet tall but is physically strong and isn’t afraid to go to the tough areas of the ice. Similar to several of the other top picks in recent years, Nazar will be attending the University of Michigan where I would expect him to stay a couple of seasons before making the jump to pro hockey.
12.) Danila Yurov – Right Wing
Danila Yurov is a highly skilled and highly effective player coming out of Russia. He could be the first player to drop down teams draft boards due to the Russia factor despite having top 5 abilities in this draft. Yurov produced well in the Russian junior league this past season scoring 13 goals and 36 points in 23 games, however he received very limited minutes with Magnitogorsk’s KHL team and did not register a single point. Yurov plays an offensive focused game and does everything fairly well in the offensive zone. It’s unknown how long it would be before Yurov comes to North America and we likely won’t see him in international play due to the current ban on Russia’s participation in the WJC. He does project as a top 6 winger with first line upside.
13.) David Jiricek – Defenseman
Next up we have our 3rd defenseman in David Jiricek. Similar to Nemec, I’m a lot lower on Jiricek than others appear to be. He is a big defenseman with a solid all-around game but isn’t the best skater and likely doesn’t have the offensive ceiling of a player I’d be comfortable taking in the top 10. He plays a more physical game than the other d-men projected in the top half of the first round and is able shut down opposing forwards fairly well. Jiricek actually had a fairly productive season with Plzen of the Czech league scoring 5 goals and 11 points in 29 games. Similar to Mintyukov, Jiricek is a late ’03 birthday and is on the older side of the spectrum for draft eligible prospects. Jiricek will likely need another season or two in Europe before coming to the NHL. Jiricek’s ceiling could rise drastically if he improves his skating.
14.) Denton Mateychuk – Defenseman
Denton Mateychuk is an offensively gifted defenseman. This past season, playing with Moose Jaw of the WHL, Denton scored 13 goals and 64 points in 65 games. Denton is a very good skater with high-end top speed. He’s shifty and can use his footwork to carry the puck out of the zone as well as control the blueline in the offensive zone. Denton also has a decent shot, being able to hit the net regularly from the point. He might have the most high end offensive abilities of draft eligible d-men. Where Denton is lacking is in size at 5 foot 11 and with some of his decision making. I wouldn’t say he’s lacking in the way Ryan Merkley was when he was drafted by the Sharks but his defensive game and decision making will definitely need some development. He could develop into a top pairing defenseman based on his offensive abilities and he likely would run a power play in the future, but Denton is probably at least 1-2 years away from the NHL depending on how quick his defensive game improves.
15.) Brad Lambert – Right Wing
Brad Lambert is one of the more interesting players in this draft. Prior to this season he was projected to go top 4. He had a very successful 20-21 season in the Finnish Liiga as well as a strong showing at the WJC for Finland as a 16/17 year old but his development sort of stalled during the 21-22 season and actually failed to make the WJC team. His production declined and he struggled for long periods during the season. Lambert has a ton of skill, is a very good skater and is decent defensively. The issue is his compete level and lack of consistency. It will be interesting on draft day to see where Lambert goes as his ceiling is among the highest in the draft, but I personally don’t like the downward trend over the last year. That being said you can’t ignore his skill. He’s very much a boom or bust type with top 6 upside or the ability to never play in the NHL. Seattle of the WHL recently traded for his rights and it’s rumored he could be coming to North America to play juniors next season.
Sharks Draft Strategy / Prediction
With the Sharks picking at number 11 I’m really hoping one of the top names drops with a few other teams overrating a defenseman or possibly even a big center like Conor Geekie. Wright, Slafkovsky and Cooley are out of the question for the Sharks assuming they don’t move up and I’d likely guess that Nemec and Jiricek likely are as well with the consensus being very high on them and most scouts having them as the top 2 defenseman from this years crop. Gauthier probably doesn’t drop as he’s a much coveted power forward.
Where I get really interested is with Savoie, Kemell and Lekkerimaki. For the most part I have these 3 a few spots higher than the consensus and if the right domino’s fall, any of them could potentially drop to 11. Less likely for Kemell and Savoie than it is for Lekkerimaki who some have put as a mid first round pick, but still a possibility. These 3 are my “William Eklunds” of this years draft and it would be a steal for the Sharks to get one of them at number 11.
If those 3 fail to drop down to the Shark pick then I’m aiming for Mintyukov or Nazar for their upside and Kasper for his high likelihood of being at least a middle 6 Center. I wouldn’t be upset if the Sharks moved back to acquire additional picks but they really need an impact player with this years pick. In the end my guess is the Sharks will select Jonathan Lekkerimaki with the 11th overall pick.
A few additional names to keep an eye on for the first day of the draft. Liam Ohgren another teammate of William Eklund and skilled scoring and fairly tough forward. Ivan Miroshnichenko is a super talented forward with size who was originally slated for top 5 before a Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis and some injuries derailed his season. Conor Geekie is a giant center who could go top 10. Geekie has good offensive abilities and instincts but needs improvement with his skating. Kevin Korchinski is a skilled offensive minded defenseman from Seattle of the WHL. Lastly, Jagger Firkus is a very small but skilled offensive wizard from Moose Jaw of the WHL.