It’s that time of year where we turn the page on the previous draft and turn our attention to the upcoming edition: the 2022 NHL Draft.
And what a draft it will be.
There should be no surprises at the top of this class, as we’ve watched the exceptional Shane Wright in awe for years already. From being granted exceptional status into the Ontario Hockey League to winning CHL Rookie of the Year in 2019-20 to leading Canada to the 2021 IIHF World Under-18 gold medal, there’s no disputing he’s at the top of this class.
You can bet that NHL teams will be chomping at the bit to be able to get their jersey on him, too. There’s a reason the NHL updated the NHL Draft Lottery rules. But, after Wright, things will get interesting.
In FCHockey’s preliminary ranking for 2022, there are prospects from 12 different leagues and 10 different countries. It has the potential to be one of the most diverse first rounds we’ve seen.
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From the No. 2 spot on, positions are very much up for grabs. While players like Brad Lambert and Matthew Savoie once seemed locks to round out the top three, a wave of Slovak and Russian prospects have entered that conversation after turning heads over the past year. And, you can’t count out the Americans in this class either, who could charge up the rankings.
It’s a long season and this list will change a great deal before the 2022 NHL Draft kicks off July 7 in Montreal. Between now and then, FCHockey will be getting eyes on some players for the first time in 19 months and the upcoming draft could have some big surprises in store. It’s gearing up to be a very exciting season.
With the 2022 NHL Draft only nine months away, here’s how FCHockey preliminarily ranks the top-32.
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As mentioned, there are no surprises here. Wright looks to have this spot on lockdown and barring a shocking performance from him, and one of the next handful of names, he might just run the course of the season on the top of every list. From his remarkable intelligence to his elite shot and from his maturity to his impressive leadership skills, Wright is a talent that could change an NHL team’s fortunes. After losing the 2020-21 OHL season due to the COVID-19 cancellation, we could be in store for a massive season from the top prospect. If there’s one prospect you follow all year, it needs to be Wright.
Playing in Slovakia’s top men’s league, Nemec has been capturing attention at international levels including the 2021 World Junior Championship, 2021 Men’s World Championship, Olympic Qualifiers, and the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. We’ve seen him against his peers, and we like what we’ve seen. He’s a gifted two-way presence that shows intelligence at both ends of the ice. He doesn’t have this spot on lockdown by any means, but he’s captured the attention of scouts at FCHockey.
A name that you might have been expecting at No. 2 on this list, Lambert’s inconsistency last season has dropped him from the No. 1 conversation into what will be a battle for that second spot; however, that is not a slight against the talent he possesses. The skilled forward spent last season in Finland’s top men’s league, the Liiga. His ability to take over a game offensively, his edgework, and his playmaking stand out as top skills in this class. The hope is that he can carve out more time for himself at the Liiga level and improve his consistency.
There’s going to be a battle for who will be the top Russian of this class, but for right now Miroshnichenko takes the spot. The winger has built hype and excitement around himself for years now, captaining gold medal-winning Russian teams and standing out against older competition. His shot looks ready for the NHL level and his ability to fire it from anywhere makes him a threat whenever he touches the puck. His ability to read defenses and get himself into these scoring chances is among the best in this class.
He may have been in the shadow of Miroshnichenko in the lead-up to this season, but Yurov has exploded onto the draft scene. The winger is already at the KHL level, thanks to his two-way prowess, high competitiveness and intelligence. Mix that with his high offensive skill and ability to drive the play — even when playing against men — make him a top prospect for the 2022 draft. He could make a push for the top Russian spot, and even higher in this class, especially if he sticks in the KHL.
While Wright was on the sidelines last season waiting for the OHL season to kick off, Savoie played wherever he could, spending time in both the AJHL and the USHL. Now, with a full WHL season getting set, the promising young prospect is back and ready to take the league by storm. His offensive skill is remarkable in that it can adapt to what’s needed at the moment. You need a goalscorer? He can be the guy. Need a playmaker? Get ready for his vision to be on display. Want a power forward? He’ll drive his way to the net and bulldoze opponents. While the WHL focus might be on 2023-eligible Connor Bedard, Savoie deserves some of the limelight as well.
Another top Slovak in this class, Slafkovsky has taken his talents to Finland, where he’s been playing since 2019-20. After spending last season in the U20 SM-sarja, it looks like he’s made the jump to the Liiga level to stay. A big forward with a great shot, what’s most impressive are his soft hands that you don’t expect with a player of his size. He plays a patient game that is beyond his years, with high-end playmaking ability. While he’s at No. 7 on this list, he — and those above him — are all in the No. 2 conversation.
A big-bodied centerman that seems unable to avoid putting up points, McGroarty is FCHockey’s top American in the preliminary ranking (but even that race is tight). He finds open space so well, always presenting himself as a scoring threat. The Nebraska native fights hard to move to the net-front and get open. With the puck, he can be the playmaker as well, showing good vision and hitting teammates with crisp passes and a great scoring chance. He might be the best goal-scorer in the class and if you get the chance to watch him in action, his offensive ability will be hard to miss.
While it looks like Savoie will be the star in Winnipeg, Geekie should be right there with him. After starting last season in the MJHL, Geekie went nearly a point-per-game in the WHL last year. Now entering his draft year, expect him to exceed that mark — especially if he’s on the ice with Savoie. The center brings size and skill to his game; a power forward with an ability to produce at a high level. His ability to control the puck is dominant at times and he’s very much a threat to climb these rankings as the season goes on.
Already stealing the show early in the 2021-22 season, Kemell has become a favourite in this class. The Finnish forward is another top goal-scorer and has a full arsenal of shots, which he knows how to use. He has great speed that defenders still seem to not give him credit for, as he often catches them flat-footed and blows right past. He has great hands and a nice passing ability. He’s exploded onto the scene this season, starting in the Liiga and it doesn’t look like he’s looking back.
Along with McGroarty, Howard is a strong contender for the top American in the class and could slide right into the top-10. With a quick release and a ton of power behind his shot, he is right there with his fellow American as a threat to find the twine. Howard can dish it out too though, with high-end playmaking abilities and is a clutch performer, able to step his game up when the game is on the line. The US-NTDP is a ton of fun this season and Howard is a big part of that.
A regular with the U18 team last season, Cooley is a two-way center that drives the play. While he generates speed with the puck on his stick, his actions away from the puck are arguably more impressive. He angles out and reads the play well while supporting his defenders, getting into the passing lanes and stealing pucks with ease. He’ll be a fixture of the US-NTDP team and could find himself in the top-10 as the season progresses.
The top Swedish player in the class, Salomonsson is one of the best defenders in this class. A strong candidate to push up the draft board, his knowledge of how to play in his own end is very impressive at just 17. He uses his long reach to get into the passing lanes, pressure attackers, and steal pucks. He also brings some offensive skill to his game with an ability to produce points and is going to be a fun one to keep an eye on this season.
The top prospect from the QMJHL, Luneau is a right-hand defenseman that seems to have been in the spotlight for years already. Stepping right into the league last season, he was a key part of the blue line for Gatineau and should be a top player again in 2021-22. Extremely well-rounded, he brings skating, size and excellent awareness at both ends of the ice. He should be a scout favorite this season thanks in part to his well-composed play and high intelligence on the ice.
The top American defenseman in the class, Chesley will draw interest as a right-hand shot and his remarkable four-way skating ability. He plays aggressive defensively, keeping attackers to the outside with excellent body positioning and strong stickwork. He also protects the middle of the ice so well and if needed, is able to throw his body around and separate players from the puck with physicality. One of the top defenders in the class, he will be highly coveted by organizations.
After Czech-defender Stanislav Svozil was a first-round contender all last season, this year will see Jiricek take that spot. Entering his second season in the Czech Republic’s top men’s league, the defender could be a top-10 challenger as the season goes on. A two-way presence with above-average skating, Jiricek is very much one of the best defenders in this class. He defends well, protecting the middle lane and using his range to break up plays.
This is where it could get interesting. McConnell-Barker lost his entire 2020-21 OHL campaign. While this season is crucial for all of the draft eligibles, those that missed their draft minus-1 year are coming with one less year of development. Scouts haven’t seen these players in-game situations in over a year, so these players will need to prove themselves that much more. McConnell-Barker has great speed to go along with a hard shot, and seeing how these have improved over the last 19 months will be very interesting to see.
Carried by his impressive skating, Casey is another skilled player from the US-NTDP that has been capturing attention. He needs to put on some weight, but the quick defenseman’s offensive skill and transition ability stand out in spades. He has high-end edgework and is extremely creative in his footwork. This makes him elusive and he can surprise the opposition with his navigation of the ice. While undersized, his mobility will be a wanted asset.
Ostlund is a well-rounded, creative center who looks to be the top Swedish forward in the class. He has great speed and knows how to use it by playing at a high pace and aggressively driving play whenever he’s on the ice. Ostlund reads the play very well, and might just be one of the hardest guys to play against in the class. After a strong start to his 2021-22 season, expect him to make the jump to the SHL sooner rather than later.
Like McConnell-Barker, Fimis lost his draft minus-1 season with the OHL cancellation. After putting up 104 points (41 goals, 63 assists) with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens in 2019-20, there was a ton of excitement around Fimis taking the step up. Now that it’s happening, that excitement is still there. While he has a smaller frame, the center isn’t afraid of physicality and staying balanced. He’s a strong stickhandler — perhaps one of the best in the class — and loves to play hard around the net.
The US-NTDP won’t have any issues finding the back of the net this season, as Nazar is yet another goal-scoring forward on the American team. He’s so impressive at fighting his way to the front of the net and getting into the high-danger areas. Once there, he has a quick, accurate shot that can blow past the netminder. His offensive game will carry him, but he’s also impressive in his own zone, knowing when to collapse and support his defense.
The first overall pick in the 2020 OHL Draft, Nelson is another player that sat last year. Slightly undersized, Nelson makes it up with strong skating ability and flair for offense. He excels in his transition game and often steals attention when he’s on the ice. Nelson is one of the players that scouts will be most excited to see how he has progressed since he last hit the ice.
The second QMJHL player on this list is entering his third season, Gaucher has shown impressive improvements year-over-year. A versatile power forward with great size and strength, he is a physical presence that brings a remarkable amount of skill as well. Going over a point-per-game last season, expect him to continue his ascension this season as he looks to maintain and improve his draft stock.
The top Austrian in the class, Kasper has been developing his skill in Sweden with Rogle BK over the past two seasons. After getting 10 games at the SHL level in 2020-21, it looks like the forward could become a fixture on the top-Rogle squad this season. A versatile forward with excellent skating skills, Kasper is always an offensive threat. His playmaking can surprise defenders with a quick, sneaky pass in tight spaces. As he gets used to the SHL level, he could be a riser on draft boards throughout the season.
Another US-NTDP player? You bet. Gauthier’s name hasn’t been around as much as the others, but it will be. Born in Sweden and raised in Scottsdale, Ariz., the winger is a power forward that — you guessed it — knows how to put the puck in the net. He has good size and an impressive shot, which when combined with his hockey sense, make him a formidable force whenever he’s on the ice.
A player that has been on the radar for a number of years now, Persson spent time last season in both the J20 Nationell and the SHL, which he looks to replicate this year. A very strong skater — perhaps one of the best in the class — Persson uses excellent acceleration and utilizes crossovers to blow past opponents often. He’s agile, elusive, and handles the puck well, a dangerous combination. Don’t be shocked if he shoots up draft boards as the season goes on.
A two-way defender, Forsmark is already showing off his talents at the professional level in Sweden. A large reason that he’s reached the SHL at such a young age is due to his decision-making. He plays well above his age, looking like a mature veteran in his own end at times. He plays hard and never gives up on a play, especially in his own end. He keeps an active stick and scans the ice very well. His skating and offensive game leave something to be desired, but his maturity and defensive game are very intriguing.
A mobile, puck-moving defender with great size, Bichsel represents yet another country in our first round. The Swiss blueliner will make sure scouts notice him, bringing an impressive physical edge to his game. You might not expect it, but he also shows off some strong puck skills to his game. Bichsel screams a player that NHL teams will love, a defender with skill and a strong, physical presence. He looks to be sticking in the SHL this season, which should only help him rise up draft boards.
Do you like goals? Look no further. Lekkerimaki has the power, skill and vision to torment goaltenders. He can drive the net with regularity, yet seems to take a different path every time. He has a dangerous shot and knows how to get creative to score, even setting himself up with a rebound when needed. Year-over-year, he’s a threat to lead his league in goals. That should be more than enough to garner attention from NHL scouts.
As we saw at the 2020 NHL Draft, Germany is a nation to watch on the hockey scene and that remains the case as Lutz looks to be another German first-rounder. After playing most of his career in Austria, he looks to have made the jump to the top men’s league in Germany, the DEL. He’s a big, hard forechecking winger that can bring offensive skill and is an agile skater with impressive edgework.
The final US-NTDP player projected within the first round, Hutson might just be one of the more exciting guys. His skating is among the best in the class, and he has the ability to navigate the offensive zone while creating plays. That same skill may be slightly lacking in his own zone, but his offensive game is enough to keep him in the top round. He has some work to do, but if he can improve his play in the defensive zone, he could shoot up these rankings.
Mateychuk has a similar profile to Hutson. As a mobile, offensive defenseman that seems to always look to jump into the rush (his skating is exceptional) and create scoring opportunities, he can also quarterback the power play. However, like Hutson, his defensive play is a work in progress. He’ll need to improve his gap control and stick positioning, but his offensive play will help mask those faults at the junior level. To take his game to the next level, that defensive game will need to take a step forward this season.
For FCHockey’s full list of the top 100, click here.
Josh Bell is a scout and the director of content for FCHockey.