The 2022 NHL Entry Draft is quickly approaching. For anybody wondering how important that is in the big scheme of things, look no further than the recently crowned Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.
Colorado relied heavily on Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Bowen Byram, who were all selected by the Avalanche in the top 10 in the NHL Entry Draft. While nobody knows if Shane Wright will become the next Nathan MacKinnon or if Simon Nemec will impact his team the way that Makar does, that is the hope of every team picking early in the draft.
The NHL betting lines list Wright (-350) as the favorite to go to the Montreal Canadiens with the top pick. However, Juraj Slafkovsky is getting closer to Wright as the draft approaches.
The NHL Draft will be held in Montreal on July 7-8. After Montreal, the other top picks are by the New Jersey Devils, Arizona Coyotes, Seattle Kraken and Philadelphia Flyers.
Here is a look at the top prospects.
The Wright Stuff
Wright certainly looked the part of a potential No. 1 pick for Kingston in the Ontario Hockey League. He had 32 goals and 62 assists in 63 games during the 2021-22 season. Wright added three goals and 11 assists in 11 playoff games.
Wright missed the previous season. When he returned, he not only piled up the points but finished in the top 10 in the OHL in faceoffs won. His ability to play in both ends of the ice has some suggesting that he has a little bit of Selke Trophy-winning Patrice Bergeron in his style of play and attention to detail.
— Kingston Frontenacs (@KingstonFronts) June 29, 2022
The odds have dropped for Wright to be the top pick from -500 to -350. Slafkovsky is the only other player thought to have a chance to go first.
The last time a player went first overall out of the OHL was in 2015, when Connor McDavid went to the Edmonton Oilers.
There was no doubt that McDavid was going to be the top pick. There could be a little more drama this time around.
If it is Wright, the Canadiens would love to see him become that type of player, considering that McDavid led the NHL in scoring both during the regular season and in the playoffs in 2021-22. Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Aaron Ekblad are among the other recent No. 1 overall selections out of the OHL.
Who’s No. 2?
The New Jersey Devils moved up from fifth to second during the NHL Draft lottery. Now they get to add a player to a constantly growing list of high-end players.
Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, had a breakthrough season with 56 points in 49 games in an injury-shortened season. Dawson Mercer had an impressive rookie campaign while Hughes’ brother, Luke, is an exciting defensive prospect who went fourth overall in 2021.
The question is, who will be the next top-five pick by New Jersey?
Slafkovsky would bring some size as a 6-foot-4 left wing out of Slovakia. He had seven goals in seven games in the Olympics despite playing against players older than him.
New Jersey hasn’t been shy about taking talented American-born players even if they are a little undersized. If the Devils go that way, Logan Cooley could be the choice.
Something to note for those who bet online, Slafkovsky is at +175 to be the No. 1 overall pick compared to +1800 for Cooley. If Montreal passes on Wright, it should not take long for New Jersey to pick him.
Case for the Defense
Two defensemen have gone within the top six picks in each of the last three drafts, including the most recent Calder Trophy winner, Moritz Seider of the Detroit Red Wings, and Owen Power, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft.
Nemec had a huge postseason in Slovakia with Nitra MHC with five goals and 12 assists in 19 games. This came after he had 45 points in 76 games over the last two seasons. As if he wasn’t already high up on draft boards, putting up six points in eight games in the IIHF World Championships caught the attention of every NHL team.
Will it be enough for him to break into the top three? The sportsbook listed the total at 4½ for Nemec’s draft position. The moneyline is -800 for him to go within the first four selections.
Another top European prospect on defense is the 6-foot-3 David Jiricek, who had five goals in 29 games for Plzen HC in the Czech Republic. The moneyline is set at -250 for Jiricek to go in the first five picks.
If New Jersey and Arizona both go with forwards, Seattle would have its pick of the best defensive prospect followed by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Kevin Kochinski (61 points in 65 games in the WHL) and Pavel Mintyukov (17 goals, 45 assists at Saginaw of the OHL) are other defensemen to keep an eye on.
Blue Jackets, Sabres to Be Busy
Nine of the 32 first-round picks have changed hands with more movement likely to happen before the first round is over.
The result of Columbus trading defenseman Seth Jones to Chicago and the Buffalo Sabres dealing Jack Eichel to the Vegas Golden Knights is that four of the top 16 selections will be taken by Columbus and Buffalo.
The Blue Jackets hold picks Nos. 6 and 12 while Buffalo currently holds selections Nos. 9, 16 and 28. Minnesota, which traded veteran winger Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles, will pick at 19th and 24th. Anaheim will select 10th and 22nd and Montreal holds pick No. 26 as well as the top choice. After picking third overall, Arizona will be back on the clock at 27 and 32. Finally, Winnipeg has selections Nos. 14 and 30.
Playing the Waiting Game
One of the main questions that surface throughout the first round is how long will it take for the top picks to break into the NHL?
Cole Sillinger, the No. 12 overall pick in 2021, led the way with 79 games, collecting 16 goals and 15 assists. After picking third overall, Arizona will be back on the clock at 27 and 32.
Once Michigan was eliminated from the NCAA tournament, No. 1 pick Power, No. 2 choice Matty Beniers and No. 5 selection Kent Johnson headed to the NHL with Buffalo, Seattle and Columbus, respectively. No. 3 pick Mason McTavish played nine games early in the season and the same was the case with San Jose’s William Eklund.