It’s a photo finish for the No. 1 spot on TSN’s 2022 NHL Draft Final Ranking and, by the slimmest of margins, it’s Juraj Slafkovsky over Shane Wright.
Five of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN ranked the 6-foot-4 Slovak left winger at No. 1, while four scouts slotted the Kingston Frontenac centre in the top spot.
The headline will be that it’s the first time this season — that includes pre-season rankings in September; mid-season rankings in January; draft lottery edition rankings in April; and now the final rankings in June — that someone other than Wright is No. 1.
Slafkovsky was ranked No. 5 at mid-season but used two stellar international performances, at the Olympics and the men’s world championship, to vault to TSN’s No. 1 spot heading into the draft in Montreal on July 7-8.
There are, however, two points worth noting.
One, if you were to survey another group of 10 scouts, you could very well end up with the same 5-4 split, but in favour of Wright. It’s really that tight in the eyes of so many scouts.
Two, this “consensus” ranking has nothing to do with the preference of the team — the Montreal Canadiens — that is picking first overall. Club order of draft selection is not a factor in our survey of scouts and TSN’s ranking of players.
“It’s a peculiar draft year,” said one NHL team head scout. “Neither one of them [Slafkovsky or Wright] are locks to be first-line players in the NHL. I’m not saying one or the other couldn’t become first liners, they’re both good prospects, but unlike a lot of years, this draft doesn’t have any great prospects. There are no slam dunks. There are things I like about both guys, but I have some reservations, too.”
The five scouts who put Slafkovsky at No. 1 on their lists do believe he has the best chance to be upgraded from a sure-fire top-six forward to a top-line NHL winger.
“What separates Slafkovsky from Wright for me is that he’s bigger, he played harder, he was more consistent with his competitiveness, and he stepped up to produce on big stages [Olympics and world championship],” another NHL head scout said. “In my view, he has the best chance to be a first-line NHL forward.”
Slafkovsky was ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 by nine of our 10 scouts. One had him at No. 4.
Wright’s game left some scouts wanting more from him, especially in terms of competitiveness and goal scoring. But he’s still viewed as having a more mature, well-rounded game than Slafkovsky. He’s also a better skater.
The scouts who had Wright at No. 1 on their lists said he got extra marks for playing a premium position (centre) and still putting up 94 points in 63 games in what many would concede was a disappointing season. Disappointing, that is, relative to his brilliant 2019-20 OHL rookie season (39 goals and 66 points in 58 games) and outstanding underage performance at the 2021 U-18 World Championship. That tournament was the only hockey Wright played in 2020-21 because of COVID-19.
Eight of our 10 scouts ranked Wright either No. 1 or No. 2, but two scouts had him at No. 3.
One club executive nicely summed up the dilemma in choosing between Slafkovsky and Wright.
“Teams who rank Slafkovsky at No. 1 are struggling with Wright’s draft year being so average [compared to prior seasons],” he said. “Teams who like Wright at No. 1 can’t forget what they saw in Wright’s first OHL season and the 2021 U-18 world championship.”
There’s a lot to pick apart on both sides of the equation.
“Those [Wright’s first OHL season and U-18 performance] seem like such a long time ago,” another scout said.
“Slafkovsky was great at the Olympics and worlds, but he only scored five goals in [Finland’s] Liiga this season and went some really long stretches without scoring a goal at all,” said another scout.
Multiple scouts freely admitted that five years from now, the best player from the 2022 draft could be someone not named Slafkovsky or Wright. Some of them said they’re not necessarily convinced the top two picks in the draft will be Slafkovsky and Wright or vice versa.
To that end, here are thumbnail sketches of the remaining eight prospects in TSN’s Top 10:
3. Logan Cooley: The U.S. U-18 national team centre was the only prospect besides Slafkovsky and Wright to get a No. 1 vote from our panel of scouts, but also got a few votes at No. 2. At 5-foot-10 1/2, the skilled pivot has some dynamic offensive ability, especially in terms of his one-on-one play and a willingness to go to hard areas on the ice to score goals. Most scouts project him as a high-end second-line centre in the NHL with a chance to develop into a 1C. Size and not consistently using his linemates to maximum effectiveness are two things that could prevent that from happening.
4. Simon Nemec: The 6-foot, 199-pound Slovak is a smooth-skating, intelligent defenceman who is a highly efficient puck mover with a solid two-way game. He doesn’t possess elite or wow factor offensive ability and he’s not a punishing physical defender, but his skating and smarts give him the assets to be a No. 2 or No. 3 NHL blueliner. He was as high as No. 2 and as low as No. 7 in our survey of scouts.
5. Cutter Gauthier: The U.S. U-18 national team forward has NHL size (6-foot-2 1/2 and 200 pounds), speed, and a goal-scorer’s nose for the net, which is to say he has the requisite tools to be a top-six, two-way NHL power forward. Though Gauthier played some centre this season, most scouts seem to think he projects more as a pro winger. In our scout survey, Gauthier was as high as No. 3 and as low as No. 10.
6. David Jiricek: The Czech missed a good chunk of this season with a knee injury suffered at the World Junior Championship, but the 6-foot-3 blueliner has the size, bite, and physical tools to play a shutdown role. He’s viewed by some scouts as limited offensively, but in a draft filled with sub-6-foot puck movers, Jiricek’s size and physical approach stand out. His skating is good but not great, and he projects as solid top-four defenceman who, like Nemec, could be a 2-3. He was ranked as high as No. 5 and as low as No. 12 in our scouting survey.
7. Joakim Kemell: The smallish (5-foot-9-1/2) Finn is an attacking, goal-scoring winger who plays a dynamic, high-energy, albeit inconsistent, game. Some scouts view him as a legit threat to crack the top five — he ranged from as high as No. 4 to as low as No. 14 in our survey — and one suggested he’s a candidate to develop into the best player in the entire draft because of a high offensive ceiling. He projects as a top-six NHL scoring forward.
8. Jonathan Lekkerimaki: The somewhat undersized (5-foot-10-1/2) Swedish winger has a big-time shot and high-end finishing ability and performed at a high level at the 2022 U-18 World Championship. He might not have quite the same offensive pizzazz as Kemell, but he still projects as a top-six scoring forward. Our scouting survey ranked him as high as No. 4 and as low as No. 17.
9. Matt Savoie: The Winnipeg Ice 5-foot-9 centre is a quick, gifted, and skilled, albeit undersized, offensive presence who can score goals and make plays. Some NHL scouts see him more as a winger than a centre, but high-end smarts and skill level project him to be a top-six offensive forward in pro. He was ranked as high as No. 6 and as low as No. 15 in our survey.
10. Marco Kasper: The Austrian 6-foot-1 centre can play all three forward positions and his overall game is as mature and complete as it is versatile. The critical question is: what’s his offensive upside? Those who believe he has considerable offensive potential say he’s a threat to be a top-five prospect in this draft. Those who see him as more offensively limited have him outside the top 10. His range in our survey was as high as No. 5 and as low as 21. But most everyone agrees he’s mature on and off the ice, and one of the best all-around prospects with high character and work ethic. At best, he projects as a 2C; at worst, a 3C.
It feels like this year’s draft could see a lot of movement from these consensus rankings. That is, players slotted from Nos. 6 to 10 could be taken a few spots higher but could also go a half dozen spots later.
If it’s extremely tight at the top end of the draft with Slafkovsky and Wright, and it is, it also holds true throughout much of the first round. There’s just not as much separation and fewer defined tiers of talent this year compared to others.
The players ranked 11 to 13 on the TSN list — Seattle Thunderbird defenceman Kevin Korchinski, Saginaw Spirit defenceman Pavel Mintyukov and Winnipeg Ice centre Conor Geekie — are all considered legit threats to displace someone in the top 10.
Many of the players ranked from Nos. 33 to around 50 on TSN’s list got enough consideration as first-round picks from scouts that they could move into the Top 32.
Some other notes about TSN’s first-round rankings:
- There are no goalies in the Top 32. In fact, the top-ranked goalie is Prince George Cougar Tyler Brennan, who checks in at No. 62 on TSN’s Top 100 rankings. The only other goalie ranked by TSN is Finn Topias Leinonen, who is at No. 71.
- It’s not looking like a banner year for Canadians in the draft. TSN ranked only two Canadians in the top 10 — Wright at No. 2 and Savoie at No. 9 — and just nine in the top 32. The nationality breakdown for TSN’s Top 32 is as follows: Canada (nine); United States (eight); Sweden, Russia and Slovakia (three each); Czechia and Finland (two apiece); and Austria and Switzerland (one each).
- One of the major storylines to follow will be how Russian prospects will be dealt with by the 32 NHL clubs. The war with Ukraine and resulting sanctions have some NHL clubs unsure of how to proceed with Russian prospects, especially those who are playing and living in Russia.
Some scouts said they’re awaiting direction from ownership and/or management on policy or guidelines for drafting Russian players. Some teams may proceed as they usually do, but there is a sense some others may shy away from taking Russians.
Mind you, there seems to be a distinction being made between Russians who are already playing in North America versus the Russians playing in Russia.
It was more difficult to get consensus rankings on the Russians this year because not all teams are ranking Russians as they have in the past. Some NHL clubs have created a separate list of Russian prospects. Some teams have factored in a more emphatic “Russian factor” in their rankings, while still other teams have ranked all players, including Russians, based purely on hockey-playing ability.
Two of the three Russians ranked in TSN’s Top 32 — forward Danila Yurov at No. 14 and forward Ivan Miroshnichenko at No. 19 — are wild cards of sorts. Saginaw’s Mintyukov, at No. 12, is not viewed with the same uncertainty.
Since he didn’t play big minutes in the KHL, Yurov was perhaps a tougher read for the scouts, but he has been a Top 10 or thereabouts prospect most of the year.
Miroshnichenko is the draft’s biggest wild card. He started the season as a consensus Top 5 pick but now there’s no telling when he might be selected. In addition to the shadow of sanctions due to the war with Ukraine, Miroshnichenko had to overcome a series of injuries that slowed him, and then was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
By all accounts, his treatments went well, and he’s been cleared to resume both on and off ice training, but team doctors and/or team owners could have as much say on Miroshnichenko’s draft status as the scouts or general managers.
Teams that have multiple first-round picks are seen as well positioned to perhaps make value selections on Russian players who might be available later than they would under normal circumstances.
The truth is no one seems to know for sure how the Russians will be considered in this year’s draft.
RK Player Team
1 Juraj Slafkovsky TPS (SM Liiga Jr.)
2 Shane Wright Kingston (OHL)
3 Logan Cooley USA U-18 (USHL)
4 Simon Nemec Nitra (SVK)
5 Cutter Gauthier USA U-18 (USHL)
6 David Jiricek Plzen (CZE)
7 Joakim Kemell JYP (SM Liiga)
8 Jonathan Lakkerimaki Djurgardens (SWE J-20)
9 Matt Savoie Winnipeg (WHL)
10 Marco Kasper Rögle (SHL)
11 Kevin Korchinski Seattle (WHL)
12 Pavel Mintyukov Saginaw (OHL)
13 Conor Geekie Winnipeg (WHL)
14 Danila Yurov Magnitogorsk (KHL)
15 Frank Nazar USA U-18 (USHL)
16 Brad Lambert JYP (SM Liiga)
17 Jimmy Snuggerud USA U-18 (USHL)
18 Jiří Kulich Karlovy (CZE)
19 Ivan Miroshnichenko Omsk (VHL)
20 Isaac Howard USA U-18 (USHL)
21 Liam Öhgren Djurgardens (SWE J-20)
22 Noah Östlund Djurgarden (SWE J-20)
23 Owen Pickering Swift Current
24 Denton Mateychuk Moose Jaw (WHL)
25 Ryan Chesley USA U-18 (USHL)
26 Lian Bichsel Leksands (SHL)
27 Rutger McGroarty USA U-18 (USHL)
28 Nathan Gaucher Quebec (QMJHL)
29 Luca Del Bel Belluz Mississauga (OHL)
30 Filip Mesar Poprad (SVK)
31 Sam Rinzel Chaska High (USHS)
32 Tristan Luneau Gatineau (QMJHL)
33 Owen Beck Mississauga (OHL)
34 Jagger Firkus Moose Jaw (WHL)
35 Jack Hughes Northeastern (NCAA)
36 Calle Odelius Djurgardens (SWE J-20)
37 Reid Schaefer Seattle (WHL)
38 Mattias Havelid Linkoping (SWE J-20)
39 Alexander Perevalov Yaroslavl (MHL)
40 Lane Hutson USA U-18 (USHL)
41 Noah Warren Gatineau (QMJHL)
42 Filip Bystedt Linköping (SWE J-20)
43 Cameron Lund Green Bay (USHL)
44 Maverick Lamoreux Drummondville (QMJHL)
45 David Goyette Sudbury (OHL)
46 Matyas Sapovaliv Saginaw (OHL)
47 Fraser Minten Kamloops (WHL)
48 Danil Zhilkin Guelph (OHL)
49 Julian Lutz München (DEL)
50 Ty Nelson North Bay (OHL)
51 Seamus Casey USA U-18 (USHL)
52 Rieger Lorenz Okotoks (AJHL)
53 Elias Salomonsson Skellefteå (SWE J-20)
54 Adam Ingram Youngtown (USHL)
55 Jani Nyman Ilves (SM Liiga Jr.)
56 Tomas Hamara Tappara (SM Liiga Jr.)
57 Gleb Trikozov Omsk (MHL)
58 Bryce McConnell-Barker Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
59 Ryan Greene Green Bay (USHL)
60 Paul Ludwinski Kingston (OHL)
61 Dylan James Sioux City (USHL)
62 Tyler Brennan Prince George (WHL)
63 Adam Sykora Nitra (SVK)
64 Mats Lindgren Kamloops (WHL)
65 Topi Ronni Tappara (SM Liiga Jr.)
66 Aleksanteri Kaskimaki HIFK (SM Liiga Jr.)
67 Devin Kaplan USA U-18 (USHL)
68 Hunter Haight Barrie (OHL)
69 Isaiah George London (OHL)
70 Simon Forsmark Orebro (SWE J-20)
71 Topias Leinonen JYP (SM Liiga Jr.)
72 Jordan Gustafson Seattle (WHL)
73 Michael Buchinger Guelph (OHL)
74 Matthew Poitras Guelph (OHL)
75 Josh Filmon Swift Current (WHL)
76 Jake Karabela Guelph (OHL)
77 Kirill Dolzhenkov Moskva (MHL)
78 Christian Kyrou Erie (OHL)
79 Artyom Duda Moskva (MHL)
80 Vinzenz Rohrer Ottawa (OHL)
81 Jorian Donovan Hamilton (OHL)
82 Kasper Kulonummi Jokerit (SM Liiga Jr.)
83 Gavin Hayes Flint (OHL)
84 Spencer Sova Erie (OHL)
85 Cruz Lucius USA U-18 (USHL)
86 Arseni Koromyslov St. Petersburg (MHL)
87 Ben MacDonald Noble & Greenough (USHS)
88 Vladimir Grudinin Moskva (MHL)
89 Alexander Suzdalev HV 71 (SWE J-20)
90 Miko Matikka Jokerit (SM Liiga Jr.)
HM Marek Alscher Portland (WHL)
HM Lucas Edmonds Kingston (OHL)
HM George Fegaras North York (OJHL)
HM Quinn Finley Madison (USHL)
HM Nick Moldenhauer Chicago (USHL)
HM Viktor Neuchev Yekaterinburg (MHL)
HM Filip Nordberg Sodertalje (SWE J-20)
HM Otto Salin HIFK (SM Liiga Jr.)
HM Fabian Wagner Linkoping (SWE J-20)
HM Jace Weir Red Deer (WHL)