It is still the Shane Wright Draft.
For now, anyway.
To be clear, though, the Kingston Frontenac centre’s top-prospect status is by no means a sure thing – even if nine of 10 scouts ranked the Burlington, Ont., native first on TSN’s 2022 Mid-Season NHL Draft Rankings.
“I think [Wright’s] first half-performance has left the door open for someone to unseat him,” said one of the 10 scouts surveyed by TSN to determine consensus rankings aimed at projecting where in the draft players are likely to be chosen.
“[No. 1] is absolutely still up for grabs,” said another scout.
Bear in mind that these two scouts, while voicing some concerns, still currently have Wright atop their lists. But they would like to see more from him. And from the other contenders for No. 1, for that matter.
Two forces appear to be at work here — Wright’s so-so performance thus far this season combined with the other top prospects, who could conceivably challenge him for No. 1, not fully seizing the opportunity.
Wright’s game has been, to varying degrees, viewed as underwhelming, especially when weighed against the high expectations coming into the 2021-22 season. High expectations, one should add, that Wright created for himself by his outstanding play prior to this season.
It isn’t that Wright has been a bust or that scouts are skeptical of him as a high-end NHL prospect. He’s fully expected to be a good NHL player, but the scouts are looking for more great than good from the No. 1 overall pick. Wright’s game this season has lacked any sort of “wow” factor or “dynamic” aspect.
All of which has come as a rather notable surprise.
Wright was awarded exceptional player status by Hockey Canada in 2019, allowing him to enter the OHL as a 15-year-old for the 2019-20 OHL season. He didn’t disappoint either, scoring 39 goals and 66 points in 58 games as a rookie.
Wright didn’t play in the 2020-21 OHL season because the league was shut down by the pandemic, but he was able to play as an underage player in the 2021 Under-18 World Championship in Texas, where he was absolutely outstanding in helping to lead Canada to the gold medal.
All of that led to Wright being a unanimous 10-for-10 No. 1 in TSN’s pre-season draft rankings in late September, before the OHL 2021-22 season began. He went into this season being projected as a bona fide No. 1 NHL centre, though many scouts have since downgraded that projection to no better than a No. 2 NHL centre.
Wright’s numbers have been trending in the wrong direction this season. His .67 goals per game as a 15-year-old OHL rookie has dropped to .48 this season. His points per game have improved — 1.14 as a 15-year-old to 1.24 as a now 17-year-old — but so much more was expected in his draft year.
At the, albeit abbreviated, 2022 World Junior Championship, Wright was, at best, just okay in a really small sample size. Scouts were hoping Wright, and his 2022 draft challengers, would use the World Juniors to define and assert themselves. That didn’t happen. Wright’s play raised more questions than it answered.
Nevertheless, only one scout surveyed by TSN actually took the leap and dropped Wright from the No. 1 spot, putting Russian winger Ivan Miroshnichenko at the top of his mid-season rankings.
“[Wright] was great coming out of the U-18s last year but it was a really small sample size,” the scout said. “I have concerns for his lack of dominance this season. For me, Miroshnichenko has a higher ceiling.”
Here is a sampling of comments from some scouts who still have Wright at No. 1 but are expressing some reservations:
“His engagement has been good, his production underwhelming given the expectations,” one said. “Overall, I could say [Wright] is an above-average prospect but not where you would think a No. 1 overall pick should be.”
“He’s not played with enough urgency or determination,” said another scout. “He’s not been carrying his team or competitive enough in puck battles. He really needs to step it up in the second half.”
“Just alright in my viewings,” said a third scout.
“His performance has not been special in any way,” said a fourth scout, who anticipated Wright would, in fact, be special. “He does not have a lot of energy in his game right now.”
“He has not played with the vigour or passion to score as he has in years past,” said a fifth scout, who feels Wright could solidify No. 1 if he rediscovers his game. “If he plays the way he did [at the U-18] in Texas las year, he’ll run away with No. 1.”
No one doubts Wright has the tools to be a good NHL player, but if he’s going to be No. 1, he will have to demonstrate them on a more consistent basis. But he’s still at the top of the draft pile. Not every scout is sounding the alarm.
“I don’t have a big issue [with his game],” a sixth scout opined. “He is still over a point per game and the problem is a lot of people expect him to be at 2.5 points per game. He’s going to be a second-line centre in the NHL. He’ll be reliable and coaches will love his work ethic, tools and hockey sense.”
And many scouts still rave about his shot and conscientious commitment to play an all-around game, featuring maturity beyond his years when he doesn’t have the puck.
As for Wright’s competition for No. 1, there’s the rub. The feeling amongst scouts is that Wright’s challengers have yet to fully make their own case as a No. 1 overall.
Beyond Wright, or even including him for that matter, it’s not so much welcome to the (2022 draft) jungle as much as it welcome to the “jumble.” There is a wide divergence of opinion from the scouting community on who should be No. 2, as well as the ordering for the top 5 and top 10. It’s all over the hockey map, quite literally, in a heavily Euro-flavoured top 10.
The leading contender to knock Wright off the No. 1 perch is USA Under-18 forward Logan Cooley, a 5-foot-10 centre who is as savvy and skilled offensively as any prospect in the draft. All he appears to lack is being six feet or taller, which is the preferred size standard for an elite No. 1 pivot.
NHL Central Scouting Bureau director Dan Marr believes it’s a two-horse race for No. 1 between Wright and Cooley.
Cooley is No. 2 on TSN’s mid-season rankings. Four of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN had him in the spot immediately behind Wright.
“Cooley has been dynamic with the puck,” a scout said. “If he was over 6 feet tall, he’d probably be the [clear-cut] No. 1 guy right now.”
Still, scouts say Cooley plays hard and goes into heavy traffic and high-danger zones to make plays and score goals, elevating the players he plays alongside.
Sub 6-foot Finnish winger Joakim Kemell is No. 3 on TSN’s mid-season rankings but did not get any No. 2 consideration. Five scouts pegged him at No. 3 and two more at No. 4. Currently sidelined with a minor shoulder injury, Kemell hasn’t been scoring at the same pace he did to start the season in Finland’s top men’s league, but he’s still seen a skilled goal-scorer/playmaker who has an engine that revs high.
Winnipeg Ice 5-foot-9 Canadian centre Matt Savoie, who leads the WHL in scoring with 19 goals and 53 points in 35 games, is No. 4, while towering 6-foot-4 Slovak winger Juraj Slafkovsky is No. 5.
Savoie and Slafkovsky couldn’t be further apart on the size scale but each of them got two votes from scouts as the No. 2 prospect.
Savoie has high-end hockey sense, skill and competitiveness, more a playmaker than a goal scorer but a prolific dual threat every time he has the puck, despite his size.
Slafkovsky’s blend of speed, skill and most notably size is something of a rarity amongst forwards in the top 5 or even the top 10 of this draft.
Aside from Wright, 10 different players received votes in the top 5, and eight of those 10 received multiple top-5 votes.
That’s also true of the top 10 or 11.
Russian winger Miroshnichenko — who got the only other No. 1 vote besides Wright — is No. 6 on TSN’s list. Another scout, though, ranked him just outside the first round. No other top prospect had such a wide variance, although the other nine scouts had Miroshnichenko solidly in the top 10.
He’s a strong skater with a sturdy build and very good offensive instincts to go with an outstanding NHL-ready shot.
The top defenceman in this year’s draft, so far anyway, is 6-foot-3 blueliner David Jiricek, who recently underwent surgery for a knee injury suffered at the World Junior Championship. The prognosis is Jiricek will be out two to three months, but at this point scouts don’t seem overly concerned about the injury negatively impacting his draft status.
Jiricek, who is No. 7 on TSN’s mid-season ranking, is a two-way threat, who can play a punishing shutdown defender role but skilled enough to contribute on offence, too.
Jiricek received one No. 2 overall selection from a scout, as did Russian winger Danila Yurov, who checks in at No. 8 on the TSN list. Yurov has the speed and skill level to be a top-two line NHL winger though he’s a bit of a tougher read because he tends to play limited minutes against men in the KHL.
Slovak Simon Nemec, at No. 9, is a heady two-way blueliner, a savvy puck mover with some offensive flair. While not as big or physically punishing as Jiricek, Nemec still plays a solid game without the puck.
Nemec may be another poster boy for the wide divergence of opinion this year on top 10 prospects. Four of 10 scouts had Nemec in their top 5 but four also had him just outside their top 10.
TSN’s top 10 is rounded out by Winnipeg Ice forward Conor Geekie, a 6-foot-3 centre who can play a heavy, hard-driving game but also has a high skill level. Geekie’s skating is viewed as average, but his physical tools, competitiveness and above average skill level give him a legit chance to be a top 10 pick. Two scouts ranked him in their top 5.
The top 10 this year may actually be a top 11.
Finnish winger Brad Lambert — with deep Saskatchewan hockey roots (the nephew of former NHL player and current NHL coach Lane Lambert and the son of former WHL player Ross Lambert) — is a credible candidate to be taken in the top 10.
One scout voted him in the top 5 and nine of 10 had him in the top 11.
Lambert has blazing speed and while he struggled to put up numbers early in the Finnish elite league season, his playmaking and goal-scoring abilities are notable. He’s hoping a recent mid-season transfer from JYP to the Pelicans will pay dividends for him in the second half of the season.
Multiple players outside TSN’s top 11 got some consideration as top 10 picks. That group includes: No. 12-ranked Swedish winger Jonathan Lekkerimaki; No. 13-ranked U.S. U18 centre Cutter Gauthier; No. 16-ranked Saginaw Spirit defenceman Pavel Mintyukov; No. 17-ranked Austrian forward Marco Kasper; and No. 35-ranked Swiss defenceman Lian Bichsel.
Mintyukov, the Russian defenceman playing in Saginaw, is emerging as a red-hot commodity and rising draft star. He had three Top 10 votes, including one in the top five, but also had seven votes at No. 20 or lower.
Some other observations on TSN’s mid-season rankings:
— The top 10 is a veritable United Nations, including three Canadians, two Russians, two Slovaks, one American, one Finn and one Czech.
The remarkable part of that is Slovakia having three first-round prospects (Slafkovsky, Nemec and No. 22-ranked Filip Mesar) and Czechia having one (Jiricek) in the top 10. Czechia and Slovakia split up in 1993, but it’s amazing that the two smaller hockey countries have as many Top 10 prospects on this list as Canada.
— While the Americans have only Cooley in the top 10, there are a total of eight Americans in the TSN’s top 32 and seven of them play for the U.S. U18 National Team Development Program. The only exception is Northeastern University forward Jack Hughes — no relation to New Jersey Devil first overall pick and top centre Jack Hughes — who is not only No. 27 on the mid-season rankings but is also the son of new Montreal Canadiens general manager and former player agent Kent Hughes.
— The nationality breakdown of the top 32 is as follows: Canada 9; USA 8; Russia 5; Slovakia 3; and two each for Sweden, Finland and Czechia. Austria rounds it out with one.
— If there is a bevy of prospects between 11 and 32 who are excellent candidates to break into the Top 10, there are multiple prospects ranked in TSN’s second round (Nos. 33 to 64) who could push their way well into the first round.
That list includes: No. 3-ranked North Bay Battalion defenceman Ty Nelson; No. 36-ranked Swift Current Bronco blueliner Owen Pickering and No. 37-ranked Mississauga Steelhead forward Luca Del Bel Belluz, who aside from having one of the best handles in this draft is rocketing up the draft charts.
— It’s not a banner draft year for goaltenders.
The top-ranked — in fact, the only ranked — goalie is Prince George Cougars netminder Tyler Brennan, who is No. 62. In the history of the NHL draft, the latest the first goaltender has ever been chosen is 60th overall.
The reality is Brennan is likely to be taken well before his 62nd TSN ranking. Because there’s a dearth of high-end goaltending talent in this year’s draft, a team looking to get the best goalie prospect in the draft could step up on him late in the first round and/or early in the second. Brennan did get some votes in the TSN top 32, but he was also ranked 80 or lower by multiple scouts.
— TSN’s final draft rankings for 2022 will be released in early July, in the week leading up to the draft, which is scheduled for July 7-8 in Montreal.
1 Shane Wright Kingston (OHL)
2 Logan Cooley USA U-18 (USHL)
3 Joakim Kemell JYP (SM Liiga)
4 Matt Savoie Winnipeg (WHL)
5 Juraj Slafkovsky TPS (SM Liiga Jr.)
6 Ivan Miroshnichenko Omsk (VHL)
7 David Jiricek Plzen (CZE)
8 Danila Yurov Magnitogorsk (MHL)
9 Simon Nemec Nitra (SVK)
10 Conor Geekie Winnipeg (WHL)
11 Brad Lambert Lahti (SM Liiga)
12 Jonathan Lakkerimaki Djurgardens (SWE J-20)
13 Cutter Gauthier USA U-18 (USHL)
14 Frank Nazar USA U-18 (USHL)
15 Isaac Howard USA U-18 (USHL)
16 Pavel Mintyukov Saginaw (OHL)
17 Marco Kasper Rögle (SHL)
18 Ryan Chesley USA U-18 (USHL)
19 Jimmy Snuggerud USA U-18 (USHL)
20 Nathan Gaucher Quebec (QMJHL)
21 Tristan Luneau Gatineau (QMJHL)
22 Filip Mesar Poprad (SVK)
23 Liam Öhgren Djurgardens (SWE J-20)
24 Alexander Perevalov Yaroslavl (MHL)
25 Kevin Korchinski Seattle (WHL)
26 Rutger McGroarty USA U-18 (USHL)
27 Jack Hughes Northeastern (NCAA)
28 Maverick Lamoreux Drummondville (QMJHL)
29 Denton Mateychuk Moose Jaw (WHL)
30 Matyas Sapovaliv Saginaw (OHL)
31 Danny Zhilkin Guelph (OHL)
32 Adam Ingram Youngtown (USHL)
33 Elias Salomonsson Skellefteå (SWE J-20)
34 Ty Nelson North Bay (OHL)
35 Lian Bichsel Leksands (SWE J-20)
36 Owen Pickering Swift Current (WHL)
37 Luca Del Bel Belluz Mississauga (OHL)
38 Calle Odelius Djurgardens (SWE J-20)
39 Owen Beck Mississauga (OHL)
40 Jiří Kulich Karlovy (CZE)
41 Matthew Poitras Guelph (OHL)
42 Paul Ludwinski Kingston (OHL)
43 Bryce McConnell-Barker Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
44 Seamus Casey USA U-18 (USHL)
45 Filip Bystedt Linköping (SWE J-20)
46 Mats Lindgren Kamloops (WHL)
47 Sam Rinzel Chaska High (USHS)
48 Devin Kaplan USA U-18 (USHL)
49 Jani Nyman KOOVEE (Mestis)
50 Jorian Donovan Hamilton (OHL)
51 Noah Ostlund Djurgardens (SWE J-20)
52 Rieger Lorenz Okotoks (AJHL)
53 Fraser Minten Kamloops (WHL)
54 Tomas Hamara Tappara (SM Liiga Jr.)
55 Isaiah George London (OHL)
56 Ryan Greene Green Bay (USHL)
57 Topi Ronni Tappara (SM Liiga Jr.)
58 Michael Buchinger Guelph (OHL)
59 Noah Warren Gatineau (QMJHL)
60 Hunter Haight Barrie (OHL)
61 Ruslan Gazizov London (OHL)
62 Tyler Brennan Prince George (WHL)
63 Aleksanteri Kaskimaki HIFK (SM Liiga Jr.)
64 Gleb Trikozov Omsk (MHL)
65 Alexander Suzdalev HV 71 (SWE J-20)
66 Otto Salin HIFK (SM Liiga Jr.)
67 Jordan Gustafson Seattle (WHL)
68 Cameron Lund Green Bay (USHL)
69 Matt Seminoff Kamloops (WHL)
70 Artyom Duda Moskva (MHL)
71 Kirill Dolzhenkov Moskva (MHL)
72 Lane Hutson USA U-18 (USHL)
73 Cruz Lucius USA U-18 (USHL)
74 Pano Fimis Niagara (OHL)
75 Spencer Sova Erie (OHL)
76 Mattias Havelid Linkoping (SWE J-20)
77 Simon Forsmark Orebro (SWE J-20)
78 Marek Hejduk USA U-18 (USHL)
79 Reid Schaefer Seattle (WHL)
80 Vinzenz Rohrer Ottawa (OHL)
HM Brennan Ali Lincoln (USHL)
HM Liam Arnsby North Bay (OHL)
HM Angus Booth Shawinigan (QMJHL)
HM Jack Devine Denver (NCAA)
HM Lucas Edmonds Kingston (OHL)
HM Jackson Edward London (OHL)
HM Jagger Firkus Moose Jaw (WHL)
HM David Goyette Sudbury (OHL)
HM Vladimir Grudinin Moskva (MHL)
HM Gavin Hayes Flint (OHL)
HM Arseni Koromyslov St. Petersburg (MHL)
HM Julian Lutz München (DEL)
HM Miko Matikka Jokerit (SM Liiga Jr.)
HM Viktor Neuchev Yekaterinburg (MHL)
HM Colton Smith London (OHL)
HM Cole Spicer USA U-18 (USHL)