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Sep 30, 2021

Wright the clear-cut top choice in McKenzie's first 2022 Draft Ranking

Ten out of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN identified Kingston Frontenacs centre Shane Wright as the clear-cut No. 1 choice. And, until further notice, they say it’s not even close.

Bob McKenzie's Pre-Season Draft Ranking: Wright the unanimous No. 1 prospect

VIDEO SIGN OUT

by Bob McKenzie

Let’s make one thing clear from the get-go: The 2022 NHL Draft is the Shane Wright Draft.

The Kingston Frontenacs’ centre is the unanimous No. 1 on TSN’s Pre-Season 2022 NHL Draft Rankings. Ten out of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN identified the 6-foot, 185-pound Burlington, Ont., native as the clear-cut choice.

And, until further notice, they say it’s not even close.

“No. 1 this year is his to lose,” said an NHL team head scout. “It would take him having an unusually poor year and someone else having a surprisingly good season for him to not be No. 1 [next July].”

This should come as no surprise for a prospect who was awarded “exceptional” status by Hockey Canada in 2019, which allowed him to enter the Ontario Hockey League as a 15-year-old, a year earlier than usual, and who was Canadian Hockey League rookie of the year in 2020 after his first OHL season in Kingston.

In fact, not only is it highly likely he’ll be No. 1 at the 2022 NHL draft on July 7-8 in Montreal, but he also quite probably would have been No. 1 overall in last summer’s 2021 NHL draft had he been eligible.

Blue-chip prospect University of Michigan defenceman Owen Power went No. 1 overall to the Buffalo Sabres last July. Power will play for the Wolverines this season. He and Wright are quite likely to be teammates on Canada’s national junior team at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton.

Most of the 10 scouts who ranked Wright No. 1 to start this season said, in a hypothetical world, he would have been ahead of Power last year.

“No doubt about that,” said another NHL team head scout.

Scouts tend to favour potential No. 1 NHL centres over top-pair defencemen, not unlike 2009 when John Tavares went first ahead of Victor Hedman at No. 2. Of course, given the benefit of hindsight, a lot of those same scouts might now prefer the big defenceman over the centre.

Wright shares his greatest asset as a player, tries to model game after Bergeron, Crosby

Shane Wright joins James Duthie to discuss what it means to him to be the unanimous No. 1 prospect on Bob McKenzie's pre-season draft rankings list, what he feels is his greatest asset as a player, how Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby have influenced his game, and much more.

And the old hypothetical saw can always cut both ways. That is to say, there are those in the scouting community who will tell you right now that one of the projected top prospects for 2023, Regina Pats centre Connor Bedard, could go No. 1 ahead of Wright if Bedard were eligible in 2022.

So, let’s get back to the original premise in the here and now: Wright starts this season as the undisputed top prospect, who is universally projected to be a high-end No. 1 NHL centre.

“He’s not a generational talent; he’s not Connor McDavid,” said another NHL head scout. “But he has all the tools to make you strongly believe he’ll not only be a No. 1 centre in the NHL but have a chance to be amongst the better players in the NHL.”

Wright can do it all. He’s not an elite skater but he is a strong skater. His shot is excellent, and while some scouts believe he’ll have more goals than assists in any given NHL season, he’s also a very good playmaker who makes everyone he plays with better. He’s smart but he’s also got some grit in his game. He leads by example. Outstanding work ethic and character is viewed as A+.

“I think he can adjust his game accordingly,” another scout said. “If he’s playing with an elite goal scorer, I could see him being the elite playmaker. If he’s playing with a high-end playmaking winger, I could see him being more of an elite goal-scoring centre like (Steven) Stamkos or (Auston) Matthews. His shot is excellent but so his vision. Outstanding competitiveness and leadership.”

While Wright’s game without the puck is still a work in progress, he has already demonstrated a strong desire to play the complete 200-foot game, like the player he models himself after — Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby.

“Wright is going to be a hybrid No. 1 centre,” one scout said. “He has a lot of the same qualities as Jonathan Toews. Not necessarily elite or the absolute best in any one area, but excellent in all areas.”

Because the OHL didn’t play any games last season due to the pandemic, Wright barely played any games in 2020-21, but he made the most of his limited opportunities. He scored nine goals and 14 points in only five games while captaining Team Canada to a gold medal at the Under-18 World Championship last April in Texas.

All that despite suffering a cracked bone in his foot in the first game, experiencing a rash all over his body after the second game, and missing a couple of games while battling through strep throat the rest of the tournament.

So, Wright is teed up as the clear top prospect for 2022, but now he must play the games and prove he’s worthy of the mantle.

Wright the clear-cut No.1 in Bob McKenzie's Pre-Season Draft Ranking

Shane Wright has a chance to be the first OHL player taken first overall since Connor McDavid in 2015, and is a unanimous selection to be the first overall pick. Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie joins James Duthie to explain what makes him so popular with the scouts.

If No. 1 to start the season is carved in stone, Nos. 2 through 10 are, shall we say, much more fluid.

That said, Russian winger Ivan Miroshnichenko is the consensus No. 2 prospect on TSN’s Pre-Season Rankings. Six of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN pegged him as a not-too-close No. 2 to Wright’s No. 1. Worth noting, however, is that four other prospects each got one second-place vote.

The right-shot left winger already boasts an NHL-calibre shot and plays a solid two-game way game with no discernible shortcomings in his tool box. He projects as a top two-line pro winger and was outstanding at both the U-18 World Championship in Texas and the Hlinka-Gretzky (U-18) Cup this past summer.

As 2023-eligible Bedard may sometimes cast some shadow on Wright, 2023 top draft-eligible countryman Matvei Michkov does the same to Miroshnichenko, though the two Russians have excellent chemistry when they play together in international events.

The players ranked from No. 3 to No. 8 on our Pre-Season Rankings are largely interchangeable, which is to say the 10 scouts on our panel like the six forwards a lot but getting consensus on the order is extremely difficult.

No. 3 on the list, Finnish forward Brad Lambert, got one vote at No. 2 overall but the rest of his votes were from Nos. 3 to 7.

Lambert, of course, has strong Canadian roots — Swift Current and Saskatoon, Sask., to be precise — even though he was born in Finland and has mostly played his hockey there. His father, Ross, played in the Western Hockey League, as did his uncle, Lane Lambert, who went on to play in the NHL and now is associate coach with the New York Islanders.

Lambert is a dynamic skater who can be disruptive on the forecheck and a dangerous shooter when he has the puck on his stick. He’s played both centre and wing and the scouts seem somewhat divided on which position he’ll be most effective at in the NHL. Either way, he’s projected as a top two-line talent.

No. 4 is towering Slovak forward Juraj Slafkovsky. The 6-foot-3 1/2 inch, 218-pounder is a man-child who is currently playing in the Finnish Elite League. He has the frame to play a power-driven game, but also has the speed, skill and flair to be a highly productive, top-line forward who can play centre or wing. He was one of the four prospects not named Miroshnichenko to get a second-place vote, but his other votes came in between Nos. 3 and 8.

Slafkovsky is precocious. He played as a 16-year-old for the Slovak national junior team at the 2021 World Junior Championship and as a 17-year-old was able to play for the senior men’s national team at the 2021 World Championship and in the recent Olympic qualifier in August.

No. 5 is Winnipeg Ice centre Conor Geekie. At 6-foot-3 and 193 pounds, Geekie has the size, strength, smarts and competitiveness to play a hard-driving, physical power game. Speed isn’t necessarily his best attribute, but, as the scouts say, “he gets there” just fine and his multi-dimensional game allows him to play with skill players high in the lineup or lower in the lineup as match-up/shutdown centre against the other team’s best players.

Geekie was the fourth prospect outside of Miroshnichenko to get a No. 2 vote, but his others came in between Nos. 3 and 14.

No. 6 is Logan Cooley, the 5-foot-10, 174-pound American who plays centre for the U.S. U-18 national development team program.

Even though he’s not that big, Cooley plays a straight-line game and gets to the inside to create offence. He has a good shot and can make plays. He’s viewed as highly skilled and projects to be a top-six NHL forward. Eight of the 10 scouts surveyed ranked him between Nos. 4 and 9.

No. 7 is Winnipeg Ice centre Matt Savoie, who was the first player taken in the 2019 WHL draft (Winnipeg teammate Geekie was the No. 2 selection that year).

Savoie isn’t big, at 5-foot-9 and 179 pounds, but don’t let his size fool you. The scouts say he has above average hockey sense and skill, and the ability to make things happen offensively, he can also play a hard, edgy and agitating game that keeps opponents off balance.

Eight of our 10 scouts ranked him between Nos. 3 and 8.

No. 8 is Russian winger Danila Yurov, a late 2003 birthdate who is playing with Magnitogorsk in the KHL.

He’s viewed as a prototypical two-way Russian winger, more solid than flashy, though he did perform well at the U-18 World Championship in Texas. While scouts like his game — he was ranked as high as No. 4 on one ballot but mostly fell in the 6-12 range — the scouts wonder if he’ll have as much opportunity to strut his stuff this year.

Because of his late birthdate, he wasn’t eligible for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup this past summer. He won’t be any of the U-18 events this season, so unless he makes the Russian national junior team for the 2022 World Junior Championship, his exposure could exclusively be in the KHL, where as a teenager he may not get as much ice time playing against men.

No. 9 is Joakim Kemell, the Finnish winger and teammate of Lambert with JYP.

Kemell is 5-foot-11 but plays a high-skill, high-energy game. He was outstanding at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup this summer and has lit up Finland’s Liiga with six goals in his first eight games. Our scouting survey was conducted early last week and even in the short time between then and today’s release of the pre-season list, Kemell’s stock has been skyrocketing (more on that dynamic later).

No. 10 is Czech defenceman David Jiricek, the only blueliner in the Top 10.

At 6-foot-3 and 189 pounds Jiricek is viewed as a throwback, hard-rock shutdown defensive defenceman, an ultra-aggressive big hitter with a mean streak who is a strong skater. Scouts love all that bite but are still debating his offensive ceiling/limitations.

TSN’s Top 16 Pre-Season Draft Rankings rounded out as follows:

11. Simon Nemec, the strong two-way Slovak defenceman; 12. Rutger McGroarty, a hard-shooting forward with the U.S. U-18 program; 13. Jonathan Lekkerimaki, a sub 6-foot offensive Swedish winger; 14. Elias Salomonsson, a good-skating Swedish blueliner; 15. Nathan Gaucher, a Quebec Remparts big-body centre; and, finally, 16. Ryan Chesley, a smooth-skating U.S. U-18 defenceman.

A few random notes/observations about the Top 16:

— With nine of the top 10 spots spoken for, it’s top heavy with forwards.

— Jiricek’s status as the top defenceman to start the season, at No. 10, will be put to the test in a big way. Some scouts already like the Slovak, Nemec, better than Jiricek. Chesley is another blueliner who will get serious Top 10 consideration.

— In addition to the 16 prospects we ranked numerically, there are four honourable mentions. They are (in alphabetical order): U.S. U-18 forward Isaac Howard; Gatineau Olympiques defenceman Tristan Luneau; Moose Jaw Warrior defenceman Denton Mateychuk; and Guelph Storm forward Danny Zhilkin.

In order for a player to qualify for an honourable mention, he had to get a minimum of three Top 15 votes from the scouts. The 16 ranked prospects and four honourable mentions were the only players to get three or more Top 15 votes. Another 15 or so prospects got either two or one Top 15 mentions but didn’t make the criteria cut. Which suggests it’s a rather large group challenging to get inside the Top 10.

— Normally, we would rank 20 prospects on our pre-season list, but opted for 16 this season for two reasons. One, because now that it’s a 32-team league, that represents the first half of the first round. But more importantly, two, it’s clear that the pandemic created a greater volatility for the ranking of the 2021 and 2022 draft classes.

This year’s class, unlike last year’s, should get a full complement of games and a more traditional runway to the draft next July. But for the purposes of pre-season rankings, this year’s crop still didn’t bank as many viewings with scouts last season or even this past summer. So, we opted for a list of 16 this year instead of 20 and duly note the volatility and unpredictability of the list of 16.

— To that point, draft aficionados are likely to question, for example, how a player like U.S. U-18 forward Isaac Howard is only an honourable mention as opposed to a ranked player or how U.S. U-18 forward Frank Nazar isn’t mentioned at all.

Those two players in particular were standouts at the USHL Showcase in Pittsburgh this past weekend. On the flip side, McGroarty, ranked No. 12 on this list, didn’t have a great weekend. As a result, we had scouts who asked if they could drop McGroarty from their pre-season list and replace him with Howard and/or Nazar.

Hence the volatility and unpredictability. And why every game where Finnish forward Kemell scores another goal, he rapidly moves up from his No. 9 slot on the pre-season list.

— All of which is a basic reminder that the TSN Pre-Season NHL Draft Rankings are mostly how things look at the start line of a race, before any of this season’s games have been played. And since the prospects’ body of work last season was, in many cases, far more limited than usual, an already unpredictable process is quite likely even more volatile than usual.

The TSN Mid-Season Rankings list, which will be conducted in early to mid-January, after the World Junior Championship but before the CHL Prospects game and likely feature a minimum of 75 prospects, will be far more telling about the 2022 NHL draftscape.

 

The Top 16

Shane Wright
1. Shane Wright

Centre | Kingston (OHL) | 6'0 | 188 lbs. | Jan. 5, 2004

2020-21 Statistics

  • GP
    5
  • G
    9
  • PTS
    14
  • +/-
    +12

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Elite, complete centre who has a command in all situations and contributes to every single area of the game. The IQ is exceptional, and he plays with significant calm but high intensity.

Ivan Miroshnichenko
2. Ivan Miroshnichenko

Left Wing | Omsk (VHL) | 6'1 | 185 lbs. | Feb. 4, 2004

2020-21 Statistics

  • GP
    20
  • G
    5
  • PTS
    15
  • +/-
    +5

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Bulldog-type goal scorer who has terrific hands and an accurate shot. He uses his body to fend off defenders and carves out space in and around the net. Hungry and hard competitor.

Brad Lambert
3. Brad Lambert

Right Wing | JYP (SM Liiga) | 6'0 | 164 lbs. | Dec. 19, 2003

2020-21 Statistics

  • GP
    46
  • G
    7
  • PTS
    15
  • +/-
    -24

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Excellent skater with speed, quickness and change of pace. Keeps defenders off balance and is very comfortable in all areas of the ice. Has all the attributes to be a top-line winger.

Juraj Slafkovsky
4. Juraj Slafkovsky

Centre | TPS (SM Liiga Jr.) | 6'4 | 216 lbs. | Mar 30, 2004

2020-21 Statistics

  • GP
    16
  • G
    8
  • PTS
    13
  • +/-
    +4

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Smart, skilled and assertive. He establishes his presence in the game with skill and physicality. Comfortable playing in any type of game and he has a burning desire to make a difference.

Conor Geekie
5. Conor Geekie

Centre | Winnipeg (WHL) | 6'2 1/2 | 205 lbs. | May 5, 2004

2020-21 Statistics

  • GP
    24
  • G
    9
  • PTS
    23
  • +/-
    +13

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Creative, smart and makes plays that generates offence. Very good puck skills in tight. He plays inside the dots and to the net and challenges defenders. Potential to be a top-line centre.

Logan Cooley
6. Logan Cooley

Centre | USA U-18 (USHL) | 5'10 1/4 | 168 lbs. | May 4, 2004

2020-21 Statistics

  • GP
    28
  • G
    16
  • PTS
    32
  • +/-
    +5

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Makes the game look easy. Excellent skill level in all areas with great imagination and ability to make plays that challenge opponents and create significant advantages for him and his team. Projects as a No. 1 centre.

Matt Savoie
7. Matt Savoie

Centre/Right Wing | Winnipeg (WHL) | 5'8 3/4 | 177 lbs. | Jan. 1, 2004

2020-21 Statistics

  • GP
    34
  • G
    21
  • PTS
    38
  • +/-
    +11

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Quick, fast and darting with the determined focus to get and create scoring chances. Takes puck inside and to the net but has an accurate shot that can beat you from distance. Difficult to defend.

Danila Yurov
8. Danila Yurov

Right Wing | Magnitogorsk (KHL) | 6'1 | 178 lbs. | Dec. 23, 2003

2020-21 Statistics

  • GP
    23
  • G
    13
  • PTS
    25
  • +/-
    +10

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Big, powerful, skilled and determined. Can play the game in the fashion of a skilled or a power player and can combine them at any point in time to make it very difficult for opponents. Hard and competitive.

Joakim Kemell
9. Joakim Kemell

Right Wing | JYP (SM Liiga) | 5'11 | 176 lbs. | Apr. 27, 2004

2020-21 Statistics

  • GP
    38
  • G
    22
  • PTS
    36
  • +/-
    +5

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Combines skill and will to find ways to make an impact. He's invested in the hard areas and doesn't allow himself to be denied easily. Productive offensively with his shot or his passing.

David Jiricek
10. David Jiricek

Defence | Plzen (CZE) | 6'3 | 189 lbs. | Nov. 28, 2003

2020-21 Statistics

  • GP
    34
  • G
    3
  • PTS
    9
  • +/-
    +13

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

A strong, territorial defenceman who plays with a highly competitive level defensively but also has the sense and feel to jump into the attack and contribute to the offensive thrust.

Simon Nemec
11. Simon Nemec

Defence | Nitra (SVK) | 6'1 | 192 lbs. | Feb. 15, 2004

2020-21 Statistics

  • GP
    37
  • G
    2
  • PTS
    19
  • +/-
    -10

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Smart, poised and calm under pressure but has a guile and assuredness in his play that belies his age. Very smart and skilled. Can play it any way the game dictates. Projects as a top-pair defenceman.

Rutger McGroarty
12. Rutger McGroarty

Centre | USA U-18 (USHL) | 6'0 3/4 | 199 lbs. | Mar. 30, 2004

2020-21 Statistics

  • GP
    34
  • G
    17
  • PTS
    35
  • +/-
    -2

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Plays a blended skill and power game and can assert himself in either manner to create advantages for himself. He plays with intensity and has an ability to overwhelm opponents and put them on their heels.

Jonathan Lekkerimaki
13. Jonathan Lekkerimaki

Centre | Djurgardens (SWE J20) | 5'11 | 172 lbs. | Jul. 24, 2004

2020-21 Statistics

  • GP
    8
  • G
    12
  • PTS
    16
  • +/-
    +15

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Fast, quick and hungry to score. Loves to open up and get the puck and then drive to the net. He has a real determination in and around net and can score in multiple ways.

Elias Salomonsson
14. Elias Salomonsson

Defence | Skelleftea (SWE J20) | 6'1 | 161 lbs. | Aug. 31, 2004

2020-21 Statistics

  • GP
    14
  • G
    4
  • PTS
    15
  • +/-
    -3

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Purposeful, efficient and competitive defenceman. Plays the game well in all areas despite not being weighted in his play to offence or defence. Smart and plays with a strong understanding of what is necessary.

Nathan Gaucher
15. Nathan Gaucher

Centre/Right Wing | Quebec (QMJHL) | 6'2 3/4 | 188 lbs. | Nov. 6, 2003

2020-21 Statistics

  • GP
    30
  • G
    14
  • PTS
    31
  • +/-
    +6

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Big, strong, assertive and with the skill to make a defender's life very challenging. He can dish. He can shoot. He can go around you or through you. Has all the qualities of an imposing top-line centre.

Ryan Chesley
16. Ryan Chesley

Defence | USA U-18 (USHL) | 6'0 1/4 | 187 lbs. | Feb. 27, 2004

2020-21 Statistics

  • GP
    37
  • G
    11
  • PTS
    34
  • +/-
    +6

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Excellent sense and awareness in all situations. Transitions from defense to offence and offense to defence with ease. Very good skater with the puck skills, competitiveness and brain to be a top pair defenceman.

 

Honourable Mentions

 
Player Team POS HT WT GP G P
Issac Howard USA U-18 (USHL) LW 5'10 183 17 5 19
Tristan Luneau Gatineau (QMJHL) D 6'1 170 31 4 18
Denton Mateychuk Moose Jaw (WHL) D 5'9 ¾ 167 16 2 9
Danny Zhilkin Guelph (OHL) C/LW 6'0 185 7 0 2