The 2022 NHL Draft class is full of promising re-entry candidates
The NHL Draft is a chance for many young hockey talents to hear their name called to the podium, one step closer to fulfilling a life-long dream of playing in the NHL.
Some players who were eligible last year and missed that opportunity — especially due to the impact of COVID-19 — will be given a second chance to make that walk to the stage this July.
This year’s crop of overage players may be one of the best groups of prospects to be re-inserted into the NHL Draft. More than a handful of players eligible last season didn’t get a chance to step on the ice. That’s changed, with a somewhat regular schedule in the 2021-22 campaign that has some regions doubling up on draft talent.
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It could allow an overager to fulfill a dream.
And Tucker Robertson of the Peterborough Petes is an excellent candidate.
Robertson was one player who definitely had a solid production at the junior level in his second kick at the can, and finished the season with the most goals by any draft-eligible player — first or second chance — in the Ontario Hockey League with 41.
“Robertson I believe is worth a pick for teams looking for the perfect future role player in the NHL,” FCHockey scout Brandon Holmes said.
The right winger started the season off with a bang, up until the new year, posting 41 points in the first 26 games. Nineteen were goals.
But it’s not just offense. Robertson is a versatile player who can get under the opposition’s skin.
At the same time, he’ll more than hurt the opposition on the scoreboard. He ended up with 81 points (41 goals, 40 assists) in 68 games, placing him second on the team in scoring. The all-around effort had Robertson at No. 110 in FCHockey’s Final ranking for the 2022 draft.
“Tucker is a high-motor forward who never takes a shift off, gets engaged in the dirty areas of the offensive zone and is constantly applying pressure to opposing defenses on the forecheck,” Holmes said. “Teams need players like Robertson to win in the playoffs, as he reminds me so much of that line of Coleman, Gourde, and Goodrow that the Tampa Bay Lightning deployed en route to two Stanley Cup titles.”
Connor Kurth, like Robertson, is going to get an extended look on the second day of the 2022 draft.
Kurth continued his strong play in his second season in the USHL by posting the fifth-best point total in the entire league while still only being 18-years-old. A late birthday, the Dubuque Fighting Saints forward won’t flip the calendar to 19 until late July.
The University of Minnesota commit is a versatile forward who displays good puck protection and is hard on the puck at all times. The skillset has Kurth No. 104 on FCHockey’s list.
“With Kurth it’s simple. He’s taken a massive leap this season and added a different gear to his game that makes him a must draft this time around,” FCHockey scout Austin Broad said.
Kurth ended the season second on his team in scoring, posting 81 points (35 goals, 46 assists) in 62 games.
“His ability to see the game and understand how to use his body to his advantage has really improved,” Broad said. “Kurth has the size; and the developing puck skills that really intrigue me. I think when you look at his game as a whole, and the trajectory he’s on, he’s definitely worth a pick this time around.”
So too might be Russian forward Dmitri Buchelnikov, who is another player with a late birthday. He missed the cutoff for being eligible for the 2022 draft by just nine days.
“Buchelnikov is worth the swing for teams looking for an immediate injection of skill and shot generation into their lineup,” Holmes said.
Buchelnikov is usually not the biggest player on the ice — listed at 5-foot-10 and 168 pounds may be generous — but what he lacks in size, he makes up with speed and puck-handling. He always seems to find the open lanes and uses his speed and slick stickhandling to make opposing defesemen lose their positioning on him, allowing for scoring chances.
The forward torched the Russian junior circuit this season and was second in total points among all players in the MHL and his 41 goals was also second in the entire league.
It landed him at No. 113 on FCHockey’s list.
“Buchelnikov is undersized, but works hard to mitigate that size disadvantage as much as he can and is shifty and smooth with the puck,” Holmes said. “He’s always looking to get pucks on goal, and teams who are simply looking for players who can get pucks to the front of the net should look Buchelnikov’s way.”
Graham Sward of the Spokane Chiefs offers some similar intrigue — at a different position.
Sward missed the 2022 cutoff by just three days, making him the youngest draft re-entry in 2022 instead of the oldest first-year eligible.
The blueliner finished the season with 43 points (10 goals, 33 assists), which was good enough to be among the top 10 defensemen under the age of 19 in the Western Hockey League. Sward possesses a decent shot from the point and has good maneuverability in the defensive zone. The result was a No. 163 ranking at FCHockey.
“Sward was one of the more pleasant surprises in the west this year after a 2020-21 season that saw him only play 11 games,” FCHockey scout Derek Neumeier said. “Spokane wasn’t a very strong or deep team, but that gave him a chance to really grow his abilities and show what he is capable of. He really jumped on the opportunity to be their top defender, eating a lot of minutes and displaying growth in all areas of his game.”
There is, however, some room for improvement with his forward skating and acceleration from a starting position.
Sward is tenacious on the puck defensively and has an edge to him that can be a thorn in the side of opposing forwards — everything you want from a defensemen on your team.
“Consistency and versatility are hard to find, and with the growth he showed this season you have to like his odds of continuing to figure things out as he ascends levels,” Neumeier said.
Sward has some company in the WHL, too.
Mikey Milne of the Winnipeg ICE is another re-entry candidate to keep an eye on. He is a player that probably should have been picked up by some team in last year’s draft, but again with a shortened season owing to the restrictions imposed due to COVID-19, he fell through the proverbial drafting cracks.
“Instead of being disappointed that he was passed over last year, it seems like it pissed Milne off more than anything,” Neumeier said. “He had one heck of a chip on his shoulder this season and was a real force at times for Winnipeg.”
The spark plug winger elevated his game this year on a strong Winnipeg team, finishing the season with 81 points (38 goals, 43 assists) in 68 games.
“When he played alongside their main skill guys he didn’t look out of place one bit, but when they asked him to do dirty work he didn’t change his attitude or start cheating,” Neumeier said.
With Milne, a team is going to get a hard-working, two-way forward who is always pushing the pace. He is continuously moving around the ice, scanning for the next course of action.
Milne, No. 152 on FCHockey’s list, is great on the forecheck and always causes havoc on defenders. He also possesses a soft touch around the net, but wouldn’t necessarily consider him a one-on-one threat, but more of a player who is better suited on off the puck positioning.
“While there are some questions about how much skill he really has, and how much of what is there is translatable, his character is off the charts and he’s very easy to root for,” Neumeier said.
Milne has plenty of company in that regard, as there’s going to be a soft spot for some of these players getting a second chance to share in a special day.