November 18, 2021

Scout Survey: Making sense of the first few months

We’re only a few months into the 2022 NHL Draft season, but so much has already changed.

We’ve got risers. We’ve got fallers. We’ve got players jockeying for position within the top-10. We’ve got prospects vying for first-round consideration.

It can be tricky to make heads of tails this early in the season, especially considering the limited action most of these 2022 eligibles had through the course of the 2020-21 season. But here we are, more than a month (or two, depending on region) into the 2021-22 campaign, and lots has happened.

So what’s shakin’?

We enlisted the help of five FCHockey scouts — Shaun Richardson (head Eastern scout, Austin Broad (head US scout), Derek Neumeier (head Western scout), Josh Bell (head crossover scout), and Joseph Aleong (Ontario-based scout) — to tell us just that.

Welcome to our first Scout Survey of the season.

In your region, how do you feel this draft class compares to 2021? Where is it stronger, and where is it weaker?

Shaun Richardson: I think the 2022 QMJHL prospects are very interesting, but I don’t see as many established high-end players as in the 2021 class and there is less offensive flash than last year’s group. Where the 2022 class seems stronger is that there are more well-rounded players that can play up and down the line up and contribute in a number of ways. Like last season, neither draft class has a top-end goaltending prospect but there are several qualified goalies that could be in the mix.

Austin Broad: I think the 2022 USA class is very similar to the 2021 class. When looking at the 2021 class, four of the first five selections were from the NCAA or the US National Team Development Program, and the USHL had two additional top-15 picks. This year’s class has star power on offense, in my opinion. I know Matthew Beniers and Kent Johnson went top-five in 2021, but there wasn’t really a debate as to who was going to be the first forward selected. In 2022, there’s at least three or four forwards in the conversation right now. If there is any area that this year’s class is weaker, I would say it lacks an elite-level defender. Ryan Chesley and Seamus Casey are top talents in this year’s class, but they aren’t quite as dominant as Owen Power or Luke Hughes.

Derek Neumeier: I would honestly consider them pretty close overall. This year is stronger at the top, with two players getting top-10 consideration, though the class isn’t quite as deep. I think we’ll see fewer players from the west taken within the first 100 selections this year compared to last year.

Josh Bell: If you take a look at the 2021 NHL Draft, you’ll find that the first five players off the board are from North America. In fact, only two of the top 13 picks were European players — Simon Edvinsson at No. 6 followed by Willam Eklund at No. 7. There were only seven players in the first round drafted from non-North American leagues. Now, taking a look towards the 2022 NHL Draft, the class is much stronger. In FCHockey’s Preliminary ranking, six European and Russian prospects were in the top-10 alone. In the entire first round? There are 15 non-North American prospects. While this class is lacking a top-tier goaltender from Europe, like Jesper Wallstedt last season, the skater class is much stronger and very exciting.

Joseph Aleong: It’s hard to compare most of the 2022 Ontario class to their peers due to the sheer lack of OHL experience most (sans Shane Wright) have gotten. However, this year doesn’t seem to quite have the depth we saw last year, but the presence of a bonafide star prospect like Wright nudges the 2022 class slightly ahead of their 2021 counterparts.

In your region, which under-the-radar draft eligible has impressed you most this season?

Shaun Richardson: The under-the-radar draft prospect that has impressed me the most so far is Yoan Loshing of the Moncton Wildcats. He can push the pace of play, stretch the ice and is a dangerous shooter.

Austin Broad: Cole Knuble of the Fargo Force is an under-the-radar prospect that has impressed me to start this season. He has been productive through the early parts of the year, but his production isn’t what impresses me. Knuble plays the game the right way, working his tail off and finding his way to the prime scoring areas in the high slot. If a team does find a way to keep him to the perimeter, he has the shot or the passing ability to pose a threat from anywhere in the offensive zone.

Derek Neumeier: Seattle Thunderbirds blueliner Kevin Korchinski is really interesting. He’s not putting up big numbers of making many plays for the highlight reels, but he’s very skilled and has a lot of potential to take some big strides as the season goes along. You have to watch him a little more closely to see the tools he has and how he uses them, namely his high-end skating. I also think that more people should know the name Rieger Lorenz, a forward with the Okotoks Oilers in the AJHL, too.

Josh Bell: One player that has stood out is Czech forward Jiri Kulich. After captaining the Czech Republic at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup this summer — going a point-per-game with four — he’s been off to a hot start in the Extraliga, the top men’s league in the country. He’s collected nine goals (six goals, three assists) in 20 games. While that might not jump off the page, he’s on pace to outscore recent first rounders Filip Chytil, Martin Necas, and Martin Kaut. He’s a strong skater that exudes confidence and puck skill. He should be a big riser as the season goes on.

Joseph Aleong: Vinzenz Rohrer, a first-year import player for the Ottawa 67s, has acclimated himself to OHL pace with impressive speed. Despite never playing above the junior level in Switzerland, Rohrer has immediately stepped into a top-six role and flashed his skating and ability to make difficult plays at speed.

Who do you feel is the most polarizing prospect to scout in your region?

Shaun Richardson: The most polarizing prospect coming out of the QMJHL is Maveric Lamoreux. Some see a really good shutdown defender who has lots of reach and takes away passing lanes and stick handling space with his stick placement. He reads situations well, can break up plays and stop attacks. However, others see a player the size of Lamoureaux and remark that he doesn’t play enough of a punishing physical game and after breaking up attacks he doesn’t start much in transition.

Austin Broad: This may sound weird but I think it’s Rutger McGroarty of the National Team Development Program. There seems to be a wide range of opinions on him, but when you look at this potential ceiling it’s hard to imagine he’s not one of the best forwards in the entire draft. He’s big, skilled and has a lethal shot that can beat any goalie from anywhere in the offensive zone. I think whoever takes McGroarty will be getting immense value and one of the more talented players available in the 2022 draft.

Derek Neumeier: I would have to say Winnipeg ICE forward Connor Geekie at this point. Some shifts he looks like he could be the second-best player in the entire draft, while on other shifts he looks very different. Our regional team likes him in general, but for a player at the very top of the draft a difference in opinion of five or ten slots is quite notable.

Josh Bell: After a slower-than-expected start to his Liiga season, Brad Lambert may just be the most polarizing prospect in this draft. There’s no questioning his skill and talent, as he’s been putting it on display for years. But similar to Aatu Raty 2021, a top-Finn has been sliding from top-prospect status to lower in the first — not even the consensus No. 1 Finn. Some scouts lean on the potential that he still shows, but others question the lack of a step forward. For now, I still believe he’s a top-10 selection, even top-5, but he needs to find his game here soon. That being said, he’s on a three-game point streak at the time of writing, so he could be finding his game as we speak.

Joseph Aleong: Danny Zhilkin is one of the few prospects this year with a full season of OHL experience under his belt, so his combination of size, power, and skating has him garnering first-round consideration in some circles. However, his decision-making with the puck is inconsistent and he sometimes struggles to make plays at high pace, leaving his ultimate NHL ceiling unclear.

Who do you feel is the clear-cut No. 1 prospect in your region?

Shaun Richardson: Right now the clear-cut number one prospect coming out of the QMJHL is Tristan Luneau of the Gatineau Olympiques. He is a great skater who is usually involved in the action. He’s a high-end passer with a knack for finding teammates in quality scoring positions and even with Luneau’s excellent offensive play he defends well and is very efficient at shutting down opponents.

Austin Broad: If I answered this a few weeks ago I’d have said McGroarty, but right now I think Logan Cooley, his teammate, is the clear-cut No. 1 prospect in the USA. Cooley looks like a potential No. 1 center in the NHL, he plays a mature two-way game which is great to see at such a young age, but unlike most two-way forwards Cooley also has the potential to be a dynamic offensive creator at the next level. He can setup teammates or take the puck and do it all himself.

Derek Neumeier: It’s difficult to say that there truly is one. Right now I would give the edge to Matthew Savoie, but ask me again in a few months and I might say Geekie.

Josh Bell: This is tough, because I don’t think there is a clear-cut No. 1 when looking at all of Europe. Slovaks Simon Nemec and Juraj Slafkovsky, Finns Lambert and Joakim Kemell, and Russians Ivan Miroshnichenko and Danila Yurov are all very much in this conversation. Nemec had the slightest edge in FCHockey’s Preliminary ranking for the 2022 draft, but both Russians and Lambert were very much in this conversation. For now, all four of them are at the top of the list and any of the four could be the first to hear their name called in July.

Joseph Aleong: Wright is not only head-and-shoulders above other Ontario prospects at this stage of the season, but is most certainly the odds-on favourite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft as well. While Wright may not be in the same tier as Connor McDavid, his well-rounded offensive game and attention to detail off the puck could see him making an NHL impact as soon as next season.

Who do you feel is the biggest threat to his No. 1 spot?

Shaun Richardson: There are a couple players that could challenge Luneau as the league’s top prospect and you don’t have to look far to find the number one contender. Luneau’s teammate, Antonin Verreault, is a highly skilled offensive player with tons of speed, agility and work ethic. Verreault has so much potential upside that it may come down to whether or not an organization feels they can uncover all that potential and reap the benefits from everything Verreault has to offer.

Austin Broad: McGroarty and Frank Nazar are the two biggest threats to Cooley’s top spot. I’ve already raved about McGroarty but Nazar deserves a lot of hype too. Nazar has the ability to drive play from the wing, and his offensive game looks way more polished than I thought it would be at this point. If anyone will unseat Cooley, it’ll be one of those two.

Derek Neumeier: Geekie for sure. I don’t think anyone else will catch up to Savoie and Geekie at the top, though Moose Jaw Warriors defender Denton Mateychuk could enter the conversation if he keeps up his currently torrid play.

Josh Bell: Considering I gave four names for the potential No. 1 spot, the biggest threat I’ll say is Kemell. The Finnish forward has been one of the hottest draft-eligibles in the world to start the season and has been an early challenger for Lambert as the top Finnish player. From there, it’s not a far leap to the status of top-Euro player. He’s an electric player that combines speed, puckhandling, and a knack for putting the puck in the net. If he continues his current pace throughout the season, he’ll be a very worthy challenger for the top spot in Europe.

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