Holmes Report: What we learned at the 2022 NHL Draft
The 2022 NHL Draft has come and gone, and with it come a new set of insights that we can take into the current hockey landscape and how NHL clubs are seeing the future of the game.
Agree or disagree with the decisions made at the draft table this year, the 2022 draft brought plenty of storylines and unique wrinkles for us to pick apart as we turn the page into next year’s draft cycle.
Here are some of my top notes and observations from the 2022 NHL Draft:
Canadiens Stick to Their Guns
This was the first draft for the Montreal Canadiens with the new management group of Kent Hughes & Co. at the helm, and if this management proved one thing in their first outing it’s that they’re fearless of public perception and market pressure. Shane Wright was ranked first by many boards — including us here at FCHockey — and had been touted as the top prospect in the 2022 class since being granted exceptional status into the Ontario Hockey League in 2019. Many fans in Montreal wanted the two-way Canadian center to be the choice for the Canadiens at No. 1, but this management group stuck with their guns and went with their guy in Slovakian winger Juraj Slafkovsky. We’ll see in five-to-10 years whether or not they made the right choice, but you have to respect the Canadiens’ management group for not caving to market pressure and doing what they felt was best for their hockey club.
Speaking of Slafkovsky going off the board to Montreal at first overall, this draft just put an exclamation mark on the renaissance that is occurring right now in Slovak hockey. After not producing a first round pick since the 2013 draft (Marko Dano), Slovakia swept the top two picks in the draft in 2022 with Slafkovsky at No. 1 to Montreal and Simon Nemec at No. 2 to the New Jersey Devils, not to mention Filip Mesar joining his countryman in Montreal at pick No. 26. All of this comes at the culmination of a year where Slovakia experienced international success they haven’t seen in quite a long time, starting the year with a silver-medal showing at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup before earning a bronze on the world’s biggest stage at the Olympics. Slovak hockey is on the rise, and the likes of Slafkovsky, Nemec, and Mesar are just the beginning.
United Nations of Hockey
The NHL Draft, as well as international hockey as a whole, is typically dominated by five nations — Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the United States — but this year saw a nearly unprecedented number of players selected in the first round outside of those top nations. The 2022 draft saw seven players from European nations such as Slovakia, Czechia, Switzerland, and Austria, which was the highest number of players selected from smaller hockey countries since 1999. The only draft year since the NHL lockout to see an even remotely similar number of first round selections from those nations was in 2014, which is a group of players with big shoes to fill: Leon Draisaitl (Germany), Nikolaj Ehlers (Denmark), Kevin Fiala (Switzerland), and Jakub Vrana, and David Pastrnak (Czechia). Hockey is a global sport, and it truly felt that way in 2022.
Down Year for Ontario
While nations outside of North America had a good year in the 2022 draft, it was a slow year for Ontario at the draft — which is typically very well represented during day one. Wright was the only Ontario-born player to go in the first round in 2022, marking the lowest number of Ontario-born players to go on day one since the 2005 lockout. Obviously, Ontarians have no reason to be alarmed for the future of hockey in Ontario, but the low number of players selected out of the region does underscore the diversity of nationalities in round one in 2022.
Defense at a Premium
It’s a copycat league, so it shouldn’t be any surprise to see defensemen go at a premium in the 2022 draft after the Colorado Avalanche took home the Stanley Cup with Cale Makar walking away with the Conn Smythe Trophy. It’s difficult to win in the playoffs without a strong defensive core, and it’s clear teams took note with five defensemen being selected in the top-12 of this year’s draft, with four more going in the back half of the first round. Five defenseman going in the top 12 was the most for the position in that range since the 2018 draft, where all five players (Rasmus Dahlin, Quinn Hughes, Adam Boqvist, Evan Bouchard, and Noah Dobson) appear to be living up to their draft position. It’s difficult to win without defense and it’s expensive to acquire a top-flight defenseman via trade, teams drafted accordingly in 2022.
Jackets Secure Defensive Future
Speaking of defense, the Columbus Blue Jackets emphatically addressed their situation on the blue line with their work at the 2022 draft. The Blue Jackets left day one with two high-upside defensemen in David Jiricek at No. 6 and Denton Mateychuk at No. 12, adding to a pool that already includes Zach Werenski, Boqvist, Corson Ceulemans, and Stanislav Svozil. The Jackets spending high draft capital on defensemen early in the draft enabled them to take swings on forwards later on in the draft, but it was difficult not to make note of the organization emphatically addressing the future of their blue line with two defensive picks in the top-12.
Korchinski Hype was Real
FCHockey was very high on Kevin Korchinski throughout this year’s draft cycle, and it appears that our enthusiasm for the mobile left-shot defenseman was shared by the Chicago Blackhawks, so much so that they were willing to move a two-time 40-goal scorer in Alex DeBrincat to ensure that they left Montreal with him. Korchinski was impossible not to notice during the WHL’s playoffs this year, where he was consistently one of the best players on the ice and led to a meteoric rise on many draft boards, ultimately leading to him being selected at seventh overall by the Blackhawks. Chicago harbored a lot of criticism for the return they got on DeBrincat, but we here at FCHockey cannot endorse the player that Chicago got a No. 7 enough; the Blackhawks have a good one on their hands in Korchinski.
Carolina Undeterred by Russians
With the fluid and scary situation that has been unfolding over in Russia over the past couple of months, many of us wondered what that would do to the draft position for Russian players this years. While many Russians did take a tumble down the draft board further than they normally would have, the Carolina Hurricanes were happy to scoop up Russians that fell into their laps late in the draft. Out of their seven picks, Carolina walked away with four Russian players this year, including remarkable value on Gleb Trikozov at 60th overall. The Hurricanes also grabbed Alexander Perevalov (No. 71), Vladimir Grudinin (No. 156), and Alexander Pelevin (No. 205) — all of whom ranked in the top-70 on FCHockey’s final list. On talent alone, the Hurricanes walked away with fantastic value this year by capitalizing on undervalued Russian hockey players.
Sabres Loading up at Center
After dealing Jack Eichel last season to the Vegas Golden Knights, one of the top items on the Buffalo Sabres‘ shopping list in the coming years was bound to be the future of their center ice position. Tage Thompson had a breakout year this year for the Sabres, but Buffalo clearly made it a point to find more solutions down the middle this year with their first-round selections. In the first round, the Sabres selected Matthew Savoie (No. 9), Noah Ostlund (No. 16), and Jiri Kulich (No. 28), all of whom are capable of playing center and add plenty of offensive punch to the Sabres prospect pool. The Sabres have a ways to go still, but with Thompson, Dylan Cozens, and the selections they made this year, their center core has plenty of shots here to find high-end solutions for the future.
Renewed Emphasis on Height
With the league getting smaller and faster over the past decade, players who can play with both size and skill have become a rarer and rarer breed to find at the NHL level. So it’s no surprise that NHL teams looked to find those unicorns in the draft this year. Over a third of the players selected in the first round this year registered at 6-foot-3 or above, including a few towering defensemen such as Pickering, Lian Bichsel, and Maveric Lamoureux. Useful players with size are the new market inefficiency in the NHL, and I couldn’t help but notice teams really valuing size at the draft table this year.