January 21, 2022

Bell Curve: Analyzing the 2022 NHL Draft’s top defenders

The 2022 NHL Draft is deep on top-end defenders.

There is just little consensus on the order.

Diving into the various players and their rankings in the public sphere, there isn’t anything resembling a consensus when it comes to high-end rearguards. These rankings show up to 20 different defenders in the top-32, yet less half of them are likely to be selected in the first round of the 2022 draft on July 7, 2022.

Over the last 10 years, an average of nine defensemen have been taken in the first round. This can range from five (2014) up to 14 (2018), but most years are in the eight or nine range (five of the 10 years). In 2022, it’s not likely that this number will drastically change.

With as many as 15 defenders in the regular discussion for the first round in public rankings, which ones will make the cut in 2022?

I’ve spent the last few weeks catching up on the top defenders of this class and I must say, my thoughts are quite different from the consolidated rankings. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

First, we’re going to take a look at these 15 players, sorted by their consolidated ranking (based on the outlets tracked by our friends at Elite Prospects) for those in consideration for the first round, with my own thoughts on each player as we dive into their games a little bit.

To preface, the order of defensemen in our Winter ranking for the 2022 NHL Draft can be found here.

Before I dive in, I just want to note that these 15 defenders are included because they are currently ranked on multiple public outlets’ first-round rankings. These are not necessarily the top-15 defenders of the draft. We’d then need to look at players like Artyom Duda, Lane Hutson, Arseni Koromyslov, and Owen Pickering  — to name a few.

Simon Nemec

Team: HK Nitra (Slovakia)
2021-22 stats: 29GP | 0G | 19A | 19P
FCHockey rank: 3

Simon Nemec is at the top of most lists — among defensemen, of course — and for good reason. While he’s not the undisputed No. 1 defender of the class, he’s pretty unanimously top-two with the next player on this list. He’s a highly-skilled, puck-moving rearguard that has no problem putting up the points, even in the top men’s Slovak league.

However, it’s his movement of the puck that is his stand-out quality. Whether it’s with his feet or with a pass, Nemec is relied on heavily by his team to get the puck up ice and he does so with relative ease. He’s a smooth skater, with a fluid, powerful stride and a good mix of crossovers in his movement.  He can be a bit of a risk-taker, but the potential that Nemec shows is very much top-10 worthy.

David Jiricek

Team: HC Plzen (Czech)
2021-22 stats: 29GP | 5G | 6A | 11P
FCHockey rank: 15

David Jiricek has become a true contender to Nemec as the top defender in the class, and rightfully so. Like Nemec, Jiricek is playing in his country’s top men’s professional league and has looked very good doing it. While Nemec’s offensive game could see him as a top-two defender, Jiricek’s two-way play is what has him in that conversation.

He reads the play so well, playing like a veteran defender well above his age. He regularly shows very impressive reads, noting where players are and correctly attacking or hanging back as needed. What might end up seeing Jiricek slide a bit is a serious knee injury suffered at the World Juniors that will cost him a few months, but if he does slide outside of the top-10, he could be a steal.

Seamus Casey

2021-22 stats: 31GP | 5G | 13A | 18P
FCHockey rank: 14

Seamus Casey looks to be one of the more polarizing prospects of the group. The top defender for the US National Team Development Program, he’s excellent with the puck, showing a strong amount of deception in his movements. He moves the puck well, really opening up the ice with his passes thanks to his strong vision.

What could cost him draft stock, is that there are some occasions where he can be too focused on the puck, losing players as they slip behind him, which calls into question his awareness. His backwards skating is a little bit of a concern, as it’s much weaker than his forward and side-to-side movement. This results in him pivoting early to avoid getting caught and sometimes having to chase. However, the upside outweighs the worry for me with Casey, and while he’s not third on my personal list, he’s very close.

Elias Salomonsson

Team: Skelleftea U20 (J20 Nationell)
2021-22 stats: 24GP | 8G | 9A | 17P
FCHockey rank: 19

Speaking of a polarizing prospect, while four outlets have Elias Salomonsson at 14 and the majority have him in the first round, one has him near the bottom of the second round. Salomonsson’s season hasn’t rolled out as many expected and could potentially be labelled as fairly disappointing, but the potential he continues to show is very much evident.

He’s a reliable, two-way defender that looks strong in his transition game. His skating is strong, especially in his four-way mobility. His knowledge of how to play in his own end at his age and at this level is very strong. Especially while defending the rush, Salomonsson shows remarkable patience before committing to a play. He does have a tendency to drift towards the puck when he hasn’t been engaged, taking him out of position and resulting in an overcommitment. He’s another player who I’m betting on upside over faults.

Ty Nelson

Team: North Bay Battalion (OHL)
2021-22 stats: 34GP | 6G | 22A | 28P
FCHockey rank: 22

Ty Nelson has been a frustrating player for me this season. I do know that we have to account for him missing his entire 2020-21 season due to the OHL’s cancellation as a result of COVID-19, but I’ve left my viewings of him with more questions than answers. I can see the offensive potential, picking up on plays, reading the open ice, and knowing when to jump up into the play. The instincts are there offensively, but I don’t know if I see the full, NHL defender package.

I’ll start in the offensive zone, where he’s often lauded. Something that is a common theme in his game is taking the puck from the blue line to the boards/half wall and firing a shot. Often, these result in a missed or a block. Without the puck he finds lanes well, but with it he seems to avoid the middle. Defensively, the struggle is real for Nelson. From bad reads to failed coverage, I really question his awareness and overall processing in his own zone. I realize I’m not in the majority here but I have some very real concerns about his game.

Ryan Chesley

2021-22 stats: 32GP | 2G | 5A | 7P
FCHockey rank: 16

Like Casey, Ryan Chesley looks to be a pretty polarizing player. He’s ranked from the mid-first to the mid-third round. Frankly, I’m somewhere in the middle on him and see him as a second-rounder. I do see him as a strong, defensive-minded player, but believe that these players can be found throughout the draft and you don’t need to bite in the first round when higher-ceiling players are available.

Chesley defends well, managing the rush with excellent angling out and does well at boxing out. Being partnered with Lane Hutson may hide some of his offensive ability given that Chesley consistently looks to his counterpart to lead the transition game and offense. Chesley does have a tendency for mental lapses though, from over-skating pucks to soft passes. He looks to lack consistent awareness, losing opponents behind him and not always seeing the best options.

Denton Mateychuk

Team: Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
2021-22 stats: 35GP | 7G | 24A | 31P
FCHockey rank: 13

Denton Mateychuk seems to be ranked all over the first round, but I absolutely see him as a top-10 contender in this class. The WHL defender is an offensive defender that excels in transition. With the puck on his stick, the rearguard has the ability to charge up the ice, showing off great speed that he only uses when he needs to. He utilizes crossovers well, zig-zagging up the ice and avoiding traffic as he does so.

Defensively, Mateychuk is just as impressive. He’s often positioned well and ties up his man in front of the net very well, taking them away as an option. He shows good awareness, keeping his head on a swivel and scanning the ice prior to grabbing a loose puck. He reads plays exceptionally well, jumping up into passing lanes and forcing turnovers with regularity. I have a lot of time for Mateychuk and you should make time too.

Tristan Luneau

Team: Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
2021-22 stats: 26GP | 5G | 10A | 15P
FCHockey rank: 20

Tristan Luneau is considered a first-rounder pretty much across the board. But for me, I could see him just outside the first as well. Luneau is a promising two-way defender that is quite well-rounded. He has quick, strong hands that are shown in excellent puckhandling and in his ability to pull pucks out of battles effectively. He’s very impressive in tight spaces.

His skating does need some work. His directional changes, especially in his pivots, are a little choppy and he loses power in his stride due to being a little too upright in his stance, stemming from his lack of ankle flex. When defending, he tends to hold back a little too far, giving opponents too much space on the rush, resulting in failed pinches, and taking away the element of surprise when he steps up on puck-carriers. There’s potential with Luneau, but I’d take the higher-ceiling guys first.

Simon Forsmark

Team: Orebro (SHL)
2021-22 stats: 19GP | 4G | 5A | 9P
FCHockey rank: 28

I don’t think Simon Forsmark is getting the love that he deserves. He’s an extremely mature defender, a strong two-way presence. Forsmark is strong defending the rush, leading with his stick and angling out into the boards with ease. He’s a takeaway machine, forcing turnovers with regularity and quickly turning it back up the ice. It seems that any puck around him, on a stick or not, seems to end up on his stick.

Forsmark’s hands look to be fairly slow but his feet and playmaking make up for this. He likely won’t be a player to carry it himself in transition but can distribute it out very well. Forsmark will need to build some strength, as it does look to be an issue at the SHL level, but that will come with development. You should give him another look and bump him up in your rankings.

The best of the rest

For those of you counting, Forsmark is the ninth defender on this consolidated list. Looking at the average over the last 10 years, odds are that the rest of these defenders would slide to the second round. As it so happens, the first nine prospects we’ve looked at here are all in the first round of Elite Prospects’ consolidated ranking.

The next nine, however, are not and are not ranked by all outlets. Since they’ve been garnering some first-round discussion from at least five outlets though, I’ve included them here. They are listed alphabetically.

Lian Bichsel

Team: Leksands (SHL)
2021-22 stats: 14GP | 0G | 2A | 2P
FCHockey rank: 31

Lian Bichsel is one of my personal favorites in this class. The Swiss player has spent some significant time in the SHL this year and he’s earned more first-round consideration than he’s getting. He’s strong in both ends, a very well-rounded defender. It seems like he can do it all. He moves well, makes excellent decisions, battles hard, and defends very well.

Bichsel isn’t without his warts, he has little-to-no flex in his ankle, really impacting his mobility. His first few steps are a little clunky as well, which makes sense given the lack of ankle flexion. If he adds that aspect to his game, I think he shoots up draft boards. For me, he’s pretty close to being a first-round lock. I really appreciate his game.

Mattias Havelid

Team: Linkoping J20 (J20 Nationell)
2021-22 stats: 22GP | 7G | 7A | 14P
FCHockey rank: 50

Considered at the end of the first round, Mattias Havelid, to me, seems like a player that will be a second-rounder. He has a good base of skills, but there’s nothing that truly stands out in his game to warrant a first-round selection from what I’ve seen. His best asset looks to be his skating, where there’s some explosiveness, but the holes in his game are glaring.

The biggest thing is a lack of vision and awareness. On the rush, he seems to get burned too often, not noticing a man going down the wing. Especially under pressure, he seems to rush decisions and not notice the best options, instead looking for the first option. There can be a lack of competitiveness at times, coming out of lost puck battles slow and looking defeated.

Kevin Korchinski

Team: Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
2021-22 stats: 32GP | 4G | 24A | 28P
FCHockey rank: 32

Kevin Korchinski is another one that I’ll vouch for pretty heavily. For me, he’s a top-five or six defender in this class. He’s a highly intelligent, mobile defender that is offensive-leaning. His awareness is exceptional, constantly scanning, yet this doesn’t seem to slow him down in the slightest. Korchinski eads the play very well, especially in the offensive end.

There are some concerns defensively, however. He tends to either defend with his stick or his body, rather than leading with his stick and following up with his body. Also, he can tend to play up too high when defending the rush, resulting in players sliding behind him and him having to turn early and chase. This results in a lack of angling out in his defending. His speed and reach bail him out now, but won’t at the next level. Despite this, I think very highly of Korchinski’s game and believe he’s one of the best blueliner in the class.

Mats Lindgren

Team: Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
2021-22 stats: 34GP | 2G | 19A | 21P
FCHockey rank: 35

Mats Lindgren is another defender that is getting some bottom-of-the-first consideration. I have him just outside with a few other names, but he’s right there. He’s an excellent playmaker and looks to be a strong offensive presence. He reads plays well, often looks to jump into the rush, and finds lanes to the net with relative ease, even creating those lanes himself. He loves to shoot the puck.

Lindgren does need to improve some aspects of his defensive game. While he reads the offensive zone well, he doesn’t seem to read the defensive zone at the same caliber. He tends to chase the puck rather than heading where it’s going to be. There’s a level of panic in his game when he has the puck in the D-zone that isn’t there on offense. He can seem a little rushed. If he shows some more consistency in his all-around game, Lindgren could solidify his first-round spot.

Pavel Mintyukov

Team: Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
2021-22 stats: 31GP | 6G | 17A | 23P
FCHockey rank: 45

I’ll start this off by saying I think I need to watch more of Pavel Mintyukov. He’s a physical defender that can flash some high-end skill and battles hard. He sticks with his man like glue, never giving up and making it hard on the puck-carrier. He can lay the opposition out, either along the boards or in open ice. He has great movement, with nice use of crossovers in his skating. His bread and butter seems to come in the offensive zone, where he maintains pressure and shows excellent pressure.

When defending the cycle, Mintyukov can get caught puck watching and drifting out of position, leaving puck-carriers wide open in front of the net. His puckhandling is hit and miss, losing possession a little too often for my liking. His passing is fairly weak at times too. This absolutely needs to show improvement. The skating, confidence, and processing are impressive, but his defensive gaps and weak passing are concerning. Again, I definitely want to watch him more.

Calle Odelius

Team: Djurgardens U20 (J20 Nationell)
2021-22 stats: 29GP | 4G | 18A | 22P
FCHockey rank: 44

Last but certainly not least, Calle Odelius is a two-way defender and a great playmaker. He’s a strong passer and often looks for a pass first. He does well in his own end to quickly move the puck out of danger, keeping his head on a swivel and making good, hard passes to clear it. He ties up his man well, especially in front of the net. He’s not afraid to drop in front of a shot, and is strong on his feet, definitely capable of moving the puck on his own.

Moving forward, I would like to see Odelius move the puck with his feet a little more. There are times where he can seem to disappear a little bit in games, watching as others battle for pucks. When he’s racing for a puck, he does have a tendency to try and poke pucks through his opponent. I would like to see him learn to box out, positioning himself between the opponent and the puck, gaining possession and open ice in front of him. I wouldn’t blink seeing Odelius taken in the first round.

Bell’s first-round defenders in the 2022 NHL Draft

  1. Simon Nemec (2-5)
  2. David Jiricek (5-12)
  3. Denton Mateychuk (8-15)
  4. Seamus Casey (15-25)
  5. Elias Salomonsson (15-25)
  6. Kevin Korchinski (15-25)
  7. Simon Forsmark (20-30)
  8. Lian Bichsel (20-30)
  9. Tristan Luneau (25-35)
  10. Lane Hutson (25-35)

That’s right. There are 10 prospects here, slightly over the 10-year average. Odelius is probably the next in line here, and I might even have him inside the first as the 11th defenseman. Mintyukov and Lindgren are right there with him, too. I could easily put any of these three in over Luneau or Hutson.

The biggest omissions are Nelson and Chesley, who I can’t seem to justify first-round positions for based on my views.

These defenders (along with a few others) are a little all-over-the-place and there are varying thoughts on the first-round defenders. This very much comes down to scouting philosophy and what various scouts and outlets value compared to others. It will make for a very interesting draft day.

Feel free to share your ranking of the top defenders in this class, or your guess on which ones will be first-round selections, on Twitter. Make sure to tag @FCHockey and @JoshuaBell31 in your posts!

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