Mock Draft: How the first 28 picks of the 2022 draft could shake out
The order for the opening 28 picks of the 2022 NHL Draft are now locked.
And only four teams remain. The Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche are battling it out in the West while the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning are scrapping it out in the East.
That leaves 28 other teams firmly fixed on the next task at hand: the draft.
It leaves us with another chance to scope out some more potential picks, building on our post-NHL Draft Lottery choices.
Here’s how the first 28 picks could play out for the 2022 NHL Draft on July 8:
1. Montreal Canadiens: Shane Wright, C, Kingston (OHL)
The Montreal Canadiens retain their first overall slot in the lottery and receive the privilege to select this year’s consensus top prospect — Shane Wright. Wright is a highly-intelligent two-way center who models his own game after Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron. He plays committed to both ends of the ice, can make plays and reads to dictate the pace of play and control possession of the puck for his team, and is able to finish with one of the best shot releases in the draft. Wright, who was seleted with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 OHL Draft after being granted exceptional status into the Canadian Hockey League, will join Nick Suzuki at the center position to form a formidable 1-2 punch down the middle for the Habs, and will be coming into his rookie season fresh off of a 32 goal, 94 point season with the Kingston Frontenacs this season.
“Wright is an elite two-way center with incredible offensive ability,” said Josh Bell, FCHockey’s head crossover scout. “It’s not often you watch players where you really struggle to find too many weaknesses at this level, but Wright has been that way for a while now. His intelligence on the ice is second to none and on full display in his playmaking, his lane pursuit, and his awareness.”
2. New Jersey Devils: Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, TPS (Liiga)
After moving up three spots in the NHL Draft Lottery, the New Jersey Devils will have their pick from a number of intriguing options at the top of the draft — and you would be hard-pressed to find a better fit than Slovak winger Juraj Slafkovsky. He is a big, strong power forward who boasts a potent goal-scoring tool kit with good offensive and spatial awareness and a heavy shot. Slafkovsky is able to dominate below the hashmarks in the offensive zone, shielding pucks from opposing defensemen and winning battles around the goal, which would make him a perfect fit for New Jersey’s skilled center group with Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. Slafkovsky turned heads at the Winter Olympics for Slovakia, where he produced at a goal-per-game clip with seven snipes, and was named the tournament’s MVP.
“With his collection of high-end tools the sky is the limit with his potential,“ said Derek Neumeier, FCHockey’s head Western scout. “It’s incredibly rare to find a player who has Slafkovsky’s combination of huge size, slick hands and smooth mobility. When he gets a head of steam going he’s a real treat to watch, carrying the puck up the ice with purpose and using his agility and impressive puck control to either navigate through traffic or power around defenders to the outside.”
3. Arizona Coyotes: Logan Cooley, C, USNTDP U18 (USDP)
With the third overall selection, the Arizona Coyotes add a foundational piece to their forward group with Logan Cooley — the top American-born player available in this year’s draft. Cooley is a well-rounded and highly-skilled center with a plethora of tricks up his sleeve in the offensive zone. He’s a very skilled and creative player, able to make flashy plays in tight spaces to beat opposing checkers while also displaying strong playmaking vision to set up linemates and make those around him better. Cooley is also no slouch when it comes to his two-way commitment, which makes him very projectable as a pro player and it’s easy to see the fit in Arizona’s system alongside scoring wingers such as Clayton Keller and Dylan Guenther. Cooley is coming off a high-flying offensive season for the NTDP this year with 75 points (27 goals, 48 assists) in 51 games and is committed to a strong developmental system in the NCAA at the University of Minnesota for next season.
“Cooley is a dynamic two-way center who has a significant impact on the game at both ends of the ice,” said Austin Broad, FCHockey’s head US scout. “His ability to drive play and create chances with the puck on his stick is the most impressive. Cooley can handle the puck in a phone booth, and does so while examining the defensive setup to find weak spots or potential passing lanes.”
4. Seattle Kraken: Simon Nemec, RHD, HK Nitra (Slovakia)
After selecting their No. 1 center of the future in Matty Beniers one year ago, the Seattle Kraken add a franchise cornerstone to their blue line with Simon Nemec. Nemec is a smooth-skating two-way defenseman who excels in the offensive zone with his exceptional vision with the puck on his stick and is able to transition pucks out of his own end with ease by utilizing either his mobility or an accurate outlet pass. He is among the best in this class at reading and reacting to space on both sides of the puck, able to manage his gaps well while defending the rush and can find space in the offensive zone to make plays to teammates. Nemec has been a fixture for Slovakia internationally, appearing twice at both the World Junior Championship and Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and is set to make his second appearance at the World Championship. Nemec was a top producer at the pro level this year in Slovakia, netting 26 points (one goal, 25 assists) in 39 games during the regular season before putting up 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 19 playoff games for HK Nitra, and his growing resume of success while playing against men should quell concerns regarding his projectability to the NHL.
“Nemec is a very intelligent two-way defenseman who has to ability to impact the game all over the ice,” European FCHockey scout Miroslav Simurka said. “He is a very good skater who moves with ease on the ice. He has the ability to beat forecheckers with his skating or to catch players in transition from offense to defense, and thanks to his great stamina and work ethic he can do this not only right after jumping on the ice but as well at the end of a heavy shift skating all over the ice.”
5. Philadelphia Flyers: David Jiricek, RHD, HC Plzen (Czechia)
The Philadelphia Flyers grab a high-end piece for the future of their defense with the selection of David Jiricek, a high-ceiling right-shot defenseman who already plays with the essence of classic Flyers hockey. Jiricek is a physical blueliner who relishes finishing checks against oncoming attackers, using his 6-foot-3 frame to separate opposing players from the puck while also showcasing high-end skills on the offensive side of the puck. He moves well for a player his size, stickhandles well and can make creative plays in the offensive zone, and boasts a heavy point-shot — all attributes that make him very projectable as a future power play quarterback at the NHL level. Jiricek impressed scouts while playing at the professional level in Czechia this year, finishing with a final regular season total of five goals and 11 points in 29-game campaign that was cut shorter in length due to a mid-season knee injury suffered at the 2022 World Juniors. Jiricek will skate for the Czechs at the upcoming World Championship, where he will look to solidify his standing as a top-five candidate for the 2022 NHL Draft.
“Jiricek is an exceptional two-way defender that shows a strong transition ability,” said Bell. “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.”
6. Columbus Blue Jackets (via CHI): Matthew Savoie, C/RW, Winnipeg (WHL)
The Columbus Blue Jackets add to a growing pool of forward talent with the addition of Matthew Savoie, a nimble and highly-skilled forward who would add to Columbus’ ability as a quick-strike offense. Savoie is a gifted skater who can make plays at full speed with the puck on his stick, showcasing his edgework to build speed and uses his hands to find space in traffic and open up lanes in the offensive zone to find teammates in high-danger scoring areas. Savoie was among the top first-year-eligible scorers in the CHL this year, recording 35 goals and 90 points in 65 games for the Winnipeg ICE. His combination of pace and skill makes him a high-ceiling selection for the 2022 draft, and his overall tool kit would fit in nicely on Columbus’ forward group alongside the likes of Patrik Laine, Kent Johnson, and Cole Sillinger.
“Savoie’s strengths come from his balance, the speed and power of his inside edges to explode laterally, and the quickness of his hands,” FCHockey Western scout Joel Henderson said. “Everything is based on the speed of play and how he is able to create enough separation and space in order to be consistently effective.”
7. Ottawa Senators: Joakim Kemell, RW, JYP (Liiga)
The Ottawa Senators add a high-end finisher to their forward group with the selection of Joakim Kemell, whose goal-scoring tool kit would fit in nicely alongside Ottawa’s growing catalog of young skilled forwards such as Tim Stutzle, Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson, and Josh Norris. Kemell is able to find his way onto the scoresheet due to a blend of high-end offensive awareness and excellent shooting mechanics. He displays excellent spatial awareness in the offensive zone, able to find his way to open areas of ice to make himself available to linemates, and owns a quick release on his wrist shot that allows him to deliver the puck with power and accuracy. Kemell cooled in the back-half of the Liiga season after coming back from a midseason injury, but finished the regular season with 15 goals and 23 points in 39 games before going to the 2022 World Under-18 Championship, where he was a key player for Finland’s bronze medal-winning club.
“Kemell is an absolutely electrifying player to watch with his blend of speed, puckhandling and finishing ability,” said Finnish-based FCHockey regional scout Rasmus Tornqvist. “He always seems to find ways to make plays and go for goal even when there seemingly is nothing there.”
8. Detroit Red Wings: Frank Nazar, RW/C, USNTDP U18 (USDP)
After going with a defenseman and a goaltender with their top two picks in the 2021 NHL Draft, the Detroit Red Wings add another much-needed dynamic piece to their forward group with Frank Nazar. Nazar has emerged as a top player for the US National Team Development Program over the past two years due to his blend of pace, vision, and high motor. He’s a very quick skater who drives opposing defenses back on their heels and plays with an attacking mindset, driving the center lane in the offensive zone and relishes pushing the pace of play when the puck is on his stick, all while being a very creative playmaker who can find teammates in high-danger areas with excellent vision and passing ability. Nazar soared this season with the NTDP with 42 assists and 70 points in 56 games and will be playing nearby at the University of Michigan next season in the NCAA.
“Nazar is an offensively productive player who has outstanding foot-speed and a shot that flies off his stick,” said Shaun Richardson, FCHockey’s head Eastern scout. “He projects as a versatile middle-six center at the next level who can add some defensive responsibility when played higher in the lineup or add offensive upside when further down the depth chart.”
9. Buffalo Sabres: Brad Lambert, RW/C, Pelicans (Liiga)
The Buffalo Sabres continue to rebuild their forward group with the addition of Brad Lambert, a dynamic Finnish forward who is oozing with offensive potential. Though the results didn’t quite come for Lambert at the Liiga level this year, with just 10 points in 49 games split between two clubs, he brings a tantalizing high-ceiling package of speed and skill to the rink every time he steps on the ice. Lambert is a dynamic skater who is able to push the pace of play whenever he has the puck on his stick, able to push through the neutral zone at top speed and put opposing defenders on their heels when attacking in transition. Lambert is at his best when challenging opposing defenders in tight spaces, allowing him to change directions on defenders to open up shooting lanes and is able to get the puck off his stick in a hurry with a quick shot release. He may take some patience to find his footing at the NHL level, but the returns could be tremendous for the Sabres if he’s able to settle into their top six alongside the likes of Alex Tuch, Tage Thompson, and Jack Quinn.
“Lambert is an offensive dynamo who is very dangerous in the offensive zone given his sublime skating and fast hands,” FCHockey video scout Sebastian Death said in a report. “His skating stride is quick and powerful, and he generates a lot of torque with every push. His edgework is phenomenal and he makes quick cuts very effortlessly, making him hard to cover 1-on-1 as he can easily shed defenders.”
10. Anaheim Ducks: Cutter Gauthier, LW, USNTDP U18 (USDP)
The Anaheim Ducks add a powerful goal-scoring winger to their forward group with the selection of Cutter Gauthier, who would be an excellent complement to the finesse skill game brought by Calder nominee Trevor Zegras. Gauthier worked his way up the depth chart for the USNTDP over the past two years due to a blend of power, skill, and high-end shot. Gauthier is very strong on pucks, utilizing his 6-foot-3 frame blended with his excellent puck skills to shield pucks away from defenders. He can beat defenders 1-on-1 by going through or around them and is able to finish with a heavy wrist shot or score from the circles with his one-timer. Gauthier had a strong scoring season for the NTDP this year with 34 goals and 65 points in 54 games while playing top-line minutes, and will be able to continue to hone his craft at the NCAA level with Boston College starting next season.
“Gauthier is a power forward who skates well and is adaptable to any role in the offensive zone,” said Richardson. “He can make quick decisions but still exhibits a level of calm and patience with the puck that allows the play to develop.”
11. San Jose Sharks: Kevin Korchinski, LHD, Seattle (WHL)
The San Jose Sharks begin to replenish their blue line with the selection of Seattle defenseman Kevin Korchinski, who has been a force in the WHL playoffs thus far with nine points in seven playoff games after a 65-point campaign with the Thunderbirds. Korchinski is an exceptionally mobile and fluid defenseman, able to effortlessly move pucks through the neutral zone and join the play from the offensive blue line to help contribute to his team’s puck possession. He displays excellent vision with the puck on his stick, able to find lanes to carry the puck through or find teammates in the offensive zone with his crisp passing ability. His mobility and pro frame make him incredibly projectable as a top-four defenseman at the NHL level with the potential to be a truly special player if he continues to make strides in his offensive game, where he’s continued to get better and better throughout the duration of the WHL season.
“Korchinski has made huge progression this season and continues to look more and more like one of the top prospects in the 2022 draft,” Derek Neumeier, FCHockey’s head Western scout, said. “He plays with an incredible abundance of fluidity, moving effortlessly and gracefully in all directions. And when you add in his long strides and great mechanics, it allows him to cover huge swaths of ice in no time and with little energy expended.”
12. Columbus Blue Jackets: Danila Yurov, RW/LW, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)
With their second pick of the draft, the Jackets dip back into Russia and add another highly-skilled winger in Danila Yurov, who is among the draft’s most versatile forwards. Yurov is a complete offensive threat who is equally capable as both a scorer and a playmaker, displaying incredible smarts with the puck on his stick and is able to quickly identify holes in opposing defenses at a moment’s notice. His shot release, power, and accuracy are all very good and he’s able to shed checks with smooth puckhandling ability and creative 1-on-1 dekes, all while displaying strong two-way commitment and smarts. Yurov’s KHL season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk was mired with exceedingly low ice-time totals, leading to a blank stat line in 21 games, but he was a force while playing in the MHL with 36 points in 23 games, leaving plenty of reason for optimism that his offensive game will translate to the pro level.
“He’s an intelligent winger who excels in fast-paced offensive situations,” said FCHockey crossover scout Jake Janso. “He’s athletic and possesses a clean, balanced stride with soft hands. His shot is powerful and he likes to let it rip in motion and between defender’s legs.”
13. New York Islanders: Denton Mateychuk, LHD, Moose Jaw (WHL)
The New York Islanders look to add more skill and pace to their defensive group with the addition of Denton Mateychuk, a skilled and highly-mobile left-shot defenseman who put together a great offensive season for the Moose Jaw Warriors in the WHL this year. Mateychuk is a gifted skater who can carry the puck out of his own zone and jump into the offensive zone with ease. He’s smooth on his edges and can make 1-on-1 plays to find space while the puck is on his stick. Mateychuk was among the top scoring defenseman in the WHL this year with 13 goals and 64 points in 65 games while adding another eight points in as many playoff games for Moose Jaw, cementing himself as one of the draft’s top talents on the blue line.
“Mateychuk’s game is built around his flexibility, creativity, and general quickness in mental processing,” FCHockey scout Donesh Mazloum said. “Every aspect of his game is proactive and purposeful. He is as dangerous as they come with the puck on his stick. His head is always up surveying the ice and he is always a threat to thread a home run stretch pass.”
14. Winnipeg Jets: Pavel Mintyukov, LHD, Saginaw (OHL)
After selecting forwards Chaz Lucius and Cole Perfetti with their previous two first round picks, the Winnipeg Jets add an exciting prospect on the back end with Pavel Mintyukov. Mintyukov is a skilled defenseman who plays with an attacking mindset. He relishes finding opportunities to carry the puck into the offensive zone and plays unafraid to challenge opposing checkers with his puck skills to open up lanes to the net. Mintyukov leans on his skill and mobility to impact games offensively, but also demonstrates strong defensive skills as well with an active stick and good skills while defending the rush. Mintyukov was an impact player for the Saginaw Spirit in the OHL this year, finishing the season with 17 goals and 62 points in 67 games as he continued to look more and more comfortable throughout the duration of his rookie OHL campaign.
“Mintyukov is a high-energy defender who is aggressive at both ends and can use his skating ability to create rush chances as well as contribute inside the offensive zone,” said Ontario-based FCHockey scout Joseph Aleong. “His mobility in all directions is impressive, with quick feet and acceleration as well as strong edges that allow him to maintain tight gaps when defending the rush. His skating allows him to be aggressive jumping into the offense, showing off good straight-line speed and confidence handling the puck at high speed.”
15. Vancouver Canucks: Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Djurgårdens IF (SHL)
The Vancouver Canucks will still get good value for their pick in Jonathan Lekkerimaki, a Swedish scoring winger who would come in and add more scoring depth alongside Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Bo Horvat. Lekkerimaki is among the top pure goal scorers available in the 2022 draft due to his ability to bury pucks in a variety of ways. He can score from the circles using either a strong one-timer or his heavy and accurate wrist shot, and does a very good job of reading off of his teammates to find soft areas of ice to make himself available as a shooting threat — all while possessing a good skill game that allows him to be effective in tight spaces. Lekkerimaki played his way on to Djurgarden’s SHL club throughout the duration of the season, finishing with seven goals in 26 games before leading Sweden to a gold medal at the Under-18s, where he had 15 points in just six contests.
“Lekkerimaki is a pure sniper and goalscorer that wants to deliver every night,” said Swedish-based FCHockey scout Fredrik Haak. “He has a tendency to always find space to release his hard wrist shot. What makes it even better is that he does not need a lot of time; he can fire away before anyone has reacted.”
16. Buffalo Sabres (via VGK): Ryan Chesley, RHD, USNTDP U18 (USDP)
With their second first round selection, the Sabres add a steady presence to the right side of the blue line with the selection of Ryan Chesley. Chesley is a steady and efficient two-way defenseman who excels particularly on the defensive side of the puck. He has a very active stick that allows him to break up plays in transition and deny zone entries while also having excellent positioning in his own zone to clog up passing lanes in high-danger areas. He has a sturdy frame that also allows him to play physically and defend the front of his net from oncoming attackers. Chesley was a consistent and efficient presence on the USNTDP’s top defense pairing all season while also recording 29 points in 59 games for his team, and would be an excellent complement to the likes of Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power in Buffalo.
“Chesley is a physical two-way defenseman who excels in transition,” US-based FCHockey scout Douglas Larson said in a report. “He’s always moving around and has a long powerful stride that allows him to get up the ice. He made his presence felt laying the body every chance he got this game. It seemed to separate the opposition from the puck nearly every time.”
17. Nashville Predators: Owen Pickering, LHD, Swift Current (WHL)
After spending recent first round draft capital on forwards and goaltending, the Nashville Predators add a piece to their blue line with the selection of rangy two-way defenseman Owen Pickering. Pickering is a highly mobile defenseman for a player his size, as he moves his 6-foot-5 frame effortlessly around the ice with a fluid skating stride, allowing him to fully utilize his reach to limit space for opposing attackers. He is also capable of moving pucks efficiently out of his own zone using either his mobility or a crisp outlet pass and is a reliable contributor at both ends of the ice. Following a strong season for Swift Current in the WHL with 33 points (nine goals, 24 assists) in 62 games, Pickering played a critical role for Canada at the Under-18s, where he drew assignments as the team’s No. 1 defenseman.
“Pickering is a versatile two-way defender, who uses his high-end mobility to impact the game,” Broad said. “His skating is his best asset, he has the speed, power, and agility in his stride that allows him to close gaps, and cover large areas of space in the blink of an eye.”
18. Dallas Stars: Rutger McGroarty, LW/C, USNTDP U18 (USDP)
The Dallas Stars add more goal-scoring talent to their system with the selection of Rutger McGroarty, a highly-competitive shoot-first forward with one of the top deliveries in the draft. McGroarty’s top offensive tool is his shot, as he owns a very quick release that allows him to get the puck off his stick with power and accuracy in a hurry. McGroarty works hard to find space in high-danger scoring areas and is a natural leader due to his high-end work ethic, which would make him a natural fit with a blue-collar club such as Dallas. McGroarty has long been considered among the top Americans available in his age group, which was punctuated this year with 35 goals and 69 points in 54 games for the USNTDP before putting together a standout performance at the Under-18s, where he captained USA to a silver with eight goals in six games.
“He has such a specific profile that many NHL teams will covet,” FCHockey scout Josh Bell said. “While he’s known for his goal-scoring, his strength may be a defining factor to his game. He’s extremely strong on his feet and definitely isn’t afraid to hold his own and throw his body around. He’s also extremely competitive, often the first forward back to support his defenders, jumping into every battle he can, and always looking to drive the play forward.”
19. Los Angeles Kings: Marco Kasper, W/C, Rögle BK (SHL)
Following a strong season that saw a young Los Angeles Kings group find its way back to the playoffs, another piece is added to its growing catalog of young forward talent with Austrian forward Marco Kasper. Kasper is a highly athletic and fleet of foot forward who is able to leverage his speed and mobility effectively due to his high-end motor and strong puck skills. He displays very good skill in tight spaces, able to handle pucks around his feet and close to his body, allowing him to find pucks and bury chances close to the goal-mouth and he’s able to find his way to those high-danger areas due to his willingness to drive hard areas and keep his feet moving. Kasper was among the SHL’s top U20 scorers this past season with seven goals and 11 points in 46 games for Rögle BK before putting together an impressive playoff run where he elevated his game and scoring pace. Kasper was also a fixture for Austria at the international level this year, appearing at both the World Juniors and the IIHF World Championships.
“With his high-end offensive awareness, Kasper finds himself open frequently in the offensive zone, due in part to him constantly moving his feet,” FCHockey scout Curtis Schwartzkopf said. “Kasper also has high-end agility, which allows him to skate away from crowded areas with subtle changes in direction and an efficient stride that generates a lot of power but looks effortless.”
20. Washington Capitals: Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Omskie Krylia (VHL)
The Washington Capitals can step up the plate and select one of the draft’s biggest wild cards in Ivan Miroshnichenko, a Russian sniper who came into the year as one of the 2022 class’ most highly-touted prospects. Miroshnichenko has long been considered potentially the top goal-scoring talent of the group, showcasing a powerful wrist shot that he can release in stride as well as a booming one-timer on his off-wing that he lets loose often from the left circle. Miroshnichenko spent the year in Russia’s second-tier professional league, recording 10 goals and 16 points in the 31 games he was available to play in, while also being a constant in recent international tournaments for Russia with his performance at the 2021 Hlinka Gretzky Cup being a standout on his resume with nine points in five games en route to a gold medal. Unfortunately, Miroshnichenko was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma back in early March of this year. We all wish him a full and speedy recovery.
“Miroshnichenko has the potential to be a top-six, scoring winger,” Bell said prior to the diagnosis. “With some small tweaks/improvements to his game, he could be very close to the NHL level. He’s a strong top-five contender in the 2022 NHL Draft.”
21. Pittsburgh Penguins: Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg (WHL)
The Pittsburgh Penguins add reinforcements to their center ice position with selection of Conor Geekie, a power forward who plays with a blend of skill, size, and strength. Geekie owns an imposing pro-ready frame, already standing at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, allowing him to impose his will at the junior level with his size and strength on the puck. He is dominant along the boards with his ability to shield off defenders and handle pucks in tight, while also owning a powerful wrist shot that makes him capable as a scorer in high-danger areas of the ice. The former No. 2 pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft, Geekie put together a strong sophomore campaign for the Winnipeg ICE with 24 goals and 70 points in 63 games, as he was a regular in the team’s top-six and was a constant on the team’s power play units as well.
“Geekie is simply always dangerous with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone,” Henderson said. “He possesses a combination of puck protection, playmaking vision, and effortless release that makes him a hard threat to read for goaltenders.”
22. Anaheim Ducks (via BOS): Jagger Firkus, RW, Moose Jaw (WHL)
With their second first round selection, the Ducks add more goal-scoring punch to their system with Canadian forward Jagger Firkus, who has been a consistent riser in the draft landscape throughout the year. Firkus is a shifty and skilled forward who plays with great creativity with the puck on his stick, able to find holes in opposing defenses to open up attacking lanes and is capable as a dual offensive threat with good playmaking instincts and an excellent shot. He turned the heads of scouts at the CHL Top Prospects Game this year with a standout performance and was a top player for the Moose Jaw Warriors this past season in the WHL, tallying 36 goals and 80 points in 66 regular season games.
“He is so slippery and dangerous when he gets the puck on his stick in the offensive zone,” Neumeier said. “The way he is able to control the puck, move it around and keep a play alive is incredible. When he senses an opportunity to strike he doesn’t hesitate to do so, and he can generate or complete multiple scoring chances on a single shift.”
23. St. Louis Blues: Jiri Kulich, LW/C, HC Karlovy Vary (Czech)
The St. Louis Blues add another piece to the future of their forward group with the selection of Jiri Kulich, a versatile forward whose trajectory is trending up after a standout performance at the Under-18s. Kulich is a very versatile and well-rounded forward, able to play both sides of the puck efficiently while also having the ability to play both center and wing. He is effective on both special team units but excels particularly as a power play threat, owning a very good shot including a powerful one-timer on his off-wing. Kulich earned a full-time spot in the Czech pro league this past year and led all U20 skaters in scoring with nine goals and 14 points in 49 games before exploding at the Under-18s with nine goals and 11 points in just six games played, earning him tournament MVP honors while captaining Czechia.
“Kulich is a skilled, speedy two-way forward who can play both as center and as a winger as well,” Simurka saod. “He is a fast skater both with and without puck, especially in straight lines when he can beat opponents in races regularly. Kulich often collects the puck in the neutral zone, takes the puck to the offensive zone, beats defenders with his speed but then shoots from perimeter.”
24. Minnesota Wild: Lian Bichsel, LHD, Leksands IF (SHL)
The Minnesota Wild add a top prospect to their defensive core with the selection of Lian Bichsel, a Swiss two-way defenseman who was able to play his way into consistent ice time at the SHL level this year. Bichsel is a very mature defenseman who checks a lot of boxes in terms of projectability, as he owns a pro-ready frame at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, moves well for a player his size, and plays a reliable, physical brand of hockey in his own zone. Bichsel started the year with Leksands J20 squad, tallying seven points in 11 games before earning his full-time spot with the SHL club, where he put up three points in 29 games throughout the SHL season. He also played a major role for Switzerland in international competition this year, appearing at both the World Junior Championships as well as the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he captained Switzerland’s U18 team.
“Bichsel is a physical, two-way defender that plays above his age,” Bell said. “His strength might be his biggest asset, already holding off men in the SHL and making it seem effortless. He definitely makes his presence felt every time he hits the ice with hits or getting involved in board battles. He keeps his head on a swivel, scanning the ice regularity and always checking his shoulder before turning up the ice.”
25. Toronto Maple Leafs: Gleb Trikozov, W/C, Omskie Yastreby (MHL)
The Toronto Maple Leafs grab more forward reinforcements with the selection of Gleb Trikozov, a skilled and versatile Russian forward who is among the youngest top prospects available in this year’s draft. Trikozov is a dual-threat forward who is able to be effective as both a scorer and a playmaker, due in large part to his ability to use his skill to prolong offensive zone possession and allow attacking lanes to open up. He displays strong playmaking vision while also owning a strong shot while shooting from a standstill, able to shoot with power and accuracy from the circles. After a point-per-game performance for Russia at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Trikozov became one of the MHL’s premier forwards this year, tallying 23 goals and 45 points in 35 regular season games for Omskie Yastreby before putting together a strong playoff run with 18 points (10 goals, eight assists) in 13 playoff games.
“Trikozov is one of the most dynamic offensive talents in the draft,” FCHockey video scout Jake Janso said. “His combination of size, speed, and skill makes him one of the most intriguing prospects in the class. His shot is powerful and accurate, making him a constant threat to score from distance. His ability to control the pace of play has really grown this season.”
26. Montreal Canadiens (via CGY): Isaac Howard, LW, USNTDP U18 (USDP)
The Canadiens continue to round out the future of their forward group with Isaac Howard, another available forward from a particularly strong USNTDP crop this year. Howard is a skilled, high-motor forward who is able to create high-danger scoring opportunities due to his willingness to drive hard areas of the offensive zone and play with skill in tight areas. He’s capable of beating both defenders and netminders with 1-on-1 dekes and can score with a capable wrist shot while also possessing strong playmaking vision and puck delivery skills. He was the top-scoring American on this year’s National Team Development Program squad, recording 33 goals and 82 points in 60 games this year before putting together a dominant Under-18s performance for Team USA, tying for third in tournament scoring with 11 points in six games.
“Howard is a high-end offensive forward with excellent mobility and a filthy set of mitts,” Richardson said. “His skating in combination with his puck skills and vision really jumped out during this game. His edges made him difficult to contain. He cut away from pressure, darted between defenders and accessed the inside of the ice.”
27. Arizona Coyotes (via CAR): Maveric Lamoureux, RHD, Drummondville (QMJHL)
With the second of their three first round picks this year, the Coyotes add a much-needed piece to the right side of their blue line with Maveric Lamoureux. Lamoureux is a towering defenseman who stands at just a hair under 6-foot-7 with room to fill out his frame with more muscle. He moves well for a player his size, making him incredibly rangy and imposing for opposing attackers to deal with and his size advantage makes it easy for Lamoureux to play a physical brand of hockey when defending the front of his own net. He is noted more for his defensive abilities, but he does show capable offensive tools at times as well, as he recorded four goals and 24 points in 54 games for Drummondville in the QMJHL this past season.
“Lamoureux is a nasty, tough to play against type of defenseman that plays solid defensively and can also jumps on the offense,” Quebec-based FCHockey scout Zacharie Labrie said. Considering his imposing 6-foot-7 frame, his skating is pretty surprising. Lamoureux makes his presence known by pushing around opponents or by being nasty in the corner or in front of the net. No one has a fun time battling the puck with him.”
28. Buffalo Sabres (via FLA): Noah Ostlund, C, Djurgardens IF J20 (SWE-J20)
With their final pick of the first round, the Sabres add Noah Ostlund to a growing group of young, talented forwards. Ostlund is a highly skilled and creative playmaking center, capable of flashing high-end, dynamic skill to beat opposing defenders and open up lanes to the net. He is an agile skater who’s capable of attacking on the rush and owns excellent playmaking vision, able to find teammates with ease with good looks in the offensive zone and crisp tape-to-tape passes. Ostlund leaned into his role with Djurgardens J20 squad this past season, tallying 33 assists and 42 points in 32 regular season games before putting together a strong U18 World Junior Championship for Sweden where he had ten points in six games en route to a gold medal.
“Ostlund has the hockey sense and the playmaking abilities that many just dream about,” Haak said. “He reads the game at a very high level and seems to put himself in the right spots all the time both with and without the puck. He has a high intensity on the ice and moves the puck fast. When Ostlund gets the puck, he never seems to get stressed even though he gets forechecked a lot.”