July 7, 2022

Canadiens, Kraken among big winners on first day of 2022 NHL Draft

The first round of the 2022 NHL Draft is in the books. 

And there was no shortage of chaos. Entertainment, either. 

The Montreal Canadiens were active on home ice, wheeling and dealing on the phones. The Chicago Blackhawks, one of their trade partners, was equally busy reshaping their franchise, and was one of multiple teams who made multiple picks in the opening 32 picks. 

While the entertainment is winding down before a jam-packed, six-round second day, here are the teams with the best early returns. 

Seattle Kraken

The Seattle Kraken seem like the easiest choice for a first-round winner because they had the fourth overall selection and wound-up getting Shane Wright — the top-ranked prospect at FCHockey. Wright was probably expecting to be taken by the Canadiens at No. 1, and understandably so. Instead, he watched Juraj Slafkovsky, Simon Nemec, and Logan Cooley all overtake him in a slide to the fourth overall pick. 

“Yeah, definitely going to have a little chip on my shoulder from this for sure,” Wright said. “Definitely, like you said, a little more motivation. I’ve always been self-motivated, always been pushing myself internally, but it’s definitely going to give me a little more fire for sure.”

Wright gives the Kraken another center to pair with Matty Beniers, the No. 2 pick in the 2021 draft, and we’re beginning to see the early foundation of their future core. Wright and Beniers provide offensive pop with some two-way prowess that Seattle will rely on to make their team competitive in the near future.

Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres had an embarrassment of riches thanks to separate trades that saw the organization part with forwards Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. General manager Kevyn Adams had a chance to add three key building blocks for the future, and he managed to grab three players ranked inside of FCHockey’s top 27 picks. 

Matthew Savoie, ranked 13th, Noah Ostlund, 24th, and Jiri Kulich, 27th all provide high-end offensive upside and flexibility to an up and coming prospect group in Buffalo. Adams has been under pressure since he took over at the helm of the Sabres, and in his third draft he seems to have a solid grasp on things in Buffalo.

Columbus Blue Jackets

When the Columbus Blue Jackets acquired multiple assets for Seth Jones last summer, the trade looked like solid work for general manager Jarmo Kekalainen. It looks even better now. Using the first round pick they acquired from Chicago, Columbus nabbed David Jiricek at sixth overall — adding a high-end, blue-chip blue line prospect to their pool. 

The Jiricek pick alone could have been enough to make the Blue Jackets a first-round winner, but adding Denton Mateychuk, another blueliner, at No. 12 certainly bolsters a prospect pool already flush with offensively-gifted forwards. 

Kekalainen’s been strong at identifying talent in round one as of late, and it appears he did another tidy job this year. Columbus certainly deserves praise for the work they’ve pulled off in stocking the cupboards over the course of the last 12 months. 

Montreal Canadiens

Montreal won the first day of the draft for a variety of reasons. 

First let’s start with their picks. They grabbed a massive upside power forward in Slafkovsky at No. 1, who they hope will slot in as a top line winger for years to come.

“So I was pretty surprised, like they knew me very well,” Slafkovsky said. “Like they knew almost everything, how I play, what I do on the ice. I think, yeah, it’s a really good organization, and the important thing is that they know what they want, and I know what I want. It’s just good for me that I — it’s good for me that they picked me.”

Then, later in the first, they grabbed the highly-skilled and tenacious Filip Mesar. With that, the Canadiens brought in two prospects they hope will help bring them back to another Stanley Cup Final. Montreal also added a highly-touted young player in Kirby Dach from the Chicago Blackhawks after a mastery of moves.

As the hosts you typically want to make a big splash on day one, but general manager Kent Hughes really did his best to make their presence felt and set the tone for their tenure in Montreal.

Honorable mention: Slovakia

The nation of Slovakia had a fantastic night on day one of the draft. Not only did they have the first overall pick in Slafkovsky, but they also saw Nemec go No. 2 to the New Jersey Devils. Mesar, of course, joined Slafkovsky in Montreal at No. 26.

“I think out of 5 million people, at least like four-and-a-half million are up and they are cheering for us,” Slafkovsky said. “At the end of the day that’s important. We are from Slovakia, and we represent the country, and I’m just happy that this happened to us.”

An absolutely great night for an up and coming program that deserves some love. These three players grew up together and all got to enter the NHL on the same night and it was awesome to see.

Now that the chaos of day one has come and gone, it’s time to see what the rest of the draft has in store as it kicks off on Friday.

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