McKeen’s Hockey will be providing analysis and player profiles for the 2022 World Junior Championship slated to begin Dec. 26th. We will be updating our 2022 NHL Draft ranking following the tournament and will share our notes on the top 32 on NBC Sports at that point. Look for mock drafts and other NHL Draft related content as we get closer to the July event in Montreal.
To provide a look heading into the tournament, look for Brock Otten to provide a preview of the draft eligible prospects playing in the tournament in our regular weekly Prospects Report column on NBC Sports Edge on Dec. 27. Last season we added a video/film squad to our coverage to bring a different perspective to our analysis and rankings. Headed by our Director of Video Scouting, Will Scouch, well known for his Scouching videos and blog, with a fresh list of his own ready to publish, we have asked him to provide his look at the upcoming NHL draft. He identifies the players he believes belong in the first round, along with a consensus ranking he compiles of reputable public draft rankings to give us a look at a wider view of the prospects to watch in the coming months.
The 2022 NHL Draft is approaching, and this season I’ve really taken my time this year to track as much data as I can and build out my database with as many names in solid samples as I can before presenting my findings. It’s now late December and I finally feel ready to show a taste of the work I’ve put in, with the rest accessible on Scouching.ca. The full list is 93 names long with a watchlist of 25 others who I’ve personally really enjoyed watching, regardless of potential NHL upside. When McKeen’s Hockey asked me to step in and share my work here on Pro Hockey Talk, I of course jumped at the chance, and I hope you enjoy what I’m able to provide this holiday season!
If you’re unfamiliar, I track data myself through video. Shots, passes, and transition data are the main points I try to hit, and I try to capture exactly what kind of impact the player is having while on the ice. All my data is at 5v5, and I currently have some kind of data on 105 individuals from around the world. This data gets packaged into YouTube videos and livestreams that you can watch for free over at the Scouching YouTube channel. I also feel it’s prudent to share my personal philosophy so readers can better understand the types of players that I value. Others may have a differing view on what to look for in a young player, and that’s all fine and good, but if I can help you get inside my head a little, it may make for more interesting discussion when those competing opinions inevitably collide.
[UPDATE: COVID-19 forces IIHF to cancel 2022 World Junior Championship]
In the NHL Draft, I’m always looking for traits in a player that you can’t often find in the NHL in plentiful amounts. Scoring is of course important, but scoring is the result of strong procedural play that starts with earning puck possession, maintaining possession, getting pucks into the offensive zone, creating scoring chances from high-risk areas, and only then will the puck go in the net. A lot of things need to be done well in order to get the puck in an NHL net. Skill at game pace in 5v5 minutes is pivotal, as is speed, but I also look for pace in a player. Can a player put their tools together at game speed to achieve the goals I mentioned earlier? You can be as fast as you want, but if you can’t handle the puck at those speeds, you’ll be useful in fewer scenarios. You can be as skilled as the best on Instagram, but if you can’t read, anticipate and adapt to physical pressure from grown men and maintain possession, you’ll have trouble finding the time and space needed to use that skill, let alone if you lack the quickness and speed that always helps escape that pressure as well. Are you small? I’m far more charitable to smaller players, but only if you display remarkable quickness, fearlessness under pressure and projectable scoring ability that could beat NHL goaltenders one day.
I’ll almost always prioritize players who get everything but the scoring right over players who can score but have trouble driving results elsewhere. My focus is always on what a player could be with the talent presented, even if in short spurts, and I’ll always bet on quick, creative players that drive play with pace and skill at all positions, with a bonus being the fun factor of the player’s game.
As a final note, the names are in the order as they appear on my personal list of course, but I’ve added an average rank that covers 15 separate lists from individuals and major outlets with a long track record of work from around the internet. The average ranks are players who appear in at least five of those lists.
With that being said…
Scouching’s December Rankings!
1. Shane Wright – C – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) – Avg. Rank – 1.00
While some might call this a no-brainer, personally, Wright is one of three or four names I could have a discussion about drafting first overall. Wright’s ability to anticipate pressure from opponents, adapt to it, move pucks and maintain possession is high end, and should be more than enough to cover for his lack of gamebreaking speed and offensive flair. He’s a wonderful shooter with a great sense of space in the offensive zone as well, but I’m unsure that Wright is a guy who saves a last place organization on his own. With more offensive scoring threats on his wing, he could be a great glue centre up the middle, but I believe the gap between Nos. 1-3 might be narrower than the numbers might indicate.
2. Brad Lambert – C/RW – JYP (Liiga) – Avg. Rank – 8.67
Brad Lambert is quickly becoming quite a polarizing player, but I’m going to stick to my guns on this guy until the day he retires. Very few in my datasets over the years have been as efficient and involved in transporting the puck offensively successfully as Lambert, and nobody before has done it in professional hockey. His ability to actually produce points is a bit of a work in progress, but I expect an improved second half with all the things Lambert is doing right. Say what you will about his lack of production, his profile is extremely promising, and he brings a level of raw speed and skill that in my view is unmatched in this draft, even by Mr. Wright at No. 1.
3. Matthew Savoie – C – Winnipeg Ice (WHL) – Avg. Rank – 4.67
Savoie is a complicated one. I think his ceiling is as high as anyone’s in this year’s draft with explosive agility, quick skill, a lovely shot, and a strong history of point production. On the other hand, at 5v5 I’ve found his game can come and go if he doesn’t have some space to work with, and his defensive work rate is lower than I’d like for a centre, but there’s a heck of a hockey player here potentially. I get the feeling that he will slip further than he should in July, and while there’s a bit of risk, he doesn’t completely translate his offense to 5v5 in the NHL, it’s a risk I’d be willing to take.
4. Logan Cooley – C – U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP) – Avg. Rank – 5.73
Cooley is one of the more purely exciting players available in the draft. He’s agile, he’s skilled, he can fight through pressure with speed and pace, he can create plays, finish plays, pretty much across the board, he’s a great player with the puck on his stick. I haven’t been more impressed with anyone on the NTDP, and I’m not surprised he’s earned a spot on the World Juniors roster. An extremely well-rounded offensive centre who excels in my data is always a good thing in my mind, and with some bigger defenders likely going early, Cooley may be another potential player who slips further than he should.
5. Seamus Casey – RHD – U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP) – Avg. Rank – 14.36
Here’s my first hot take of the year. Seamus Casey both is and could be absolutely remarkable. I haven’t seen a defenseman this year as creative, agile, daring, and adaptive as Casey. He may not be big, but if he has the puck, it’s tough to get on him. He can manipulate defenders at the offensive blueline extremely well, finding cross-ice passes that hit targets all over the offensive zone. The question mark lies in his defending. His rush defending isn’t particularly strong on paper, and his skating can be more limiting when moving backwards, and his strength to erase puck carriers is also lacking. I’m extremely hopeful he could be a massive possession defenseman, versatile in many scenarios with a few years of patience and development in college.
6. Juraj Slafkovský – W – TPS (Liiga) – Avg. Rank – 7.20
I’ve been thoroughly impressed with Slafkovský’s game in the Liiga this year. He’s absolutely massive and weighs a ton but brings skill and creativity to the game that you usually don’t see out of people his size. Not many players in the NHL have his combination of skills, but I do think that he’ll be at worst a good possession winger who is difficult to stop. I believe his size makes him look slower than he is, and when I’ve seen him at the U20 level in Finland, everyone else is almost a non-factor. I think there’s a chance Slafkovský has trouble being an impactful offensive NHL player, but he’ll get every chance to get ice time with the resilience, skill and strength he shows at high levels already. I expect him to have quite the interesting World Juniors leading the young Slovakian team.
7. David Jiříček – RHD – HC Plzen (Czech Extraliga) – Avg. Rank – 8.71
Similar to Slafkovský, Jiříček is someone that I think has a pretty wide range of NHL outcomes, but without much risk of completely busting. As he is right now, Jiříček is an incomplete package, but the things he’s attempting are simply remarkable for a defenseman of his size at his age. He’s quite skilled, able to juke off defenders and make space in the offensive zone, as well as find space offensively to make passes easier for himself. His crossovers allow him to generate speed down the wing and drive into the offensive zone, and his package of tools is highly unique. The issue is that there’s a bit of “2021 Ben Chiarot Syndrome” with Jiříček. A player who is portrayed as effective defensively when he actually has significant issues and relies on borderline penalty plays to gain possession of the puck. I’ve seen it all out of him, and he’s had his fair share of penalties, while also getting left behind on more defensive rushes than you’d like. In a couple years, Jiříček could be a monster at both ends, but there’s work to be done, just like many of the names in this range.
8. Joakim Kemell – RW – JYP (Liiga) – Avg. Rank – 6.07
Everyone and their dog seem to be rocketing Joakim Kemell up their boards and dropping teammate Brad Lambert, but I am not one of those people. I am steadfast that Kemell’s production early in the season came down to quite a bit of luck on low percentage shots or rebounds, and his lacklustre speed, pace and work rate without the puck could be issues that cloud his profile. That being said, his sense of space and positioning without the puck, as well as the raw quickness of his shot are hard to ignore. There’s some good skill as well, but nothing that puts him in my top five at the moment. I think as an auxiliary scoring forward with some power play upside, I could be sold to pick him in the top ten, but I’ve been more excited with others and believe his second half will be a bit of a regression to more normal production. I like Kemell, but I think there’s a bit too much stock being put into him based largely on his production.
9. Danila Yurov – RW – Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL) – Avg. Rank – 7.07
Yurov is one of the hardest players to read in this year’s class. Not just because he isn’t playing a ton of minutes, but because in those minutes, he’s been what looks to be a replacement level KHL player. Not doing poorly, but not really moving the needle. He finds lanes and seams offensively and has had a share of scoring chances, but all the benefits of his game are good, but not quite good enough to really chip in offensively in the KHL. That being said, his play in the MHL was expectedly ridiculous. His in-tight skill at that level, and ability to chain together puck movement and quick shooting with excellent turns to manage pressure all over the ice was clearly on display. I’m not particularly concerned, but he’s one where I’m not sure what I can be particularly excited about. I think back to what I thought of Rodion Amirov at the same level, and when it comes to transition play, skill and puck management, I found Amirov much more exciting, but Yurov’s sense of space and movement along the boards are at times impressive. He’ll be a fascinating one to watch both for the rest of this year, and in the years to come. He may be a bit of a wild card right this second, but I think there’s a neat scoring forward hiding there.
10. Šimon Nemec – RHD – HK Nitra – (Slovakian Extraliga) – Avg. Rank – 7.67
I’ve seen Nemec ranked very much all over the place and I can see why. My data on him is one of the strangest for a defenseman I’ve seen so far. He’s extremely passive defensively on the rush and controlling under 50% of the offensive transitions he’s involved in, and he’s involved in a lot of those for a defender. He’s clearly a conduit through which pucks move in the offensive direction on his pro team, and his passing data is rock solid, but I do have some concerns about his true talent level as he gets into the NHL. He isn’t the quickest skater, but he can adapt to forechecks well, find space and move pucks to open linemates well. He can clog passing lanes in the neutral zone and break plays up with stick checks but again, he’s extremely inactive and passive. If an NHL team prefers defensemen to play this way, Nemec could check a lot of boxes, but I look for defenders who prevent transitions before they occur. Similar to Slafkovský, I’ll be fascinated to see how he performs in the World Juniors.
11. Frank Nazar – RW – U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP) – Avg. Rank – 12.07
There’s always a little engine that can in the NHL Draft, and Nazar this year is that player. His close quarters escape skill is remarkable, his determination under pressure is great, and his ability to draw in that pressure, move the puck quickly to space and find passing lanes is a ton of fun to watch. Nazar gets huge offensive metrics in my tracking, with 18 dangerous pass attempts and 18 dangerous shot attempts on his own per 60 5v5 minutes, and much of this comes from his determination. His brand is one NHL coaches will love, and I think there’s a lot to like. We’ll see how his game translates to the NHL considering he’s a bit lacking in size, but I’ve liked many players with this profile around this range of the draft before, and you could do much worse than Frank Nazar if you like pure, raw energy and determination.
12. Isaac Howard – LW – U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP) – Avg. Rank – 17.64
Another player where valuations are all over the place, Isaac Howard is a tough one. He’s remarkably agile and skilled, reminding me of Logan Cooley at times, just… not as good? That’s not the best analysis, but Howard does have many similar traits to Cooley on paper. His offensive transition efficiency is over 80% with large volumes, tremendous rates of dangerous shot attempts for as a team with Howard on the ice, a ton of pass attempts into the slot area, and while he can overhandle the puck and skate himself into unwinnable situations at times, the raw talent is palpable and jumps out of the screen at you. He can panic pass and lack resilience under pressure, but there’s a lot to like with tons of upside if you’re risk tolerant.
13. Gleb Trikozov – W – Omskie Yastreby (MHL) – Avg.Rank – 20.50
I run a Discord server over at Scouching.ca and at this point, Gleb Trikozov is a meme there. I have been enamored with Gleb since the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August, and he’s the lowest ranked player on this list that I genuinely believe has a decent chance of being the best player to come out of the draft this year. That may sound crazy, but this guy at his best is absolutely ridiculous. He can rip up the ice with the puck on his stick, create in the offensive zone, but can also fire shots from all over the offensive zone. He won’t reach his potential without more refinement though. He needs to build on his confidence to get into scoring position with the puck more, rather than focusing on volume shooting, and low percentage chances. Defensive involvement comes and goes. He’s clearly gifted with raw talent but hasn’t learned how to put it all together yet, but if he does, he could be a rocket ship of a hockey player that can fill the net with the puck. His MHL data I’ve tracked is absolutely bonkers even through all the issues, so I’m more than happy to stick my neck out for this guy.
14. Noah Östlund – C – Djurgårdens IF (Sweden U20 Nationell) – Avg. Rank – 15.90
Where Trikozov needs to bring his game together and bring more consistency at both ends, Östlund is a highly gifted player who has very few areas to improve on, but if they do improve, he could be a heck of a playmaking centre one day. He’s small and lacks quickness necessary to overcome the shortcomings of centres his size right now, but he’s highly agile and skilled. His real gifts lie in his skill and brain, and how they work together. He can pull pucks quickly off pressuring forecheckers and move them efficiently. He stays in open ice well, making him an option often, but his data almost across the board is a work in progress. There’s significant upside with Östlund, but there’s also risk. He’s small, can struggle to produce against good competition due to his lack of escape speed and strength, but there are definitely areas that Östlund could leverage to become an excellent play driver down the middle of the ice.
15. Calle Odelius – LHD – Djurgårdens IF (Sweden U20 Nationell) – Avg. Rank – 30.25
The more I watch Calle Odelius, the more I keep bumping him up my list. I absolutely love this guy. I’m not sure that there’s a more fluid four way skater in the entire draft this year. His lateral mobility is excellent to close gaps and manage space, his skill and deception is excellent, and when patrolling the offensive zone on his edges using turns, footwork and deception, he’s a lovely defender to watch. Nothing in his data really stands out spectacularly, but the potential of his game is huge. What he does do to this point is pass the puck more than all but 12 of the 100-plus players I’ve tracked, and completes passes at a rate better than just 17 players tracked, leading to top-20 performance in shot assists as well. I got attached after the Hlinka and haven’t looked back since. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an NHL team reach on him in this range with his modern approach to the position, and I think they’ll be well rewarded.
16. Jiří Kulich – C – HC Energie Karlovy Vary (Czech Extraliga) – Avg. Rank – 29.33
Another player who I think is being somewhat undervalued playing against pro hockey players in a good league, Kulich is a relatively simple profile that I think has plenty of room to grow. Kulich is quick in a straight line, very responsible defensively, tying up loose sticks and blocking rushing lanes, while driving to the net with or without the puck offensively and staying there. He’s rock solid with flashes of real skill in transition and has scored at a great rate in the top division of Czech hockey. His rate of dangerous shots against is 12th best in my dataset so far and I’m convinced he has quite a bit to do with that. Learning to manage the puck better to complete more than 55% of his passes and offensive transitions would be ideal, as he can ignore open passing options in favor of dumps at times. Trusting his feet and hands more could also help make him a more dynamic offensive rush quarterback than he has been in spurts in my viewings. I’m a big fan of Kulich and I feel a smart team could land him later than he should go.
17. Filip Mesar – C – HK Poprad (Slovakian Extraliga) – Avg. Rank – 17.14
Filip Mesar is one of the more underrated players in the draft this year. He’s basically at the tail end of where I’d rank him, but if his name came up as high as 12-ish, I’m open to the idea. A natural centre with a great feel for drawing in and escaping pressure, as well as using teammates to his advantage with a great read of the ice, Mesar has a ton of headroom to get better with his current lack of strength and a top end skating gear. He’s confident, gets low to the ice under pressure, and keeps himself out of danger well. His feel of space and anticipation to be in the right place at the right time on loose pucks defensively is impressive, with an ability to draw pressure away and work in open space.
18. Ivan Miroshnichenko – LW – Omskie Krylia (VHL) – Avg. Rank – 12.07
I’ve seen quite a bit of Ivan Miroshnichenko this season. Time and time again I’ve been wondering if I just had a bad viewing or that there’s more to his underwhelming data, and time and time again, it’s more of the same. Miroshnichenko this season has not shown projectable escape speed or skill, nor has he shown a consistent ability to make plays with teammates in transition unless his route is closed off. He is a strong player when facing pressure, and can adapt well to keep possession, but I haven’t seen the potential top-5 level game breaking power winger I expected coming into the season. His shot is still there, and I’ll still be keeping an eye on him down the back half of the year, but this is a player that I expected more of, even in Russia’s second division professional league.
19. Ty Nelson – RHD – North Bay Battalion (OHL) – Avg. Rank – 19.10
Yeah, he’s small, and he isn’t the quickest defender in a straight line, but I’ve loved Ty Nelson’s pass vision, both short and long in length, coupled with his crossover agility in space to open up the ice and look for plays. There’s an impressive shot from the point as well with flashes of skill to step up and create chances in more dangerous areas. While there may be risk drafting a small defender without 10/10 speed, I think Nelson’s agility, skill, confidence, and creativity will take him a ways. Some have him ranked further back, so if he starts to slip, he could be a great bet if a rebuilding team snags him in the early 2nd.
20. Liam Öhgren – LW – Djurgårdens IF (SHL) – Avg. Rank – 22.23
Where there is upside with Östlund, there is more simplicity and projectability with teammate Liam Öhgren. He’s more of a 200-foot, high intensity winger that can establish body positioning well to gain possession and use solid amounts of skill to move pucks up the ice, transporting it around the offensive zone well. He’s a bit of a basic profile, but his intensity level, flashes of skill and scoring ability shown at the junior level, there’s an interesting player that should be gone in the first round.
21. Marco Kasper – C – Rögle BK (SHL) – Avg. Rank – 23.57
If you don’t get a smart, responsible 200-foot centre in say, Jiří Kulich, Marco Kasper would not be a poor consolation prize. Kasper plays an extremely strong game based around defensive awareness and man coverage, with simple, effective offense leading to Kasper finding his way deep into the offensive zone around the net with the capability of getting chances in tight. He’s calm under pressure, even at the SHL level, and I’m excited to see him be the “it guy” for the Austrian national team in the World Juniors. There’s somewhat limited upside, and he won’t blow you away unless you really pay attention, but there are flashes of a very projectable player to put in the middle of the ice.
22. Cutter Gauthier – LW – U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP) – Avg. Rank – 26.25
Where Kasper brings relative safety and projectability with limited upside, Gauthier brings high octane speed and skill with tons of potential to put the pieces together. His playmaking data is promising with large dangerous pass attempt and completion volumes, plenty of shot assists, and plenty of efficiency moving pucks offensively. He’s a player I’d encourage to take more chances and trust his natural talent to remain creative and attack the middle of the ice more. He seems to be a bit of a low percentage volume shooter, which doesn’t quite line up with the speed and skill he brings all over the ice. There’s upside with Gauthier for sure, especially as a puck carrying playmaker, and I’ll have an eye on him closely for the rest of the year.
23. Conor Geekie – C – Winnipeg Ice (WHL) – Avg. Rank -13.27
I still don’t know what to honestly think about Geekie. I’m sure he’ll be an NHL player, but I wonder how much of an impactful offensive player he’ll be. He’s got impressive skill for a big man, and with time and space can build up a good head of steam, but his separation speed and ability to drive inside has been lacklustre in my work, with mixed results transporting the puck offensively with pass completion rates under 60% due to an inability to scan and execute outside of the offensive zone. Off the boards in the offensive zone, he can be slippery, crafty and skilled, but I wonder what better defensive opponents down the road do. He’ll play, he’s a first-round pick to me and could end up higher, but to this point, I have some questions.
24. Jonathan Lekkerimäki – RW – Djurgårdens IF (Sweden U20 Nationell) – Avg. Rank 17.31
The more I see of Lekkerimäki, the less I’m sure of what his projection is. The guy can absolutely rip a hockey puck into a net, with some great skill to change angles and fool goaltenders. I do also think his playmaking and pass work in the offensive zone is underrated, but I’m looking for players who are a little more well-rounded out to use my first pick on. Lekkerimäki has wonderful finishing ability, and that may be enough, but his data almost across the board at 5v5 is troublesome, even in the J20 league. Shot selection, transition efficiency, shot attempt differentials, it’s all just not good so far. He could be a nice auxiliary NHL scorer you can play on the power play, and he’ll always be a shooting threat, but predicting his draft position is tough right now.
25. Tyler Duke – LHD – U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP) – Avg. Rank – NR
This is another hot take, but if anyone is familiar with my work, it’s that I don’t really care what your size is if you can drive good results, especially at high pace. I believe there’s an inefficiency in the NHL with evaluating many defenders in the NHL draft, and I believe a blind spot is hypermobile, undersized defenders who rely on positional pressure and stick work to play defensively, rather than physical imposition and breaking the rules without breaking the rules too much. Tyler Duke is a fantastic example of a defender that I’d give every chance to play. He’s extremely mobile in all directions, leads with his stick to apply pressure and uses his body to follow through better than you’d think. I also firmly believe his play with the puck could lead to much more offense than it has so far this season. He can pull pucks in and out of traffic, play selflessly, steps into space in the offensive zone, and drive some of the best results I’ve tracked this year.
26. Lane Hutson – LHD – U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP) – Avg. Rank – 32.14
The name of Lane’s game is simply “fun.” Hutson with the puck is one of the most entertaining, exciting, but difficult projections in the entire class. He’s ruthless with his ability to shake off opponents in the offensive zone and jet down the boards looking for a play to make down the half wall. He may be almost a non-factor in rush defense situations because he physically does not take much space up and doesn’t have the same lateral mobility as someone like Tyler Duke, but he’s mobile and uses his stick effectively to try to break up plays. In my view, the pros often outweigh the cons and assuming he gets even quicker, more skilled, and more agile in the years to come, Hutson may still top out as a great offensive defender in the AHL, but he could also become one of the most entertaining power play quarterbacks in the NHL.
27. Ryan Chesley – RHD – U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP) – Avg. Rank – 22.79
I’m a little surprised that Chesley hasn’t been able to get the puck in the net more than he has. The puck skill Chesley shows while scanning for breakout options and baiting neutral zone defenders before evading pressure is a ton of fun. He’s a solid forwards skater who can penetrate into the offensive zone, but the points just haven’t been there. He can throw his weight around, and while I’m not entirely sure what projects to the NHL just yet with him, I believe there could be a good minutes-eater who can at least chip in at both ends.
28. Pavel Mintyukov – LHD – Saginaw Spirit (OHL) – Avg. Rank – 32.63
Pavel Mintyukov is the embodiment of confidence with the puck for a defenseman. Many other defenders don’t have the quick skill Mintyukov has. He can float defensively, but I’ve seen many Saginaw defenders play similarly over the years, and when he gets involved physically, he’s still a big boy capable of clogging up play along the boards. He can pull pucks around in open ice, challenge opponents directly in the offensive zone, and gets scoring chances for himself unlike many defenders in the draft. He’s a risky player who may have trouble playing his brand in the NHL, but I’d be willing to try it with a first-round pick, let alone if he falls into the 2nd.
29. Vladimir Grudinin – LHD – Krasnaya Armiya Moskva (MHL) – Avg. Rank – NR
This is a huge “draft him and see where he is in three years” kind of player. Grudinin brings gifted four-way mobility and flashes of skill, but I’m starting to become convinced he’s actively being told not to carry pucks himself with confidence. He should be put in a position to score more often than he is, but he hasn’t been the most productive defenseman around. He isn’t playing much on the power play while Artyom Duda often plays that role in my viewings, and for such a talented skater, his offensive transition involvement is far lower than I’d expect. He does use that mobility to be involved in more defensive transitions than all but 5 tracked players to moderate results, though. Considering what I saw of Daniil Chayka’s “transformation” with CSKA last season, I’d totally buy the idea of giving Grudinin more chances to stretch out and drive up the ice and quarterback rushes himself, because he might just not be getting the opportunity to do so right now.
30. Devin Kaplan – RW – U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP) – Avg. Rank – 43.17
Yeah, yeah, he isn’t scoring a ton of points, but once in a while there are big, skilled and quick NTDP players who don’t score at the same rate as the players ahead of them on the depth chart, but once they hit college, they find their ice time and the points show up. I believe Devin Kaplan is one of those players. It may not be this or next year when it all comes together, but I love the potential of this player. He has remarkable skill with excellent offensive transition intensity and volume, among the best in my dataset. He hasn’t shot the puck often, but he’s always looking to get into the middle of the ice, and I really believe that with more time to learn how to manage defenders with his skill to open ice more often, the more Kaplan will find success. He may be a neat scoring winger to have around rather than a true gamebreaker, but I do think that there’s a huge ceiling with a big, skilled and intense offensive winger in Devin Kaplan.
31. Denton Mateychuk – LHD – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL) – Avg. Rank – 26.38
I totally understand why some have Mateychuk higher than this. I’ve spoken to some WHL scouts who are cooler on him than I am, and I’ve warmed up in recent time. If I’m going to go to bat for offensively engaged defenders who may be undersized, but have pros, I have to at least respect Mateychuk for what he does. He’s exceptionally quick identifying open space in the offensive zone, able to evade and create chances. With the 4th highest rates of pass attempts, and completing them at a rate approaching 75%, Mateychuk usies skill and pivots to find targets and hit them accurately. While his defensive metrics are excellent, I wonder how much it projects. He relies on being in the right place in the right time, quickly getting sticks in passing lanes to deflect them elsewhere, but he lacks the high-end quickness that smaller defenders likely need to find the same kind of success in the NHL. He’s a bit of a wild card to me, but I’d be more than happy adding him higher than 31st if others are more optimistic about his projection. Quickness is the principal issue, which can luckily be worked on.
32. Owen Pickering -LHD – Swift Current Broncos (WHL) – Avg. Rank – 32.83
Owen Pickering is going to be fascinating to keep an eye on over the years. I don’t think I’ve seen a defender this big play with the same amount of skill and deception in my life. He could be a player I see drafted in the top-20 without a doubt, especially over the aforementioned Europeans who often go underrated. His reach is huge and he uses it to clog rushing and pass lanes, poking pucks into space, but the main hole in his game right now is puck management turning play around. While his team may not be the best at receiving his passes, he can fail to scan for options and dump the puck far more than he needs to, especially with the skating and skill he displays. He can also rely on his giant frame to simply get in the way of play and hope an opponent makes a mistake rather than actively looking to separate pucks from carriers himself. The raw tools are a ton of fun, and in a few years there could be a dynamic defender all around the ice.
On the whole, I personally believe this draft class is a bit on the weaker side, but there are a few high potential players that could highly outperform where they’re ranked. Shane Wright will be a highly intelligent all-around pivot with excellent finishing ability, but I haven’t seen “franchise rescuing” upside. After No. 20 or so, things get a lot murkier, but I do believe that there are some fascinating projects to develop for years out in the world stretching well into my early third round.
If you’d like to see the full list, it will be available soon with over 100 names with quick write-ups for many of them. You can also follow me on Twitter and YouTube to keep up with my work. Things really ramp up after the World Juniors, so be sure to join me Thursdays at 8pm ET for a YouTube livestream to answer all questions you may have! Stay safe and be well, and thanks for joining me!
McKeen’s Hockey will be providing analysis and player profiles for the upcoming World Junior Championship slated to begin Dec. 26th.