Jack Hughes

NHL Mock Draft: Wright, Slafkovský, Cooley top 2022 class

nhl draft
Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

With 2022 NHL Draft this week, the team at McKeen’s Hockey has prepared a mock draft to give you an idea of how the first day could unfold. Director of Scouting, Brock Otten, Director of Video Scouting, Will Scouch, Video Scout, Sam McGilligan and Publisher Robert Howard got together and made our picks for whom we thought best matched the team on the clock. It was a fun and interesting process. They certainly do not mirror our McKeen’s rankings, which are not trying to predict the draft, but which prospects will develop into NHL players and at what level in five years’ time. ]

Every NHL team has its own list, its own goals, and surprises are expected, so, enjoy our best guess on who your teams next great hope is going to be. 

The McKeen’s team has published our annual NHL Draft Guide which includes profiles on over 300 players, feature articles plus much more. It is available as a direct download with a subscription, or on its own. You can learn more here.

1. Montreal Canadiens (Sam McGilligan) Shane Wright, C, Kingston (OHL)

The decision to select Shane Wright is an easy one. There’s a reason he was deemed the potential first overall for the years leading up to this draft and it’s because of his impeccable understanding of the game, killer release and the most pro-ready playstyle of the entire draft. There’s a level of safety and projectability in every one of his strengths and while weaknesses do exist, they aren’t anything significant enough to reasonably predict Wright struggling in the NHL. The floor here is a low level second line center, and some may wince reading that knowing this is a first overall pick who is supposed to alter a franchise. 

Make no mistake, Wright has that potential on the same level that guys like Juraj Slafkovský and Logan Cooley do as well, it just doesn’t show up on the highlight reel in as pretty a fashion. We may never truly know how much his development was impacted by the OHL shut down last year, but it is safe to infer that Wright’s scoring numbers suffered as a result. There’s a world where that shutdown doesn’t happen and Wright continuously builds momentum all the way to this very week with much higher scoring totals, ending the debate before it even has a chance to begin. Considering the upside and the level of safety, the No. 1 pick is a no brainer even if he doesn’t end up as the best player in the class.

2. New Jersey Devils (Brock Otten) – Juraj Slafkovský, LW, TPS (Liiga)

There are just so many options for what happens with this pick. Do the Devils deal it for some form of immediate help as speculated? Who goes first and what kind of impact does that have on this selection? In this mock, Wright goes first so the Devils take Slafkovský second. Slaf is the draft’s most NHL ready prospect thanks to his size, speed, and skill combination. What he has been able to do playing against high caliber competition at the Olympics and at the World Championships is mighty impressive. Sure New Jersey may be looking to deal this pick, but the irony of that is that Slafkovský might just be an ideal fit to play alongside the Devils’ group of talented, but undersized centers.

3. Arizona Coyotes (Will Scouch) – Logan Cooley, C, USN U18 (USNTDP)

This one’s pretty easy to me. Arizona needs, well, everything. Cooley has an excellent combination of skill, creativity, dynamic pace and impressive offense tools and if Arizona can draft other skilled, high pace players who can finish and chip in defensively a bit on Cooley’s wing, he could be one of the most productive players in the draft. One of the most efficient offensive transition players I’ve tracked with a heck of a playmaking mind, Cooley is a great building block to get the Coyotes pointed in the right direction with an exciting streak to his game putting bums in seats.

4. Seattle Kraken (Brock Otten) – David Jiříček, D, HC Plzeň (Cze)

Seems fairly likely that the Kraken look for a defender to build their team around here. You have Jiříček, Nemec, Mintyukov, and even Kevin Korchinski (in their backyard) available. Something tells me that Ron Francis and his director of scouting Robert Kron (a fellow Czech) might favor Jiříček and his two-way upside. He finished the year fairly strong after returning from a knee injury and he may offer the largest boom potential of any defender available this year.

[For more coverage of top prospects and the 2022 NHL Draft, follow McKeen’s Hockey on Twitter]

5. Philadelphia Flyers (Robert Howard) – Šimon Nemec, D, HK Nitra (Svk)

The Flyers will be sorely tempted by Cutter Gauthier here as a fixture at center ice in the future, however, they could use depth at all positions. The most recent rumblings out of the organization are more about adding pieces to win now and perhaps short-term needs will outweigh future options. Nemec may represent the best player available at this point, and a potential future cornerstone on defense with solid two-way play and considerable upside on offense. Playing against men in Slovakia’s pro league for a second season, he scored 26 points in 39 games and set a league record for scoring by a defenseman in the playoffs. He could be making an important contribution on the back end within a couple of seasons. 

cutter gauthier
Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

6. Columbus Blue Jackets (via Chicago) (Brock Otten) – Cutter Gauthier, LW/C, USN U18 (USNTDP)

There is some talk that Gauthier might not be available even this late, but if he is, I think the Jackets make him their selection. There may be a pull towards drafting a defender here who can help quarterback the powerplay (like Korchinski or Mintyukov), however Gauthier looks like an ideal pro. His game is tailored to having a long and impactful NHL career thanks to a well-rounded skill set. He is one of the better goal scorers available this year and his off-puck play is strong. The jury is still out on whether he can play down the middle, but if you are drafting him this early, you envision that. 

7. Ottawa Senators (Sam McGilligan) – Marco Kasper, C, Rögle BK (SHL)

Kasper has been an interesting player to see ascend up the boards of draft scouts. The reason for his rise is simple — he just spent an entire season playing projectable, professional hockey in Sweden and continuously improved all year long. Not only do his strengths carry over to a smaller ice surface, some think he may even benefit from the change. Where Kasper starts to lose some scouts is his level of upside. Some believe he’s already in the final stages of his development and anything that’s left is simply polishing his play to the level that the NHL demands, leaving him likely to be a middle six center at best. Others are more confident in his upside and believe there’s another level Kasper can bring his game to. The latter would take him this early, and that’s exactly the type of drafting the Senators have been known for in recent years. Kasper joins the line of safe players with reasonable upside that the development team believes might take a step forward. If Kasper slips past Ottawa, I don’t think it takes much longer for him to end up selected this year. 

8. Detroit Red Wings (Brock Otten) – Pavel Mintyukov, D, Saginaw (OHL)

I have a feeling that the Wings have their eye on one of Gauthier or Kasper, but with both gone, they turn their attention to a player right in their backyard. The Saginaw Spirit and Red Wings have had a long-standing relationship and there is no doubt that they have a ton of intel on Mintyukov. His offensive upside is through the roof due to his creativity and playmaking abilities. The defensive game needs refinement, but he is a moldable player who could look terrific beside Moritz Seider in the future.

9. Buffalo Sabres (Will Scouch) – Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg (WHL)

This one is just all about upside. Savoie at ninth seems like great value, and while there may be some questions about his likelihood of hitting his production potential due to a lack of separation speed, but to me, that’s just one glaring hole in an otherwise excellent talent profile. He’s one of the most agile and daring players available in the draft, showing me an ability to create plays as well as generate chances for himself over the season. He’s exciting, could play center or wing, and would provide a great offensive boost to the Sabres’ future to complement the more well-rounded forwards they drafted in 2021. Savoie’s defensive game is underrated as well, so I get the feeling that patching his game up here and there while encouraging him to remain creative could do wonders for him.

10. Anaheim Ducks (Brock Otten) – Joakim Kemell, RW, JYP (Liiga)

At this spot in the draft, I see the Ducks targeting one of the many quality goal scoring wingers available this year. The thing that likely draws them to Kemell (even if the Ducks haven’t drafted a ton out of Finland in recent years) is that he’s fairly competitive. Despite a lack of size, he works hard to get to the middle of the ice and his shot is among the best in the draft. How good would Kemell look alongside Trevor Zegras and Mason McTavish in the future? 

11. San Jose Sharks (Rob Howard) – Jonathan Lekkerimäki, RW, Djurgårdens (SWE J20)

The Sharks were encouraged by the progress of last year’s first round pick in William Eklund from Djurgårdens and hope to see him graduate as soon as this season. For this reason, they were thrilled when one of the best, natural goal scorers in the draft, and Eklund’s teammate, is available in Lekkerimäki at 11. He is young, just turning 18 in July, and needs to add strength but has not shied away from traffic in the Swedish men’s league. He brings the unteachable instincts of a goal scorer, along with the best shot in the draft. He and Eklund will be formidable on the power play in time.

12. Columbus Blue Jackets (Brock Otten) – Kevin Korchinski, D, Seattle (WHL)

Getting Korchinski this late would be great value for the Jackets after taking Gauthier earlier at sixth. One of the draft’s biggest risers over the course of the year, Korchinski is a terrific puck mover and powerplay quarterback. There are some concerns over his decision making and defensive play, but his improvement over the course of the season was encouraging. Plus, it is rare to get a high-end puck mover with his size and athleticism.

nhl mock draft
Chris Tanouye/Getty Images

13. New York Islanders (Sam McGilligan) – Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg (WHL)

Geekie is an enigmatic center to say the least. His draft range is monstrous, stretching from a possible top ten pick to a late first. This monstrous range exists because there is such a wide spectrum of outcomes with Geekie, with a fringe bottom six physical presence on one end and a polished top six monster with skill and size on the other. While he may not be there yet, a team that trusts their developmental program to create such a nuisance will show no hesitation to selecting Geekie in the top half of the draft. The Islanders match that description as best as anyone left on the board does. 

14. Winnipeg Jets (Brock Otten) – Danila Yurov, RW, Stalnye Lisy (MHL)

Someone is going to do it. Even with the recent (and horrific) news surrounding Flyers’ prospect Ilya Fedotov. If Yurov is still available, I like him for the Jets. A) They have shown little fear of selecting high end Russian prospects in recent years. B) This is a team about to hit a crossroads between rebuilding and remaining competitive. They really need to hit a home run and Yurov is a top five talent this year when you eliminate politics. Taking a chance on him makes sense.

15. Vancouver Canucks (Will Scouch) – Brad Lambert, C, JYP-Pelicans (Liiga)

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Lambert’s potential. I’ve heard many people come and tell me he’s the next Andreas Athanasiou, but I get the feeling Lambert would have smashed Athanasiou’s OHL production in his draft year had he played in the WHL this year, and even if that’s his potential, an offensive, speedy forward putting up 40-50 points a season consistently coming out of the middle of the first round doesn’t sound that terrible to me. Lambert’s speed is utilized at times defensively that I’d love to see more, and Vancouver is just swinging for upside here. Nobody combines skill and speed better, and nobody had as unlucky and mystifying a season as Lambert. Against junior competition, the points flowed. Against men, he tried, but in my viewings had very little to work with. There are improvements to be made, but if I’m Vancouver, I’m taking advantage of everyone overcorrecting on Lambert and moving the team in a more exciting, high upside direction.

16. Buffalo Sabres (via Vegas) (Brock Otten) – Denton Mateychuk, D, Moose Jaw (WHL)

Where Mateychuk goes at the draft is one of the draft’s biggest mysteries. His rankings are all over the map and are likely to be among NHL organizations too. It comes down to whether you think he can defend at the NHL level, because there is no question that his offensive abilities should translate well. With a few strong defensive prospects and young defenders in the system already, Buffalo can afford to take a chance here on someone we feel (at McKeen’s) has among the highest upside of any defender available.

17. Nashville Predators (Rob Howard) – Noah Östlund, C, Djurgardens (SWE J20)

An aging defense core might suggest they are looking at defense, but with Mateychuk and Korchinski off the board, they look to add some creativity to the forward group, targeting a player with significant upside. Östlund has been climbing draft boards rapidly, progressing consistently throughout the season. His outstanding performance at the U18 World Championship with 10 points in six games demonstrated some ability to rise to the occasion at big events. A very intelligent playmaker and offensive creator, there are not many players with as solid a skill set, combining elite vision with clever stickhandling, precise passing and a gift for finding opportunities. Size registers as a concern, and his ability to handle the physical game at a higher level, but the home run potential at this stage of the draft is just too tempting to pass up. 

18. Dallas Stars (Brock Otten) – Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Omskie Krylya (VHL)

Talk about draft wild cards. Miroshnichenko is the ultimate one. You have the Russian factor. You have his cancer diagnosis (which looks incredibly encouraging, thankfully). You have his mysterious VISA issues in regard to entering the United States and Canada. However, you also have a big, power, goal scoring winger with good wheels who is a top ten talent this year. If there is a team positioned to take a chance on a Russian player, it is the Stars. This organization has drafted unbelievably well in recent years and now find themselves swimming in quality forward prospects. Denis Gurianov hasn’t really worked out quite as well as they may have anticipated, but I don’t think that can completely sour you on Miroshnichenko if you think he is going to be a high-end NHL player.

19. Minnesota Wild (via Los Angeles) (Sam McGilligan) – Liam Öhgren, LW, Djurgårdens (SWE J20)

Öhgren is one of my favourite players in the draft, one that is likely to go higher in the draft than Bob McKenzie’s final list would indicate. This Swedish winger tore up the Swedish J20 last year at an absurd pace while also playing SHL games and demonstrating his ability to translate his game to a professional environment. What makes Öhgren one of the best value picks this late in the draft is how reliable his projection to the NHL is — he’s almost certainly a lock to play in the show and do so in a third line capacity at least. But there’s real top six possibility here that I’m willing to bet he reaches due to how detailed his ability to find space is and how well he deceptively executes plays that benefit the whole team from within this space. Öhgren is a real 5v5 phenom that contenders want in their top six, and he’s one of the easiest picks you can make in this range with a smile on your face.

20. Washington Capitals (Brock Otten) – Nathan Gaucher, C, Québec (QMJHL)

I mocked this same selection in an earlier mock for NBC and I’ve seen it in others too. I think it makes a lot of sense. The Caps have been heavily invested in scouting the Q in recent years. They also have seen teams beat them with Gaucher type players occupying a spot through the middle of their lineup. This is the ideal pro player for today’s playoffs. Gaucher is big, physical, intelligent, and quick. He could be the perfect lockdown third line center for them…and he could move quickly through the system too.

21. Pittsburgh Penguins (Will Scouch) – Frank Nazar, C, USN U18 (USNTDP)

How did Nazar fall all the way to 21 here? Sheesh. Nazar may not be huge, and he may want to play a game bigger than he is, but size just does not scare me nearly as much. Nazar is a great straight-line skater, one of the fastest blueline to blueline that I tracked of high end talents this year, with excellent individual chance generation offensively. I’d like to see a bit more intensity and physical strength away from the puck, but Nazar plays a strong offensive grinder’s game and with crossover/agility improvements, you could unlock a ton of potential from Nazar over time. Pittsburgh just takes the swing on the guy many rightfully have ranked much higher than this, and I get the feeling his brand of play would go over just fine with Penguins fans.

nhl mock draft
Kevin Hoffman/NHLI via Getty Images

22. Anaheim Ducks (via Boston) (Brock Otten) – Lian Bichsel, D, Leksands (SHL)

While I’m a little skeptical of Bichsel’s upside, it seems almost certain that someone will take a chance on him early. The puck skill is a work in progress, but the defensive game shows massive potential thanks to his size, athleticism, and physicality combination. I could see the Ducks favoring someone like Ryan Chesley more here, but something tells me that Bichsel’s bigger frame might appeal to them as they look for future defensive partners for guys like Jamie Drysdale and Olen Zellweger.

23. St. Louis Blues (Rob Howard) – Jiří Kulich, C, Karlovy Vary (Cze)

Another player who significantly enhanced his draft stock at the U18 World Championship earning tournament MVP while scoring with nine goals and 11 points in six games. A goal scorer who fits St. Louis’s style. He is tenacious and aggressive and plays with pace, hustling for loose pucks, working along the boards and can be difficult to separate from the puck. He can play center or wing and is solidly built and makes for a projectable pick with a reasonable floor, but also the ability to find the back of the net. Goal scorers are always a welcome addition, and he will fit well on an attack with Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, and Jake Neighbours for years to come. 

24. Minnesota Wild (Brock Otten) – Isaac Howard, LW, USN U18 (USDP)

Lots of connections here. Howard has played his minor hockey in Minnesota. He is attending Minnesota-Duluth. Best of all, his skill set as an intelligent and creative complementary winger fits in really well with what they currently have in the cupboard. Between him and Öhgren (who they took earlier), the Wild really cover their bases in regard to high IQ future top six wingers. 

25. Toronto Maple Leafs (Will Scouch) – Lane Hutson, D, USN U18 (USNTDP)

I’ll never ever doubt Kyle Dubas’ scouting team again after pulling a rabbit out of their hat last summer in Matt Knies, who I was and continue to be extremely perplexed by, so I have no idea where Toronto actually goes here, and part of me thought “draft a forward” here, but I also never recommend drafting on current need, especially at 25. Hutson has enormous potential waiting to be unlocked by more powerful skating to generate speed and escape pressure better. The shiftiness, creativity, deception and skill are basically unmatched this year, and his improvement on paper in my work over the season is impossible to ignore. Similar to Savoie, there are some glaring holes, but patching those holes could give Toronto a clear offensive threat off the blueline that they haven’t really had outside of Morgan Rielly, and when Hutson likely hits NHL ice, Rielly will likely be at the tail end of his best years.

nhl mock draft
Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

26. Montreal Canadiens (via Calgary) (Brock Otten) – Rutger McGroarty, LW, USN U18 (USNTDP)

If the Canadiens do take Wright first over Slafkovský, it seems only fitting that they target a player like McGroarty with their other first round selection. Sure, the footspeed is an issue. However, the rest of his game is extremely well rounded. This is one of the smartest players available this year. A true power forward who can play in any situation, McGroarty should become a fan favourite in Montreal. 

27. Arizona Coyotes (via Carolina) (Sam McGilligan) – Ryan Chesley, D, USN U18 (USNTDP)

Chesley is the type of defenseman that NHL teams don’t let slip out of the first round often. He’s a physical entity that offers a legitimate defensive presence at the NHL level beyond that of your average third pairing guy. It’s not just securing his own zone that makes Chesley a first-round draw — he certainly has some offensive upside as well that can be developed and nurtured over the next few years due to an underrated passing game and a solid set of hands. Considering the surplus of picks that Arizona has in this draft and the sheer volume of high upside swings they can take after this pick, I say being able to convert a late first round pick into a stable, reliable mid-tier defender that you have cost control over for a few years is a win.

28. Buffalo Sabres (via Florida) (Brock Otten) – Owen Pickering, D, Swift Current (WHL)

When you have three first round picks, you can take some chances. Insert Pickering. He has one of the most intriguing skill sets of any defender available this year thanks to an extremely late (and massive) growth spurt. He flashes some really excellent skills at both ends of the ice, but consistency is an issue at this point in time. Once he matures physically and fills out, could Pickering be a two-way monster? Between him and Mateychuk, the Sabres should at least get one high end NHL defender. 

29. Edmonton Oilers (Will Scouch) – Jack Hughes, C, Northeastern (HE)

Edmonton perplexes me with their draft strategy under Ken Holland, but they gravitate towards a few NCAA names here and there with well-rounded skillsets, even if they don’t excel in certain areas. I think people are a little low on Hughes, even if I have him ranked a bit later. The production wasn’t quite there, but I love the skill and pace in Hughes’ game. He’s a good two-way force up the middle who could also slot in on the wing if need be. There’s offensive upside with the creativity he displayed in flashes but getting stronger to get to more dangerous space and trusting his skill and agility to create passing lanes a bit better could significantly help him drive better results.

30. Winnipeg Jets (via NYR) (Brock Otten) – Jimmy Snuggerud, RW, USN U18 (USNTDP)

Snuggerud is one of those guys that NHL scouts are bound to like more than independent, amateur ones simply because his game lacks flash, but is tailored to playing at the pro level. A high-level thinker, Snuggerud is terrific off the puck and he has improved tremendously on the puck over the last year with the USNTDP. His skating has also come a long way…but will need to come further. It is easy to see Snuggerud as a middle-six fixture in the future. After taking a risk with Yurov, the Jets find safety in the selection of Snuggerud.

31. Tampa Bay Lightning (Rob Howard) – Jagger Firkus, RW, Moose Jaw (WHL)

Winning two Stanley Cups and advancing to the final in a third year will have an impact on the prospect cupboard as picks are used as currency for immediate roster needs. Picking in the first round for the first time since 2019, and without a first pick in 2022 and 2023, they need to make this one count. They do not pick again until the fourth round, making Firkus a perfect fit here with tremendous offensive upside that with the right development can be right up there with most in this draft class. One of the leading U18 scorers in the entire CHL, he brings a well-rounded offensive skill set as an equally adept goal scorer and playmaker. McKeen’s ranked him at No. 20, and he may fall in the draft because he is undersized. Tampa has made the most of that type of prospect in the past and will maximize his sizable talent. 

32. Arizona Coyotes (via Colorado) (Brock Otten) – Filip Mešár, C, HK Poprad (Svk)

The Coyotes have so many selections for this draft. It really is absurd. It will be a monumental and critical day for the franchise. With three first round picks and a bunch of early seconds, you know they will take some chances on high upside guys. Fortunately, at this spot, Mešár is both a high upside guy and someone many would consider the best player available. The Slovak winger loves to push the pace of play and is a skilled transitional attacker. How the rest of his game comes together remains to be seen. However, this is a nice gamble for Arizona to close out the first round.

If you’re looking for more prospect or fantasy hockey information, NBC Sports Edge is a great resource.

Scroll Down For:

    NHL Power Rankings: Top American-born players right now

    Claus Andersen, Getty Image

    In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we are taking advantage of the fourth of July holiday to look at the top American-born players in the NHL right now.

    Key words: Right now. As in, today. As of this moment.

    We are not looking at the best American-born players of all time, or the best active American-born players that have had the best career.

    We are looking at the best players at the conclusion of the 2021-22 season. Look at it this way: If you were building a team right now and had to win the Stanley Cup this upcoming season, who would you pick first. Approach it with that mindset.

    There has arguably never been more American-born talent in the NHL than there is right now, from established superstars, major award winners, and rising stars.

    Who all makes the cut?

    To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

    1. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. The current league MVP and the best goal-scorer in the world at this moment, regardless of country. He scored 60 goals this past season (in only 73 games) and over the past three years has averaged a 62-goal pace per 82 games. Those are absurd numbers.

    2. Adam Fox, New York Rangers. Fox is already one of the best defenseman in the NHL. He won the Norris Trophy a year ago and might have actually been even better this season. The scary thing: His best days might still be ahead of him. Fox and starting goalie Igor Shesterkin are the foundation of the Rangers’ future.

    3. Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames. Tkachuk is the total package as a player. He scores, he drives possession, he is a good all-around player, and he is also a complete pest to play against.

    4. Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins. McAvoy might not score like some of the other top defenders in the league (Cale Makar, Fox, Roman Josi) but he can still contribute quite a bit offensively and he is a sensational defensive player. One of the best all-around defenders in the league.

    5. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames. Not sure he has another 115-point season in him, but even if he does not match that level again Gaudreau is still one of the best offensive players and playmakers in the league. He and Tkachuk together are especially dominant.

    6. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins. Guentzel is one of the best goal scorers in the league and can be a better defensive player than he gets credit for being. Yes, he plays next to Sidney Crosby. But a lot of talented players have skated next to Crosby in Pittsburgh over the years and never produced like this. Or anything close to it.

    7. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets. Connor has developed into a top-tier finisher and made a run at 50 goals this season. He might do it again this season. Maybe he actually hits the 50-goal mark. He still needs to be better defensively. A lot better, actually. But that goal scoring….

    8. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks. If we are talking career or all-time American-born players he would be higher. He is still a top scorer, especially on the power play. But he has almost no defensive impact to speak of and it is getting worse as he gets older. As we sit right now, there is simply a younger crop of American-born players that have jumped ahead of him at his current state.

    9. Jason Robertson, Dallas Stars. When we do this ranking again after next season or the season after, Robertson might be in the top-five. Or maybe the top-three. He is going to be a superstar.

    [Related: Jason Robertson is engine that drives Stars]

    10. Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks. He is one of the best finishers in the NHL and might have a 50-goal season on the horizon. The question is which team will he be scoring those goals for?

    11. Jack Eichel, Vegas Golden Knights. You might think this is too low. Maybe it is. But we have not seen a lot of Eichel over the past two years due to injury, and when he has been on the ice he has not been quite as dominant as he was early in his career — probably because he was not totally healthy. If he can get back to 100 percent he is still a top-tier player. But we have to actually see him be that player again. Is that unfair?

    12. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks. Miller was always a very good player early in his career with New York and Tampa Bay, but his play has gone to an entirely new level in Vancouver. Will he be a 99-point player again? I wouldn’t bet on it, but he will still be an outstanding player.

    [Related: NHL Power Rankings: Offseason trade candidates]

    13. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. He will not score a ton of goals, but he has offensive ability and is an elite defensive player.

    14. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets. He plays a ton behind what has been, mostly, a lousy defensive team. He does not get much help and is asked to do more than almost any other goalie in the league and still posts strong individual numbers.

    15. Chris Kreider, New York Rangers. His 2021-22 season was unlike anything we have ever seen from him in his career. Not sure how much confidence I have in him repeating that. But even if he goes back to being a 30-goal player with strong two-way ability he is still a hell of a player.

    16. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights. Injuries have been a constant thorn for him over the years, and he is getting older, but his production and overall play is still fantastic when he is healthy.

    17. John Carlson, Washington Capitals. He can still get it done on the power play and help drive offense, but his defensive play is starting to slow down

    18. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks. An elite scorer from the blue line, and he seemed to clean up at least some of his defensive deficiencies this past season.

    19. Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils. Like Robertson, another player that has the potential to make a dramatic rise over the next year. He was going to have a breakout year in 2021-22 had it not been for an injury that robbed him of half of his season.

    20. Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators. He has no problem generating shots and driving possession, and with a little luck could throw a 40-plus goal season at you in the very near future.

    21. Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars. He just keeps producing at a top level even into his late 30s. I do fear that we might see him start to slow down this season. Then again, I said that a year ago as well.

    22. Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins. Outstanding all-around player and underrated part of the Penguins roster. Can play 5-on-5, penalty kill, and power play all extremely well.

    [Related: Penguins extend Bryan Rust contract]

    23. Trevor Zegras, Anaheim Ducks. Is this too low? It feels too low. But we have only seen him for one year (but what a year!) so there is still some mystery there. Like Robertson and Jack Hughes, I feel like in another year he is in the top-10 of this list.

    24. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks. If he stays healthy and gets to play a full season he is probably going to score you 30 goals. Maybe not a superstar, or even an all-star, but a very good player.

    25. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes. A top line scorer that has not let playing on a bad team impact his possession numbers or goals for/against numbers.

    26. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets. His contract raised eyebrows when it was signed a year ago, but he is a really good player that kind of gets lost a little bit on a struggling team.

    27. Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings. His production is a bit inconsistent from year to year, but when he is at his best he is a 30-goal guy with gamebreaking speed.

    28. Jakob Chychrun, Arizona Coyotes. A highly sought after player in the trade market that would be a strong top-pairing player on any team.

    29. Brock Nelson, New York Islanders. Far from a superstar, but a very productive player on a team that is not known for its offense. Pop quiz: without looking it up, how many goals did he score this past season? Would have guessed 37? Because he scored 37 goals.

    30. Torey Krug, St. Louis Blues. Not sure he has made the overall impact the Blues wanted when they signed him in free agency, but he is still a pretty important part of their blue line both offensively and defensively.

    Devils GM Fitzgerald looking for more from coach Lindy Ruff

    lindy ruff
    Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

    General manager Tom Fitzgerald hired Lindy Ruff two years ago to coach the New Jersey Devils because of his success developing young players in the NHL.

    While there is no doubt that Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt and Yegor Sharangovich have taken their games to new heights, Fitzgerald has told Ruff that won’t be good enough in the future.

    The Devils aren’t cutting it as a team. They posted a 27-46-9 record this past season, missing the playoffs for the fourth straight year and for the ninth time in the past decade. Their 63 points were 28th in the 32-team league.

    “There’s a lot of negatives that went on this year,” Fitzgerald said Thursday in his end-of-season wrapup. “But when you look at the snapshot of the positives and what our team accomplished individually, that excites me and should excite our fan base.”

    Fitzgerald said the team has shown it can score, and its defensive play picked up with the signing of free agent Dougie Hamilton, the trade for Ryan Graves, and the development of Jonas Siegenthaler and Damon Severson.

    The problems were in goal with Mackenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier injured most of the year. Hughes was limited to 49 games because of injuries and there was an overall lack of consistency.

    The guys who paid the price for that were assistant coaches Alain Nasreddine and Mark Recchi. They were not retained.

    “That’s something that Lindy and I had a very frank conversation about,” Fitzgerland said. “And supporting him at this moment is something that I believe is important because of the snapshot of all the positives that I’ve seen from our players. How they respond to him is something that I can’t ignore.”

    No doubt Ruff will be on a short leash next season.

    Fitzgerland, who was hired on an interim basis in January 2020 to replace Ray Shero and given the full-time job six months later, has to answer to owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer. He needs results and wants the team to do things his way. He said that means the team meets his standards and expectations when it comes to the day-to-day planning, practices and games. He wants a smart, physical, detail-oriented team.

    Fitzgerald said the hiring of the new assistants will be a collaborative effort between him and Ruff.

    Fitzgerald isn’t giving up on the 25-year-old Blackwood despite two sub-par seasons marked by injuries. He played in 25 games this season because of a heel injury.

    Blackwood came back and played in the final week of the season and Fitzgerald said the goaltender is confident and looking forward to next season. It is uncertain whether Bernier (hip surgery) will be ready for the start of 2022-23, said Fitzgerald, who plans to bring in an experienced goaltender to challenge both players.

    Fitzgerald said Hamilton (nine goals, 21 assists in 62 games) got off to a great start but his game slipped after his jaw was broken. He expects Hamilton to return to form next season and show why the Devils gave him a seven-year, $63 million contract.

    Fitzgerald heads into the offseason needing to make some decisions. Defenseman P.K. Subban, one of the leaders of the Newark, New Jersey organization, is a free agent along with veteran Jimmy Vesey, who was versatile and played on all four lines.

    Bratt, who had a career year with 26 goals and 47 assists, and fellow forward Pavel Zacha are restricted free agents who can go to arbitration.

    Fitzgerald said the Devils want Bratt back. He was not as clear with the other three.

    “I’m looking to build out a roster that can play any type of game, that’s for sure,” he said. “I’m looking to build out a roster that not only becomes a playoff team but can handle the wear and tear and heaviness of a playoff series.”

    The Devils started the season well but fell victim to the injuries.

    “We were a hard team to play against,” Fitzgerald said. “Other teams said that, but we couldn’t sustain that for obvious reasons. It’s tough to say would we have been an 88- to 90-point team if we had this or if everybody was healthy. I don’t live in that world, but I really believe in the process. I really believe in these young players. ”

    Devils have another rough season under Lindy Ruff

    NEWARK, N.J. — All the talk about the New Jersey Devils being young, talented and on the verge of restoring the organization to its past glory is starting to get old.

    While there were glimpses of potential this season, the Devils did not play with the consistency needed to be an NHL playoff team.

    New Jersey posted a 27-46-9 record and missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year and ninth time in the last 10. A major part of the problem was playing the majority of the season without its top two goaltenders, Mackenzie Blackwood (heel) and Jonathan Bernier (hip).

    While disappointed after missing the playoffs for the second straight year since taking over as coach, Lindy Ruff said it’s hard to evaluate the season bacause of the goaltending as well as injuries that limited center Jack Hughes to 49 games and kept key players Nico Hischier, Dougie Hamilton and Miles Wood off the ice for extended periods.

    “I think we’re close, but it is so hard to evaluate where you’re at and, at the same time, you don’t want to blame everything on we’re missing our two goalies,” Ruff said. “You have to be real about where you want to be and what you want to say; what’s the biggest thing missing and why we didn’t get there.”

    Ruff said his position as coach is being evaluated by general manager Tom Fitzgerald when asked if he would be back for a third season. Fitzgerald is scheduled to have a news conference later this week.

    The Devils beat the likes of Colorado, Carolina and Las Vegas when they were competing for a playoff spot. They also imploded at times, blowing a four-goal, third-period lead in an overtime loss to Florida and a two-goal lead against the Hurricanes with less than five minutes to play in another OT loss.

    Good teams don’t do that. The Devils’ 63 points were 28th in the 32-team league.

    “It’s defintely frustrating, you know, and it’s not even like we’re close, you know, we’re far away from the playoffs, but, you know, that’s sports man,” said Hughes who had a breakout season with 26 goals and 30 assists. He missed the final month with a knee injury.

    “Teams go in and out of the playoffs, good teams turn into bad teams and bad teams turn into good teams,” the soon-to-be 21-year-old said of his third season. “It’s just one big cycle so I think the fans should be really positive with what we have here.”

    Forward Jesper Bratt, who set personal bests with 26 goals, 47 assists and 73 points, said all the players need to take a step forward in the offseason and make the Devils a playoff team.

    “I’ve been a part for five years now of a team not really succeeding and organization that has not been succeeding,” Bratt said. “I want to become a part that changes that. I want to be a part of the team which brought this team back to be a championship team.”

    MUSICAL GOALTENDERS

    The Devils used seven goalies because of the injuries to Blackwood and Bernier. Blackwood was limited to 25 games by a heel injury and Bernier played in 10 before hip surgery. Scott Wedgewood, Akira Schmid, Nico Daws, Jon Gillies and Andrew Hammond also played.

    It’s the second year in a row of multiple goalies. Last year, veteran Corey Crawford retired before the start of the season and Blackwood had more injuries.

    FORMER NO. 1s

    Hughes and Hischier both took huge steps, particularly Hughes, who at times dominated the ice with his puck handling. Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017 — two years before Hughes was the No. 1 — finished with 21 goals and 39 assists for 60 points, all career bests.

    SURPRISES

    Besides Bratt, there were a couple of surprises. Yegor Sharangovich avoided the second-year blues and finished with 24 goals, 22 assists and 46 points. Dawson Mercer was an even bigger surprise, making the jump from junior hockey. He was the only player on the team to skate in all 82 games and he finished with 17 goals and 25 assists.

    DEFENSE

    Signing Hamilton to a monster contract gave New Jersey a solid No. 1 defenseman. He started the season well but missed 17 games with a broken jaw. He also played with a broken toe before that.

    Damon Severson had a career year with 11 goals and 35 assists and Jonas Siegenthaler emerged as a solid defensive defenseman in his second season with the club.

    NEEDED CHANGES

    The Devils need to hold serve more at home (16-20-5) and definitely improve away from the Prudential Center (11-26-4). The road record was the second worst in the league. The home mark was 26th.

    FREE AGENCY

    Defenseman P.K. Subban and forward Jimmy Vesey are the only unrestricted free agents. Don’t be surprised if the Devils go after a top goaltender.

    NHL Power Rankings: Maple Leafs climbing; Kings struggling

    NHL Power Rankings
    Andrew Lahodynsky, Getty Images

    In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings the Toronto Maple Leafs make a significant jump into the top-three thanks to an offense that is lighting up the scoreboard and a historic goal scoring season for Auston Matthews. They are 15-5-2 in their past 22 games (even with their goaltending issues) and are in a strong position to secure home-ice advantage in the First Round. They have also played extremely well against their potential playoff opponents, owning a 4-1-0 record against the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning.

    In the Western Conference things are starting to get interesting in the Pacific Division where the Los Angeles Kings have taken what looked like a guaranteed playoff spot and fallen back to the bubble thanks to their recent stretch that has seen them lose 10 of their past 16 games. That includes their current three-game losing streak.

    We take a look at all of that and more in this week’s rankings.

    Where does your team sit this week?

    To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

    1. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week: 1). Does not matter which top player you take out of the lineup, they just keep winning and steamrolling over the league.

    2. Florida Panthers (LW: 2). The good news: The only thing that could hold them back right now is goaltending. The bad news: That is a bad thing to have as your potential weakness in the playoffs.

    3. Toronto Maple Leafs (LW: 7). The sentence above for Florida also applies here.

    [Related: Matthews leads Richard race; what are his MVP chances?]

    4. Carolina Hurricanes (LW: 3). They are still probably the most complete team in the East. Florida and Toronto are just playing a little better at the moment.

    5. Calgary Flames (LW: 8). Johnny Gaudreau is going to make some serious money this offseason.

    6. New York Rangers (LW: 10). They have looked great since the trade deadline even though Igor Shesterkin is not playing at his best. Great sign. Shesterkin can be better, and now the supporting cast around him is better.

    7. Minnesota Wild (LW: 6). One of the most exciting teams in the league now has one of the most exciting goalies in the league. And Marc-Andre Fleury is off to a great start with them.

    8. Boston Bruins (LW: 5). They have been great lately, but there is a small concern: They are beating up on non-playoff teams and struggling with top teams.

    9. Tampa Bay Lightning (LW: 4). Imagine winning your division and getting this team as a wild card opponent in the First Round. Might happen for Florida or Carolina.

    10. St. Louis Blues (LW: 10). They have assembled an outstanding, deep, and balanced offensive team. They have scored at least four goals in eight consecutive games.

    11. Edmonton Oilers (LW: 12). The coaching change has done wonders for this team. But is it enough to make up for the shortcomings on defense and in net?

    [Related: Playoff goalie confidence rankings]

    12. Washington Capitals (LW: 14). Just when it looked like they were fading a bit they beat Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Boston in three consecutive games. Goaltending is still something to watch here.

    13. Dallas Stars (LW: 13). Jason Robertson is one of the best players in hockey. Get used to hearing that.

    14. Pittsburgh Penguins (LW: 9). They have only won three of their past 10 games and Tristan Jarry has a sub-.900 save percentage during that run. Not the time of year for that. Plenty of time to turn it around. Also the talent to make it happen.

    15. Vegas Golden Knights (LW: 15). With the Kings sliding they might actually pull this off. The rest of the Western Conference better hope they do not.

    16. Nashville Predators (LW: 17). Their playoff spot should be okay, but they are not playing their best hockey at the moment.

    17. Los Angeles Kings (LW: 16). A month ago they looked like a playoff lock and were gaining ground on Calgary at the top of the Pacific Division. They are just 6-7-3 since then and have Vegas breathing down their necks. Not great.

    18. New York Islanders (LW: 18). They need more offense next season, including from Mathew Barzal. He has been good. He has the potential to be great.

    19. Vancouver Canucks (LW: 22). They have been better under Bruce Boudreau, but his future with the team is not known beyond this season and they have some salary cap issues to work through. No idea what to project for them next season.

    20. Winnipeg Jets (LW: 19). Kyle Connor‘s push for 50 goals is the thing to watch for here.

    21. Columbus Blue Jackets (LW: 20). Jakub Voracek has five goals and 47 assists. Just a wild stat line for a forward.

    22. Buffalo Sabres (LW: 21). They are finishing strong, seem to have done well in the Jack Eichel trade, and get to see a glimpse of Owen Power this season. By recent Sabres standards this is a decent year.

    23. Detroit Red Wings (LW: 26). Mortiz Seider should win the Calder.

    24. Montreal Canadiens (LW: 24). Cole Caufield probably would have won the Calder with a full season of Martin St. Louis as his coach.

    25. Anaheim Ducks (LW: 28). Trevor Zegras might not win the Calder but he is the most exciting rookie (and one of the most exciting players) in the league.

    26. San Jose Sharks (LW: 23). Doug Wilson‘s departure creates a lot of questions for the direction this team takes with new leadership.

    [Related: Wilson steps down as general manager of Sharks]

    27. New Jersey Devils (LW: 27). Seeing what Jack Hughes is capable of over a full season is something to look forward to here, even if things do seem far away.

    28. Ottawa Senators (LW: 25). With Josh Norris having a breakout season and Tim Stützle looking like a cornerstone player the Erik Karlsson trade is working out nicely here.

    29. Philadelphia Flyers (LW: 29). Difficult to see a path here for this team to be dramatically and meaningfully better next season.

    30. Seattle Kraken (LW: 31). They played like an expansion team. They had opportunities to be better than a typical expansion team and missed them.

    31. Chicago Blackhawks (LW: 30). Everything must go this offseason. Everything. The next cornerstone building block does not currently exist on this roster.

    32. Arizona Coyotes (LW: 32). The only thing you can say about this season is that it went exactly the way everybody expected it go for them.