NHL Draft

Juraj Slafkovsky and Shane Wright

This is what the Habs’ draft board should look like for NHL Draft week in Montreal

32 players that the Canadiens should especially take interest in while preparing for a likely (and long-overdue) rebuild.

At long last, the 2022 NHL Draft is finally upon us. Held this Thursday and Friday (July 7 & 8) at the Bell Centre, 225 young NHL hopefuls will hear their names called — the first of many steps toward them realizing their childhood dreams of playing in hockey’s biggest and best league. For the Montreal Canadiens specifically, this will be a pivotal draft for two reasons: 1) they currently boast 14 selections in this year’s draft, the most of any team, and 2) this will be the first draft for the Jeff Gorton/Kent Hughes regime, after a decade of mediocre results and poor development under Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins.

With this in mind, which kinds of players should the Habs — who own the first and 26th picks in this year’s first round of the NHL Draft — be eyeing? Here, I’ve created a draft board from 1 to 32 of young players the Habs should especially take interest in while preparing for a likely (and long-overdue) rebuild. Let’s dive in.

1. Shane Wright

Though there’s been debate as to whether he’s actually the best player in this draft (thanks, Bob McKenzie), Wright still boasts arguably the draft’s highest ceiling — while also filling a need down the middle the Habs have sorely lacked for eons. Wright complements his well-rounded game with an extraordinary hockey IQ, a high-end release and an ability to play in all situations with and without the puck. If the Habs select him first overall, the Kingston Frontenacs centre will be primed to make for a deadly one-two punch alongside Nick Suzuki for the long-term. 

2. Juraj Slafkovsky

Though this young Slovak isn’t a centre, he’s a rare breed of winger. Slafkovsky comes in a slick package of skill, size, toughness and goal-scoring ability, even if his skating remains a work in progress. Finding players like him can be a bit like trying to find Bigfoot, so it’s not surprising that some are pumping his tires as the first pick over Wright. His international performances for Slovakia — including as MVP at the Beijing Winter Olympics — have further fuelled this debate.

3. Logan Cooley

The second-best centre in this draft also boasts a tantalizing skill set of his own. An excellent passer and puckhandler with a great deal of speed, Cooley plays a style that reminds of Brayden Point and Trevor Zegras, and is a flashy, exciting player to watch despite lacking Wright’s two-way upside. The Pittsburgh native has also played alongside Kent Hughes’ son Jack — no, not that one — in the US National U-18 development program, so team brass will know him well.

4. Simon Nemec

Having played against men regularly for HK Nitra in his home country of Slovakia, Nemec is arguably the most well-rounded defensive prospect in this draft. He’s an excellent skater, thinks the game very well, and is reliable and extremely well-rounded. Depending on what the team does with last year’s controversial first-round pick whose name I won’t reprint here, right-shot D will be a huge area of interest for the Habs—and Nemec is arguably the cream of that crop.

5. David Jiricek

Speaking of D prospects, Jiricek has been giving Nemec a run for his money all year. The Czech blue liner had spent a long stretch of this past season out through injury, but he’s nonetheless emerged as a standout young defenseman while playing against men all year with HC Plzen. Combining strength and physicality with excellent puck skills and creativity, Jiricek’s game is comparable to Darnell Nurse and Marc-Édouard Vlasic.

6. Cutter Gauthier

Despite his surname, Gauthier isn’t a Quebecer — he’s a Swedish-born Michigan native whose dad Sean was a goalie and a Sudbury, ON native who played one game with the San Jose Sharks. Cutter, meanwhile, is a power forward with a serious nose for the net, having scored 19 goals in 22 USHL games for the U.S. U-18 team. Known also for his versatility, forechecking and physicality, Gauthier is a strong candidate to go top-five in this draft.

7. Frank Nazar

Though some think he’s likely to slip down draft boards due to his size, this shouldn’t deter the Habs brass from being very interested in him — after all, size hasn’t slowed Cole Caufield down from becoming an emerging NHL star. Capable of playing centre or right wing, Nazar is a dynamic puckhandler with excellent skating, playmaking, and finishing abilities. Should he drop outside the top 10, the Habs should jump at the chance to trade up for him.

8. Jonathan Lekkerimäki

What this young Swedish winger appears to lack in physicality and decision-making, he makes up for with his high-end shot. Lekkerimäki scored at nearly a goal-per-game pace in the Swedish J20 Nationell, while also playing a significant chunk of the season against men for Djurgårdens in the SHL. As a late birthday (born in July of 2004), he has more time than other prospects in this draft class to round out the kinks in his game.

9. Matthew Savoie

Another prospect with a Québécois surname who isn’t actually Québécois, Savoie established himself as a dangerous scoring forward this past season with the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice. Though there are concerns about both his hockey sense and his 5-on-5 output (many of his points in 2021–22 were scored on the power play), Savoie is still a player that should interest the Habs brass with his skating, creativity, and dynamic skill set in the offensive zone.

10. Pavel Mintyukov

Ever since Andrei Markov’s departure from the club, the Habs have been looking for a power play quarterback to fill his massive skates. Mintyukov may just be the ticket, as the left-shot D-man from the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit has elicited comparisons in his game to players like Kris Letang. A creative puck-mover with excellent skating, hockey sense, and defensive acumen, this young Russian could go high in this draft despite hesitancy among GMs to draft Russians given the ongoing war against Ukraine and the recent story surrounding Flyers goalie Ivan Fedotov.

11. Joakim Kemell

Dynamic scoring winger whose excellent shot helped him put up big points against men in Finland. His production tailed off in the back half of the season, however.

12. Kevin Korchinski

Offensive blueliner with high-end upside as a power play quarterback, though his defensive issues must be corrected before reaching his full potential.

13. Marco Kasper

Austrian centre based in Sweden whose game isn’t flashy, but is a hard-working, highly-competitive bulldog on the ice. Extremely physical, goes to the net, and an excellent skater to boot.

14. Ivan Miroshnichenko

Despite having had Hodgkin’s lymphoma most of this season (plus the renewed anxiety over drafting Russian players), Miroshnichenko has completed his treatment, and his high-end finishing ability could be worth the risk if he falls to 26th or the second round.

15. Brad Lambert

Like Miroshnichenko, Lambert was initially a Top 10 prospect before struggling against men in Finland this season. His speed and dynamism with the puck are hard to pass up regardless.

NHL Draft
Liam Öhgren (This is what the Habs’ draft board should look like for NHL Draft week in Montreal)

16. Liam Öhgren

Put up a ridiculous 58 points in 30 games — including 33 goals — for Djurgårdens at the U-20 level. A fast skater, thinks the game well and plays with plenty of creativity and sandpaper.

17. Jagger Firkus

One of the best names in this draft hands-down, Firkus is also a highly creative player with hands that match his excellent playmaking and finishing skills. However, at only 5’10” and 154 lbs, he’ll need to bulk up big time.

18. Denton Mateychuk

Perhaps the best defenseman in transition among this entire draft class, Mateychuk plays with tenacity, smarts and efficiency, and isn’t afraid to lead rushes and breakouts.

19. Isaac Howard

On the smaller side at 5’10” and 183 lbs, but Howard is a strong, high-flying winger with an excellent release, off-puck play and distribution ability.

20. Jiri Kulich

Czech forward with an intriguing package of scoring, speed, forechecking, smooth skating and physicality. His NHL upside remains a question mark, but his dominant performance at the IIHF World U18 Championships will be tempting for GMs.

21. Jimmy Snuggerud

Another one of the best names in this draft, the Minnesota native will be an enticing late-first round pick with his size, late birthday and high-end passing and playmaking skills.

22. Danila Yurov

Initially a top 10 candidate for this draft, Yurov is likely to be a casualty of “the Russian factor” this year. Nevertheless, he’s an excellent combo of strength and soft hands who also played 21 KHL games this season.

23. Nathan Gaucher

One of the best options if the Habs want to draft a p’tit gars de chez nous this year. The St-Hyacinthe native is a powerful, brawny centre with excellent size, forechecking and passing — all enticing attributes while looking for a long-term replacement for Phillip Danault.

24. Noah Warren

Another Montreal-area kid, Warren is a 6’5” right-shot defenseman, and one of the best in this draft class as far as physicality and shutdown ability go — though questions remain about his offensive upside.

25. Lane Hutson

Perhaps the anti-Warren as far as play style goes, this Chicago native is a diminutive left-shot D (5’8”, 159 lbs) who is one of the most creative, exciting puck-moving defensemen in this draft despite his frame.

26. Noah Östlund

Racking up 33 assists in 32 games for Djurgårdens at the U-20 level in Sweden, Östlund is a play-driving forward with lights-out playmaking skills and hockey IQ, though he’s timid when it comes to the rough stuff.

27. Conor Geekie

Though the 6’4″ Geekie has one of the highest two-way ceilings in this draft, his awkward skating stride and reliance on his puck skills could mean it’ll take him a while to reach the NHL.

28. Ryan Chesley

Known for his strong defensive knowledge and skating, this Minnesota native is a beast physically with good puck skills to go with it, despite underwhelming point totals this season for the U.S. U-18 development program.

29. Seamus Casey

Another U.S. U-18 program blueliner, Casey is a puck-moving defenseman who excels in transition and in the offensive zone, though he’ll need to tone down his high-risk play style and improve his play without the puck.

30. Owen Pickering

One of the best D-men in this draft as far as puck retrieval skills, this blueliner for the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos has top-four upside. He’ll need to add bulk and improve his skating to get there, though.

31. Mattias Hävelid

The son of former NHL blueliner Niclas Hävelid offers tantalizing upside as a future right-shot power play quarterback. Lacks size and strength for that position, but is adept both on and off the puck.

32. Tristan Luneau

This 6’2” Trois-Rivières native is another right-handed D with a puck-moving play style. Not the flashiest or most dynamic, but is effective offensively and along the boards.

For more on the 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal, please click here. The Montreal Canadiens are hosting a free NHL Draft viewing party outside the Bell Centre on Thursday, July 7, 4–10 p.m.

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