The first order of business this NHL offseason is the 2022 Draft. It'll be here soon, as the opening round is set for Thursday evening.
Kingston Frontenacs (Ontario Hockey League) center Shane Wright has been tabbed as the top prospect in the 2022 class. It's fairly likely that he'll go to the Montreal Canadiens with the top pick, but it's not a slam dunk like we've seen in recent years with the likes of Owen Power, Alexis Lafreniere and Jack Hughes going No. 1.
So as the 2022 Draft draws closer, and that uncertainty up top lingers, here's a closer look at some of the top prospects that will hear their names called during Round 1.
Shane Wright - C, Kingston (OHL)
Wright isn't a shoe-in for the top pick, but he has a tremendous amount of upside that warrants the Canadiens grabbing him at No. 1. The Kingston center is about as lethal as it gets when he has the puck in open space. He possesses a deadly accurate shot. Over his past two seasons with the Frontenacs, Wright has tallied 71 goals and 89 assists and was the youngest captain in OHL history. He has drawn comparisons to Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron due to his playmaking ability and defensive tendencies. Wright isn't the most elite prospect that we've seen in recent years, but he has all the traits that an NHL team wants in a top line center.
Simon Nemec - RHD, HK Nitra (Slovakia)
Nemec is the top defenseman in the 2022 class and is extremely well-rounded. He is an exceptional puck-moving defenseman who has played the past three seasons in Slovakia's top league, so Nemec will be battle-tested and is very close to being NHL-ready. I would expect that the Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils grab an elite forward with the first two picks. However, Nemec could easily get taken with the No. 3 pick by the Arizona Coyotes, especially with star defenseman Jakob Chychrun recently revealing that he doesn't want to be part of a rebuild.
Juraj Slafkovsky - LW, HC TPS (Slovakia)
Slafkovsky is a big-bodied forward that really burst onto the scene in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where he led all scorers with seven goals and was named the tournament MVP as he led Slovakia to a bronze medal. The Slovakian winger really has no problem establishing his presence in those gritty areas around the net. Slafkovsky uses his large frame to hold onto the puck and should excel on the forecheck at the next level. Assuming that Wright is scooped up by the Canadiens with the top pick, the Devils could be all over Slafkosvky at No. 2 and pair him with star center Jack Hughes on the team's top line. Still, Slafkovsky could definitely go to the Canadiens with the top pick if they don't elect to take Wright.
Potential Landing Spots: Montreal Canadiens (No. 1) New Jersey Devils (No. 2), Arizona Coyotes (No. 3)
Logan Cooley - C, U.S. National U18 Team
In addition to Wright, Logan Cooley is one of the top centers in the 2022 class and has likely cemented himself as a top-five pick. Cooley, committed to play at the University of Minnesota, is arguably the top two-way center in this class and thrived playing for the U.S. U18 National Team. He is a fantastic puck-handler in the offensive zone and really would be a huge addition to any franchise. If the Coyotes don't grab a defenseman with the third pick, it would make a ton of sense for them to hitch their wagon to Cooley as one of their top forward prospects.
Potential Landing Spots: Arizona Coyotes (No. 3), Philadelphia Flyers (No. 5)
David Jiricek - RHD, HC Plzen (Czech Republic)
It's not going to be a huge surprise if two defensemen are selected in the top five. Czech defenseman David Jiricek projects as a top blue-liner due to his large frame at 6'3 and 190 pounds. Jiricek possesses a terrific right-handed shot from the point and brings a physical presence to the table. The Czech product is a strong skater that has no problem jumping up into the rush when the opportunity presents itself. Even if Nemec is the top blue-liner selected on Thursday, teams like the Seattle Kraken and Philadelphia Flyers have a huge need for defense, so Jiricek could definitely be a top selection.
Potential Landing Spots: Seattle Kraken (No. 4), Philadelphia Flyers (No. 5)
Cutter Gauthier - C/LW, U.S. National U18 Team
Cutter Gauthier has really been rising up draft boards in recent months. He is a lethal forward that possesses a ton of speed and has a knack for putting the puck in the net. In 54 games with the U.S. U18 National Team this past season, Gauthier recorded a career-high 65 points (34 goals and 31 assists). In the open ice, there's very few players that are more dangerous with the puck on their stick than him. Given his offensive firepower, it's very possible that Gauthier could go in the top seven or eight picks. If the top two defensemen are off the board, the Flyers would make a ton of sense as a team that could grab Gauthier.
Matthew Savoie - C, Winnipeg (WHL)
Matthew Savoie is a gifted playmaker with the only detriment being his smaller frame at 5'9, 175 pounds. Savoie spent his time as a top-line center for the Western Hockey League's Winnipeg Ice and showcased his extraordinary skillset. Given his size, it'll be interesting to see if an NHL team chooses to move him to the wing. Regardless of where he plays, Savoie is a gifted passer that has no problems setting up his teammates around the net. Savoie registered 35 goals and 55 assists in 65 games this past season while his 90 points also led all WHL rookies. He'll likely go outside the top five picks, but the Red Wings could be an option at No. 8 given their recent success at developing young forwards.
Potential Landing Spots: Ottawa Senators (No. 7), Detroit Red Wings (No. 8)
Jonathan Lekkerimaki - C, Djurgårdens IF (Germany)
Jonathan Lekkerimaki is a player that will do whatever it takes to put the puck in the back of the net. Lekkerimaki can score on a shot from the point but also isn't afraid to score in that gritty area in front of the net. Given his scoring ability, the Swedish star will likely slot on the top power-play once he reaches the NHL level. Lekkerimaki is a nice consolation prize for any of the teams that miss out on one of the top centers in the 2022 class. The Red Wings or Sabres could be realistic options with the Sabres likely grabbing the best player available, regardless of position.
Potential Landing Spots: Detroit Red Wings (No. 8), Buffalo Sabres (No. 9), San Jose Sharks (No. 11)
Joakim Kemell - RW, JYP (Finland)
Joakim Kemell is one of the more lethal scorers in the 2022 class. One of Kemell's strongest attributes is his stick-handling, which is also one of the reasons that he's so dangerous with the puck. The Finnish product has a scorching shot and really does a significant amount of damage on one-timers. Kemell should definitely be taken in the top 10 picks of Thursday's draft and could go as high as No. 6 to the Columbus Blue Jackets. That would be fitting, since his game is quite similar to that of Blue Jackets star winger Patrik Laine.
Potential Landing Spots: Columbus Blue Jackets (No. 6), Ottawa Senators (No. 7), Buffalo Sabres (No. 9), San Jose Sharks (No. 11)
Marco Kasper - C, Rogle BK (Sweden)
Marco Kasper isn't insane flashy when it comes to his offensive game, but his large frame should make him an asset at the NHL level. He's also a very physical player that isn't afraid to finish a check. Kasper makes the most sense for the Red Wings with the eighth overall pick for a team that could use more of a physical presence among their top six forwards. The Swedish import could easily make a career out of imposing his will around the net and score many tough goals.
Potential Landing Spots: Detroit Red Wings (No. 8), Anaheim Ducks (No. 10)
Kevin Korchinski - LHD, Seattle (WHL)
Kevin Korchinski, 18, could squeak his way into the top 10. Korchinski is a very gifted blue-liner that thrives with the puck in his possession. He is coming off a 65-point season (four goals and 61 assists) with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League. Korchinski is definitely a two-way player that possesses strong skating ability. If he makes it to No. 11, the San Jose Sharks could be an option for Korchinski as the franchise is rebuilding. The Sharks don't have a ton of young talent on the blue line with Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns passing their prime.
Potential Landing Spots: Anaheim Ducks (No. 10), San Jose Sharks (No. 11)