Who gained spherical 1 of the NHL Draft? Which staff carried out worst? Scott Wheeler weighs in

We made it. This draft year felt somehow longer than the two exceedingly-long pandemic draft years that preceded it.

But we made it, and after two years of remote drafts from the NHL’s studios in Secaucus, N.J., we even made it back into one of hockey’s great cathedrals.

So welcome to the conclusion of my 2022 NHL Draft coverage. Over the next two days, I’ll break down almost every single of the 225 selections made by the league’s 32 clubs.

That begins, as always at The Athletic, with this pick-by-pick breakdown of Thursday’s 32 first-round selections. It will continue on Friday with an exhaustive look at each team’s picks in Rounds 2-7.

What follows is my analysis of how each team’s scouting department fared against the selections they had, considering each prospect’s expected draft range, statistical profile, and my draft board. It is the culmination of two years’ worth of work and hundreds of viewings and conversations.

This is not an evaluation of the total value each club got out of their picks but rather an evaluation of the relative value they mined compared to where they picked and the number of selections they had. As such, teams with more picks (or higher picks on average) are not guaranteed high grades, just as teams with few picks (or lower picks on average) are not guaranteed poor ones. I believe this to be the most nuanced way of breaking down the draft. The analysis does not consider the trades that were made (whether for NHL roster pieces, or even to move up or down) and focuses exclusively on the picks that were made.

As always, the ranking is sorted into the following tiers for an added layer of context:

  • Winners: Teams I believe won out over their competition with consistent, sleuth, home-run-level selections relative to where they picked.
  • Overtime winners: Teams I believe did well with where they were slotted, even if they might not have picked the exact player(s) I would have.
  • Overtime losers: Teams I believe could have done better but might, in time, be happy with their pick(s) regardless.
  • Losers: Teams I believe will regret taking the player(s) they chose.

Winners

1. Buffalo Sabres

Pick: 9. C/RW Matt Savoie 
My ranking: No. 4 (change: -5)

Pick: 16. C Noah Ostlund 
My ranking: No. 23 (change: +7)

Pick: 28. C/LW/RW Jiri Kulich
My ranking: 

If the goal was to draft slick, skilled players, the Sabres sure did with their first two picks. If the goal was to draft centres, they took three kids capable of playing down the middle.

I knew that whoever grabbed Savoie in the 8-10 range was likely going to have made one of my favourite picks of Day 1, and lo and behold that’s how I feel about this pick now that the first 32 selections have been made. He’s an explosive skater with maybe the quickest first three strides in the draft, a shot and hands that also grade out right at the very top of the draft, and dogged, high-energy, never-stop-moving approach. For what it’s worth, too: I think he’s going to be a centre, the Sabres’ strong pool’s only real need, to boot.

Ostlund is a slippery, playmaking centre who is, like Savoie, also one of the better skaters in the draft. He doesn’t skate with the power that Savoie does, but he’s a light, airy skater with soft hands and a standout two-way game.

And Kulich is exactly the kind of player who excels alongside players like Savoie and Ostlund. He’s got one of the best shots in the draft (especially his one-timer) but he’s also a complete hockey player with a pro build, a driven on-ice approach, soft hands, and impressive balance and control over his skates.

Arguably the league’s best pool just got better.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: No. 7 (overtime winners)
Day 2: No. 8 (overtime winners)

2. Seattle Kraken

Pick: 4. C Shane Wright
My ranking: No. 1 (change: -3)

Good teams are built down the middle and between Shane Wright and Matty Beniers, the Kraken will be in good hands with two extremely well-rounded, intelligent players who give you something a little different on the puck (Beniers’ high-end speed and motor contrasted against Wright’s more take-what-you-get, give-and-go game and NHL shot). The Kraken are going to love this pick. I believe in Wright’s ability to become a perennial 30-goal, 70-point player in the prime of his career. And if he does, given his position and the way he also supports the play off the puck, he’s quite likely going to be one of the two or three best players in the class when the book is closed. I’m excited to track and re-evaluate the top of this class for years to come.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: No. 8 (overtime winners)
Day 2: No. 24 (overtime losers)


Rutger McGroarty (Mike Mulholland / Getty Images)

3. Winnipeg Jets

Pick: 14. LW Rutger McGroarty
My ranking: No. 15 (change: +1)

Pick: 30. C/RW Brad Lambert 
My ranking: No. 8 (change: -22)

The Jets just keep picking my favourite kids. There wasn’t a player I enjoyed talking to in the 2020 class more than Cole Perfetti. There wasn’t a player in the 2021 class I enjoyed talking to more than Chaz Lucius. And there wasn’t a player I enjoyed talking to more in this age group than McGroarty. They’re different. Perfetti and Lucius are smart and articulate and impressed me with the way they communicate. And while McGroarty, this year’s captain at the national program, is that too (don’t get it twisted), he’s also just got such life and energy to him. And then on top of that he’s a physically strong, hard-shooting winger who plays hard and has a knack for getting open around the net and finishing when he does, with some underrated skill on the puck mixed in too.

As for Lambert: The bet on him, where the Jets made it, is exactly what the draft should be all about. The teams that win the war take chances on talent, the hardest thing to find anywhere. This is exactly that. It’s there. He has it in him to become a dynamic offensive player. I truly believe that. And I’d count on his 2022-23 season playing out a lot better than his 2021-22 campaign did.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: No. 3 (winners)
Day 2: No. 5 (overtime winners)

4. Minnesota Wild

Pick: 19. LW Liam Ohgren
My ranking: No. 14 (change: -5)

Pick: 24. LW/RW Danila Yurov
My ranking: No. 12 (change: -12)

The Wild just keep drafting well. They drafted as well as any team in the league from 2019-2021 for my money and the Ohgren and Yurov picks kicks off this draft class on the right foot too. They’re also very similar players, in that they can play it any way you’d like offensively and they’re well-rounded off the puck. They can hang onto the puck and create for themselves, they can play the give-and-go game, they can both score and play-make. And they’re both combo power and finesse players who are sturdy on their skates.

Ohgren shoots it harder than Yurov (the puck really rocks back into his stance and then pops off his blade) but I think Yurov has slightly higher upside on the whole.

There’s also almost no doubt in my mind that they both become good NHLers, assuming Yurov can get more reps in Russia next year and eventually get over to North America.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: No. 2 (winners)
Day 2: No. 20 (overtime losers)

5. Tampa Bay Lightning

Pick: 31. LW Isaac Howard
My ranking: No. 10 (change: -21)

There aren’t many forwards in this draft class with statistical profiles that match up with Howard. He filled the net in back-to-back years at the program and I don’t see anything in his game that prevents him from doing the same in college. He’s another short winger who fell for the wrong reasons and I’m prepared to put a stake in the ground on that. He’s well-built for his size, he’s got NHL speed, he’s got NHL skill (hands, shot, touch, you name it) and he finds space in the offensive zone as well as anyone in the draft. He’s going to keep scoring. You can bank on it.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: N/A (no picks)
Day 2: No. 11 (overtime winners)

6. Nashville Predators

Pick: 17. RW Joakim Kemell
My ranking: No. 7 (change: -10)

Like Lekkerimaki two picks before him, Kemell, another small winger, predictably fell (as tends to happen in the first round). He’s a confident, attacking player with a diverse offensive game and a dangerous mid-to-long range shot. Inside the offensive zone, he’s always a threat. He’s got legit top-six tools and power play upside. Coming in, I was expecting the Preds to draft a defenceman after having used a lot of recent high picks on forwards (Philip Tomasino, Fyodor Svechkov, Zachary L’Heureux, Luke Evangelista, etc.), but when he fell, he became the right pick for a team that needs some star power. There’s some risk in Kemell’s projection, but the reward is high. Take the swing.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: No. 17 (overtime losers)
Day 2: No. 6 (overtime winners)

7. Vancouver Canucks

Pick: 15. RW Jonathan Lekkerimaki
My ranking: No. 9 (change: -6)

The Lekkeriamki pick is giving me Elias Pettersson in 2017 vibes. He’s built stronger than Pettersson was (obviously), but he’s got arguably the best pure puck skills in the draft (I graded his shot as best-in-class and his hands as top five). He’s got a lethal release, with a unique ability to make one or two game-breaking plays a game. He can come and go and he’s a smallish winger, and those guys tend to fall further than they should. But he’s going to put a lot of pucks into the net (enough to potentially turn this into one of the draft’s home runs).

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: N/A (no picks)
Day 2: No. 13 (overtime winners)

8. Columbus Blue Jackets

Pick: 6. RHD David Jiricek 
My ranking: No. 6 (change: none)

Pick: 12. LHD Denton Mateychuk
My ranking: No. 13 (change: +1)

I thought the Blue Jackets hit on their two high forward picks last year when they selected Kent Johnson and Cole Sillinger in quick succession at the top of the 2021 draft, and I think they’ve done the game on defence with Jiricek and Mateychuk in 2022.

After an eventful first four picks, things started to settle in at No. 5 and No. 6. Jiricek’s a great fit for the Blue Jackets, who drafted a similar (though lower-end) prospect last year when they selected the physically strong, aggressive (on both sides of the puck) Corson Ceulemans. Jiricek gives them more of what they clearly covet. He plays the game with presence, he looks to command play, and he’s got a bomb from the point.

Mateychuk looks and plays much different than Jiricek, but he’s one of my favourites. He’s an excellent three-zone player who skates, moves the puck, handles the puck, and attacks with the best of them in this draft. They think the world of him in Moose Jaw and believe he’s got all-situations upside at the next level. I do too.

I fully expect this will be looked back on as a big day for the Blue Jackets franchise.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: No. 1 (winners)
Day 2: No. 18 (overtime losers)

Overtime winners

9. New Jersey Devils

Pick: 2. RHD Simon Nemec
My ranking: No. 2 (change: none)

Once Slafkovsky went No. 1, the draft truly was live in a way that it hasn’t been in my nine years covering it. My feelings on Nemec are no secret. I think he’s an A-level prospect and his selection makes a lot of sense for the Devils, even after they took Luke Hughes a year ago. They’ve now got enviable depth at two premium positions, with Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier and Dawson Mercer down the middle, and Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec (two very different players) coming on the backend on the left and right side respectively. Nemec is the way the game is trending. Everything happens in front of him and the game comes naturally. He’s a smart, calculating player who is going to drive play, offence, and possession.

2021 draft gradse:
Day 1: No. 20 (overtime losers)
Day 2: No. 23 (overtime losers)

10. Montreal Canadiens

Pick: 1. LW Juraj Slafkovsky
My ranking: No. 5 (change: +4)

Pick: 26. LW/RW/C Filip Mesar
My ranking: No. 21 (change: -5)

It was pretty remarkable to watch the Canadiens crowd pull the air out of the building in a gasp and then, almost immediately, pivot into this swell and tremor of applause and screams. This is one that we’re going to be talking about and dissecting for a long, long time. I don’t think any of the players in this draft class are going to pull away from the pack in the short term, so we’re not going to know whether this was the right or wrong pick for a while. Slafkovsky wouldn’t have been my selection, but there is a real chance that he becomes one of the best players in this draft. I’m apprehensive about just how much development room he has in front of him, and whether that runway will be enough to reach a ceiling that will justify the selection, but the appeal is clear. He’s huge, he’s physically mature, he’s got rare hands in tight to his body for a player his age, and he’s got the confidence and personality to rise to the moment in a market like Montreal. Now it’s incumbent on them to unlock him.

I like the Mesar pick and it’s pretty darn cool that two lifelong friends (he and Slafkovsky are like brothers) get to stay together with the same pick. He’s a plus-level skater, handler and creator with a knack for both making plays on the flanks or knifing through congested areas. I’ll be intrigued to see what the Habs do with him, too, because I know he’s open to going to the OHL (the Kitchener Rangers have his rights) and I think he could really benefit from a move to North American ice (his game suits the smaller sheet).

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: No. 24 (losers)
Day 2: No. 4 (overtime winners)

11. Chicago Blackhawks

Pick: 7. LHD Kevin Korchinski
My ranking: No. 17 (change: +10)

Pick: 13. C Frank Nazar
My ranking: No. 11 (change: -2)

Pick: 25. RHD Sam Rinzel
My ranking: No. 52 (change: +27)

I can tell you the Blackhawks are really happy with how things went on Thursday. They wanted all three of these kids and they weren’t sure they were going to be able to get them.

It’s not easy, in a risk-averse NHL, to turn zero first round picks into two top-15 ones within a couple of hours. Say what you will about the prices they paid (I think they’ll be happy about the Dach trade and less so about the DeBrincat one long term) and this strategy a year after trading for Seth Jones, but they weren’t shy and they should be looking to the future at this stage.

I was extremely critical of the Blackhawks’ 2021 draft class and still am, but this was a good start to their 2022 class.

I knew from a pair of sources coming in that they loved Korchinski and I’m not surprised to see him selected inside the top-10. That’s the way he was trending after entering the season as more of a fringe first-round guy. He has progressed quickly and has a lot of exciting tools now. He’s a long, smooth-skating, playmaking defender who can rove offensively and has made huge progress defensively after a growth spurt. And though he ranked at No. 17 on my final list, I wrote in my final thoughts column earlier this week that if I could make any late tweaks to my list, moving him up to No. 15 would be one of them. He’s got the gifts to live up to his selection.

And Nazar, I mean … I’m a big fan. Of the player, who is fast as anything, and almost as crafty. But also of the kid, who is the shy juxtaposition of most hockey players and I really enjoyed learning about him this year. He can fly, but there’s more to him than that too. If he can put it all together and fill out (he’s an extremely athletic kid, so I’m not worried about that), his ceiling could be a lot of fun.

Rinzel’s a bit of a risk as a high school-developed kid, but like Korchinski, the upside is high and the tools are high-end. The tools are a lot alike, too. He’s a long, right-shot defender who thrives in transition and can really skate and has a summer birthday (also like Korchinski!) and plenty of runway to untap the potential. Patience will be key here (he’s going back to the USHL next year) but there’s upside. They likely felt comfortable taking that swing with their third pick.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: No. 23 (losers)
Day 2: No. 30 (losers)

12. Washington Capitals

Pick: 20. LW/RW Ivan Miroshnichenko
My ranking: No. 28 (change: +8)

It’s impossible to feel anything but happy for Miroshnichenko. After all that he’s been through — a Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis and the rounds of treatment that have since followed — it was so great to see him in the building, and to see him still get picked in the first round. He’s got a long road ahead of him yet, but he was a top prospect in this draft class before the cancer diagnosis and he looks and plays like every team wants their wingers to. He’s a strong, athletic kid with an NHL shot who can attack at you in a variety of ways and is already built like a pro.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: N/A (no picks)
Day 2: No. 25 (overtime losers)

Overtime losers

13. Arizona Coyotes

Pick: 3. C Logan Cooley 
My ranking: No. 3 (change: none)

Pick: 11. C Conor Geekie 
My ranking: No. 16 (change: +5)

Pick: 29. RHD Maveric Lamoureux
My ranking: No. 85 (change: +56)

There was a lot of uncertainty in the weeks leading up to the draft about what was going to happen at the top, but one of the picks that unions that felt inevitable was Cooley and the Coyotes. He just checks a lot of boxes. They’ve got the shallowest centre depth in the league. He’s a dynamic, exciting player. He’s an American. He’s going to thrill and entertain in the desert, maybe as soon as a year from now after a season at the University of Minnesota. I think there’s a real chance he becomes the draft’s most productive forward in time, too.

Geekie is almost nothing like Cooley, but his selection certainly makes a lot of sense too as they fill out the middle of the ice. He’s a a big kid who loves to hang onto the puck and make plays and still has room to fill out his frame and find another level. There’s real talent there if he can add the strength and pick up a step in his skating.

The Lamoureux pick is the classic “we’ve got three firsts, so let’s try something with the third.” He’s a giant (6-foot-7, maybe 6-foot-8), he can skate (he’s got an oddly short and compact stride actually), he can shoot it and handle it when he’s got time (though both of those things can break down when he doesn’t), and there are folks in NHL circles who believe he belonged in the late-first/early second range. But there aren’t many players his size who’ve played in the NHL ever and it comes with some limitations. When you’re that big, some of what you take from players attacking at you give back in some of the challenges you face managing pressure that comes at you when you’ve got the puck. He can look stilted and play sloppy out there, even though he’s better at some of the finer skills than most players his size typically are.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: No. 11 (overtime winners)
Day 2: No. 28 (losers)

14. St. Louis Blues

Pick: 23. RW Jimmy Snuggerud 
My ranking: No. 26 (change: +3)

Coincidentally, I think one of the prospects that Jimmy Snuggerud most reminds me of in terms of makeup, build, style and substance might actually be Blues prospect Jake Neighbours. So it’s fitting that the Blues took a similar player of the opposite handedness. Snuggerud is a well-rounded player who can do a little bit of everything offensively (he’s got a multi-faceted shot, I’ve seen him make NHL passes, he’s got pro size, and he makes smart reads and choices) and sticks with the play off the puck to get after it on the forecheck. He’s not a dynamic player, per se, but the expectation is that he becomes a top-nine player who can play with a variety of linemate types. There’s not going to be a huge payoff here, but they likely won’t be disappointed either.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: No. 19 (overtime losers)
Day 2: No. 10 (overtime winners)

15. Philadelphia Flyers

Pick: 5. C/LW Cutter Gauthier
My ranking: No. 18 (change: +13)

I said in the lead-up to the draft that Gauthier would be in the top-10 conversation for me, but not the top top-five one. And while I’m in the minority on that, I’m comfortable being there. He’s a strong, fast, athletic, powerful player with one of the best shots in the draft. I do worry he’s going to be the second-best player on a top-six line in the NHL rather than a focal point, though. You can get away with taking that player if he’s that on a first line. But if he becomes that for a second line, he won’t be a justifiable selection. The tools are clear and the ceiling is real. And yet despite being viewed as a projectable, safe pick, I do see some risk — a little more than I would have been comfortable with, at least.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: N/A (no picks)
Day 2: No. 19 (overtime losers)

16. Detroit Red Wings

Pick: 8. C/LW Marco Kasper
My ranking: No. 24 (change: +16)

Kasper and the Red Wings, a lot like Cooley and the Coyotes, felt as close to inevitable as things can feel in an exercise like the draft that is anything but certain. He’s viewed as one of the more complete prospects in this draft, playing the game with energy, competitiveness, and skill between battles. The Red Wings trust the folks in Rogle — and deservedly so, the Abbott twins have built one of Europe’s best programs — but this is a bet that he becomes a top-six player rather than an excellent third line one (which is his floor). I’m cautious he settles at that floor instead (or even slightly above it) and Savoie, taken with the very next pick, becomes a top-of-the-lineup creator for the division rival Sabres.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: No. 10 (overtime winners)
Day 2: No. 17 (overtime losers)


Pavel Mintyukov. (Luke Durda/ OHL Images)

17. Anaheim Ducks

Pick: 10. LHD Pavel Mintyukov
My ranking: No. 25 (change: +15)

Pick: 22. C Nathan Gaucher 
My ranking: No. 38 (change: +17)

The Ducks were always going to take a defenceman and Mintyukov became a natural choice when Korchinski was off the board. If Korchinski had emerged as the draft’s consensus third-best D prospect, Mintyukov was its consensus fourth-best. He plays a bold, high-skill game offensively. There are some questions: his decision-making is suspect at times and he’s on the older side of the draft, mainly. But he’s a lot of fun and he’s a difference maker when he’s on. I’m partial to Moose Jaw defenceman Denton Mateychuk, but if they were set on going after a D with this pick, Mateychuk’s makeup is closer to Jamie Drsydale and Olen Zellweger’s, so Mintyukov gives them a different look. I don’t hate it.

It was fitting that the Ducks had 2021 No. 3 pick Mason McTavish make the Gaucher selection too, because while they’re both very different in terms of raw skill (McTavish is a cut above offensively and projects higher in a lineup), they’re both heavy, physically involved, hard-working players that are a lot a like in terms of build (strong and thick) and approach. If McTavish is a top-six centre of the future and Gaucher can become a third-line pivot behind him, they’ll be a lot to handle along the wall when they’re coming over the boards consecutively. That’s clearly their play here.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: No. 15 (overtime losers)
Day 2: No. 7 (overtime winners)

18. Pittsburgh Penguins

Pick: 21. LHD Owen Pickering
My ranking: No. 53 (change: +22)

On a night with a few surprises, a Brian Burke team selecting Owen Pickering, the kid who most impressed NHL clubs in his combine interviews, might have been the least surprising selection of the night. He’s one of the draft’s longest, leanest defenders, and all of his growth happened over two calendar years and plenty of room to fill out. With the way he moves (he’s unbelievably smooth considering his frame) and how fast things have changed for him, the belief is that he’s got plenty of ceiling to still tap into, even if his track record (which kept him lower on my list) doesn’t scream first rounder.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: N/A (no picks)
Day 2: No. 22 (overtime losers)

Losers

19. Dallas Stars

Pick: 18. LHD Lian Bichsel 
My ranking: No. 51 (change: +33)

After appearing to have hit on recent high forward picks with Wyatt Johnston, Logan Stankoven and Mavrik Bourque, the Stars were one of the teams most keen to take a defenceman on Thursday. And though I don’t love Bichsel in the first round, this was always the range that he was going to be selected. Bichsel is a huge, physically mature defender who played in the third-best pro league in the world this year and did so successfully before and after a concussion. He moves well for how heavy he is and can both outlet and handle the puck fairly well for his size too (he’s not passive with or without the puck, which is good). I don’t think his game has enough offence to warrant this selection but it’s possible he becomes a staunch top-four defenceman who can chip in here and there.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: No. 21 (losers)
Day 2: No. 2 (winners)

Note: I think last year’s post-draft analysis has stood up really well so far but whew, that Day 1 Stars grade is the one that really hasn’t aged well. How about Johnston, eh?

20. San Jose Sharks

Pick: 27. C Filip Bystedt
My ranking: No. 58 (change: +31)

There was a fair amount of chatter coming into the draft about Bystedt working his way into the first round. I don’t see it if I’m being blunt though. He’s an intriguing prospect. A big kid who moves well and can really control, handle and protect the puck. But I found him to be inconsistent in his approach this year (almost as if he was unsure if he was a power or finesse guy, and hadn’t yet grasped how he could best impact a game). His statistical profile doesn’t suggest first-round talent, either. I think he’s more likely a complementary piece at the NHL level than an impact piece, even if he hits his ceiling. He does give a Sharks pool built around a group of talented 5-foot-10ish forwards something a little different than, though.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: No. 5 (winners)
Day 2: No. 26 (overtime losers)

21. Edmonton Oilers

Pick: 32. Reid Schaefer
My ranking: No. 83 (change: +51)

It’s a little ironic that on the night the Oilers unloaded Zach Kassian’s contract, they selected the draft’s physical, mean, 6-foot-3, straight lines winger. Now, they’re plenty different in other ways. Schaefer’s a smarter, more refined player. But he’s on the older side of the draft and it’s a high-floor, low-ceiling play on a kid who I’m not convinced will have enough offence to his game to become more than up-and-down the lineup, push-and-pop upside.

2021 draft grades:
Day 1: No. 12 (overtime winners)
Day 2: No. 31 (losers)


Best players available to start Day 2:

19. LHD Lane Hutson
20. C David Goyette
27. RHD Seamus Casey
29. C Jack Hughes
30. RHD Ryan Chesley

More:

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; photos: Bruce Bennett, Dave Sandford / Getty Images)

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