The NHL had its biggest event of the offseason on Thursday with the first round of the 2022 draft. The Montreal Canadiens held the first pick and many assumed the host team would take center Shane Wright.
However, that turned out not to be the case as the Canadians grabbed Slovakian winger Juraj Slafkovsky. As a result, Wright fell to fourth overall where he was picked up by the Seattle Kraken.
There was a ton of intrigue surrounding the first round and quite a few surprises. With that in mind, here are some takeaways from the top 32 picks in the 2022 draft.
Slafkovsky may not be your typical #1 pick
If you look at the No. 1 picks in recent years, you’ll notice a lot of skilled forwards. Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Alexis Lafrenière and Jack Hughes are just a few. They are flashy forwards who really excel in open ice.
New Montreal Canadiens winger Juraj Slafkovsky is in a different mold.
That’s certainly not to say that Slafkovsky is outdone by any means. It’s not very often that NHL teams benefit from the physical presence of a beefy winger like Slafkovsky in the front row. When you think of players like McDavid and Matthews, they are guys who excel on the ice. In Slafkovsky, you get a grittier type of player who will camp low and muscle the opposition off the puck.
Slafkovsky is likely to score the bulk of his goals around the crease. That’s not a bad thing at all – he’s just not the type of striker who gets number 1 very often.
Shane Wright’s slide was not a huge surprise
Over the past few weeks, there’s been a lot of noise coming out of Montreal that general manager Kent Hughes and company are still weighing their options first. That’s why it wasn’t a huge surprise that the Canadiens opted to go with Juraj Slafkovsky instead. by Shane Wright.
Once it was known that Wright would not go to Montreal, it was likely that he slipped several places. Why? The New Jersey Devils already have a top center in the form of Jack Hughes. Additionally, the Devils signed Nico Hischier as a second-line center, so there was no need for the franchise to pick up another center. The Arizona Coyotes have always had the upper hand over American center Logan Cooley and it was no big surprise that he was their pick.
Wright just isn’t a flashy forward, and that’s probably one of the reasons he wasn’t taken with the first pick. The Kingston star is still a phenomenal player both ways and the Kraken are extremely lucky the draft went the way he did. Wright just didn’t fit the needs of the Devils and Coyotes, which is why it wasn’t so shocking to see him slip to 4th overall.
Devils improve blue line with Nemec
The Devils could have taken Shane Wright with the No. 2 pick and figured out their depth in center later. However, New Jersey opted to address their defensive decency with the selection of Simon Nemec. The Slovakian defenseman is the best defenseman in the 2022 category and really excels when it comes to moving the puck on the ice. Nemec has played in Slovakia’s top league for the past three seasons, so he will be able to step in and thrive as one of the Devils best defenders. The Devils only have veteran Dougie Hamilton signed after the 2022-23 season on their blue line, so responding to a huge need position was a smart move.
Tons of defenders come off the board
There were nine defenders who heard their name called in the first round and four of them were selected in the top 10.
The Devils opted to meet their defensive needs with the selection of Nemec while the Columbus Blue Jackets may have gotten a steal with David Jiricek slipping to No. 6. The Philadelphia Flyers were an extremely likely landing spot for Jiricek given their need for defensive help, but opted for American winger Cutter Gauthier.
The Chicago Blackhawks were an incredibly active team throughout Thursday. They acquired first-round picks with trades involving forwards Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach. In the DeBrincat trade, the Blackhawks acquired the No. 7 pick from the Ottawa Senators and used him to select defenseman Kevin Korchinski from the Western Hockey League. Later in the round, Chicago picked up Minnesota high school defenseman Sam Rinzel.
For a team that acquired star defenseman Seth Jones last year, the Blackhawks have continued to build around their defence.
Huge first-round American flavor
The United States National Under-18 Team had a great night at the Bell Center. Six selected prospects played for the U.S. National Team in the first round of the 2022 Draft. Logan Cooley and Cutter Gauthier headlined the U.S. haul as they both made the top five picks.
In consecutive selections, the Blackhawks took center Frank Nazar and the Winnipeg Jets selected winger Rutger McGroarty 13th and 14th overall, respectively. The St. Louis Blues selected winger Jimmy Snuggerud with the 23rd overall pick and the Tampa Bay Lightning picked up winger Isaac Howard with the No. 31 pick.
In recent years, American hockey prospects have sometimes become an afterthought, especially at the top of the draft. However, the United States national team and varsity programs have produced some terrific talent over the past two seasons. Players like Cooley and Gauthier truly have star potential and the United States could start producing elite prospects again.