Path To The Draft: Top NHL Draft Prospects

A hockey player is going to hit the puck.

We’re a week away from the NHL draft and from what I could read, this top-tier draft is not a McDavid, Stamkos, Hedman type of draft where you could get a cornerstone player and build your team around him. Instead most of these players could fit in a top-6 forward or a top-4 pairing on any NHL team given the right time to mature and develop. What I’ve done here is taken prospects who have ranked in the top 10 with the most consistency and you’ll be given a quick description by people who follow the draft in more detail than I do, Dobber Hockey and Bob McKenzie. Is there a chance that one or two of these players could fall in into the Islanders laps at number 13? Yes, but we’re not talking about someone like Dobson, Barzal or Wahlstrom and I’m not sure (yet) which direction the Isles want to go with that pick. So here is my top NHL draft prospect list:

Logan Cooley: Bob McKenzie: “The U.S. U-18 national team centre was the only prospect besides Slafkovsky and Wright to get a No. 1 vote from our panel of scouts, but also got a few votes at No. 2. At 5-foot-10 1/2, the skilled pivot has some dynamic offensive ability, especially in terms of his one-on-one play and a willingness to go to hard areas on the ice to score goals. Most scouts project him as a high-end second-line centre in the NHL with a chance to develop into a 1C. Size and not consistently using his linemates to maximum effectiveness are two things that could prevent that from happening.”

Cutter Gauthier: Bob McKenzie: “The U.S. U-18 national team forward has NHL size (6-foot-2 1/2 and 200 pounds), speed, and a goal-scorer’s nose for the net, which is to say he has the requisite tools to be a top-six, two-way NHL power forward. Though Gauthier played some centre this season, most scouts seem to think he projects more as a pro winger. In our scout survey, Gauthier was as high as No. 3 and as low as No. 10.”

David Jiricek: Bob McKenzie: “The Czech missed a good chunk of this season with a knee injury suffered at the World Junior Championship, but the 6-foot-3 blueliner has the size, bite, and physical tools to play a shutdown role. He’s viewed by some scouts as limited offensively, but in a draft filled with sub-6-foot puck movers, Jiricek’s size and physical approach stand out. His skating is good but not great, and he projects as solid top-four defenceman who, like Nemec, could be a 2-3. He was ranked as high as No. 5 and as low as No. 12 in our scouting survey.”

Joakim Kemell: Bob McKenzie: “The smallish (5-foot-9-1/2) Finn is an attacking, goal-scoring winger who plays a dynamic, high-energy, albeit inconsistent, game. Some scouts view him as a legit threat to crack the top five — he ranged from as high as No. 4 to as low as No. 14 in our survey — and one suggested he’s a candidate to develop into the best player in the entire draft because of a high offensive ceiling. He projects as a top-six NHL scoring forward.”

Jonathan Lekkerimäki: Alexa Potack: Despite missing over a month of play prior, Jonathan Lekkerimäki finished off his fantastic season by leading all players at the U18 World Championship in points. With 15 points in six games, Lekkerimäki cemented his spot as a top prospect in this year’s draft class. His stellar play has been consistent, whether at the junior, professional, or international level. His almost seamless transition to SHL play was evidenced by his point totals and his ability to play at the pace of men’s hockey.

Lekkerimäki’s most notable skill is his shot. His shot is one of the hardest in the draft, beginning with his rapid release. Lekkerimäki loves to shoot the puck and he averaged six shots, with 3.5 of them being on goal per game this season. He appears patient but when shooting the puck that frequently, some lack a clear path or angle. If he opts to pass, his strong vision is on display. In addition to using his vision for passing, he also puts it to use when receiving one. He almost never looks checked out and stays active trying to create the next piece of the play, no matter which end of it he is on.

Overall, Lekkerimäki’s game is marked by his strong offensive skills, especially his shot, and rapid adaptation to professional hockey. It’s easy to imagine top-six upside with Lekkerimäki, as well as a future on an NHL power play. At this point, it would be unsurprising if a team were to select the winger before the end of the top ten.

Frank Nazar: Alexander Annun: Frank Nazar capped off another fine season with the NTDP as he finished third in team scoring at well over a point per game – proving once again that he is one of the top offensive among even this extremely talented crop of NTDP prospects. 

Nazar’s game all starts with his elite skating ability, a combination of high-end speed and sharp edgework that makes him a slippery player on the puck – his skating makes him an extremely dangerous puck carrier. Being a highly skilled player, he does a lot of his work by driving into the middle of the ice and taking the fight to the opposition head-on instead of playing to the outsides. Nazar’s dual-threat ability forces the defense into making difficult decisions and allows him to quickly react and capitalize on any slight hesitation in the opposition. His work on defense is commendable as he plays with a raring motor and forechecks aggressively and maintains a nice defensive structure, though he still lacks the consistency on defense at the moment. Nazar shows incredible skill and has the potential to turn into a star player, but ironing out some consistency issues at both ends of the ice can prove to be key for him to unlock that potential. 

Simon Nemec: Samuel Tirpák: Nemec put up a record season in terms of production with Nitra in the top Slovak league, both in the regular season and especially in the playoffs where he collected 17 points in 19 playoff games to set a new record for all defensemen in Tipos Extraliga.

Nemec is a highly intelligent two-way puck-mover who has been in the conversation to be the first defenseman taken in the 2022 draft for over a year, and rightfully so. He is a transitional beast with a solid, well-rounded game at both ends of the ice. He can quarterback a powerplay well and can also defend a rush well with his smart gap control. He needs to work on defensive zone positioning and especially the consistency of his in-zone coverage but the belief is that there have been great signs of development throughout his draft year and prior viewings. Nemec will probably need another year at a higher level of professional hockey, such as the AHL, after being selected.  He could probably handle NHL minutes right away but another year of development would be beneficial. If he continues to progress, he could be an excellent two-way NHL defenseman.

Matthew Savoie: Evan Pace: Savoie’s play over the final months of the season was impressive enough to consider him still one of the top players in the entire draft class. However, he’s ‘slipped’ from fifth to seventh on our rankings, partially due to the potential of others like Jiricek and Nazar, but it’s not much to worry about with Savoie. His elite talents have been on display all season long, and he showed off those abilities remarkably well towards the end of their playoff run.

Savoie’s an excellent skater, playmaker and scorer, and a flashy player with the puck on his stick. He thinks the game extremely well and isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas on the forecheck. For someone of smaller stature, it’s been difficult for him to manage board play along the walls and in the corners, but like many other highly skilled smaller players, he’ll improve his strength. Savoie’s an extremely fun player to watch, as he can create magic in the offensive zone and in transition, with blazing speed, shifty footwork and hands, and a tremendous release and playmaking ability.

His production began mostly on the powerplay this season, but after some questions about his even-strength production, Savoie silenced any critics with stellar performances. Down the road, he’s most likely a better fit on the wing, but he’s proved he can play center with his dynamic skating and physical intentions. He’ll be an exciting prospect to follow next season, most likely back in the WHL.

Juraj Slafkovsky: Eetu Siltanen: Slafkovsky climbed our team’s rankings throughout the whole season, due in part to his outstanding National Team performances both in the Olympics and in the men’s World Championships. We had many concerns about different aspects of his game, but his strong performances and great overall development over the season helped to ease them. Over the season, he notched 17 points in 49 Liiga games, on top of 18 points in 11 U20 SM-sarja games.

Biggest concerns our scouts had were with his pace and processing speed, but he has been excellent in high-tempo international games as well, representing Slovakia. While he still isn’t the greatest skater, the developmental leap he’s taken over the season has been great. He has strong posture, and he went from having a very short stride to having a solid, powerful stride. Slafkovsky’s biggest strengths are definitely around his offensive game. He’s a great puck handler with a strong stick, who can flash some great skill moves. While he isn’t the most diligent shooter, he has a great wrist shot which he should use even more. Maybe his hesitancy shooting has something to do with the fact that he has shown some minor problems with shooting from tight spaces. However, our team has seen improvement in that area as well this season. With his good skill and improved skating, he has become a great transitional player, who is creative after zone entries. I love Slafkovsky’s ability to do great hook passes and use creativity for offensive play. In the offensive zone, he is adept at creating chances for his teammates and he has great ability to protect the puck with his big body. He’s a good net-front player as he has great hand-eye coordination to make re-directions and the ability to bury rebounds.

While his production in Liiga wasn’t amazing, he showed solid potential there and was excellent in all Men’s National Team games he played. On top of his excellent offensive toolkit, Slafkovsky’s physical maturity and European pro experience make him a high-end prospect.

Shane Wright: Nick Richard: Wright put together an impressive season, leading all OHL draft-eligible players in scoring by a wide margin. Though Juraj Slafkovsky and Logan Cooley made strong cases of their own for the number one spot on our team’s list, Wright’s body of work and his projectability at the NHL level won out in the end.

Wright plays a refined, complete game built upon outstanding hockey sense. He sees things unfolding ahead of time and consistently makes strong reads to be in advantageous positions, both offensively and defensively. Wright is more powerful than he is explosive but he has a clean stride and takes intelligent routes with possession as well as in support of the play. He will engage down low in the defensive zone and has the ability to disrupt opposing possessions and send play in a positive direction for his team. In the offensive zone, he is a dual-threat who can manipulate passing lanes with his slick hands to find open teammates, but his biggest weapon is his shot. It comes off his blade with power from multiple release points and he doesn’t need much time to find twine. All of these skills are accentuated by his ability to quickly process what is happening in front of him and then execute under pressure from the opposition.

He may not be the most dynamic, game-breaking talent in the class but Wright’s well-rounded game and potential as a lethal finisher give him a pretty safe floor as a top-six pivot who can play in all situations. If he continues to add pace to his game and he reaches his offensive ceiling, he has all the makings of a franchise player down the middle.

If there is a player on this list who I would want to see slide into the number 13 slot for the Islanders it would be Frank Nazar. Spoiler alert for my “wish list” articles coming up all this week, but Nazar is tops in my center category and he’s certainly a finalist. Drafting another center with top-six potential is never a bad idea and since he’s going to the university of Michigan, he’ll be ready for the NHL when he’s completed his college path.




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