Peters: Mid-season 2022 NHL Draft Rankings

The 2022 NHL Draft season has been anything but smooth. We’ve grown accustomed to that now as we are in the third season impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This season has brought the same stops and starts we’ve come to expect, but the good news is that all leagues are up and running, even if they have hiccups here and there.

In some ways, this year is easier to evaluate than last year. There are more games, more players active, more opportunities to see those players and even in the last few years, video software has gotten better and more comprehensive. Teams have been very engaged on that front and so have I thanks to the support of InStat, which I used more than ever before in helping compile my draft rankings.

Every single player listed and even more not listed have been viewed at least on video. Many players I’ve had the chance to see live this season or at the end of last, but every opinion you read is based on what I’ve seen so far this season.

As I’ve tracked this class, I’d say it is a bit closer to average, maybe a bit below. There are some quality players at the very top, but I think there’s a lot of various dips in tiers. Once you get to about the 20 range this season, you can start making cases for a lot of different players, all the way down to 60 or perhaps further. That’s not altogether uncommon.

Based on my viewings so far, this year’s draft is quite comparable to the last one where there’s a slightly below-average top tier, with a drop before we get out of the first round.

As you’ll see below, after many, many viewings of all the players, I’ve knocked Shane Wright from my No. 1 spot in favor of Logan Cooley. I’ll explain below, but just know that this decision was not arrived at lightly.

Keep in mind, this is a mid-term. These boards are meant to move and they will as more information becomes available and more views bring more perspective to what a player’s ultimate projection is. We’ve still got a long way to go.

1. Logan Cooley, C, U.S. National Under-18 Team (NTDP)

Cooley has just about all of the tools modern NHL teams look for. His speed, the pace at which he can make plays and his high-end skill all make him stand out. He’s under 6-foot, but that matters less than it ever has, especially when it comes to a player performing at the level Cooley is this season. He is leading the NTDP in points-per-game at 1.40 and often leaves no answer for opposing defenses with his speed through the neutral zone. He’s the type of player you want to have the puck as much as possible because he’s going to do something effective with it.

Cooley was the only under-age skater named to Team USA’s World Junior entry and was essentially their No. 2 center, looking like he belonged in their first game of the tournament before it was cancelled. Meanwhile, watching him with the NTDP this year, he is a factor in every single game.

Cooley’s game is all about speed. His pace is exceptional and troubles defenders in his peer group. He can burn the opposition in transition and creates havoc in the offensive zone with his ability to navigate through traffic and find soft areas before the other team even knows they’re there. The only thing I see with his game is that he can get caught doing too much sometimes and forcing plays. His confidence, however, is evident and there’s a lot of poise in his game. He’s doggedly competitive and is willing to fight for his offense, while also taking care of his own end and taking care of the defensive responsibilities required by his position.

I’m starting to view the Cooley-Wright debate similar to the Jack Hughes-Kaapo Kakko debate, only this time they’re both centers. When push came to shove, who was the more explosive, dynamic player? It was Hughes then and it feels like it’s Cooley now. The reason he has challenged and now surpassed Wright on my board after much debate is that he’s simply the more dynamic player and has enough qualities that leave me more confident at this point in time that he projects more favorably as a top-of-the-lineup star.

2. Shane Wright, C, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

The odds-on favorite to go first overall coming into the year, Wright has underwhelmed relative to lofty expectations. He’s still scoring over a point per game, but he’s not even the most productive draft-eligible in the OHL this season. He’s been good, but there was an expectation he’d be unstoppable. Expectations have had to be adjusted. That doesn’t mean Wright isn’t the best prospect available to most teams, but there’s been a lot of recalibrating going on and that’s why you’re hearing more that he’s not the mortal lock he looked to be over the last two years.

Context is important in judging Wright because he was one of many players that did not find an alternative team to play on last year with the OHL shut down. The only games he played in were at the World U18 Championship. Despite injury and illness, he was an incredible performer in that event and led Canada to a gold medal. That alleviated concerns that the layoff was detrimental to his development, but perhaps they’re showing more now which has to be included in the evaluation and projection.

When it comes to on-ice talent, he’s still got a lot of high-end traits that teams covet. Wright is a true two-way player. He has an elite shot with a quick release and a heaviness that makes it tough for goalies to get to. His vision and hockey sense are high-end. His skating is fine, but not a separating trait for him. There’s some bite to his game, but he probably needs a little more just to maximize his tools. The thing about Wright is that the body of work he has – an exceptional U16 season in the OHL that outpaced even Connor McDavid at the same age before the pandemic cancelled the remainder of the season – shows us that there is a special player there. But there needs to be a next step. And I don’t think we’ve seen that step this season. Projections are based on year-to-year progression and there isn’t much different year over year aside from some improved physical strength. That he lost a year of development is a concern and leads to more questions about his overall upside. Aside from his shot and size, I have not seen a ton I grade better than Cooley right now.

I have gone back and forth on this a bunch. I even said a week before I filed this piece that he was still my No. 1. However, I’ve watched a ton of Wright’s games on video this year, approaching it with an open mind. I was at the World U18s last year where Wright was a dominant force. Let’s make no mistake here, he is an elite prospect. I’m just not as convinced he is the best prospect in this draft at this point in time. If we see him take that next step, if he starts taking over games again, then things could change.

3. Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Omskie Krylia (VHL)

Not making the Russian World Junior team raised some eyebrows, but Miroschnichenko had recently recovered from COVID and there was some concern about his overall readiness in terms of conditioning and being in game shape. With that aside, Miroschnichenko has spent most of this season in Russia’s second pro division. He’s averaged about half a point per game, which is by far the highest per-game rate for a U18 player in that professional league’s relatively brief history. He has slipped on some of the public draft boards, but I think there is still a lot of belief in his overall potential, which keeps him high on a lot of team lists. I think when you understand the context of his season and look at his overall body of work, we’re talking about one of the true special talents in this class.

Miroschnichenko plays with speed and bravado. He has a high-end scoring ability and quality puck skills that have made him difficult to manage even for pros. He makes plays that most players probably don’t feel they have the time to make. That extra move that gives him an extra space or seam gets exploited for the offense and works for him often. Miroshnichenko’s ability to finish is special among this class.  He shoots off the pass remarkably well, gets to the net with ease and has a blistering shot that allows him to score from distance. As he tacks more muscle onto his frame, I can see him being an absolute handful down low with his drive and craving for offense.

4. Joakim Kemell, RW, JYP (Liiga)

In the midst of an incredibly productive season, Kemell has been out since the World Junior Championship. He is expected to return, but his extended absence is of moderate concern just because of the roll he was on. Kemell has 18 points in 21 games including 12 goals – a rate that puts him ahead of some of the most impressive recent seasons by draft-eligible players like Patrik Laine and Aleksander Barkov.

Kemell has shifty puck skills and an elite shot with excellent goal-scoring sense. His puck skills are shifty and despite his youth, he wants the puck as much as he possibly can get it. His teammates are more than willing to oblige because he’s got such a tremendous ability to finish whether it’s a quality shot or pass. Kemell doesn’t have much size or strength at the moment, and you’re not getting much if any defensive value out of him, but he’s got an advanced offensive game with an exceptional track record against professionals this season.

5. Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg ICE (WHL)

A dominant scoring season in the WHL, as one of the top scoring players wire to wire in the league, Savoie has averaged better than 1.5 points per game this season, which puts him well ahead of the scoring pace of some of the top WHL prospects of the last 10 years and fourth among U18 players in the WHL with a minimum of 30 games since 2010-11. There’s still a lot of season left and we’ll see where Savoie ultimately lands, but there’s been no slowing him down this season.

His quickness, both with his hands and feet have made him difficult to defend. He can get behind defenders easily with his feet, but also isn’t afraid to use his one-on-one skills to beat defenders. His size and general lack of strength are concerns, but he’s improved some in the latter field. The quickness he can play with alleviates some of those concerns, too. He’s got good competitive drive and doesn’t simply hang on the perimeter. He gets in there and can make plays under duress and in traffic.

6. David Jiricek, D, HC Plzen (Czech)

An injury sustained at the World Juniors right before it got cancelled was a tough blow to Jiricek as he’s expected to miss several weeks. However, what he’s done over the last two seasons is build a case that he’s the big two-way, right-shot defenseman so many teams covet. At 6-3, 190, he’s got the frame, but more importantly he has the mobility and hockey sense to thrive at his position. A bomb of a shot from the point, decisiveness with the puck on his stick and solid defensive skills all make for a player that teams are constantly searching for and have a really hard time finding. Jiricek has some edge to his game and can log substantial minutes. In a below-average class, Jiricek’s value is that much greater. I think whoever drafts him will be thrilled about the future of their right side.

7. Simon Nemec, D, HK Nitra (Slovakia)

You’ll be able to track Nemec at the Olympics this year because he’s representing Slovakia as a 17-year-old. He’s one of the most highly-regarded Slovakian prospects in a generation and has earned it with especially mature play, confident puck moving, adequate skill and a strong defensive game. He’s a sturdy 6-1, 190 and has already played more than 75 games of professional hockey in his native Slovakia. The only two players that compiled more points than Nemec has in Slovakian pro hockey before turning 18 are Marian Gaborik and Marian Hossa, which puts him in pretty incredible company especially for a defenseman. Nemec is an expert distributor with a smoothness to his game that should translate very favorably to North America. There is plenty of debate between Nemec and Jiricek for top defensemen in this draft, but those two are the guys everyone is eyeing early. I think Jiricek has a little more offensive upside to him between the two, which is why there’s a slight edge to Jiricek.

8. Danila Yurov, RW, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)

Yurov is one of those prospects who is kind of caught in a weird spot right now. He’s not quite ready for the KHL and doesn’t play significant minutes when he’s up with the pros. When he’s with the U20s, he’s outright dominant. He has not found the scoresheet in 21 KHL games this season, but is making easy work of the MHL. It’s not ideal, but it’s the way it is and when Yurov gets the opportunity, he makes the most of it.

Named to Russia’s World Junior roster, Yurov has good strength and knows how to use his skating to maximize his overall game. He’s hard to take off the puck thanks to his drive and he makes such high-end plays. He gets inside so well, driving the middle of the ice as much as he can. Yurov has a strong shot, with a good release on top of that. His offensive traits stand out a lot against his defensive abilities, but Yurov plays a competitive game that is just well-rounded enough. He has a chance to be a top-six style player with play-driving capabilities.

9. Frank Nazar, C, U.S. National Under-18 Team (NTDP)

One of the quickest, sneakiest players in this draft, Nazar routinely gets behind defenders with remarkable ease, generating multiple breakaways per game it seems. He has a high-end finishing ability with quick hands and an equally quick release on his shot. Nazar plays the game with tenacity and doesn’t allow his lack of size get in the way of his ability to create and play the opposition hard. The pace he plays at makes him one of the more unique players in this draft and one of the fastest risers. Among NTDP players, Nazar is the top scorer in USHL play averaging over 1.5 points per game.

10. Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, TPS (Liiga)

With an especially rare combination of size and skill, Slafkovsky has become one of the most highly regarded Slovak forward prospects in quite some time. His physical tools are all there, but I think his game still needs to find some refinement. Slafkovsky’s ability to get inside and physically dominate his peers is noticeable, but when he’s been in pro games this season in Finland, he can’t play the same way. I have some mild concerns about overall hockey sense and creativity. However, he battles well along the walls, gets into traffic and can navigate tight spaces with ease despite his big frame. There’s good touch to his game. I think some of the concerns I have about him are easily alleviated with experience and repetitions. At the U20 level, he’s a dominant performer who can make clever plays. When you have the size profile and the skill level Slafkovsky does, there’s a lot to like in terms of his upside. There are just enough things I need to see him add to his game, including a cleaner skating stride, that keep him out of the top-five conversation for me, for now.

11. Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg ICE (WHL)

In a draft class that generally lacks size, Geekie casts a massive shadow. He’s 6-3, 193 and sturdy. The younger brother of Seattle Kraken forward Morgan Geekie has excellent touch on the puck for a bigger player and exceptional vision, too. He is more liable to set up a play than he is to finish on his own, but he can create from just about anywhere. A drawback for Geekie is that he’s a below-average skater.

12. Isaac Howard, LW, U.S. National Under-18 Team (NTDP)

One of the more dynamic players in this class, Howard has been one of the most productive players at the NTDP this season. His puck skills and creativity are high end among players in this class and his ability to create offense for himself and his linemates puts him a cut above some of the other playmakers in this class. His size is going to be a hangup for some, but I think his skating and hockey sense make up for it.

13. Rutger McGroarty, LW, U.S. National Under-18 Team (NTDP)

McGroarty has been one of my favorite players of the draft season because he always seems to step up. Games big and small, he shows up and provides a high level of competitiveness and remarkable offensive finish. He missed some time with injury earlier in the season, but returned and just kept producing. McGroarty lacks some quickness, but has good anticipation, excellent strength and a good understanding of how to use his big frame to help him create offense. Near the net-front or from distance, he has a great feel for scoring.

14. Brad Lambert, C/W, Lahti Pelicans (Liiga)

Long considered one of the top players in this class, Lambert hasn’t quite lived up to the billing much this season. He just moved to his third organization in as many years in Finland, ultimately returning to his home club in Lahti. Lambert is one of the exceptional skaters in this draft and has great quickness. The Canada-Finland dual citizen has good offensive instincts, but can be too perimeter at times, which has raised questions about his competitiveness and willingness to work harder for his offense when the situation calls for it. He had a good showing in the brief World Juniors, but he has some work left to do to rebuild his draft stock.

15. Pavel Mintyukov, D, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)

A sure-handed defenseman who takes care of his own end well enough while possessing higher-end offensive capabilities, Mintyukov is fairly well-rounded. His footwork and strength are standout traits, and he’s just around the puck a ton. Moving pucks out of the zone and making plays at the other end, Mintyukov is one of the top scoring defensemen in the OHL this season. He has some creativity with his ability to get shots through and he walks the blue line as well as anyone in this draft. One of the things I like most about this player is his ability to transition quickly. Once he makes the defensive stop, he’s going and trying to push the pace up ice. It happens quick and that can be such an asset going forward. On top of all of that, he plays a ton of minutes every game and just never drops his standard of play.

16. Jonathan Lekkerimäki, RW, Djugardens U20 (Sweden U20)

A high-end skill player, Lekkerimäki has some good speed and high-end finishing ability. He has quick hands and owns a deceptive shot that allows him to score from distance. He has a slighter frame which will need to be built up over time, but the tools he has already, especially since he has displayed them regularly in his professional games this season, are exceptional and alleviate most of the relatively marginal concerns about his size.

17. Marco Kasper, C, Rögle (SHL)

A sturdy, competitive center with skill, Kasper has spent most of this season with Rögle’s pro team. When sent to the U20 ranks, he is mostly dominant due to his advanced strength. Kasper is remarkably skilled as well, though, with good hands and an ability to make plays in addition to score. Kasper plays the game with some good pace even though he’s not a burner himself. He always seems to be in motion and puts himself into good positions. There’s also some aggression in Kasper’s game, which comes in handy in battles and standing in at the net front.

18. Cutter Gauthier, LW, U.S. National Under-18 Team (NTDP)

With his mix of size, skating and puck skills, Gauthier has established himself as one of the premier forwards in this class. He is a high-end scorer who owns a heavy, hard shot that has allowed him to become one of the top goal scorers for the NTDP this season. Gauthier’s game has continually developed this year and as he continues to get stronger, I think we could see some more power elements to the way he plays. Gauthier can drive the net well, but makes smart plays from the outside, too.

19. Denton Mateychuk, D, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)

The top-scoring defenseman in the WHL for much of the season, Mateychuk’s confidence has flourished in his first WHL season. He made Canada’s World U18 roster as an underager and played in more of a reserve role, but this season he has been a defenseman that can push pucks up ice and is aggressive in how he creates his offense. He shoots pucks with authority and is not afraid to get into the rush. Mateychuk is sure handed with the puck and makes a major impact in transition with good decision making. Defensively he’s adequate because he competes and doesn’t allow himself to get pushed around.

20. Jimmy Snuggerud, RW, U.S. National Under-18 Team (NTDP)

An elite release and shot, Snuggerud has been one of several reliable goal scorers for the U18s this season. He plays well down low and competes along the walls, using his sturdy frame to protect the pucks. Snuggerud needs to improve his skating to join the upper tier of this class, but his offensive awareness, strength and competitiveness all allow him to be a high-end producer relative to his peers.

21. Liam Öhgren, LW, Djugardens U20 (Sweden U20)

A dominant goal scorer in the U20 ranks, Öhgren has gotten good looks at the senior level as well and put up a few points. His skill level is above average for this class and his shot is also top tier. What I like best about Öhgren’s scoring ability is that he so often gets himself into good scoring areas. He makes himself available to teammates anad has the finishing ability to make it count. He’s got a good work rate, too, with an ability to fight through checks and get to the tougher areas of the ice.

22. Filip Mešár, RW, HK Poprad (Slovakia)

A speedster with higher-end puck skills, Mešár has played the last two full season in the Slovakian pro ranks. While his point totals appear relatively low, he’s among the most productive in his age bracket over the last 20 years. When playing in his age group, particularly at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, he can dominate. Mešár has good creativity and plays the game with a ton of energy. He’s always moving and competing. Despite his relative lack of size, he impacts the game any way he can whether scoring or not.

23. Adam Ingram, C, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)

The top non-NTDP player in the USHL for this draft, Ingram is having a strong season with Youngstown. He’s got good size at 6-2, but can afford to tack on more muscle. He navigates the offensive zone well with strong skating and has the skill to finish off plays. Currently the top scorer among first-year draft eligible in the USHL, Ingram has stepped right into one of the top junior leagues in North America after appearing in just eight games in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League last season, and has been a play-driver.

24. Luca Del Bel Belluz, C, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

A crafty skill player who is the top scorer among draft-eligible players in the OHL this season, Del Bel Belluz didn’t play anywhere in 2020-21 and had just six points as a rookie in 2019-20. He’s taken a gigantic leap this year. Though not a particularly good skater, Del Bel Belluz is a high-end finisher. He has a very good shot and excellent offensive sense. There’s touch to his plays and he anticipates well, putting himself in a good spot to be available to his teammates and finding them when the pass is the better play. With his size and strength along with good hand skills, Del Bel Belluz has the offensive tools that make up for some of his shortcomings.

25. Alexander Perevalov, LW, Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)

One of the more fascinating players in this class, Perevalov leads all U18 players in points per game in the MHL this season. He’s also gotten a few games with the Yaroslavl’s KHL side. Perevalov is not very physically developed, coming in at about 161 pounds, but he has an elite release and tremendous, precise puck skills. He reads plays well, too, and does a good job of getting inside or behind defenders to get better scoring opportunities. The major concern for me is that with his slight build, he doesn’t move particularly quickly. He’s more of a calculating forward and I’m not sure how well that will play for him. The skill and offensive sense are such, however, that I view him as one of the top Russian players in this class and worthy of a first-round designation at this point.

26. Kevin Korchinski, D, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)

Smooth is probably the best way to describe Korchinski. He plays the game with a sense of ease and zero panic. He makes great plays in transition, makes advanced reads in transition and has precision with his passing. He doesn’t have a ton of goals this season, but has a quality shot when he can get it off. Without being a burner, he has good mobility and can escape pressure well. I really like the way he moves pucks out of his zone.

27. Jack Hughes, C, Northeastern (Hockey East)

A crafty playmaker, Hughes has had his ups and downs over the last few seasons. He lost a significant chunk of last season to injury and illness after looking like one of the top players in this class as a U17. He still has that high-end hockey sense and creativity, but his play off the puck still has a long way to go for him to be a higher-end center, especially at his size. The skill and fluidity he possesses in his game, however, suggest he has a chance to be a higher-end producer and help control the puck.

28. Nathan Gaucher, C, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

Gaucher’s offensive production picked up a bit more before the QMJHL shut down, but he had seen a bit of a dip in his numbers from a season ago. That said, Gaucher is a big, strong center who is difficult to move off the puck. His skating is OK for a player of his size, but it’s not going to blow anyone away. He finishes plays decently well, but doesn’t have a dynamic skillset like some of the other players in this range. He battles, though, and has some edge to him which, combined with his skills, is a reason I still value him pretty highly.

29. Owen Beck, C, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

Beck has continually caught my eye in video viewings this year given his pace of play and his ability to find the net. He has refined puck skills and remarkable patience, making great decisions with the puck on his stick and playing a leading role for a Mississauga team that has been the OHL’s best overall club. As a rookie, he’s been among the most reliable producers and has shown tremendous poise despite his lack of experience. He’s as dangerous shooting as he is passing, and fights for his chances. His effort level is an added bonus.

30. Tristan Luneau, D, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)

A two-way defenseman with some size, Luneau has been more engaged offensively this season but takes care of his own end well enough. I’d like to see Luneau engage more physically and use his frame more effectively. The biggest drawback to Luneau being a top-four defenseman at this point is his skating. He has a heavier stride and there were times where smaller players were able to get good leverage on him in the defensive zone. Luneau moves pucks very well, though, and thinks the game at a good level. He has a bomb of a shot, too, which has helped him find the net a few times this season.

31. Lane Hutson, D, U.S. National Under-18 Team (NTDP)

Any conversation about Hutson always starts with his size. It’s unavoidable for a 5-8, 148-pound defenseman. However, I just can’t get past that I think Hutson is one of the best players in this class in terms of his skills, unique skating ability, hockey sense and his competitiveness. There are definitely things he physically cannot do relative to other defensemen in this class, but he’s always around the puck and makes creative, positive plays that help his team win games. There’s also the chance that he’s a late bloomer physically and maybe he can get a little taller and a little thicker, but the way he plays now suggests to me he is going to find a way to make it and be a good player. Is that a player you take in the first round? Not always, but in this range I’m comfortable with a swing on a player that has defied the odds repeatedly over the course of his young career.

32. Danny Zhilkin, C, Guelph Storm (OHL)

A center with a goal-scorer’s touch, Zhilkin’s numbers haven’t necessarily been eye-popping this season for a player that came into the campaign as a projected first-rounder. He’s got a lot of tools, though, with good effort at both ends of the ice, some solid skill with one-on-one abilities and good physical strength. He has some more room to grow and fill out which will make the more competitive elements of his game stand out. He’s got an elite shot with good net sense. I think it may take him a while to find the right balance between being able to be a consistent scorer and still handling all of the other duties of a center, but he’s shown quite a bit of promise.

33. Ty Nelson, D, North Bay Battalion (OHL)

34. Ryan Chesley, D, U.S. National Under-18 Team (NTDP)

35. Owen Pickering, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)

36. Seamus Casey, D, U.S. National Under-18 Team (NTDP)

37. Rieger Lorenz, LW, Okotoks Oilers (AJHL)

38. Matyas Sapovaliv, C, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)

39. Maveric Lamoureux, D, Drummondville Voltiguers (QMJHL)

40. Sam Rinzel, D, Chaska H.S. (MN-HS)

41. Devin Kaplan, RW, U.S. National Under-18 Team (NTDP)

42. Elias Salomonsson, D, Skellefteå U20 (Sweden U20)

43. Matthew Poitras, C, Guelph Storm (OHL)

44. Filip Bystedt, C, Linköping U20 (Sweden U20)

45. Lian Bischel, D, Leksands U20 (Sweden U20)

46. Gleb Trikozov, Omskie Yastreby (MHL)

47. Cameron Lund, C, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)

48. Artyom Duda, D, Karsnaya Armiya Moskva (MHL)

49. Jiri Kulich, C, Karlovy (Czech)

50. Bryce McConnell-Barker, C, Soo Greyhounds (OHL)

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