clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2022 NHL Draft Watch List: Narrowing the field for the Leafs

The Leafs have three picks for now, so who might be available in those ranges?

2021 NHL Draft - Round 2-7 Photo by Alana Davidson/NHLI via Getty Images

Leafs are ‘struggling’ and their goalies are blowing winnable games. Seems like the perfect time to talk about prospects the Leafs could draft. That’s assuming they don’t wind up trading away what few picks they have this coming draft! For now, let’s proceed assuming they keep them. Otherwise I’ll have nothing to write about.

First Round

Filip Mešár (5’10”, C/W) — ranked 22nd by Bob. The highest ranked player on Bob’s most recent rankings that I have on my watch list. He’s a bit smaller, and he’s a Euro playing in the Slovakian pro league where he has 15 points in 35 games, which is only behind top defensive prospect Simon Nemec on a per game basis for 2022 draft prospects. He may wind up being ranked even higher by the end but those two elements are usually things that can lead to a guy falling in the draft. He’s a good skater and quite shifty, so he can evade checkers and slip past defenders to avoid getting hit. He’s a smart two-way player which are traits the Leafs have said they liked in the past. He also has a good amount of skill with the puck. Strength and his shot/finishing ability are the two things he could work on as he develops towards the NHL. He could turn out to be a better version of what Roni Hirvonen offers as a prospect: smart, drives dangerous offense, but a better and more skilled player and skater overall.

Liam Öhgren (6’1”, LW) — ranked 23rd by Bob. He’s a bigger, stronger power forward type. He has dominated Sweden’s junior league with 27 goals and 49 points in only 26 games. He’s also gotten 2 points in 24 SHL games at the pro level. He’s also been one of Sweden’s best forwards on the international stage. Why I really like him, however, is that he seems like a similar player to Matthew Knies. He’s a power forward type with good skating, a good shot, and very strong off-puck skill. He can be a very effective supporting winger who won’t necessarily drive a line himself, but will be where he needs to be at both ends. Has a lot of projection as a result of his physical tools and off-puck play.

Kevin Korchinski (6’2”, LD) — ranked 25th by Bob. Arguably the best defensive prospect in the second tier of this year’s draft, and may wind up being borderline in the top tier with David Jiricek and Simon Nemec. He’s big, he’s an excellent skater, he can be a wizard with the puck and especially in his passing, and has 44 points in 49 games in the WHL. So his offense is very strong, but he also profiles quite well defensively. He may not stand out as a shut-down guy, and I’m not an expert to project a defenseman’s defense to the NHL, but some scouting people I trust are high on his decision making. It will take a bit of refinement, physical growth, and lots of practice but there is some projection there.

Elias Salomonsson (6’1”, RD) — ranked 33rd by Bob. A very polarizing prospect this year, and also a lesson why you shouldn’t really put much stock into a prospect’s D-1 season. Last year, Salomonsson was projected as one of the top picks, maybe in the top 10 or even top 5. He’s a good skater, and he was showcasing good passing and defense for his age. This year, scouts kept saying he was extremely passive in all areas. His passing was not dynamic, his defense let opposing forwards do almost whatever they wanted, and while he was expected to play a lot in the SHL this year he... hasn’t. But there are a few things that would keep me interested in him as a late first round pick. First, he is an August 31st birthday so one of the youngest players in the draft. Second, by some accounts he has shown improvement of late, especially defensively. Third, I do adhere to the belief that prospects do not always develop in a straight ascending line until they’re 25. There will be ups and downs. If he was able to showcase good ability with the puck as a passer before, and can be re-taught to be aggressive with the puck and without it (and who knows, that may be a coaching/systems thing), he has a chance to still turn out as one of the top defensemen in the draft. If he turns it around more and has a good finish to the season, he could be a total steal and a guy who is strong in all areas of the game as a defenseman: skating, passing, shooting, defending, and so on.

Owen Pickering (6’4”, LD) — 36th. Perhaps one of the more enticing packages among any defenseman in this draft, because of his physical tools alone. You want to talk about someone who may take a bit of a later leap development wise, Pickering has a good excuse. When he was drafted to the WHL in 2019, so only three years ago, he was listed as 5’7” and 131 lbs. As of now, he’s listed as 6’4” and 179 lbs — so 9 inches taller, but still pretty lanky. That kind of growth spurt could lead to a guy having physical coordination issues as he adjusts to much longer limbs. However, Pickering is already a pretty high level defensive prospect. He plays top minutes for a not-so-great WHL team, in all situations. He has 8 goals and 30 points in 52 games. He is already a good skater, and capable defender. He routinely pulls off skilled plays with the puck, whether it’s a deke or clever deception or high difficulty pass. So he is already an exciting prospect, but to me what is most exciting is the idea that he could still get so much better. He will fill out his frame more, he will refine his coordination as he adjusts to his body, and he can work with skills coaches to help refine his mechanics.

Pickering (#27) with the nice deke and pass for the primary assist

Jiří Kulich (6’0”, C) — ranked 40th by Bob. Kulich seems like another player that fits the mold of what the Leafs like in prospects. He is smart, he is already a strong two-way center in the Czech pro league where he has 14 points in 46 games. Against his top international peers, he has been the Czech’s top goal scorers and centers on a per-game basis. He’s got a good shot, and he’s a good skater and effective at driving transitions from carrying the puck. He’s holding his own in a pro league, and while he currently lacks some of the more elite, high end ability of other top prospects, he has a more refined game and all-round ability that others lack. He has enough skill already that some good development work could turn him into a solid all-round center that plays in the middle six. He may seem like a reach, but that’s only according to Bob’s rankings. Others have him much higher, as high as the middle of the first round. If the Leafs trade away their first rounder, which seems likely, he’s someone I will hope falls later into the second round... assuming the Leafs keep their second as well!

Second Round+

Owen Beck (6’0”, C) — ranked 39th by Bob. He’s another guy in a similar mold as Kulich. He’s a center, average size, strong two-way game, and has a good (but truly elite) level of offensive skill. He plays in the OHL on a stacked Mississauga team. He typically plays on the second line, behind other top center prospect Luca Del Bel Belluz. Belluz has the ice time, the better linemates, the bigger size, the greater point totals, and therefore the higher draft hype. But Beck is no slouch. He may ‘only’ have 43 points in 52 games, but there may be reason to think this is more due to usage than lack of production. He gets second line minutes, and second PP unit time. But he is their primary PK center and plays a lot in crunch time because he is so reliable. He’s 5th in the OHL in primary points per game, he has one of the top faceoff win percentages in the OHL if that floats your boat, and could turn into an Alex Kerfoot type player but as more of a pure center. He is a very strong skater and capable carrying the puck, and the most tantalizing thing about him to help project him at higher levels is his ability to make plays at speed and under pressure. Defensively, he is a puck hound when pressuring a puck carrier, and has very good positioning to block passing lanes and support the defense.

Seamus Casey (5’10”, RD) — ranked 44th by Bob. Casey pays for the US NTDP, and is one of the most purely offensive, high octane defensemen in the draft. But he’s a bit small, especially for a defenseman, not the best defensively, and doesn’t have the pure high end skating that you would want a smaller defender to have. He is extremely agile and shifty, but lacks explosive high end speed to help him recover defensively. His underlying numbers are exceptional at the current level, but the current flaws are why he is not ranked all that high considering. However, strength, positioning and skating can be improved, and he may turn out to be a steal in the second round if he develops well. That’s why I like him as a guy who may fall to the Leafs in the second round.

Sam Rinzel (6’4”, RD) — ranked 47th by Bob. He’s probably the most obscure prospect who has hype in this draft. He’s played mostly in US High School in Minnesota, where he has 38 points in 27 games. He had a 3 game taste of the USHL, where he had 3 points. That short stint is when he started having some draft hype, as he showed a tantalizing combination of size, skating and skill. He doesn’t necessarily have a lot of offensive upside when it comes to goals and points, but he has shown to be very capable at supporting the offense. He is very strong at starting the breakout by eluding pressure in his own end and making a good pass up the ice. He is also a good skater, and can use his pretty intimidating size to carry the puck up the ice as well. His defense in the three USHL games I could see was a mixed bag, but that may be mostly due to adjusting to the harder competition. Considering his size he may wind up being taken earlier than where Bob ultimately ranks him, and to be honest I wouldn’t be mad if the Leafs wound up taking him in the late first round — there’s enough there that I’d trust their scouting liked him enough there to be worth it. Otherwise, I’ll hope his relative obscurity leads him to falling to the later second round.

Isaiah George (6’1”, LD) — ranked 55th by Bob. George would be a project, but could be a worthwhile one. He plays for the London Knights currently, where he has 17 points in 45 games — good for 2nd on the team for defenseman. That is not an exciting amount of points, even for a defenseman. But his underlying numbers from manual tracking projects are very, very good. Right now, he may be one of the better overall defenseman in the entire OHL for his defense. He has a good amount of size and knows how to use it, and he is especially quite good at shutting down transitions. He is a good skater and can angle puck carriers to the outside, and force them to dump it in if he doesn’t cause a turnover. He is also good at pushing the puck up the ice, by carrying it and passing it to the forwards. His offensive game, while not as consistent or strong overall, still has some projection. He is a good passer and can carry the puck well, it just seems to be a matter of him learning what to try and when, and how to pull various moves off more consistently. A 55th overall ranking would put him right where the Leafs may have their second round pick, and I would be very happy with the choice. The defense, size and skating is solid enough, and there is enough there offensively to maybe hint at future steps forward in his development.

Gleb Trikozov (6’1”, RW) — ranked 64th by Bob. Gleb is sort of in the same boat as Seamus Casey. He is perhaps one of the most exciting offensive players in the whole draft, but questions about his defense hurt his rankings. And while being 6’1” isn’t small, him being Russian is the second factor that likely leads to him being ranked relatively poorly by Bob/NHL scouts. And that was before the issue of the Russian invasion of Ukraine which will undoubtedly affect how teams look at Russian players in the draft. Many public scouts love him, however, as a complete offensive package. A great shot, a great skater, a great playmaker with the puck on his stick. That is why he has 23 goals and 44 points in 35 MHL games, which is 3 points back of the team lead with almost 20 fewer games played. That is second in points per game for U18 players in the MHL, only behind uber-prospect Matvei Michkov. He also has an 11 game stint in the VHL, and one of the strongest profiles of underlying numbers for any forward in the draft. The questions around his game away from the puck and competition in the MHL are real, however, which is why he was likely to be a borderline 2nd round pick in normal circumstances. I’d have liked him as a high risk swing for the late first round, however. And I think the current political circumstances will all but guarantee he winds up being picked in the late second round at the earliest.

Jagger Firkus (5’10”, RW) — an Honourable Mention by Bob. He has the second most primary points per game behind only Matthew Savoie, who is a likely top 10 pick and plays on a stacked Winnipeg team. He also has the most even strength points and primary points. Firkus is a bit on a smaller side and leads his team in goals and points as an U18 player. He has a strong combination of offensive skills, making him a complete package. He has a wicked shot that is hard, quick and accurate, which is why he has 30 goals already. But his most projectable offensive ability is as a playmaker, thanks to his vision and passing. The threat of his shot definitely helps with that, as defenses can’t give him more room to focus on blocking passing lanes — like what happens to Marner in the NHL at times. The reason why his playmaking seems more projectable is because a lot of his goals and shots come from the perimeter, which just won’t work as well in the NHL against better defenses and goalies. But his playmaking under pressure is legit. He’s going to want to do the usual for a smaller offensive prospect: get stronger, improve his skating (speed and maneuverability), and work on getting to more dangerous areas on the ice. He’d be a good second round pick if other, better options are all already off the board.

Seventh Round

I won’t spend as many words on these guys. Some will likely wind up being taken before the seventh round, but as of now they were not ranked by Bob in his most recent top 80, and were not graded very high by NHL Central Scouting. So for now I am going to cross my fingers that the following guys fall as far as the seventh:

Lukas Gustafsson (5’10”, LD) — I won’t say more than what I’ve already said last year in my profile, or since then in other watch lists, comments and tweets. He’s smaller and an overager but is just so fun to watch. A brilliant skater, aggressive offensively and defensively, and has great underlying numbers in the USHL on a strong Chicago team. I expect he’ll get drafted this year now that he plays regularly, and likely will be gone before the seventh round. But a guy can hope...

Adam Sýkora (5’10”, LW) — One of the youngest players in the draft with a September 7th birthday, putting him 9 days away from being eligible for next year’s draft. He has one more point in the Slovakian pro league than Filip Mesar, albeit in more games played (16 points in 42 games). He has not gained much hype, despite his points and playing with a strong Slovakian draft crop with Mesar, Slafkovsky, Nemec, etc. Only a few public scouting outlets have him ranked at all so far, but that may change closer to the draft. The World Juniors being cancelled likely hurt his draft stock, since he didn’t really have a chance to showcase himself on a big stage. It may be because he didn’t have the gaudy numbers internationally before, but he has a good amount of skill to offer. He’d make a good swing in the seventh round if he falls that far, though there’s no way of really knowing.

Joel Jonsson (5’9”, RW) — Your prototypical small, skilled winger. He dominated the U18 Swedish junior level with 35 points in 18 games. He still dominated the U20 junior level with 34 points in 28 games. And hes gotten into a few pro games in the Allsvenskan with 2 points in 5 games. He has come a long way this season thanks to his speed and skill, but he still carries the usual risks such players have in the long term. He is small and slight, and will need a lot more strength to hold up against bigger, stronger and better defenders at higher levels. His defense suffers from his size and strength, and he can sometimes get caught playing too much on the perimeter. But for his skill and production, he’d be well worth a 7th round swing if he’s available.

Ben King (6’3”, C/RW) — An overager like Gustafsson, and a double overager at that. He’s a guy who the pandemic maybe hurt more than anyone else, and he may hve slipped through the cracks of the last two drafts as a result. He’s a big center, which NHL teams usually love. He started his draft year (2020) slow in Swift Current, with only 8 points in 16 games. He was then traded to Red Deer, who have been one of the worst teams in the WHL for a while. He finished that season with 38 points in 48 games for Red Deer, and was really coming on strong late before the season was cut short due to the first COVID lockdowns. If he had more time to get closer to a point per game, he may have been taken late. Last year, in the shortened season, he had 28 points in 21 games but still wasn’t drafted. This year, he leads the entire WHL in goals with 43 in 53 games, and is third in the WHL in total points with 78. He is one of the best forwards in the league and a center to boot, which is what you’d want your prospect in his D+3 season to be. Because he is a D+2 guy, he may well last to the seventh round. But finishing top of the league in goals and points could lead to someone taking him in the middle rounds.

And of course there’s goalies. I wouldn’t take any goalie with a first or second pick, especially this season when the draft crop is pretty weak. I am no goalie scout, there are few public scouts who you can trust, so I’ll fall back on finding who has the best save percentages and/or has pro experience for their age.

  • Maxim Mayorov (6’2”, G) — He is a June birthday so a bit on the young side, but has strong numbers (.931 sv% in 32 games) despite not being on one the powerhouse programs in the MHL.
  • Sergei Murashov (6’0”, G) — Small for a goalie, but that doesn’t always guarantee they wont ever make the NHL. He has a .927 sv% in 38 games for Loko Yaroslavl in the MHL.
  • Zakhar Vinogradov (6’2”, G) — A D+1 overager I think I wrote about last year, he has played all year in the VHL. He started on one of the league’s worst teams, where he had a .916 sv% but a 7-10-2 record. He’s since been traded to a better team, where he’s had a .939 sv% in 6 games. He had pro experience in the VHL even last year, which is usually a good sign for a goalie’s future projection.
  • Nick Malik (6’2”, G) — A D+2 overager in the Finnish Liiga, has a .924 sv% in 28 games for KooKoo, which is good for third best in the league.