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2022 NHL Draft: Final Watch List

Talking about the prospects that have interested me the most of late

Germany v Finland: Preliminary Round Group A - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

Well, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been eliminated from the playoffs again. As fans, we’ve already started transitioning to off-season mode. That means worrying about free agency, cap space, and... the draft!

I want to get one more watch list out before the draft of the prospects I’ve been following and watching since my previous list. After this, I’ll start writing up full detailed profiles for my final cut , and who may be available in the Leafs’ range for their picks.

Speaking of, since the Leafs have been eliminated their picks are basically locked in. Their first round pick will be between 28th and 25th overall. Their pick can become better if some of the teams (St. Louis, Tampa Bay, New York) who finished behind the Leafs in the overall standings in the regular season make the Conference Finals. That’s a close enough range that the prospects available will be in the same general tier, and with all prospects’ seasons finished (or close to it), we can start making some final assessments.

FIRST ROUND: HOPEFUL FALLERS

Let’s start with a list of prospects that seem to be ranked outside of the range of Toronto’s pick, but I hope may fall.

Brad Lambert (C) — He started the season as a consensus top 5 pick, but has slowly fallen off. His story this year is eerily similar to that of Aatu Raty, who wound up falling into the second round and had a fantastic bounce back season this year. So while I can see good reasons why a team may not want to draft Lambert. His production was lacking, and you can find some flaws in his game. On the other hand, I’ve heard plenty about how he was never played with good linemates, his teams were bad, and in the brief windows he’s been able to play with good linemates (the brief WJC) he looked excellent. He’s a great skater, very strong driving transitions, and still very obviously has a lot of skill. So if he somehow falls as far as the Leafs’ pick? I say go for it, because even if he’s not a truly elite prospect he’ll still be a good NHLer with the potential for more, and that sounds just fine for the Leafs.

Liam Öhgren (LW) — He had 33 goals and 58 points in 30 games in Sweden’s U20 junior league. He played 25 games in the SHL as a 17/18 year old teenager. He scored 8 goals and 19 points in 14 international games for Sweden. Öhgren simply produces. But not necessarily in the way you would expect from those gaudy totals. He’s a solid 6’1” and 187 lbs, and plays a more direct power forward kind of game. He has a good shot, and plays well off the puck to get into positions to score. He’s not a dynamic puck carrier or play maker, but has a good shot and just knows how to score goals. He’s a bit like Matthew Knies in that regard. Bob McKenzie had him ranked 23rd in January, and I’ll be surprised if he isn’t ranked higher this June. But there are other players ranked around him before who also had very strong finishes to the season, so he may wind up in that range. If the Leafs do have their pick move up to 25 or 26, there is a non-zero chance he winds up available.

Kevin Korchinski (LD) — Korchinski is a 6’2” left shot defenseman who has been compared to Jake Gardiner. He’s very capable with the puck on his stick, and is a dominant offensive force for Seattle in the WHL. He had 65 points in 67 games, and another 13 points in 13 playoff games so far, most of which are assists. He’s best at is moving the pack by passing it. He likes his stretch passes, and is an excellent power play quarterback with 28 assists. He finished tied for second among all WHL defensemen in primary assists. His puck movement helps him have one of the strongest transition, possession, and offensive ratings in the draft according to numerous tracking data outlets. Now for the other side of the Gardiner comparison... because Korchinski likes to try for the high difficulty pass, that means some ugly and frustrating looking turnovers at times. He also is not the strongest defensive defenseman, to put it politely, and that’s something he’ll definitely need to improve. He limits his defensive liability by just being so good offensively and so good at transitioning the puck back to offense, then creating chances to capitalize on those chances. McKenzie had him ranked 25th in January, and considering his success in the WHL and the lack of many higher end defensemen at the top of the draft, I can see his final ranking being in the late teens. But I will hope his relatively poor defense scares enough teams that he drops to the Leafs.

FIRST ROUND: FORWARDS

Now, here are the prospects who will very likely be ranked in the range for the Leafs’ pick who I really like. We’ll start with some forwards.

Gleb Trikozov (C/RW) — Gleb Trikozov is hands down my favourite prospect in this draft, and very likely will be available when the Leafs pick in the first round. He played mostly in the MHL, where he had 23 goals and 45 points in 35 games. That would have led his team BY FAR if he played the whole season with them. Among U18 players in the MHL, he was only behind 2023 draft phenom Matvei Michkov in points and goals per game. Trikozov also carried his team with another 10 goals and 18 points in the playoffs. He’s got all kinds of skill in every areas you can think of. He has a great shot, he’s an excellent skater, he can make plays with the puck to create chances for himself, he can set up his linemates with creative passing, he is excellent driving transitions out of his own end and into the offensive zone. He’s also one of the later birthdays in this draft, at August 12th, and he’s 6’1” so physical size is not as much of a concern. Give me G L E B, or give me death, Kyle!

Bob McKenzie had him at 64th in January, and it’s not likely that it will increase. He had no games for Team Russia internationally to help gain more hype, and the MHL as Russia’s junior league doesn’t get taken that seriously (and generally shouldn’t). He also has some questions about his consistency without the puck, especially defensively. Then there’s also that whole situation with Russia invading Ukraine, and there has been rumours that NHL teams have some uncertainty for what that will mean for Russian prospects. I’ll be real curious where Bob’s final rankings has Gleb, but I would be shocked if he wasn’t available when Toronto picks in the first round — maybe even the third. He’d have some risk, but so would everyone else in that range. What Gleb offers is an A+ name, and likely the most skill of anyone else at that point in the draft.

Jiří Kulich (C/LW) — Kulich is a 6’0” Czech center who played in his home country’s pro league. He had a very strong 14 points in 49 games as a Teenager Playing Against Men (TM), and got rave reviews for his two-way play. He is an effective natural center, able to support play down low and playing responsibly in all three zones. Offensively, he won’t offer as much skill as others on this list, but his standout offensive ability is arguably the most important: he can absolutely rip it. He had 9 goals compared to 5 assists in the Czech pro league, and in 29 international games he had 27(!!!) goals, including 9 goals in 6 games at the World U18s. I will say that he is not likely to be a league leading goal scorer in the NHL, as the rest of his offensive game is more limited — not bad by any means, but he’s not Auston Matthews. The Czechs simply used him very well, especially on the powerplay where they continually fed him one-timers, and the other teams continually let them. It worked well, but he is not an overwhelming or dynamic offensive force.

McKenzie had him ranked 40th in January, but he will very likely have some helium from the U18s. He’d be a solid pick in the Leafs’ range. He is not too small where his size or physicality is a concern when projecting him to the NHL, he is a good skater, has solid two-way ability already, and a very good shot. He seems like a guy who can be relied on the play in all situations, and would be likely be Toronto’s best center prospect immediately if the Leafs take him.

Filip Mešár (C/RW) — Mešár is a short (5’10”) but dynamic center from Slovakia. Like Kulich, he played in his home country’s pro league. He is a great skater and gets rave reviews for being a very “intelligent” player, which is something the Leafs always say they like about many of their recent draft picks. He is very effective with the puck and at driving play, but can also play well without the puck. That’s what lends some hope that he sticks at center despite his size, though I’d say it’s still more likely he winds up on the wing.

He had 8 goals and 16 points in Slovakia’s pro league, and added 12 points in 7 games for Slovakia internationally. McKenzie had him ranked 22nd, which could put him in range for the Leafs’ pick. He is a smaller center, he did play in a more obscure league/country, he is smaller, and he never got to play in any high profile international tournaments. The World Juniors was cancelled after two games, and Slovakia did not play in the World U18s. The lack of significant exposure

FIRST ROUND: DEFENSEMEN

Owen Pickering (LD) — Owen Pickering is my choice for most interesting prospect in this year’s draft. He’s 6’5”, but only 179 lbs. If he seems a bit skinny for that height, it’s because he went through a very late, and very big growth spurt. When he was drafted to the WHL three years ago he was listed as 5’7” and 131 lbs — he talked about his literal growing pains in the interview link below. Despite his size, lack of muscle and lack of experience being as tall and long limbed as he is, he is already a very effective defenseman. His skating is good, but can and will be improved. On offense he can show flashes of impressive hands when handling the puck, but consistency can be an issue with his passing. On defense he is learning how to use his reach to snuff out transitions coming his way, but again he can still develop his instincts, reads, and how to use his size to his advantage. He’ll be even better when he adds more muscle and leverage behind his reach.

The issues with consistency, while understandable considering his late blooming growth spurt, does create some questions about his future. He’s already a good defenseman and worth a high pick, but how much better can he be? While most prospects don’t take that many bigger development leaps after being drafted, there’s reason — but no guarantees — to believe that Pickering can. He’d be a bit of a gamble with the Leafs’ first round pick, but if his U18s performance causes him to fall a bit from Bob’s 36th overall ranking in January, he’d be an interesting target if the Leafs trade down to get more picks. And like with Bichsel, I find Pickering interesting enough that if they just took him straight up with their first round pick I would just assume they see the potential in him like the saw Knies’ potential.

Sam Rinzel (RD) — Rinzel has a lot of helium in the second half of this season. He began his year playing US high school, but had a taste of the USHL towards the end of 2021. He finished the year with only 21 USHL games, where he had 10 points. That’s not a huge total, and US high school doesn’t get a lot of attention — just ask Scott Morrow from last year. But Rinzel is a big (6’4”), right shot defensemen who is mobile and might have the best balance of offense and defense among any defensemen in this range. If Korchinski gets compared to Gardiner, I’ve seen Rinzel get compared to Parayko in terms of his combination of size and two-way play as a defenseman.

He isn’t the fastest or most agile skater, but he’s very fluid and smooth and definitely mobile. He isn’t the most offensively gifted, but has one of the higher shot assist and expected assist ratings by manual tracking data even if he he lacks Parayko’s hard shot from the point. He is not the best shutdown defenseman, but he has good tools to work on as he adjusts to levels higher than high school. He is set to join Matthew Knies at Minnesota in the NCAA which is a very strong program for his development. Bob had him ranked 47th in January, but after getting more time and exposure in the USHL that has a decent chance of increasing. There’s also a chance the Leafs could trade down and still get him in the early/mid-second round.

Lian Bichsel (LD) — Bichsel is a Swiss defenseman playing in Sweden, and if there is one word to summarize him it would be: BEEG. He’s a 6’5” and 216 lbs, and he knows how to use it to his advantage. But that doesn’t mean he has the standard weaknesses that bigger prospects like him have. First, he is a good skater. Like Rinzel, he’s not elite at it, but he is more than effective enough at moving around. With his size and skating he is already one of the best defensive defensemen in the draft. He spent 29 games this year in the SHL, and while his ice time was all over the place, he had 9 games playing 15+ minutes. A head shot knocked him out for most of the later part of the season, which may have prevented him from getting more ice time down the stretch as he adjusted to the pros. It also caused him to miss the World U18s where he would have played a top role for Switzerland.

On the offensive side of things, Bichsel is not elite but has some upside. He had 7 points in 11 games in Sweden’s junior league, before he was promoted to the SHL. He wasn’t used in much of an offensive role in the SHL, but he’s gotten strong reviews from scouts for his passing, puck movement and activation to get involved with play. It may not ever be his strength, but being a big, shutdown defender who can move the puck and pitch in offensively has the recipe of a second pair defenseman. Bob had him ranked 35th, but I can see that going up in spite of his injury. He’d be an interesting target if the Leafs trade down from their first, but I would not be that upset if the Leafs just took him with their first pick outright.

THIRD ROUND: FORWARDS

Adam Sýkora (LW) — This year will be one of Slovakia’s best draft crops ever, and Adam Sýkora will likely be an unheralded reason why. He may not have the high end talent or acclaim of others, but he is intriguing. First, as a September 7th birthday he is one of the youngest players in this draft. He played all season at the Slovakian pro league, with 10 goals and 17 points in 46 games and adding 5 points in 19 playoff games. He did not get to play much internationally due to tournament cancellations and Slovakia not qualifying for the U18s. But he has played for Slovakia at the World Championships as the youngest players in the whole tournament, where he has a goal and an assist in four games.

Sýkora plays a surprisingly responsible two-way game as a winger, considering his age and size. He’s aggressive on the forecheck and able to win physical battles against older and bigger opponents. He is a bit of a Zach Hyman type, in that he never quits on plays or stops moving if he can help it. McKenzie didn’t have Sýkora ranked at all in his top 80 or as one of his honourable mentions. I think he may sneak into Bob’s final rankings in some capacity, especially with how he’s played at the World Championships. I still think there is a decent chance he’s available in the third round, and I think he could be one of the big steals in this draft.

Julian Lutz (C/LW) — Lutz is an interesting case of a guy who should likely have easily been a second round pick, but he missed around two-thirds of the season from the beginning due to a significant back injury in pre-season. As a result, he has only played in 22 total games this year starting in mid-February. He had 4 points in 14 games in the DEL, and another 6 points in 8 international games for Germany. It’s hard to take too much from the initial games he played since he was trying to get into regular season form after missing so much time.

As a player, Lutz is a big 6’2” winger with a bit of a power forward element to his game. He has a wicked shot, is a good skater and can handle the puck well — but better at dangling it than passing. He plays pretty aggressively, and while you won’t see him throwing his body all over the place he does use his size well. He is a good skater, with a good top speed and explosiveness. He uses it well all over the ice, and can be an effective on the forecheck and back check. His biggest issues right now seem to be consistency, which is understandable given his injury and lack of playing time, but it will likely means he winds up as a high second and potential third round pick. McKenzie had Lutz as an honourable mention, just outside of his top 80. With only a small sample of games played I’m not sure he’ll wind up ranked any higher.

Jagger Firkus (RW) — Firkus is arguably the most talented forward in this list for third rounders, but he may wind up taken in the second round. I’m being a bit hopeful including him, because unlike him Firkus played in the WHL and likely had a lot more attention from scouts. In the WHL, he had 36 goals and 80 points in 66 games. He gets rave reviews for his balanced offensive skills — a wicked shot, but highly effective playmaker as well and adept handling the puck. He has one of the highest offensive ratings in the WHL by manually tracking, but suffers in the defensive area due to his size. 5’10” isn’t all that small for a winger anymore, but at 154 lbs he definitely needs to bulk up. If he does, he has enough skill to wind up as a middle six winger who could help run a powerplay as a dual threat passer and shooter. He’s also a ginger and has a great name. Future HHOFer, in my humble opinion.

Bob McKenzie had Firkus as an honourable mention, like Lutz. He was pretty consistent all year, similar to Korchinski. I’m not sure if he’ll wind up having his final rank or draft position go up all that much as a result, since there have been a fair amount of late risers like Sykora who could bump him down. If he is available in the third round, I’d be all over that.

THIRD ROUND: DEFENSEMEN

Mattias Hävelid (RD) — Hävelid is a more offensively inclined defenseman. He split his season pretty equally between Sweden’s U20 junior level and the SHL pro league. In junior, he had 10 goals and 9 assists in 29 games, and another 5 goals and 5 assists in 8 playoff games. He got into 23 games in the SHL but had no points. Internationally, he starred at the World U18s for the gold medal winning team Sweden, where he had 4 goals and 12 points in only 6 games. That was the most for any defenseman, and was second for the whole tournament.

As you can expect, Hävelid is a strong point producer. His game is geared towards producing points, including goals even as a defenseman. He has a good shot that he uses very often, and is effective among juniors. I have some skepticism that a smaller defenseman would be able to be that effective offensively at higher levels, especially since he is not an otherworldly skater. He’s good, just not elite. The encouraging thing from the World U18s is that he showed off more elements to his offensive game — mainly moving the puck as a passer, not just as a shooter. McKenzie had him ranked 76th in January, and I’m guessing that his U18s will give him at least a small boost. In the end, he is still a smaller defenseman who is perhaps over reliant on his shot so I can still see him slip to the Leafs’ third round pick.

Vladimir Grudinin (LD) — Grudinin is another small, 5’10” defenseman. He’s a left shot, but he is basically the polar opposite of Hävelid, where the strength of his game is more defensive and driving play than producing points. Grudinin split his time between three levels this season. In the MHL, he had 13 points in 18 games which hints at his offensive ability. Not necessarily top tier, but not non-existent either. He also played 12 games in the VHL, which is Russia’s second-tier pro league, where he had three points. He got a taste of the KHL with six regular season games, and another seven playoff games. Grudinin spent more time in pro this year than in junior, and he was playing a top role for Russia at the shortened World Juniors. His manually tracked data show he is one of the best defensemen at limiting shots, and especially dangerous shots, against — and I reiterate again that he is a smaller defensemen playing mostly in pro leagues.

Grudinin reminds me a bit of Topi Niemelä. Both are smaller defensemen who, in their draft years, showed more value defensively than offensively, but who may have untapped offensive potential. He may not have had many points when playing pro, but he also got no powerplay time like he did in junior. He is adept handling and moving the puck, and he is a highly mobile and active skater. The mobility is what helps him be so effective defensively, as he keeps his opponents in front of him and maintains a tight gap most of the time. Adding more strength to make up for the lack of size will be important for him, just like with Niemelä. Unlike Niemelä, Grudinin doesn’t quite have the same level of skating, especially when it comes to top end speed. Adding more muscle to gain a higher degree of explosiveness and overall speed will also help. McKenzie had him as an honourable mention, outside of his top 80 in January. With the lack of Russian involvement in international tournaments, and due to his size, I can see him maintaining a third round pick level at best, and maybe even falling farther. But he’d be an intriguing roll of the dice.

Christian Kyrou (RD) — Christian is the younger brother of St Louis Blues breakout forward, Jordan Kyrou. He is a 5’11” defenseman, which isn’t as small as others mentioned but is below average. So here’s the good about Kyrou: he was one of the best defensemen in the whole OHL as a draft eligible prospect in almost every way. He had 18 goals and 60 points in 68 games for Erie, good for third on the team and only 3 points back of the leader. It’s good for fourth in the OHL for all defensemen, regardless of age. Most of his goals and points, however, came at even strength on the fourth worst team in the OHL. If you’re thinking he must be another all point producing defenseman, that doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case. His manually tracked data shows him to be very strong passing the puck, transitioning it both out of the defensive end and into the offensive end. He also rates as an above average defensively.

Courtesy of Mitch Brown’s Patreon

So now you’re going to ask me why I’m talking about him as a third round pick, instead of a first rounder. That’s a mighty good question, and the answer starts with the one thing I haven’t talked about yet: his skating. To be blunt, it’s not very good. He has enough talent that it doesn’t hold him back in the OHL, but it is enough of an issue that it raises genuine concern that it very much will hold him back at higher levels. Even if he has a strong defensive rating by tracking data now, he does struggle already with quick players just blowing by him. It’s basically the William Villeneuve gamble all over again, but Kyrou has shown more ability in every area as a defenseman than Villeneuve in his draft year. It would make for an interesting gamble and project for the Leafs’ development team.

SEVENTH ROUND: FORWARDS

Marcus Nguyen (RW) — An Asian-Canadian prospect with a late August birthday, making him one of the younger prospects in the draft. While his 22 goals and 40 points in 68 games doesn’t sound that great, he played a mostly third round role for a deep Portland team. He played around 12 to 13 minutes a night, often on the fourth line. He got no powerplay time, but was used a lot on the penalty kill. Only two of his points came on the powerplay, while he had three short handed goals. He was 9th in the WHL among draft eligible in even strength primary points. He gets rave reviews for being a strong skater, physical in spite of his size, and underrated skill. He also finished the year very strong. From January to the end of the year he had 30 points in 38 games, averaged 2+ shots per game, and was a +23 in his usual third/fourth line role. He’s another guy who may not fall as far as the 7th round, but if he does I’d be all over that. NHL Central Scouting didn’t even rank him at all, despite having 224 North American skaters alone on their list, which makes me think he may fall that far.

Jake Richard (RW) — Richard is a 6’2” winger from the hockey hotbed of Jacksonville, Florida, who had an extremely strong second half of the season in the USHL this year. He also grew a 2-3 inches this year, judging by the discrepancies in his listed height. He finished the season with 48 points in 56 games, but finished with 41 points over his last 35. He wound up finishing tied for second in the USHL for draft eligibles in primary points at even strength. And to add another similarity to Nguyen, he is another August birthday, making him pretty young still. Stylistically, he’s different than Nguyen. He is not as strong a skater, and doesn’t really play that physical despite being bigger. He is pretty good with the puck on his stick, has a decent shot and backhand, and is especially good in tight and around the net. Plays a more simple than flashy game, I’d say. A lack of any real high level skills and late surge to end the season may mean he falls to the seventh, I haven’t really seen many people talking about him. NHL Central Scouting didn’t even include him in their rankings at all either, so there is definitely a chance he could.

Kenta Isogai (C/LW) — Isogai is a Japanese-born prospect who played for Youngstown in the USHL this year. He would be only the second Japanese native to be drafted to the NHL, after goalie Yutaka Fukufuji was an 8th round pick in 2004. Isogai is a 5’11”, 154 lbs winger. He plays a similar game to Nguyen, in that he has underrated skill and is a very speedy skater. With an August 28th birthday he is very young still, and also like Nguyen he was generally used in the bottom six. His 22 points in 59 games doesn’t speak to a lot of offensive skill, but there are underlying numbers that seem to indicate he should have had more. He also wasn’t ranked by NHL Central Scouting.

SEVENTH ROUND: DEFENSE

Marek Alscher (LD) — Alscher is a 6’3” Czech defenseman who spent this year in the WHL after playing in Finland’s junior level in the past. Playing for a very strong Portland team, Alscher played mostly 3rd pair, averaging around 16 minutes per game. He had 7 goals and 16 points, but got zero powerplay time. He tied for third among draft eligible defensemen in even strength primary points in the WHL. That said, defense is definitely his strength. He is decent for the level at shutting down transitions, retrieving dump ins and starting the transition out of the defensive zone. Next season, Portland will have three of their defensemen aging out, so there will be a new opportunity for Alscher to play a bigger role if he stays in the WHL.

Oscar Pantzare (LD) — Pantzare is a 6’1” left shot defenseman in Sweden. He’s an interesting case of someone who is very likely going to be available in the seventh round, because he spent almost the entire year in the U18 level of Sweden’s junior. For reference, almost every prospect with their salt will be at least playing U20 junior, if not getting a taste of the pro level in the SHL or Allsvenskan. So the fact that he played 36 games against U18 competition, and only 3 games in the U20 level, is a potential cause for concern. On the other hand, this is the seventh round we’re talking about here, and Pantzare has some interesting tools. He’s 6’1”, which is a good size for a defenseman. He’s a good skater, and uses that in combination with his size to be an effective defensive defenseman.

Ryan Healey (RD) — Healey is likely the best of these defensemen I’m interested in for the seventh round, and also the least likely to be available that late. He’s a 6’1” right shot defenseman playing on the second worst team in the USHL. He had 21 points in 59 games, with the team leader having 44 points in 61 games — they were the lowest scoring team in the league. Despite that, Healey had strong underlying numbers. He is an effective passer, was great at driving transitions, and can manage the puck well in the offensive zone. His defense does not rate out as that great, but in the few games I’ve watched I’ve at least seen the effort put in as well as some good decision making — albeit inconsistent.

So that’s it for my final ‘watch list’ of the 2022 NHL draft that I’ve been looking into. I’m going to try to somehow widdle down my complete watch list into a manageable number of focused profiles on the prospects that interest me the most. I’ll start releasing them a few weeks before day one of the NHL Draft on July 7th.

Poll

Who do you hope the Leafs will draft with their first round pick?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    Brad Lambert
    (92 votes)
  • 5%
    Liam Ohgren
    (14 votes)
  • 6%
    Kevin Korchinski
    (15 votes)
  • 11%
    G L E B!
    (28 votes)
  • 2%
    Jiri Kulich
    (7 votes)
  • 4%
    Filip Mesar
    (11 votes)
  • 20%
    Owen Pickering
    (49 votes)
  • 3%
    Sam Rinzel
    (8 votes)
  • 4%
    Lian Bichsel
    (11 votes)
235 votes total Vote Now