Well, I’ve finally gotten to watch some prospect hockey. It’s glorious! And even though we’re only just now getting underway, with the CHL still to begin play any minute now, along with the NCAA and some of the Tier II Canadian leagues, almost everyone else has been hitting the ice for real games! That count! For real! And what a year it’s shaping up to be! This could be the deepest, most talented class we’ve seen in a long time – perhaps since the 2015 class. Perhaps better. And it’s everywhere. My Top 32 Board has players from 12 different leagues and it easily could have been 15 or so. That’s crazy.
What makes this group even more fun is the fact that most of the junior leagues around the world did not play a full season, or in some cases (the OHL), they didn’t play a single game. We all know the kind of individual development that occurs in your late teens – growth spurts, growing into your body, mental and emotional changes – now couple that with hockey, the increase in size and improved hand-eye coordination and the like. You may have a whole army of kids who, by Christmas, went unnoticed going into the season and are surging up the ranks, making this class even deeper. This is especially true for the Canadians, who although they have the consensus #1 player, there is a notable lack of Canadians in the 1st round simply due to the limited exposure to people like me. I’m sure real scouts know the deal on many of these kids, but I’m going to have to wait to see it for myself.
So the possibility of this class actually getting deeper is mind-blowing. Right now, as I look at my personal rankings, you have a clear-cut #1 overall in Shane Wright. Who hasn’t played – other than in one international tournament – in 18 months or so! After that, there is a huge bunching of guys in the second Tier. It could go from #2 to as far as #13, all legitimate candidates to be the #2 overall player when all of this is said and done. And the next tier is even wider, maybe running all the way to #27 before another drop-off. That’s a ton of talent. If the Sabres do wind up moving Eichel before this Draft, getting a 1st rounder as part of that package would be paramount. Having 3 1st rounders (as Arizona does) in this Draft would really add a huge infusion of talent to the Buffalo organization. In a perfect world, I would love if the Buffalo Sabres could find their way to having 10 picks in the 1st couple rounds of the 2022 and 2023 Drafts. That would be an immense addition of pure talent into a franchise that needs it desperately. Adding a player or two with a big cap hit and nabbing a pick or two to do so, dealing Eichel, or even another sort of guy on the edge of the ‘core’…someone like Olofsson – and in the process adding 2-3 more high picks, would be good for a team that appears committed to building almost entirely through the Draft. Right now, the Sabres have 8 selections in this Draft. They made 12 selections last year. And they (already!) have 9 choices in 2023. Not to mention, they should get at least one other high pick, maybe more, in any Eichel trade. Plus, they have a pile of guys on expiring contracts they could move for picks, even late ones – Hagg, Butcher, Miller, Anderson, Dell, Pysyk – and Olofsson with arbitration rights. Willing to retain should be able to get a 2-3 more picks in either the 2022 or 23 Drafts. It’s not out of the question that BFLO could make 35 selections in a three-year window (21-23), including six 1st round picks (or more!). That’s a great foundation for sustained winning.
A few guys have jumped out after the first handful of weeks of the Draft year. Joakim Kemell (#7) is a savvy, skilled Finnish forward whose best skill is…finishing, ironically. David Jiricek (#3) has really impressed me as a big, mean, mobile and skilled backender who could wind up being the top defender in the class. Speaking of defenders, Simon Forsmark (#15) is a Swedish D-Man I didn’t really consider as a 1st rounder going in, but he’s been great thus far – generating a ton of offense for a guy thought to be more defensively focused, but he’s also been physical and not afraid to back down. He could be a guy that climbs up into the mid-1st. We should be getting more as the NCAA will be getting underway shortly, and already the Quebec League is open for business, the Western League gets going tonight, and the OHL starts next weekend. So lots more to watch in the coming days and weeks.
For this two-round Mock Draft, I used a set of Vegas odds for winning the Cup and reversed engineered them. Then I substituted then into Tankathon, and voila! A Draft order. So before people get their undies in a knot, this is not how I see the season playing out. Wanted to use an impartial means to put together a Draft Order, so here it is. But if you’d like to make your own case for how the standings will finish, please feel free to do so in the comments below. And now…enjoy!
1. COLUMBUS: Shane Wright, C, OHL
2. ANAHEIM: Ivan Miroshnichenko, W, RUS
3. ARIZONA: David Jiricek, RHD, CZE
4. BUFFALO: Matthew Savoie, C/W, WHL
5. OTTAWA: Simon Nemec, RHD, SVK
6. DETROIT: Rutger McGroarty, C/LW, US NTDP
7. NASHVILLE: Joakim Kemell, RW, FIN
8. SAN JOSE: Connor Geekie, C, WHL
9. LOS ANGELES: Ryan Chesley, RHD, US NTDP
10. VANCOUVER: Brad Lambert, RW, FIN
11. NEW JERSEY: Elias Salmonsson, RHD, SWE
12. ARIZONA (MONTREAL): Noah Ostlund, C, SWE
13. ST LOUIS: Danila Yurov, LW, RUS
14. CALGARY: Juraj Slafkvowsky, LW, FIN
15. COLUMBUS (CHICAGO): Simon Forsmark, LHD, SWE
16. WINNIPEG: Logan Cooley, C, US NTDP *
17. SEATTLE: Jonathan Lekkeriamaki, C/W, SWE
18. PHILADELPHIA: Ike Howard, RW, US NTDP
19. DALLAS: Tomas Hamara, LHD, FIN
20. WASHINGTON: Frank Nazar, RW, US NTDP
21. MINNESOTA: Miko Mattikaa, RW, FIN
22. PITTSBURGH: Ludwig Persson, C/W, SWE
23. CAROLINA: Pamo Fimis, C, OHL
24. NY RANGERS: Ryan Greene, C, USHL
25. EDMONTON: Devin Kaplan, RW, US NTDP
26. BUFFALO (FLORIDA): Marco Kasper, C, SWE
27. NY ISLANDERS: Tristan Luneau, RHD, QMJHL *
28. BOSTON: Ludvig Jansson, RHD, SWE
29. TORONTO: Lian Bischel, LHD, SWISS
30. LAS VEGAS: Kasper Kulonummi, RHD, FIN
31. TAMPA BAY: Spencer Sova, LHD, OHL
32. ARIZONA (COLORADO): Seamus Casey, RHD, US NTDP
1. COLUMBUS: Nathan Gaucher, C, QMJHL
2. ARIZONA: Jani Nyman, LW, FIN
3. ANAHEIM: Alexander Suzdalev, RW, SWE
4. BUFFALO: Alexander Perevalov, RW, RUS
5. OTTAWA: Cutter Gauthier, RW, US NTDP
6. DETROIT: Cruz Lucius, RW, US NTDP
7. NASHVILLE: Tyler Brennan, G, WHL
8. ARIZONA (SAN JOSE): Liam Ohgren, C/W, SWE
9. LOS ANGELES: Julian Lutz, RW, GER
10. ARIZONA (VANCOUVER): Danny Zhilkin, C, OHL
11. NEW JERSEY: Filip Mesar, W, SVK
12. MONTREAL: Filip Bystedt, C, SWE
13. NY RANGERS (ST LOUIS): Denton Mateychuk, LHD, WHL
14. CALGARY: Samu Bau, LW, FIN
15. CHICAGO: Quinn Finley, C, USHL
16. WASHINGTON (WINNIPEG): Maveric Lameroux, RHD, QMJHL
17. SEATTLE: Jiri Kulich, C/W, CZE
18. ARIZONA (PHILADELPHIA): Hannes Hellberg, W, SWE
19. DALLAS: Jack Hughes, C, NCAA
20. DETROIT (WASHINGTON): Otto Salin, RHD, FIN
21. MINNESOTA: Maddox Fleming, RW, US NTDP
22. PITTSBURGH: Lane Hutson, LHD, US NTDP
23. CAROLINA: Noah Warren, RHD, QMJHL
24. NY RANGERS: Jack Devine, RW, NCAA
25. EDMONTON: Keaton Dowhaniuk, LHD, WHL
26. CALGARY (FLORIDA): Ruslan Gazizov, W, RUS
27. ARIZONA (NY ISLANDERS): Rastislav Elias, G, SVK
28. BOSTON: Cameron Lund, C, USHL
29. TORONTO: Gleb Trikozov, C/W, RUS
30. LAS VEGAS: Fraser Minten, RW, WHL
31. OTTAWA (TAMPA BAY): Tyler Dunbar, LHD, USHL
32. NY ISLANDERS (COLORADO): Gavin Hayes, RW, OHL
Rd1, #4: Matthew Savoie, C/W, WHL:
Born on New Year’s Day, Savoie (pronounced Sah-voy) is an elite offensive talent wherever you play him, be it in the middle or on either wing. Not a giant, but very sturdy (5’10 185#), Savoie primarily plays a speed game. He’s murder in transition. An excellent skater, Savoie possesses tremendous burst, and can explode from a dead stop to full speed in just a couple strides. Loves to take the puck wide and attack defenders who’ve just transitioned to backwards skating, blowing past them before cutting inside and either getting a high-quality chance himself or drawing more defenders and saucing the puck to an open teammate. Dynamite lateral movement, his feet are so good, he looks like he’s dancing with the puck out there. Slips checks due to his speed and lower-body strength, or can just make you miss with his shiftiness. This skating makes him a stifling on-puck defender and a forechecking terror. Once he sets his sights on a puck carrier, it’s tough to get away from him. Extremely persistent in puck pressure. Combined with an active stick and exceptional instincts, he strips or deflects a lot of pucks and makes it generally miserable for defenders trying to exit their own end with the puck.
He’s a shoot-first centerman, which makes sense when you see that high-end shot. Savoie disguises it well and can get off a laser when it appears he’s only flicking the puck at the net. But make no mistake. He can rip it and it doesn’t take a lot of extra motion. Heavy wrister, lethal one-timer, and a dangerous snapshot gives him an arsenal that becomes even harder to stop because he gets them off his stick so quickly, usually while moving at speed. Loves to use defenders to hide his release, and his hands are so good, you have to play him for a deke or a dangle, which often leads to surprised goalies as the puck whistles of his blade before they can get set. Can make difficult plays with the puck while moving at top speed and without downshifting or moving laterally. Head always up, looking for the best route to the net. Very smart player especially in the Neutral Zone or the O-zone.
Understands how to manipulate defenders, draws them to open up passing lanes or moves them with subtle shoulder fakes to create shooting lanes. Motor always running. Feet keep moving, which makes him tough to defend, as you can’t take your eye off him for a moment, or he will dart into open spaces or attack the net with the puck. Hands are superb. He’s got soft hands and can dangle you for days, but he doesn’t always use them, relying more on his speed and elusiveness to create opportunities. That said, he’s very patient with the puck, and keeps it on a string when necessary. Tough to take off the puck. He’s not afraid of the physical game and can handle being bodied up while controlling the puck. In fact, I’ve seen him stand up more than a couple guys despite his smaller stature, and he’s always digging in scrums in front of the net or engaging in puck battles on the walls. But he has that O’Reilly ability to hustle for the corner, then turn away at the last second to avoid taking a big hit but still coming up with the puck. He’s very good forechecking but can get caught at times in his own end chasing the puck.
That said, you’re not drafting him for his defensive game. This is a kid that has so many tools, you could reasonably project him as a 70-80 point player in the NHL, and at the higher end of his ceiling, a 90-100 point guy. Reminds me a bit of Danny Briere although I’m not sure I’ve seen that true grit out of him that Danny had. Will play for a loaded Winnipeg Ice team (Conor Geekie, Carson Lambos, Owen Pederson, Gage Alexander, etc) and should put up a ton of points this year. Was over a PPG in his Draft -1 year in the USHL, with 38P in 34 games. This is a pretty remarkable achievement, being his first year in the USHL where he went to play when the WHL looked to be shutting down for the year due to COVID. Savoie had the highest PPG average of any 2022 draft-eligible in the league other than a couple of guys who played for the US Development Program team. Is an elite prospect, and would give the Sabres the kind of A+ offensive ability they do not presently have in the system.
Rd1 #26: Marco Kasper, C, SWE:
Slick, two-way Austrian centerman playing over in Sweden. I have him in my Top 12 right now, honestly, but that seems to be an outlier (as usual!). I expect him to rise throughout the season and could very well find himself in the Top 10 of this Draft by the end. Good size (6’1 190#), tremendous skating and tenacious play make Kasper a draftable player. But his hand-eye and his skill make him a 1st rounder. Kasper is a fantastic skater, first and foremost. Powerful strides coupled with slipperiness make him tough to corral, and he’s not scared of high-traffic areas. Will go around you or through you, whatever gets him to the puck faster. Plays bigger than he is. Always seems to find or make room and takes the direct route to the net or into the corners – knocking defenders aside on the way. A tough check in tight, he has a great nose for the puck in traffic and around the crease. He also uses his skating to be a possession monster.
Kasper can be a zone entry machine, using clever stickhandling and big strides to gain the blue line with control, with the threat of his speed – even with the puck on his stick – to either set up in the O-zone or attack the net. Doesn’t dally or make an extra move unless he has to, great economy of movement. Really dangerous off the cycle. Uses his frame and his superb balance to hold off defenders, maintain control against the walls or in the corners, and bring his excellent vision to bear. He is a precise passer coming out of the corners, springing transition, or distributing the puck around the net where he seems to always be able to get free just enough to locate and get the puck to a teammate. Kasper’s passing and awareness are his best offensive traits, and what make him a high-end center prospect. While he’s a clever and accurate passer in transition, where his vision really shines is in the O-zone, where he can create opportunities for his teammates despite carrying defenders on his back or controlling pucks in traffic.
Equally good on fore- or backhand, he’s got a soft touch and his passes are easy to handle, even in tight spaces. Defensively responsible, Kasper is not a classic shutdown center but still possesses many of those qualities. His strong, powerful skating and exceptional balance, along with a good (but inconsistent) stick make him a very tough on-puck defender. Hard to escape from once he gets locked on. But it is the off-the-puck work and recognition that make him a complete defensive center. Recognizes breakdowns and moves to counter them, operates well in space for his age, and has a knack for disrupting plays by making the right decision on coverages. Very intelligent player. Not flashy, he’s not going to get you jumping out of your seat every night, but he can do it all.
Needs to improve his shot and be willing to use his creativity more often, but these are things that will come with confidence and practice. Went over to Sweden last year, and rapidly climbed the charts, starting in the U-18 league where he went for over a PPG, then wound up playing 10 games in the SHL (the senior Men’s league) and 6 playoff games for Rogle. This year he had a great start in Champion’s League (5P in 4 games), then got into one game at the U-20 level before returning to the SHL, where he’s got 1G in 2 games. Was the leading scorer for Austria in the World Juniors as well. We all know how Sabres fans really want an Austrian center…well, now you’ve got a second chance!
Rd2 #36: Alexander Perevalov, LW, RUS:
A power wing with an awesome scoring touch, it’s entirely possible this kid will not be available in the 2nd round. Not a giant by any means (6’0, 190#) he plays a heavier game with a fearlessness and willingness to play through contact. He also happens to have a pretty full toolbox of attributes. Where Perevalov excels, like many Russian forwards, is in the O-zone. A true goal scorer, he puts the puck in the net in a number of ways: big shots from the top of the circle, one-timers, wristers off transition, rebounds, tips, backdoor plays. Relentless in puck pursuit, he plays with a conviction that if he can get the puck, he will create a great chance, either on the pass or the shot. And oftentimes, he delivers. A heavy shot that he controls with his exceptional hands is tough for most goalies to stop. Playing on his off-wing he loves to cut inside and rip a puck, either 5-hole with a big clapper, or lasers one top shelf over the goalie’s shoulder. Will pick corners, and his accuracy with the shot is high-level.
Thinks the offensive game extremely well. Knows how to get open. As soon as the puck hits his blade, he knows where to go with it. Quick on touch passes, precise with cross-ice set-ups, sees lanes diagonally and knows where his teammates are without having to constantly scan the ice. Always seems to make the right decision when it comes to passing the puck. Has a great play style. Never quits on a puck or a play. Will lose the puck to a defender, outwork him to get it back, lose it again, recover it and then make a pinpoint cross-crease pass for a goal. And has no issue sticking his nose into a crowd to fish out the puck, go into the corner, or engage on the wall. Attacks the net with or without the puck and will try just about any move to get inside a defender and get a good look. Really strong possession player as well, understands how to use his size to protect the puck, especially on the rush.
Seems to enjoy contact and initiates it more often than not. Those great hands make Perevalov a superb stickhandler, although he’s not flashy in the way some of his countrymen are. Uses just enough to keep defenders on their heels, and to keep his stick free. But as soon as an opening presents itself, he can get the puck there, skating it or passing it, and that says something about how soft his hands are. Like many Russian forwards, Perevalov is dynamic when the puck is involved, but can tend to lose interest on the defensive end. He cheats up a bit at the blue line when protecting his own zone, and his off the puck awareness is not great. Will lose his man and get caught chasing the puck far too easily. Something to work on. Likewise, his skating isn’t great. He’s OK, and his strength on his skates is excellent, but he could stand to improve his burst and maintain his speed with the puck on his stick.
He’ll slow down a bit when he’s carrying the puck in and trying to get to the net. Will get blinders on at times, when he commits to a play (to his detriment) without seeing the ice and taking what’s given to him. So he’s not a perfect prospect. But there are a lot of things to like here. And he is abusing the MHL right now, to the tune of 16P in 8 games, including 7 goals. That follows on from a very good Hlinka, where he went for 5P in 5 games despite playing on the 3rd line while winning a gold medal. Given the Sabres’ last draft, they don’t seem afraid of Russians anymore. This kid is a player that other teams will be afraid of in a couple years.
Rd3 #68: Ryan Healey, RHD, US HS:
Smooth, two-way defender with good size (6’1 175#) and a lot of room to grow. A Harvard-commit, which is rapidly becoming a great school for young D-Men, Healey has bounced around quite a bit. Last year alone he played for 4 different teams, including being used as a fill-in for the US National team’s U-17 squad. He also played for the US entry in the Hlinka, where he notched 2P in 4 games playing mostly a shut-down role. A mobile, active D-Man who has great wheels and an eagerness to get out of his own end as quickly as possible, whether it be passing it or skating the puck. Healey has a burgeoning offensive game, particularly as a distributor of the puck, and it’s still in its early stages. He could become a very dangerous threat jumping into the play or even leading the rush.
Right now, his best work is done as a triggerman for the transition game. Head is always up, looking for an opening for either himself or a forward leaving the zone. An accurate passer, he’s more than capable of a great first pass, but seems to prefer lugging the puck to put pressure on the opposition. And lugging doesn’t do his skating justice. He’s extremely smooth but with a powerful burst. Goes from stop to start in a snap and can beat forecheckers by outskating them or outthinking them. Very light on his feet and lateral movement, as well as transitions, are really strong…and will get better. Dangerous walking the line when running a Power Play. Very creative in his distributing the puck through the NZ. Will use the wall to bank-shot passes if the angle isn’t there, and constantly seems to know where his teammates are when entering the O-zone. This leads to some clever entries that can take defenders off guard. Very good passer there as well. Always in attack mode.
If you give him room, he’ll take it without hesitation. But that same easy skating makes him a tough defender on the puck and in transition. Will play with really good gaps, and doesn’t feel the need to backdown when a forward is coming at him. Light feet make him tough to escape once he locks down on a puck carrier. He has some struggles in puck recovery, and could use some more juice on his shot, but Healey has the game to be a solid middle-pair puck transporter, with plenty of upside left to become that transition triggerman and start racking up points while not being a liability in his own end. Put up a respectable 2P in 4 games at a disappointing Hlinka for the USA, despite not being used as well as he could have. Given all the teams he bounced around to last season, I doubt he ever really got comfortable with any of them. After all, 2 games here, 7 games there, 8 somewhere else…but his game is coming together. He may wind up as a 2nd rounder by the end of all this. Will play the bulk of the year for Sioux Falls this season, and likely join the Crimson in the 2022-23 season.