With the Buffalo Sabres officially eliminated from the playoffs all eyes now turn to the offseason. With plenty of cap space, a burgeoning young core of players, and a plethora of picks in the 2022 NHL Draft: it’s fair to say there is a lot to be optimistic heading into the summer.
One of the first questions I normally receive when talking about a draft class is a comparison to past draft classes. While this draft class isn’t as strong as the vaunted 2020 draft: I am very interested in these prospects. While the forwards may have suffered from inconsistencies or failure to meet expectations; the offensive-leaning defensemen have really shown quite well throughout the draft process.
Before we get into the draft rankings a couple of disclaimers:
1.) Pay attention to tiers and not ranks
Truthfully, I thought about getting rid of the numbered ranks next to the players altogether. The players are grouped in a manner that if you put the tier in a blender I could make a logical argument about the order the group would shake out. While I am placing the players in how I would select them; the tiers system in meant to show the small gaps between players in case the Sabres select within the tier.
2.) I have predominantly focused on the North American prospects this year
My role at Smaht has led me to hyper-focus on the player playing in Canada and the United States this year. I lean on our European scouts to tell me who to watch for the purpose of rankings, and then watch those players to determine where they fit within the large amount of North American players I have data on. I may be blind on players overseas who may be ranked by other scouting agencies based upon the evaluation of our scouts, but I do believe we have some of the best scouts when looking across the pond.
3.) I’m going to be wrong
Probably on a lot of prospects. I fully anticipate making a massive Mea Culpa tour for Jack Quinn next year when he hits the NHL full time. With the vast majority of a draft class not making a case for NHL consideration until at least 3 years after they are drafted there’s a lot of nuance to the process. Disagree with me. It’s A-Okay! I’ve been working on scouting since 2010 and I still have much to learn.
4.) Understand my biases
I value players who keep control of the puck in transition. I like players who pass and shoot from dangerous parts of the ice. I value rush lane differentiation, small area skill/agility, and how players respond in pressure situations. I place less emphasis on skating mechanics, size, and physicality. I care more about how you operate when time/space is condensed and the plays that generate out of those situations. You may be an expected points model scout, favor one league or another, or value size and/or skating ability to a higher level than I do. It’s okay. We can differ. Just know the lens I’m coming at you when I make these evaluations.
5.) These are rankings specific for the Sabres
My personal rankings are slightly different, but this is a Sabres community so I’ve made the rankings specific to the team. My personal rankings still have the same players in the the same tiers, but there a couple players I’ve moved around given we have room to make some swings this year given the depth of the prospect pool and the sheer number of picks we have.
Let’s dive into this
Tier 1: If We Win the Lottery
- I’d like to first denote that I’m not putting Shane Wright as the clear favorite for the first overall pick. While I believe he warrants it: there are reasons to look to other options. I love his 5 game microstat profile, but I must admit that it comes without the flash, speed, or game breaking skill that a lot of #1 forwards come with. He’s a player that dictates the game at his own speed, makes his bread in the finer details of the game, and relies on having competent linemates to finish chain linked plays.
- Logan Cooley plays the game in the USHL like he’s in the midst of an all-star game. He can tend to overhandle the puck and thus make unnecessary turnovers, but he also is clearly the best player on the ice whenever you watch him play. When he’s locked in to a close game he is surgical in the offensive zone. He possesses the speed and skill to be able to manipulate a defense to get to dangerous areas of the ice and then deliver a precision pass or a dangerous shot attempt. I oft compare him to (albeit a much more dangerous offensively version) Matty Beniers in his approach to the game, and his size is really the only limiting factor in projecting his game to the NHL level. If you’re shooting for the highest ceiling when it comes to the most game breaking offensive talent in the draft: I would go for Cooley over Wright.
- Brad Lambert is probably the swing in the top 9 that is going to cause the most drama on the DBTB board. However, he’s the best player when it comes to the combination of size, speed, and skill. He is a transition monster, especially when it comes to generating exits/entries as center. The biggest complaints come from point production and his bouncing around from team-to-team. To counteract those points I’d say: Lambert is a driver of dangerous play and is exceptional in chain-linked plays. While his finishing ability has been lackluster this year; he’s also gotten no help in the dangerous plays he sets up. As for the stigma that he is ornery and is moving himself from organization to organization: who cares. It happens a lot across multiple leagues. Personally, I think that Lambert is the best risk/reward player in the draft and the fact the Sabres won’t have to reach given their draft position this makes Lambert all but 100% certain he’ll be my first selection for us in the upcoming draft.
Tier II: The Hopes for pick 8-10
- I would be shocked if Slafkovsky made it to the Sabres first selection. However, if he did I would understand the selection. He’s a monster on the boards and his in-zone play in the offensive end is already NHL caliber. While I doubt he’ll ever a puck transporter in the neutral zone; his pace and skill make him an elite-level scoring/power winger in the NHL.
- Jiricek vs. Nemec. To me, for the Sabres, Nemec presents a redundancy problem. His game is predicated upon aggressive activation from the blue line. With players like Dahlin and Power coming into the fold I find it hard for him to be a complimentary partner for either of them. However, Jiricek’s game is dependent upon skill within the offensive zone and he’s more than happy to play the role as the physical defender in the d-zone. Without Dahlin/Power this would be a closer debate for me, but with them I think Jiricek would be the perfect swing to make to find the first pairing partner for either Dahlin or Power.
- Savoie gets the nod over Nazar because of his power play potential. I think Savoie is going to be a menace on the power play in the NHL when he’s given the space to operate with his great spatial awareness, playmaking ability, and deceptive shot. Nazar is a fan favorite. On every ancillary view, Nazar is just the player you want on your team. A player that grinds to the dangerous parts of the ice, is hard on pucks, and possesses enough skill to be able to transport the puck for controlled entries/exits. While I don’t think he has the end-to-end rush capabilities; he is a player that will make anyone he plays with-in the top 9 a better player.
Matthew Savoie is just...electric. His first two shifts of this game he has more high danger passes and shots than a lot of the 2022 prospects get in an entire game pic.twitter.com/otL1rx0COR— Austin (@BMaster716) November 27, 2021
Tier III: The Vegas Zone
- This is where I deviate the most from mainstream ranking sites. Denton Mateychuk makes my heart swoon. I get your first inclination is to see a LHD and then yell at me. He’s played on his off-hand side the entire year. He operates as a position-less player in the offensive zone and generates most of his points by playing in the dangerous areas of the ice. He is hyper-aggressive in his transition play and will utilize setters alongside the boards to generate carry-out/in transition plays. His mobility and physicality may be a concern in the defensive zone, but once the puck hits his stick he is magic. One of the highest work rates in the draft (puck on his stick generating transtions+shoot attempts+assisted shot attempts) and a perfect complimentary pairing to any d-partner: give me all of the Mateychuk stock.
There's just not many defensemen who play the game like he does. He's going to be a polarizing player, but my goodness am I in on him. pic.twitter.com/OMXr0iBZNX— Austin (@BMaster716) December 16, 2021
- Kemell is an offensive zone scoring threat but shoots too much from low danger areas. Mesar is a transition king with a ton of runway to develop into a top-6 forward.
- Trikozov is an offensive-zone freak of nature with an incredible ability to generate power off his wrist shot, insane puck skill, and apt passing ability. However, his 200 foot game in the MHL leaves a lot to be desired and the current socio-political situation mars what would be my favorite skilled player in the draft.
- Seamus Casey could be Adam Fox or he could be a bottom pairing, puck-transporting defensemen.
Seamus Casey hype season commencing tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/7BjAaSjPwz— Austin (@BMaster716) January 13, 2022
- Calle Odelius has all the tools to be one of the best defensemen in this draft but will have to get more aggressive in his offensive approach to the game to be one. His skating and skill are high-end and should be considered by most teams in the mid-late first round.
- Want a poor man’s Slafkovsky with the Vegas pick? Take Cutter Gauthier. He plays exceptionally well as a finisher in chain-linked plays on the USNTDP. He displays flashes of exceptional skill, plays a physical, power forward brand of hockey and is an excellent finisher. His transitional play has room for improvement, as well as his passing decisions in the offensive zone.
Tier IV: The Homerun Zone
- It would not shock me to see a few of these players end up in a top 5 or top 10 in a redraft of this class in five years. While there’s a lot to be excited about, there are considerable concerns whether or not their ceilings can be reached.
- Of the Djurgarden trio of forwards I realize I’m one of a few that will have Ostlund over Lekkiermaki and Ohgren. Give me the player that drives play in the neutral zone, however if you’re looking to replicate the success of Peterka I can see Ohgren as a pick.
- Pavel Mintyukov has the offensive skill to be special, the defensive zone awareness to be Ristolainen, and as the season has gone on, has more question marks than answers to his projectability. Still, Mintyukov is one of the more exciting players when he’s on.
- Ditto for Korchinski, except replace the part about Ristolainen with passing decisions.
- Sam Rinzel is one of the most fluid skaters with skill that has floated just below the mainstream discourse. Given his size and his expanded role in the USHL: I expect him to be a rocket climber amongst the public ranks to finish the season.
- David Goyette is silky smooth with the puck on his stick. Always able to slip a pass into the dangerous parts of the ice and discretely a part of most scoring chances on his line: Goyette is ranked much higher than I expect him to go.
- Jagger Firkus. Great name; amazing shot. Firkus in the offensive zone is truly one of my favorite things to watch. When he and Mateychuk are on the ice together it’s 100% my favorite moments during the draft season.
Tier V: Please Let Someone Here Fall to the 3rd Round
- If Havelid played in North America and/or was two inches taller I think he’s a sure-fire top 25 pick. An offensive-leaning defensemen who will take a few years before bringing over; the RHD is one of my favorite players for the Sabres in the third round.
- Owen Beck has my heart. A transition specialist with very good skill and scoring knack; lacks the true opportunity playing behind Del Bel Belluz from showcasing his offensive production capability.
Next report is going to be on Owen Beck. One of my favorite things about his game his how skilled he is at solving problems in transition situations. pic.twitter.com/Zet4N9Ew2K— Austin (@BMaster716) January 15, 2022
- Devin Kaplan is big, skilled, and stuck playing as a role player on a stacked NTDP team. He makes plays that make you say “oh wow” a few times a game but also can go invisible more often than I’d like to see. Has the potential to be a 200ft power winger who can carry the puck in transition. Given his size and skill level I love him in the third round.
- Mikael Holm wrote the book on Salomonsson and I think that banking on him at his best (and his extremely late birthday) could pay dividends to an NHL team depending on the slot they draft him.
- Christian Kyrou has so much skill and offensive awareness that if he can get his pace/skating to a gear or two higher he screams to be the front runner of “Best Potential Steals of the 2nd/3rd round”. His late birthday (born on the cutoff) is a minor data point, but one that shouldn’t be ignored.
- Lane Hutson is the best offensive defensemen in the class whose skating to size ratio makes it impossible to project. Bet on fun and hope it pans out.
Tier VI: The Mid-Late rounds
- Hudson Thornton’s passing data has been so good through 3 games tracked for me. He can be a bit of a train wreck in the defensive zone, but if you’re looking to chase an offensive-leaning defensemen whose draft capital doesn’t align with those in the other tiers he’s a fun swing to make.
- Cole Knuble does so many great things and is the driver of everything for his line on Fargo in the USHL. He can be knocked around too much off his skates and needs to be more aggressive under pressure with is passing decisions, but in terms of a longer-term project who I think has all the tools to pan out at a high level he’s one of my favorites.
- Give me all the Mikey Milne stock. Conor Geekie and Zach Benson get a lot of attention, but for the vast part of this year it was Milne who was the engine of this line. He’s a strong F1 forechecker, has great transition data, and is a menace in the offensive zone. As a borderline DY+2 player his age is going to cause him to slip farther than he should.
- Lukas Gustafsson has been on people’s radar for awhile, but he’s the only player in the BioSteel All-America game that made me pause and rewind because I couldn’t believe the skill they possessed. His numbers have never matched the skill, but going to BC next year without much competition for PP time I feel like he’s about to become a mainstream name.
- If Nicholas Moldenhauer played at a higher pace he’d be a top 64 pick. Thinks the game very well and plays in the dangerous areas of the ice; he’s another one of the Chicago Steel players who will go in the mid-rounds who will outperform their draft stock.
- Tyson Jugnauth is one of my favorite sleepers in this draft.
Kinda digging Tyson Jugnauth lately. He's made some really fun, creative passes in this game already for entries/exits. This clip encapsulates what I really like about him. Reads the play well and then great vision for the assist pic.twitter.com/OMpoQzXt6r— Austin (@BMaster716) February 16, 2022
His transition passes and creativity pop off the screen. His vision with the puck on his stick his impressive, and despite playing in the BCHL, I think he’s going to make waves going to a Wisconsin team that desperately needs skill of his level on the back-end to compliment Carson Ceulemans.
- Joel Jonsson is tiny, super skilled, and super speedy. Ideally he’d be my 6th/7th round pick for the Sabres and just hoping that he’s able to put it all together as he progresses through the junior ranks to the SHL in Sweden.
Tier VII: The Personal Favorites
- I want Tyler Duke to be a thing. He’s undersized and not the fleetest of foot, but he can make plays that bring you out of your seat and is one of the smartest puck movers from the backend in the class. However, his inability to connect on a lot of his dangerous chain-linked plays has a direct impact on his scoring production. However, he’s seeing minimal advantageous offensive deployments and no power play time so there is plenty of potential for him to grow into a more offensive-leaning defenseman.
- Zam Plante (Yes...Derek Plante’s son) was a monster in the HS circuit in Minnesota. He’s had flashes of high-end skill and playmaking in the USHL, however hasn’t been consistent in his data metrics through 3 games. I’d bet on the late birthday and an expanded role in Chicago and reap the benefits.
- Miko Mattika lives in the dangerous areas of the ice. Literally. I don’t think I’ve not seen him attempt a dangerous pass or shot when he’s in the offensive zone. His pace isn’t high enough yet, but given his NCAA track and going to Denver I’d bet on a 3-4 year development that could be promising.
- Ryan Healey’s counting stats don’t match his skill set. So smooth with the puck on his stick but his passes don’t generate much when it comes to production. He’s a sneaky good puck carrier as well to generate offensive zone entries or defensive zone exits. Let him marinate and I think his production numbers should take off.
- I love Colin Kessler. Outside of the Shattuck players; he was the most dangerous player at the MacPhearson tournament in Buffalo. He was a wizard at setting up dangerous plays from the wing and teams actively tried to take him out of games to stifle Culver’s offensive attack. Heading to the University of Vermont I’m excited to see if he is able to jump start the program.
- If you made me guess the player who is going to explode next year with more opportunity in the WHL: I’d be hammering Marcus Nguyen. He’s involved in so much that is going on in the offensive zone, has fantastic spatial awareness off the puck, and has such a fast processing speed of what to do when the puck hits his stick. Give a year to increase speed, rush variation, and more opportunity in a scoring role and I think a lot of teams will be upset they passed on the August birthday prospect.
Tier VIII: Trey Fix-Wolanski Award Candidates
- Isogai is a player that when, in isolation, you would think would be one of the higher point producers on his USHL team. Highly skilled, good in transition, and great awareness. However, the points have never materialized. The good news is he’s been picked up as a draft candidate from some prominent drafting sites so he isn’t walking into his draft year unknown.
- I love Zach Bookman. Loved him last year. Love him more this year. I thought he was the best offensive defensemen on the Brooks Bandits last year despite not given a prominent role in the PP until Ceulemans went to the u18s. This year he’s gone nuts in a prominent role. He’s a DY+2 and going to lower level NCAA division I team, but I refuse to let Bookman go as a potential NHL bottom-4/PP specialist.
Zach Bookman has 60 points in 31 AJHL games this year. Just saying. pic.twitter.com/GWuwKpUNWV— Austin (@BMaster716) December 8, 2021
Using DraftSim: Sabres Mock Draft
Full disclosure: everyone before Jiricek was drafted before the Sabres pick for #8.
#LetsGoBuffalo April Mock Draft using DraftSim:— Austin (@BMaster716) April 7, 2022
8. David Jiricek, D
15. Denton Mateychuk, D
31. Gleb Trikozov, C
40. Sam Rinzel, D
72. Vladimir Grudinin, D
104. Christian Kyrou, D
133. Mikey Milne, LW
168. Nicholas Moldenhauer, RW
189. Marcus Nguyen, RW
200. Zach Bookman, D