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The Sabres Big Board: Final 2022 NHL Draft Rankings

Austin gives his final rankings ahead of next week’s draft.

2022 USA Hockey All-American Game Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

As we head into the final week before the 2022 draft I will say two things conclusively about this past year watching this draft class:

1.) I’ve never watched more film for a draft class than this one. Probably more than the last two years combined.

2.) I am WAY off of consensus on some of these players.

This is a very confusing draft for me personally. Every time I see a ranking or a scouting report on a player I have ranked significantly higher or lower than most; I find myself obsessively combing through their InStat games and trying to see if I’m missing something. Oftentimes, it’s a difference of scouting philosophy. I’ll see what someone is talking about but it won’t register as important to my process but is important to their process. I can’t say that my process is any better than any one else doing this type of work, but I will say that each brings a perspective that is unique and hopefully useful.

Sometimes, however, I feel like what carries the most weight is position variability amongst the forward group and size amongst defensemen. By this I mean that if a scout sees a player potentially playing at center than the ranking will be much higher than if a player is projected to play on the wing. The two big examples where I’ve seen players skyrocket up draft boards the past month are Cutter Gauthier and Marco Kasper where they played primarily on the wing this year, but there’s either plans for them to play center in the future or they played center at a lower level.

For defensemen you have seen the rise of the bigger defensemen who can skate and may have some offensive potential. Lian Bichsel is the big riser recently fitting this criteria. While size matters to me as a defensemen: in first round and early second I care far more about power play potential than size.

Lastly, I just want to say thank you to Josh Tessler and the team over at Smaht Scouting. It’s been a fun year of laughs, talking prospects, and invaluable learning opportunities. Thanks to Melissa for letting me continue to just pop in and write whenever I have time. And thank y’all for making this the most fun Buffalo Sabres website on the interwebs. Definitely one of my favorite communities to be a part of.

So after almost 11 months...here it is. The Final 2022 Rankings.

Tier I: My Debate for the #1 pick

  • After 11 months this is where I’m landing for the #1 pick. At the end of the day I don’t think that Logan Cooley has done enough to wrestle the pick away from Wright. If both players were playing on the same night and I had to choose a player to watch I’m taking Cooley 100% of the time. He’s electrifying with the puck on his stick and his skill level is super entertaining. However, Wright is methodical to his approach to the game. Just makes so many smart decisions that add up to being such a quality hockey player. Recently I was talking with someone and, while I hate player comparisons, Wright reminds me of Sam Reinhart with a lethal shot in junior hockey. He’s not flashy, but he’s super effective offensively, and the points just add up as the season goes along.

Had we won the lottery I’d take Wright, but I won’t be shocked if Logan Cooley is the better point producer and offensive player in the NHL.

Tier II: The Sabres Dream Tier

  • From the April ranking until the final ranking you see Brad Lambert drop a spot and out of the first tier. Don’t get me wrong...I still love the player.

Whatever your opinion is of Brad Lambert right now I encourage you to wipe your memory when the World Juniors begin again in August. Lambert has been exceptional in all of his u20 games this past year, and by far the best player on the ice every time he’s stepped out against his age group. There’s a few of us out here in the scouting world who firmly believe had Lambert gone to the WHL this year he would’ve cleared 100 points and we’d be talking about him with Wright and Cooley. Take Lambert, get him to the CHL next year, and give him that confidence boost to take that next step.

  • David Jiricek isn’t as fluid as a skater as Nemec, but what he doesn’t have with his skating he makes up with his tenacity in the defensive zone. Both players are great offensive options from the backend while taking a different approach to their offensive game. It’s Jiricek’s potential to be a PP1 quarterback and shutdown defenseman that gives him the edge over Nemec, and over Lambert, to get the coveted #3 spot.

Tier III: Where the Sabres Will Most Likely Draft From for #9

  • I understand the allure of Slafkovsky. He’s had a monster international resume this year between the Olympics and the World Championships. Having that kind of impact against men is going to make heads turn and garner momentum going into the draft. However, I still wonder if he’s going to be more than an offensive zone dominating winger, and struggle to really be more than a one-touch, transition player. If he becomes a force in transition then I think he’s going to project to where he is currently slated to go at the top of the draft.
  • I’m still a Matthew Savoie and Frank Nazar fan. Savoie can break a game open with his high-end skill and ability to move pucks to dangerous parts of the ice. Nazar is the better skater of the two, and can also put the puck in the net better than Savoie, but Savoie is the better playmaker and creates in all three zones as well as excels in all facets of chain linked plays. Nazar excelled at finishing and the pass to a player to finish, but creating the play isn’t always high-end.
  • Lekkerimaki rose into this spot after spending the past month really focusing on the Europeans. His mobility is very good, but it’s his puck skill and how lethal his shot is that really made me fall in love with him as a prospect. He’s a bit undersized to say that he’s a realistic option at #9 for the Sabres, but there is no way he falls to #16. While right wing can’t be said to be a need with Quinn and Tuch in the fold; having another potential top 6, scoring right wing would be a wonderful luxury to have.

Tier IV: The Hopes for #16

  • Liam Ohgren jumps into the top 10 for me as he just screams the perfect Sabres. He plays a hard, north-south game with great skill and an even better mental game. He thrives with his quick decisions as he moves the puck around the ice.
  • Denton Mateychuk is a unicorn. No defensemen plays the game like he does. A hyper-aggressive, offensive leaning defenseman; Mateychuk is a force to be reckoned with every time he’s on the ice. He can oftentimes get himself into positions where it looks like he is playing forward more than defense, but give me all the Mateychuk stock
  • I thought Kemell played well at the u18s, but not well enough to really justify the draft valuation he was getting beforehand. As an undersized winger I was hoping to get a bit more of an all-around game from him in the Liiga and at the u18s.
  • Trikozov/Mesar are two personal favorite. Trikozov with the puck on his stick is one of the more fun players to watch in this year’s draft, and Mesar is just such a fluid skater and always makes the right play. Both are the type of players that in a 2-3 years are going to come over and shock people with their skill sets.

Tier V: The Hopes for 28

  • Korchinski’s meteoric rise the last few weeks probably puts him out of the running, however I did enjoy watching him play this year. His passing decisions were a bit off to start but got better, and he was a lot of fun to watch in the offensive zone.
  • Danila Yurov isn’t here because of his passport, but rather that I don’t know what to make of him. In the KHL he barely played more than two minutes a night, and in the MHL he was physically dominant. His brief World Juniors performance wasn’t anything to write home about, and I don’t know if I can continue to push him as a top 10 talent on last year’s u18 performance alone. I believe there’s a high ceiling in Yurov, but I’m a bit more concerned now than when I was coming into the 2021-22 season.
  • Isaac Howard has speed, skill, and in the offensive zone is great off the puck to get into areas to score goals. However, there are times his approach in transition is narrow minded and results in turnovers and his passing decisions can come across as forced. His spacing off puck in transition can get too clustered and he won’t adapt to changing situations. However, bet on the skill and speed and that his offensive zone intelligence can translate across the other two zones.
  • Noah Ostlund gets another gear in his step and I’m regretting putting him in the top 10. Juri Kulich showed off his scoring prowess at the u18s and not to mention he was great all year in a men’s league, and Jagger Firkus is a fun player to watch in the offensive zone as well. All three players have great upside in the offensive zone, and all three have to work in the other parts of the game to really hit their potential.

Tier VI: Castoffs and Risers

  • Mikael Holm and Jordan Malette put me Calle Odelius early in the year and I’m still riding that train. While his offensive skill doesn’t pop off the screen there’s so much in the finer details combined with his skating and passing ability that I think he could end up being a power play quarterback someday.
  • Geekie/Kasper/McGroarty/Snuggerud: I’m on the lower end of the spectrum on these four. Not that I don’t think they’ll be NHL players nor do I think that they don’t have a lot of potential. I just think it’s a long road to get to get to that potential. I don’t know if McGroarty/Geekie ever develop the pace to be what they are the junior level. I’m skeptical that Snuggerud will develop to a positive player in transition and that he will need a high-end transition player next to him, and is Kasper a center and does he possess enough skill to produce at the NHL level?
  • Lane Hutson grows two inches in the next two years and he could be the best defenseman to come out of this draft. His skill level is elite and his offensive game is absurd.
  • I enjoy Mattias Havelid more than most. I like his calm presence on the backend and the way he moves the puck out of the zone.
  • Sam Rinzel didn’t have the coming out party I was hoping for in the USHL. However, he does have offensive upside and given his size and skating ability he’s worth the gamble to me to chase at the backend of round 1 or early in round 2.

Tier VII: Hoping One Falls to Round 3

  • Adam Sykora has one of the best motors in this entire class. I remember watching a Mesar game recently and Sykora was the one on the shift that kept popping on the screen. He’s earned his way from a potential late round pick to a second round pick given his skill and versatility in the lineup.
  • I’m really high on Devin Kaplan. I feel like there isn’t a player that could pop post-draft like Kaplan could going to the NCAA and given more responsibility as he gets comfortable in the Boston University system. Truthfully, 6’3 forwards with great hands and decision making don’t come along very often.
  • Suzdalev is the anti-Sykora. He can go 3 shifts without me noticing that he’s on the ice and then in a single shift come out with 3-4 plays I’ve clipped thinking he’s amazing. The king of the Michigan goal this year. Suzdalev is going to have to learn to make an impact on the game more often, but when he does it’s hard to deny that the potential is up there in this draft class for him given his skill.
  • No one tried to put the puck between defenders legs, or their own legs to make a pass, than Jack Hughes did. Northeastern wasn’t a high-octane team this year (Devon Levi to thank for that), but I look forward to seeing what Hughes does during his sophomore season.
  • Mats Lindgren is a great consolation prize to missing out on first two tiers of defensemen. A lot of the offensive upside, but also a lot more defensive risk.
  • Paul Ludwinski might get the Nic Robertson Award this year. He’s got too much speed and skill for him not to see a big point production jump next year.
  • Miroshnichenko: I would 100% defer to the medical team to tell me what they believe the best case scenario is for him. I ranked him, and if you wanted to take him way earlier or later I would get it, but I don’t know anything to really base an educated guess on where I’d put him on my board besides to say that the risk is worth it if all the players before him are gone.

Tier VIII: The Dropoff: Mid-Round Picks

  • I think there are plenty of NHL players in this tier, but I don’t see many that are going to give anyone insane value that they’ll end up being a top 6 or top 4 player for a team.
  • The ones I would bet on for being those players though: Cam Lund, Quinn Finley, Christian Kyrou, and Julian Lutz. All four of those players have enough talent and skill that if they put it all together I could see them hitting their ceilings.
  • Lian Bichsel. I think he’s going to be a fine defensive defenseman. I think he might chip in offensively. I feel like I can find 10 Lian Bichsel’s in free agency every year for a price that isn’t going to break the bank.
  • Cole Knuble needs a good skating coach and I think he becomes a good NHL player. Jack Devine just needs to get the puck on his stick more often.
  • Tristan Luneau will play NHL games. Tristan Luneau will probably have a long NHL career. I just don’t see the offense nor do I see an amazing defensive defenseman to warrant anything besides a mid-round pick.
  • Gavin Hayes and Nicholas Moldenhauer have heavy feet. However, I do think both are getting pucks to areas of the ice where I like to see them and, Hayes especially, both have a bit of physicality that I like to see. I’ll be interested to see where Moldenhauer ends up next year, and I hope to see Hayes continue to improve as he did throughout this season.
  • Filip Bystedt is the player I draft if I’m the Sabres and I missed on Marco Kasper and want to try find a bottom six center one day.

Tier IV: The Austin Favorites

  • A lot of these players aren’t on other lists or I’m really high on. They get their own category.
  • Joel Jonsson is an undersized, European winger without major international accolades nor significant point production in a men’s league. IF he gets drafted I suspect it won’t be until the 7th round. However, it’s hard not to love the game Jonsson plays. Shifty, super smart, and with enough skill to make up for the size. He isn’t super fast which keeps him a pretty risky pick, but over time I would bet as he gets stronger his speed skating picks up.
  • I watched something like 3 hours straight of Winnipeg Ice games earlier this year when trying to determine who I liked more between Savoie and Geekie and one of my biggest takeaways was that Mikey Milne was awesome. A relentless motor with skill: if his birthdate wasn’t late September I think most people would be giving him a pass for his brief 14 game draft eligible season last year. He’s having the DY+1 you’d expect for a mid-late round pick that’s doing well and could hit, so I would definitely take the swing in the 5th-6th round on him.
  • I watched more games of Michael Fisher on Livebarn than Instat. He’s super talented but he played against some pretty low level talent as well. Lukas Gustafsson has tremendous skill and skating ability but the points just haven’t come yet.
  • If you want to chase this year’s Matthew Knies then go ahead and draft Hunter Haight. He didn’t have the crazy second half point production that Knies had, but similarly he showcased a lot of skill at the beginning of the year but none of it was leading anywhere (which was his own fault). He’s gotten better throughout the year, but I still question if it translates to higher levels.
  • Jordan Dumais plays outside the QMJHL and puts up his numbers I think we’d be having a different discussion. The eye test didn’t line up with the production, but he deserves a crack in the mid-rounds.
  • Connor Kurth is loads of fun and I’m excited to see what he does in the NCAA next year.
  • Tyson Jugnauth was the BCHL Defender of the Year and his offensive skill is going to compliment Corson Ceulemans at Wisconsin very well.
  • Ryan Healey has a lot of puck skill and great passing vision. Don’t let the counting stats fool you: this kid could put up numbers once he goes to Harvard in two years.

Tier V: The Late Round

  • Hejduk has skill, but wasn’t given much of an opportunity to showcase it on the USNTDP team this year. I though his BioSteel All America game was really good when he was given the opportunity to play a bit less restrictive role.
  • Matthew Seminoff is an ideal bottom 6 player. Hard on pucks and a great passenger to any line.
  • I love Zam Plante’s skill. I feel like a Jackson Blake type of DY+1 year is in the works for him. After coming back from finishing up his high school hockey season; I thought Plante looked like a way more confident playmaker on the Steele. Excited to see where this late birthday prospect lands in the draft.
  • I want Tyler Duke to be a thing. He’s too skilled and too good at defending the rush to not be picked. However, he has yet to translate his deception and mobility on the blue line to production. I don’t fault him, but it will hurt his draft stock.
  • I interviewed Zach Bookman on Smaht Talk this past week and I truly believe he could end up being a giant steal for a team. He’s too smart and too good offensively for a team to cross him off. He showcased this talent last year, and did nothing but exceed expectations for me this year. The AJHL and CJHL Defender of the Year deserves to be seriously considered for the draft.

Tier VI: Borderline 7th Round Picks

  • Colin Kessler is a serious contender for the Trey Fix-Wolansky award winner for 2022. The HS Prep star was amazing in the MacPhearson tournament and continued to look good in viewings afterwards as well.
  • Jacob Guevin should be picked. He’s a great PP quarterback with skill and decent mobility. His defensive game isn’t where I want it to be, but I thought he’s earned a NHL draft pick.
  • Jackson Dorrington has a lot of tools that I think I’d swing on even if the dataset I’ve collected from him this year is pretty bad. There’s not much wrong from the processing or decision making stand point, and his skill level isn’t bad. However, execution of offensive plays as well as opting to run a guy through the boards and abandoning a defensive position were a bit too common for my liking.