The hockey calendar is turning. Some leagues are already in progress. Others are beginning to gather for training camps and preseasons. And with all of it comes the start of a new draft season for the (mostly) 2004-born class of 2022.
This list follows my early top 22 from March as my first ranking for the 2022 NHL Draft.
This list comprises 24 forwards and eight defensemen, with just one defenseman inside the top 10, signaling a draft that is lighter on high-end defenders than 2021 was — last year four defensemen went inside the top 10.
The 2022 NHL Draft is shaping up as a bounce-back year for USA Hockey. Americans outnumber Canadians 11-10 here. That’s a big deal a year after Canadians outnumbered Americans 43-24 on my draft board, and just three players from the national program’s under-18 team were drafted in the first round. It’s also shaping up as a formative year for Slovakia, a country that has struggled to produce talent in recent years but just won silver at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup on the back of an age group that boasts two players with legitimate top 10 aspirations in 2022 and a third with first-round potential.
It’s too early to make any real determinations on the class as a whole, especially given the role the pandemic played in many of these players’ recent seasons, but it looks stronger at this stage than 2021 did.
1. Shane Wright — C, Kingston Frontenacs, 6-foot-1
A year ago, when I released my preseason ranking for the 2021 NHL Draft, the eventual first pick, Owen Power, ranked third on my list. He settled into the No. 1 slot by midseason, but I wasn’t alone in the very early days in hesitating to put him there. That’s not an issue this year, though. It’s going to be Shane Wright’s name called first next summer. That’s particularly noteworthy when you consider the fact that outside of his brief and brilliant performance at the under-18 worlds and an audition for Canada’s world juniors team, he didn’t play hockey last year. This is my ninth year doing this work and I’m as sure of his place at the top of this draft class at this stage in the process as I have been in any previous. And not because he’s a Connor McDavid-level talent, or even an Auston Matthews-level one. As good as he is, with the exceptional status and the brilliant rookie season in the OHL to show for it, I don’t think he’ll get to their stratosphere. I don’t think he’s going to win the Art Ross in his first full NHL season as a teenager, or register 105 points in 56 games, like McDavid did. He’s not going to score 40 goals as a rookie, or 41 in 52 games as a 23-year-old, like Matthews did. But he’s head and shoulders above the field in this draft class and there’s virtually nothing to nitpick in his game. He’s got a wide, balanced gait to his stride and a boxy build that helps him stay on pucks and win battles. He’s got an NHL release that he can disguise off of the toe or heel of his blade from multiple stances. He’s a heady handler and facilitator who reads the play at a high level with and without the puck. He’s a powerful, though not explosive skater. And he’s also a lead-by-example type who understands the finer details of the game and will excel at both ends at the next level.
2. Matthew Savoie — C, Winnipeg Ice, 5-foot-10
Savoie is the most exciting player in this class to watch. He’s dangerous offensively every time he touches the puck, with extremely quick side-to-side hands that help him beat defenders one-on-one off of cuts and an NHL shot (which he can place with pinpoint accuracy from a bad angle, rip by a goalie clean from a distance or slide five-hole with consistency). He’s excellent in traffic because of his craftiness and maneuverability into scoring spots. He’s a soft small-area passer who blends deception into his movements. And he’s got a bit of a chip on his shoulder, which keeps him engaged when he’s at his best. He’s also sturdier on his feet than his 5-foot-10 frame might suggest, which helps him play between checks. I see a dynamic, top-six, goal-scoring package. He wowed me away at Canada’s under-18 showcase in Calgary this summer and I expect him to rack up a ton of points in his return to the WHL after a season in the USHL.
3. Brad Lambert — C/RW, JYP, six-foot
I’m pretty comfortable with my 1-2 right now but I debated ranking Lambert as low as sixth. He has been a star prospect for some time now, and has played above his age group for years because of his December 2003 birthday and advanced skillset. When he posted six points in five games at the 2019 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge as a 16-year-old, he was the youngest player on Team Finland. When he scored three goals in as many games at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup that year, he was the youngest player on that team, too. He also led all under-17 players in Finland’s top junior league in scoring that year, posting 38 points in 42 games. And the same was true last season, when he posted four points in seven games as Finland’s youngest player at the world juniors, or when he became Liiga’s youngest full-time player and most productive under-18 one with 15 points in 47 games. Some scouts worry about his play when he doesn’t have the puck on his stick, both in his energy levels off of it and his ability to make things happen offensively when he’s not getting a lot of touches. With it, though, Lambert’s a multi-faceted threat who blends impressive puck skill with good all-around skating mechanics and an attack mentality that complements a dangerous curl-and-drag shot, which also complements the short stick he uses. He plays pucks into space beautifully, gets to the interior, splits lanes, cuts off the wall aggressively and has a low base to his stride that allows him to extend plays — though he does have a bit of a hunch to his posture. He’s excellent on the point and half wall on the power play because of his puck skill, dangerous wrister off the flank and playmaking instincts.