There you have it. For the first time since 2019, we got to enjoy an NHL Entry Draft with players, families, fans, members of management and media, in attendance once more. The 2022 event was a raucous affair in Montreal, complete with selection drama, intriguing trades, and an overwhelming number of blue-hued suits. Now, before this week’s free-agent signing storm dominates NHL headlines, let’s take a breath and suss out a few key fantasy takeaway points from the draft’s premiere round, including analysis provided by senior NHL Writer Greg Wyshynski and NHL reporter Kristen Shilton.
Once again, we expect most draftees to blossom in seasons beyond 2022-23 – especially following recent limited opportunities to play through the COVID-19 pandemic. Most, but not all. And even in re-draft or limited keeper leagues, it’s never too early to look ahead, or remain prepared in case some promising player makes an unexpectedly premature debut.
Ready to contribute?
Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, Montreal Canadiens, TPS (Finland) Selected: 1, Rank: INTS1
Wyshynski: “… He’s not going to run over anybody despite his size; it’s his speed that makes him exceptional. This is a pick about what Slafkovsky can become, not for what he is. As one draft observer told me recently, he has “all the tools without the toolbox” at the moment. But his ceiling is high – high enough, it seems, for the Canadiens to opt not to do the Wright thing.”
While another turn with his Liiga squad isn’t out of the question, Slafkovsky seems ready enough to join the Canadians as early as this fall. Well accustomed to playing with grown-ups, the formidable power forward not only held his own at last winter’s Olympics, but escaped with MVP honours. A strong showing at the World Championships further cemented his ready-to-rock reputation. Under the tutelage of head coach Martin St. Louis, Slafkovsky could settle into a top-six spot alongside Nick Suzuki or newbie center Kirby Dach in short order. Once this dynasty-league darling develops a greater affinity for plowing opponents over on the forecheck, a potential role with Suzuki and diminutive winger Cole Caulfield intrigues me most. I’ve heard at least three pundits in the know compare this young goal-scoring winger to Jaromir Jagr. If that doesn’t appeal to fantasy managers, I’m not sure what will.
Simon Nemec, D, New Jersey Devils, Nitra (Slovakia) Selected: 2, Rank: INTS3
Wyshynski: “… Nemec is a right-handed defenseman who was considered one of the “plug-and-play” options in the top 10 for his NHL-readiness. He had six points in eight games at the world championship, and played three seasons as a pro in Slovakia.”
Boasting the stature of a fully-grown adult at 18 years old, Nemec could join the Devils as early as this season. A good skater with great vision, the puck-moving defenseman appears bound to fill a top-pair role and serve on the club’s No. 1 power play eventually. When that eventuality falls is the greater question. If the script unfolds as hoped, Nemec should ultimately present as New Jersey’s No. 2 fantasy defenseman behind Dougie Hamilton. But, again, he’ll likely need some seasoning in the NHL before fulfilling such potential.
Shane Wright, C, Seattle Kraken, Kingston (OHL) Selected: 4, Rank: NAS1
Shilton: “… While not a generational talent, Wright has the potential to develop into a No. 1 center. At 6-0 and 191 pounds, Wright possesses good size and is a strong skater who’s impressively elusive with quickness to beat defenders to pucks. Add to that excellent hockey sense, outstanding playmaking ability and finish around the net.”
Projected as a better all-around player than fantasy asset, and admired for his complete 200-foot game, this Patrice Bergeron-type isn’t going to wow the fantasy masses with his scoring prowess. Expected to ultimately bypass Yanni Gourde and slot in as Seattle’s No. 2 center behind Matty Beniers, Wright sports eventual 60-point potential when NHL-ready. Which, with the second-year Kraken, could be sooner rather than later. His drop to fourth spot at Montreal’s selection party should only further inspire the determined 18-year-old to crack a very crackable lineup in Seattle. Draft him in fantasy leagues accordingly.
Logan Cooley, C, Arizona Coyotes, US U-18 (NTDP) Selected: 3, Rank: NAS2
Wyshynski: “… The strong two-way center cites Patrick Kane as an inspiration for his play, but admits he needs some work on his long-range shooting to hit that level of goal-scorer. The Coyotes need … well, everything. In Cooley, they get a player who has more offensive upside than Wright, according to many scouts.”
Committed to the University of Minnesota next year, Cooley won’t enjoy the privilege of playing in front of hundreds of Arizona fans for a spell yet. But this is a future star in the making. An elite playmaker, the proud Pittsburgh native collected 75 points in 51 contests this past season, most of them assists. Picture him on a top line with Clayton Keller down the road. The Coyotes didn’t bypass Wright to bury Cooley as a fourth-line center.
Cutter Gauthier, LW, Philadelphia Flyers, US U-18, (NTDP) Selected: 5, Rank: NAS3
Wyshynski: “… He’s a 6-2 forward with an incredible shot release who played with Cooley on the development team. He drives the net well. He’s no slouch defensively, and knows how to use his frame to win puck battles along the boards.”
Like Cooley, this fellow U.S. development program product needs a bit of time. A big body that can score, Gauthier has his eye on shifting to center at Boston College next year. Broadening his versatility in such fashion certainly won’t hurt his prospects at the next level. Armed with a quick release, Gauthier is a finisher, capable of putting the puck in the net at even-strength and with the extra skater. Soon enough, Flyers fans and fantasy managers alike will quickly learn to appreciate this young man and his 30-goal/season potential.
Kevin Korchinski , D, Chicago Blackhawks, Seattle (WHL) Selected: 7, Rank: NAS7: 6
Wyshynski: “… The Blackhawks acquired this pick from the Senators in the Alex DeBrincat trade and used it on Korchinski, a 6-2 left-handed defenseman. He’s got a ton of offensive upside, as shown in his 65-point season in 67 games. The Blackhawks are in a teardown. Korchinski can be an important piece in building them back up. …”
It speaks volumes that Kyle Davidson would essentially trade a still-young 40-goal scorer for the opportunity to pick Korchinski ahead of his projected selection position. Clearly wanting this kid bad, the Blackhawks’ new GM obviously expects the just-turned 18-year-old to play an ultra prominent role as part of his scorched-earth rebuild. Down the road, in (at least) a year or two. Drawing comparisons with fantasy heavyweights Dougie Hamilton and Shea Theodore, Korchinski should be on every dynasty manager’s target list now.
Matthew Savoie, C, Buffalo Sabres, Winnipeg (WHL) Selected: 9, Rank: NAS4
Wyshynski: “One of the most talented offensive players in the draft. He’s got a great combination of speed and skill and had 90 points in 65 games last season for the Winnipeg Ice. A terrific passer with a solid wrist shot while in stride, Savoie joins a growing collection of talented forwards to go along with potential franchise defenseman Owen Power on the back end.”
I like this pick for Buffalo a lot. Since playing for the AAA St. Albert Sabres in 2016, all this kid has done is score. Slotted in at center or on the wing, Savoie should be ready to regularly unleash his high hockey I.Q. and blistering speed on NHL opponents as early as 2023-24. A relentless competitor, the Alberta native has to potential to be one of Buffalo’s top producers within their top six for many years. Without question, his fantasy ceiling is one of the highest in this draft.
Pavel Mintyukov, D, Anaheim Ducks, Saginaw, (OHL) Selected: 10, Rank: NAS6
Wyshynski: “… He’s a solid offensive defenseman, with terrific passing skills through traffic. His 62 points in 67 games for Saginaw last season included 45 assists.”
Not next year, but Mintyukov will eventually shine as a power-play performer with the Ducks. If all goes well, a partnership with Jamie Drysdale, selected sixth overall in 2020, could serve as an effective and productive top pairing in Anaheim for a generation.
Rutger McGroarty, RW, Winnipeg Jets, US U-18 (NTDP) Selected: 14, Rank: NAS22
Shilton: “… On the ice, he plays a rugged power forward game that draws comparisons to Matthew Tkachuk. McGroarty brings leadership potential as well from captaining the USNTDP program. … [his] combination of size, physicality and skill fits Winnipeg’s style.”
At least one season away from joining the Jets, McGroarty is projected to score with regularity once ready to make his NHL debut. Bound for the University of Michigan this coming fall, the future top-six forward is built to do just that, as demonstrated by his 35 goals and 34 assists in 54 contests this past campaign. Working with Barb Underhill, his skating – element of his game that needs most work – is bound to improve before long. Dynasty managers should keep in mind that this power forward has 40-goal potential at the highest level, once it all comes together.
Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Vancouver Canucks, Djurgarden (Sweden) Selected: 15, Rank: INTS6
Wyshynski: “… His shot is his greatest asset, and he uses it well on special teams, but he can also move the puck well. He had just 26 games of pro experience in his first SHL season, so he needs a little more time to cook. But his offensive ceiling is high. …”
Drawing comparisons with Nikolaj Ehlers, the slender Swede needs at least another year of development in the SHL to improve and fill out before joining his new crew in Vancouver. But once ready to go, this pure scorer will consistently fill the NHL net. Even at 17 years old, Lekkerimaki’s release is already considered top notch. A spot on the wing alongside either Elias Pettersson or Bo Horvat should be there for the earning, when the time is right. Fantasy managers with foresight should know he’ll shine brightest in leagues that reward goals at a premium.
Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Washington Capitals, Omsk (Russia-2) Selected: 20, Rank: INTS11
Wyshynski: “Now this is a spicy selection. Miroshnichenko is a 6-1 left wing built like a truck who can skate like the wind and loves to fire pucks with his rocket shot from the faceoff circle on the power play. Sound like any NHLer you know? But this pick has a lot more to it than mini-Ovechkin fantasies. Miroshnichenko had a Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis earlier this year, but has completed his treatments and has returned to training. He’s also currently playing for Omsk Krylia in Russia’s VHL, which presents its own challenges given the state of diplomacy between the NHL and Russia. Maybe Ovechkin knows a guy that can help get him to Washington …”
Spicy is right. But even with the deck perceivably stacked against him, there’s too much offensive upside to Miroshnichenko’s game to ignore. If he remains healthy – and everyone in the hockey world is rooting hard for him in that regard – and he isn’t eventually prevented from leaving Russia, this kid could serve as a perennial dynamic presence in the NHL, year over year. Risk and all, this 18-year-old is my favorite fantasy wild card of the first round.
Other first-round selections with projected fantasy upside: Conor Geekie, C, Arizona Coyotes; Denton Mateychuk, D, Columbus Blue Jackets; Frank Nazar, C, Chicago Blackhawks; Noah Ostlund, C, Buffalo Sabres; Joakim Kemell, RW, Nashville Predators; Jimmy Snuggerud, RW, St. Louis Blues; Danila Yurov, RW, Minnesota Wild
Fantasy-relevant NHLers dealt for draft picks
Alex DeBrincat, LW, Ottawa Senators
In acquiring DeBrincat from Chicago, the Senators inject a legitimate 40-plus goal scorer into their top-six. I like the 24-year-old best slotted alongside 20-year-old center Tim Stutzle, and perhaps winger Alex Formenton, leaving the Brady Tkachuk/Josh Norris/Drake Batherson trio intact. If that’s how it indeed shakes out, Stutzle is in for a point/game campaign. DeBrincat managed to score 41 goals (again) this past season with the struggling Blackhawks. There’s no reason he can’t repeat that performance with a talented, young crew in Ottawa.
Tony DeAngelo, D, Philadelphia Flyers
He isn’t likely to pot 10 goals and 41 assists, including 20 power-play points, with the Flyers like he did through 64 games in Carolina last year. Fifty points through a full season? Maybe, but that’s probably DeAngelo’s ultimate ceiling with a club that only knocked out 2.56 goals/game to finish second-worst in the league last year. Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim each collected 31 points to lead the Flyers’ blue line in 2021-22.
Then there’s the concerning capacity for volatility between DeAngelo and new head coach John Tortorella. Even though the defenseman is saying all the right things now, I’m wondering if we make it through 82 games without a fair bit of drama. Which could easily result in the quarterback falling out of favor, off the power play, or even spending time in the press box. DeAngelo has too much fantasy upside to bypass altogether but I wouldn’t reach for him.
Kirby Dach, C, Montreal Canadiens
I love this move for the promising, young center. Under head coach Martin St. Louis, the third-overall draft selection (2019) will undoubtedly benefit from a much-needed blank slate, away from Chicago. As No. 2 center behind Nick Suzuki, Dach will get the opportunity to develop chemistry with whoever best suits on the wing – and there are plenty of such options in Montreal. I’ll wager this is the year it finally clicks for the still-only 21-year-old. He could prove as a diamond-in-the-fantasy-rough as a later selection many fantasy drafts.
Alexandar Georgiev, G, Colorado Avalanche
Assuming UFA-to-be Darcy Kuemper is bound for elsewhere, Georgiev will only have to fend off part-timer Pavel Francouz for starts with the Stanley Cup-winning champs. If he performs well, he’ll play a fair amount. Out from under Igor Shesterkin’s formidable Vezina-winning shadow, and entering his prime at 26 years old, Georgiev has the opportunity to sparkle in this much-needed fresh start. This trade sees the former Ranger bolt up the ranks as a legit No. 2 fantasy netminder in most leagues.
Superb in subbing in for a sub-mediocre Jordan Binnington though much of 2021-22, Husso will have a rougher go of it with a Red Wings club, however promising, that’s not there yet. Plus, there’s that pesky Alex Nedeljkovic to battle for Detroit’s bulk of starts – and Ned will feel extra inspired to enjoy the best campaign possible in the final year of his current contract. There are about 25 other fantasy netminders I prefer to the former Blues goalie in his current environment. Unless GM Steve Yzerman’s squad comes together quicker than I anticipate, Husso will be in tough trying to replicate his 2.56 GAA and .919 SV% from this past season. Never mind the 25-7-6 record.
Vitek Vanecek, G, New Jersey Devils
With Vanecek poised to serve as the Devils’ No. 1 netminder in 2022-23, how well New Jersey fares altogether will have the greatest impact on the former Capital’s fantasy value. The Devils allowed the fourth-most goals/game this past campaign (3.68), the blame for which alone can’t be laid on the pads of the seven different netminders who served between the pipes. Vanecek was only okay for the much better Capitals in 2021-22. Putting up similar numbers for a not-there-yet club in Jersey will be a challenge. He’s a risky fantasy asset at best.