First of all, congratulations to the Colorado Avalanche and their fans on their Stanley Cup victory. This was the season many (myself included) felt the team had to prove something, and they succeeded. Well done.
However, now is not the time to rest on any laurels. Not even a month after a Stanley Cup Champion has been crowned, the league focuses its attention on the NHL Draft. While a lot of people will be looking towards 2023 with the likes of Connor Bedard, Matvei Michkov, and Adam Fantilli in the mix, that doesn’t mean the 2022 class has to be a throwaway.
Much like every other league, the NHL Draft offers teams to build up their prospect systems and monitor their development before deciding what role each prospect will have in their organization. While some players may have a difficult time adjusting, others just need the opportunity to show what they can do at the next level.
The current NHL landscape is dotted with late-round gems such as Kirill Kaprizov, Mark Stone, Joe Pavelski, Connor Hellebuyck, and Frederik Andersen. Some of the best players the league has ever seen like Brett Hull, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Luc Robitaille had to wait a long time on draft day to finally hear their name called. While it’s uncertain if any of these players will reach those levels, they all have skills that should make them more valued than what their draft placement might indicate.
Let’s see who’s going to make some lucky NHL GM look like a genius.
David Goyette, C, Sudbury (OHL): Now this might require an explanation. Compared to some of the other names on this list, Goyette is relatively high on some boards. How does he count as a sleeper? It probably has to do with the fact that some pundits have questions about how well his game will translate to the NHL level, especially given his size (5’10”, 175 lbs).
I’m someone who believes that Goyette not only has what it takes to make it in the NHL, but also has the tools it takes to be successful. He’s one of the fastest and best-skating players in the draft, which should set him apart from other fringe first-round talents. While he could stand to diversify his offensive game beyond the rush, he has the creativity and willingness to get better on that front. A couple years in the OHL, plus an extra season or two of development in the AHL, should help Goyette bulk up and develop his game. His ceiling is probably that of a second-line wing, which is a nice value for the back half of the first round.
Noah Warren, RD, Gatineau (QMJHL): Another prospect ranked higher than others here, Warren’s primary issue is that he lacks the flash that some of his contemporaries have. With plenty of right-side defensemen in the same tier as Warren (Ryan Chesley, Tristan Luneau, Sam Rinzel, Seamus Casey, and Mattias Havelid,) Warren’s lack of consistent offensive pop could get him lost in the shuffle.
So what does Warren have that stands out? The answer is simple; Warren has the best combination of size and skating at his position. While his skating has some room for improvement, you won’t find many young defensemen that are 6’5″ and move the way Warren does on the ice. That speed helps him out on the defensive end, as Warren isn’t afraid to cut off lanes, work opposing rushers to the boards, and deliver crushing hits. He’s the type of player I can see enjoying an Alec Martinez-esque career in the NHL, working as a top-four defenseman who can chip in enough offensively to complement his defensive and penalty killing acumen.
Reid Schaefer, F, Seattle (WHL): The last of the high-end sleepers, Schaefer picked a great year to have a breakout season. After a couple of mediocre years split between the WHL and AJHL, Schaefer exploded with a 32-goal, 58-point season this time around. That performance carried over the WHL playoffs, which only helped Schaefer’s case as one of this season’s biggest risers.
Schaefer’s frame (6’3″, 215 lbs) and skill set scream power forward. His finishing ability on the offensive end allows him to be a threat both in transition and on set plays in front of the net. Meanwhile, his size also allows him to be a strong defender, causing havoc on the boards and keeping opposing forwards away from the slot. His skating and passing are still works in progress, but there’s reason to believe he can improve. He can thrive as either an all-around top-six wing or a checking line power forward with some scoring touch, depending on how the rest of his game develops.
Cedrick Guindon, C, Owen Sound (OHL): Now we get to the guys who will be drafted later, and let’s start with arguably my favorite sleeper in the class. Guindon’s small stature (5’10”, 163 lbs) will scare some teams away, and he might not come across as dynamic as Goyette or any other small forwards ranked higher than him. This could cause him to slide to the fourth or possibly the fifth round, which I think would be a mistake.
Guindon is one of the best pure skaters in the class, allowing him to play with pace at both ends of the ice. His ability to break out in transition and never give up on a play is what coaching staffs and scouts love. He can stand to improve his shot, but a 30-goal season this year could indicate that it’s getting better already. Most teams profile Guindon as a bottom-six forward who specializes in killing penalties, but I think he has the opportunity to be more. I see a two-way center who can become a middle-six fixture for years, as soon as the playmaking ability and consistency matches his speed.
Martin Johnsen, F, Farjestad BK (SHL): There are very few Norwegian players who have made it to the NHL, and the only notable one of that group is Mats Zuccarello. This year, however, there is a crop of Norwegian prospects who have likely caught the eyes of at least a few NHL scouts, with Johnsen leading the way.
After dominating in his home country, Johnsen was brought to Sweden to play in Farjestad’s youth program. Johnsen played so well against players in his age group that he was brought along to play with the big club; while he didn’t record a point, the fact he was able to reach that level so quickly is astonishing. That dominance wasn’t limited to just Norway and Sweden; at the Under-18 World Junior Championships, Johnsen broke the tournament scoring record with 14 points in only five games. While he isn’t blessed with size or any elite traits, what Johnsen does have on others is how he thinks the game. He allows the play to come to him instead of forcing himself into bad positions, which is incredibly valuable for teams who like to win the possession battles. He’ll be around until the later rounds, but where he ultimately goes will likely be a round or two lower than where I would have him.
Alex Bump, F, Omaha (USHL): While the NCAA doesn’t carry the same level of prestige for NHL prospects as the Canadian Hockey League does, that doesn’t mean it’s without merit. Some of the best players from today (Cale Makar, Adam Fox, Jack Eichel) and all time (Martin St. Louis, Brian Leetch, Rod Brind’Amour) all got their starts playing college hockey. One of the latest products of that system could be Bump, a 2023 commit to St. Louis’s alma mater at the University of Vermont.
Playing most of last season for Prior Lake High School in Minnesota, Bump was the best player on the ice for virtually every game. His offensive ability includes driving the play and creating scoring chances for himself and his teammates, and it was on display often. Eventually, Bump would get called up to play better competition in the USHL, and he didn’t look out of place at all. His defensive game isn’t quite on the same level as the offense, but his speed and stick handling give him at least a viable foundation to develop on that front. To me, Bump is a third-round pick with serious potential to make a difference in the NHL in a few years, but others might be shied away from that range due to his status as a bit of a long-term project.
Connor Kurth, F, Dubuque (USHL): Another college prospect, Kurth is the first overage prospect in this group after being passed over in his first season of eligibility. A large part of this was due to Kurth’s skating and conditioning, both of which probably tanked his stock. With that disappointment, Kurth responded by decimating the USHL the following season.
He doubled his goal scoring from 15 to 35, tied for the team league with fellow prospect Stephen Halliday. While there are still deficiencies in Kurth’s overall game, the fact he was able to work on his weaknesses shows that he has the willingness to develop. That will go nicely at the University of Minnesota, where Kurth has committed to for this upcoming season. Kurth stands out as someone who will be a priority undrafted free agent coming out of college in a few years, but with his production and the University of Minnesota’s track record of churning out talent, I wouldn’t be opposed to spending a late-round pick on him and be able to monitor his development without the risk of competing for him when his time in college is over.
Josh Davies, F, Swift Current (WHL)/Samuel Savoie, F, Gatineau (QMJHL): I decided to group both of these prospects together because they are essentially the same type of player. While both are smaller forwards that don’t provide too much offense, they are players that both coaching staffs and analytics love.
When it comes to both of them, think Brad Marchand without the same level of scoring touch. They are both some of the faster players you’ll find in this class, and both are absolute nightmares to play against. While Savoie is more adept at staying out of the penalty box than Davies is, having players like them who will step up and cause problems for the opponent’s stars are important for any team to have. If they can build off of their attributes, both have futures as bottom-six fixtures. Davies and Savoie aren’t the types of players teams will be looking to lean on offensively, but they’re the players that help those teams win championships, and that’s what important to understand.
Liam Steele, RD, Chilliwack (BCHL): Don’t look now, but Great Britain is starting to come along with their hockey program. While their own league is still coming together, players are starting to emerge as the UK hopes to produce their first full-time NHLer since Owen Nolan retired in 2010. While Arizona’s Liam Kirk has the potential to do that, don’t be surprised if Steele isn’t too far behind.
Captaining Stanstead College in Quebec, Steele was able to produce at a point-per-game pace and show enough skill to not only be tendered to play for the Chilliwack Chiefs this upcoming season, but earn a scholarship to Cornell in 2023. Even more impressive is that Steele has a similar size-speed combination to Warren, with his skating complementing his 6’6″ frame. While he has been shown to dominate lesser competition, this season and his first year at Cornell will be pivotal in his development. I think he has all the tools to be a successful player, and a mid-to-late round pick would make him the low-risk, high-reward gamble that makes a scout look like a genius.
Jake Furlong, LD/RD, Halifax (QMJHL): It’s rare to see someone have the physical transformation that Furlong has had over the past year, growing four inches and gaining almost forty pounds in order to play against bigger forwards. Not only had Furlong been up to that challenge, but he’s been so successful that it should force teams to re-evaluate where his ceiling is.
Furlong has become a proven minute-muncher, often going against quality opposition and being able to stand his ground in his own zone. His hockey IQ and positioning are some of the best in this class, being able to create turnovers and then starting the breakout from the neutral zone or his own end. While he doesn’t have the same offensive capabilities of other defensemen in this class, his production indicates that it can come along. Those skills, along with his versatility to play both sides on defense, should give Furlong a home as a top-four defenseman who can contribute in a variety of situations.
Tyson Jugnauth, LD, West Kelowna (BCHL): Sure, the BCHL isn’t on the same level as the OHL, WHL, or QMJHL. It’s still been a place for talent to develop, as players like Brett Hull, Carey Price, and Scott Gomez have all called the BCHL home at some point. When you take home the award for the league’s best defenseman, that warrants some attention. If you haven’t heard of Jugnauth yet, you will soon enough.
While the consistency still needs to get there, Jugnauth still managed to be second amongst all BCHL defensemen in points with 50. There’s clear skill on the back end here, and Jugnauth’s creativity and vision allow him to drive play from the point. It won’t remind anybody of Erik Karlsson in his prime, but getting a defenseman like Jugnauth who can chip in offensively and be a potential power play quarterback in the middle rounds is a great find. He’s committed to the University of Wisconsin for this upcoming season, so American audiences will get a closer look at what he can bring to the table.
Rastislav Elias, G, Green Bay (USHL): There was once a time when Elias was considered a top goaltending prospect in this year’s class. After a rough maiden season in North America with a poor Green Bay squad, some of that enthusiasm has dampened to the point where Elias may not even be drafted. However, the same goaltender from about a year ago still exists.
While Elias had a rough acclimation to the North American game, it seems he started to pick his game up towards the end. His final five games saw him put up a .914 save percentage, so there’s reason to believe he’ll improve. Add a silver medal in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and being named the best goaltender in the tournament should also indicate there’s a solid framework. In a weak goaltender class this season, prospects like Elias may not fall as hard as people think, and I imagine a team still trying to find an option for the future could look at him as a solution. Keep his name in mind as the draft starts winding down.
Russian players. All of them.: The reason I wanted to list this is because some prospects will fall for the same reason: their home country. The Russian factor has always caused talent to slip down some boards, but the combination of an increasingly volatile political climate and recent events involving Ivan Fedotov have caused some teams to take Russian prospects off their boards entirely.
This could end up creating some serious havoc on draft night, as there are plenty of Russian prospects still in the country that could see their draft stock crater. While Russian-born players playing in North America like Pavel Mintyukov will likely be unaffected, what about others? Danila Yurov, Gleb Trikozov, and Ivan Miroshnichenko would all be likely first-round picks in a normal world. However, the uncertainty and real-world implications could cause these prospects to slip nearly an entire round lower than normal. While teams would be right to be scared away, any team willing to take a chance could end up getting a first-round prospect at a serious discount. There is definite risk attached to everybody, but the rewards have to balance that out at some point.