We’re back — and it feels so good.
Hockey around the globe is rolling, more start dates are on the horizon and, with an eye on the 2022 NHL Draft, it’s going to be an incredibly exciting season.
The Ontario Hockey League is back, which means the Shane Wright show is ready for all to see. The Slovakian trio is already turning heads across the pond. Two Russians look poised to steal your focus and your heart. A young phenom in Finland looks like he might be challenged by his own countryman. And where do we even start with this American class?
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. To kick off the excitement around this season, FCHockey has compiled some of the biggest storylines with the 2022 NHL Draft in mind.
Buckle up, folks. This season is going to be one hell of a ride.
NHL Draft 2022: Eight biggest draft storylines
Welcome to the Shane Wright show
He’s been talked about for years.
If you haven’t heard of Shane Wright at this point, you must be living under a rock. After being granted exceptional status into the OHL for the 2019-20 season, the young superstar went on to be an alternate captain for the Kingston Frontenacs, leading all rookies in goals (39) and points (66) and earning OHL and CHL Rookie of the Year nods. He’s also showed off his skill internationally, captaining Canada at the 2019 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and the gold-medal-winning Canadian squad at the 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Championship
While excitement around Wright is bursting at the seams, the COVID-19 pandemic saw the cancellation of the 2020-21 OHL season and stole his sophomore year. How many points would Wright have racked up as an encore? What hardware would he have added to his resume? We’ll never know but what we should expect is a big season from Wright. After being robbed of an entire year of hockey, Wright should explode onto the scene and change the OHL record books along the way.
There’s a wide gap between Wright and the rest of the 2022 draft class right now. With a full season of hockey under his belt, you can bet that the gap will continue to widen. Wright watch is upon us, and you can bet that NHL teams will be salivating at the chance to draft this potential franchise-altering prospect.
NHL DRAFT 2022 BIG BOARD: Shane Wright headlines early top 32
Is Lambert still a No. 1 challenger?
Looking back one or two years ago, the conversation focused on Wright vs. the Finnish sensation, Brad Lambert. Fast forward a year, and the conversation has shifted after Wright’s international performance and Lambert only collecting 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 46 Liiga games. Of course, we need to keep in mind that Lambert is playing in a men’s league. The young Finn may not have taken the step forward as hoped or expected, but him competing at this level is a big step.
Lambert’s play has caused concern among scouts due to some inconsistencies, but the talent is still very much there. A standout sophomore season at the Liiga level could still see him challenge Wright for that top spot, but more likely, he looks to be fighting for No. 2 where he will have serious competition. If he can get back to the dominant presence that we’ve seen in the past though, he should have the edge.
Don’t sleep on Savoie
When discussing the 2022 NHL Draft a year ago, Matthew Savoie is right there with Wright and Lambert, albeit right behind them. With the rise of some Europeans (stay tuned) over their draft minus-1 season (D-1), Savoie seems to have dropped down in the top-10. However, we need to keep in mind that Savoie had to change leagues last season due to the WHL delay, heading to the USHL where he collected 38 points (21 goals, 17 assists) in 34 games with the Dubuque Fighting Saints.
Now that he’s back in his own league, expect Savoie to be a leader in the WHL. He might not be the top player due to a certain 2023 NHL Draft-eligible in Regina (we’ll get to him, too), but he should have a stellar season with the Winnipeg Ice. Barring a shockingly disappointing performance, Savoie seems to be a lock for the top-10 in the 2022 NHL Draft. The only question will be: “How high can he go?”
Nemec, Slafkovsky and Mesar ready to steal the hockey world’s focus
If you follow the prospect world, you’ve already heard of these three leading the next wave of Slovakian hockey: Simon Nemec, Juraj Slafkovsky, and Filip Mesar. The trio has captured the attention of the hockey world since the 2021 World Junior Championship — even before that for some diehards out — and has continued to impress since. Nemec and Slafkovsky look to be top-5 challengers, while Mesar could join them in the opening round.
Nemec is expected to be leading the group and has already started showing his skill off in the top Slovakian men’s league. Remarkably, this is his third season already playing against men, spending all last season with HK Nitra and playing 12 games in 2019-20. Slafkovsky isn’t far behind, though, and looks to be a regular at the men’s level too, playing with TPS in the Liiga this season. Mesar will be the surprise of the group this season, and many expect him to rise up draft boards as the season rolls on. He’ll be playing against Nemec with Slovakia’s HK Poprad.
2021-22 NHL SEASON: Key dates, divisions and more on upcoming season
These three are all very different players but are all top prospects in this class. Similar to Germany being the country to watch in the 2020 NHL Draft, the 2022 edition will put the spotlight firmly on Slovakia.
Miroshnichenko vs. Yurov: Who is the top Russian?
More top-10 excitement this season will be surrounded by two extremely talented Russian forwards: Ivan Mirosnichenko and Danila Yurov helped Russia to a silver medal at the 2021 World Under-18s and stood out as two of the top forwards in the tournament. Both are already playing at the Russian men’s level, with Miroshnichenko playing in the VHL and Yurov in the top-tier KHL.
Right now, Miroshnichenko seems to have the upper hand. But with Yurov’s skillset and him playing in the KHL, he could very well take the top Russian spot. Whoever ends up on top, you can bet that the battle to get there will be one of the most exciting storylines to follow this season.
Who is No. 2?
After discussing Lambert, Savoie, Nemec, Slafkovsky, Miroshnichenko and Yurov, we can discuss what might just be the biggest storyline of the season — who is number two?
After long expecting some combination of Wright and Lambert to lock down the top two spots, all of these other players are very much in the conversation and any one of them could run away with it as the season progresses. This will be an ongoing discussion all season, but as of right now — it looks like the race is wide open.
Spoiler alert. It was Nemec who will take the first run at the position in FCHockey’s preliminary ranking for the 2022 NHL Draft.
FCHOCKEY: Top 100 prospects for 2022
Expect some surprises from the OHL
With the cancellation of the 2020-21 season, the entire OHL season is going to be a top storyline for the season. While there are some prospects that we can already get excited about due to international play or even their OHL draft year, there are many that haven’t been able to put their game on display in front of scouts. Because of this, the OHL might just be the league to watch. There are going to be prospects that shock and shoot up draft boards despite not garnering the deserved attention so far.
What’s even more exciting, is that there will be two age groups worthy of attention. Due to the OHL cancellation last season, it is very likely that those who were draft-eligible in 2021 and were passed over could be high draft picks in 2022. Every year, OHLers surprise and shoot up the draft board. Since we didn’t have that for the 2021 NHL Draft, the 2021-22 season will be a remarkable year for the league. We could even have a record number of OHLers drafted in 2022. If you can only watch one league, it might just need to be this one.
Eye on the 2023 NHL Draft: Bedard, Michkov, Dvorsky
We can’t discuss the 2021-22 hockey season without talking about the excitement already building around the 2023 NHL Draft. Connor Bedard has been garnering attention for years already, highlighted by the fact that he’s the first exceptional status WHLer ever. Matvei Michkov has also been turning heads, especially after breaking Nikita Kucherov’s record for a 16-year-old in the MHL. One player you might not have heard of though is Dalibor Dvorsky, another Slovakian who recently stood out in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and is making the J20 Nationell his playground right now.
These three prospects are heading up what looks to be another exciting draft class and all three could have their sights set on the record books this year. While 2022-eligible prospects might be the focus this season, but there are some 2023 eligibles that deserve some of your hockey-watching time.
Josh Bell is a scout and the director of content for FCHockey.
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