Montreal is an exciting city with a lot of personality, and fittingly last night’s first round of the 2022 NHL Draft mirrored the energy of the surroundings. There were some wild trades, an active home team, drama all around, a presumed number one overall pick falling to fourth! You name it, last night had it in what is always one of the most spirited nights on the NHL calendar.
On draft night, everyone feels like a winner and (almost) everyone has added something that they think will help in the future. I’m not going to pick apart and critique “oh so-and-so drafted this player maybe five spots too high from where I thought he would go, bad idea!” because right now, no one truly knows if that will work out just fine or not. While only the future can really shake out who truly will benefit from what went down, but that doesn’t make knee-jerk reactions any less fun.
Seattle Kraken - I think a lot of the NHL got it wrong about Shane Wright. He was awarded “exceptional status” as a youngster to get into the CHL early, but then he got nit-picked for years. Wright might not be as explosive or as insanely skilled as some other exceptional status players that came before him (Connor McDavid, John Tavares among others), but Wright is still a really good prospect. He should have gone higher than the fourth pick, but fell right into Seattle’s lap. Now the pressure is off, and the chip on his shoulder might even be a positive thing. A few years from now, with hindsight, Wright probably is better than his draft position and the teams picking ahead of Seattle might have over-thought this one.
Montreal and their crowd - It’s always a better show when the hosts are active, and the Canadiens definitely were. They picked first - a Montreal rarity - and made the crowd in attendance audibly gasp by bypassing Wright for the big power forward in Juraj Slafkovsky. Then they delighted the crowd by figuring out how to trade enough for Kirby Dach. Dach in just a few years removed from being the third overall pick. They had a legend in Serge Savard on stage to present the GM of the year award. It was a good showing for the first crowd at an NHL draft in three years.
Slovak Hockey - Getting drafted third overall in the NHL was the high water mark for a Slovakian player until last night, where players from the country went first (Slafkovsky)....And second (defenseman Simon Nemec). Not too much more to say, but that’s a great feel good story from a “hockey underdog” type of place that doesn’t get a lot of moments in the sun. Last night was a great night for Slovakian hockey.
Ottawa Senators - The Sens used their picks and cap space to trade for a 24-year old forward in Alex Debrincat who has scored 73 goals in the last two seasons (just 134 games). Massive W for Ottawa.
Toronto Maple Leafs - It only cost dropping down 13 picks for Toronto to clear out the bad goalie free agent signing Petr Mrazek and his contract. This will clear important salary cap space for the Leafs to make their next bad goalie free agent signing in the coming week.
Chicago Blackhawks - No one ever looks good or wins when going through the painful process of stripping down a team. If seventh overall pick Kevin Korchorski develops into a stud, the ‘Hawks don’t look so bad. If Korchiski is something of the next Derrick Pouliot (bust of a Western offensive defender) well...Yikes. Lots of variance there, but Chicago makes the loser list for a lack of value. Debrincat is one of the best players in the league, they did not get a healthy return for him. Yes, I’m aware of his high potential qualifying offer in 11 months. It shouldn’t matter. If Winnipeg can fetch P-L Dubois for Patrik Laine (a more limited and less productive offensive winger), Chicago has to get more....Ditto turning the No. 3 pick in 2019 into the No 13 pick in 2022. That’s going in the wrong direction.
Edmonton Oilers - While Toronto only had to drop down in the order a handful of picks to shed Mrazek ($3.8m for two years), the Oilers managed to somehow give up a full future second and third round pick (while moving down just a few spots last night) to shed Zack Kassian ($3.2m for two). They solved that problem, but at a much higher cost than Toronto.
The “home run” picks - The “Russian factor” was alive as ever, with top-10 talent Danila Yurov dropping all the way to 24th. If the Capitals didn’t draft the Pensburgh mock draft pick Ivan Miroshnichenko 20th, he probably would have fallen out of the first round as well. Super-skilled but inconsistent Finn Brad Lambert was a top-5 projected pick a year ago but fell almost all the way out of the first round (29th to Buffalo). Dynamic but tiny Lane Hutson fell out of the first round completely, as did 5’10, 150 pound waterbug Jagger Firkus....NHL teams were not going for the “high risk, high reward” players last night.
New York Islanders - Wait, so the Islanders really gave up the 13th pick last night to get....Alexander Romanov? Romanov is only 22-years old and an NHL caliber defenseman, but hasn’t really done a ton to stand out at the NHL level and has meddled a bit. Perhaps getting out of Montreal puts his career on a better track, but value-wise, the Islanders gave up a big asset to not really receive a game-breaker. Another of the very curious Lou Lamoriello moves of late.
Grading the Pittsburgh pick:
Have seen some fans comparing Owen Pickering to Marcus Pettersson or Pierre-Olivier Joseph based on their similar sizes alone. That’s true, but also would be like saying that both Sidney Crosby and Matt Cooke are 5’10 forwards that are built like fire hydrants, and no one would ever confuse the differences in those two games. That is an extreme example, but the thin build of Pickering at age-18 is not nearly as big of a concern as it is for players like Pettersson and Joseph in their mid-20’s. They’re all different players, and Pickering does have some tools in the toolbox that made him a first round pick.
Pickering is a player that Ron Hextall called “immature” to ESPN just moments after drafting him. He didn’t mean that the kid is pulling pranks or watching Jackass Forever all day instead of training, just that there is a lot of development to go before Pickering is a finished physical product.
Pickering was once an under-sized defender who hit a growth spurt and still has some of his skating abilities, but more importantly the Pens think that he can think the game really well and now has the physical tools aided by a 6’4 frame to be more effective.
Director of Amateur Scouting Nick Pryor on first-round draft pick Owen Pickering: "Myself and our whole hockey staff are really big on hockey sense and competitiveness... We feel that Owen checks those boxes as well as some other boxes. Just really excited about him." pic.twitter.com/xvyK5uvhPs— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) July 8, 2022
The extreme rise of Pickering must be put into perspective. A few years ago he was a ninth round pick in the WHL bantam draft. He has rocketed up the rankings, as Red Line Report put it, “nobody came further, faster this season. There’s big upside in this huge, projectable blue-liner with fine offensive skills.”
Pickering also fits a huge need in the Pittsburgh system, who before yesterday had absolutely zero defensive prospects with encouraging NHL futures (with Joseph at 23 years old and draft+5 not really being a “prospect” any longer, just more of a youngish player). Now, the Pens have one. Time will tell if this pick adds something of value at the NHL level one day, but Pittsburgh did well to accomplish a goal.
Adding a Yurov or Lambert or even Isaac Howard would have been a flashier pick, and maybe with more potential of a pay-off, but also represented a luxury as a winger addition. Center or defense always made more sense, and Pickering as a defender was the best all-around option on the board. Grade on draft night: B+