Having already made the opening selection of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, the Montreal Canadiens are back on the clock at 26th overall. This pick was part of a package from the Calgary Flames that included a 2023 fifth-round selection, prospect Emil Heineman, and NHL forward Tyler Pitlick, all for the services of Tyler Toffoli for Calgary’s playoff run.
It’s the first time the Habs go into the draft with two first-rounders since 2007., and the third time we’ve made a pick for Montreal at 26th, doing so in back-to-back years in 2014 (David Pastrnak) and 2015 (Thomas Chabot).
This year, we’re going more in the 2014 direction with our choice, opting for Jagger Firkus, a WHL forward whose offensive game blossomed in the WHL this season.
These were the picks that had been made with the first 25 picks before we were called upon for the last time:
- Shane Wright - Montreal Canadiens
- Logan Cooley - New Jersey Devils
- Juraj Slafkovsky - Arizona Coyotes
- Simon Nemec - Seattle Kraken
- David Jiricek - Philadelphia Flyers
- Cutter Gauthier - Columbus Blue Jackets
- Joakim Kemell - Ottawa Senators
- Matthew Savoie - Detroit Red Wings
- Conor Geekie - Buffalo Sabres
- Kevin Korchinski - Anaheim Ducks
- Jonathan Lekkerimäki - San Jose Sharks
- Frank Nazar - Columbus Blue Jackets
- Marco Kasper - New York Islanders
- Danila Yurov - Winnipeg Jets
- Liam Ohgren - Vancouver Canucks
- Brad Lambert - Buffalo Sabres (from Vegas Golden Knights)
- Pavel Mintyukov - Nashville Predators
- Lian Bichsel - Dallas Stars
- Isaac Howard - Los Angeles Kings
- Denton Mateychuk - Washington Capitals
- Ivan Miroshinichenko - Pittsburgh Penguins
- Rutger McGroarty - Anaheim Ducks (from Boston Bruins)
- Jiri Kulich - St. Louis Blues
- Gleb Trikozov - Minnesota Wild
- Noah Östlund - Toronto Maple Leafs
We had a lengthy debate about what to do with this selection, mindful that the Canadiens held another pick seven spots later at 33. In an exercise conducted in March looking at what the NHL roster would look like to start the 2023-24 season, it was determined that the main needs were at centre and left wing, with a desire for more options at right defence.
A top-six centre was added to that pool when we took Shane Wright first overall, but you can’t always get what you want with other teams making selections, and there were few players projected to be left-wingers in the immediate range we were looking at, dominated instead by defencemen. In fact, there were so many defencemen that we figured there would still be a few quality blue-liners left at 33 no matter what, but it was unlikely that there would be a winger with an elite shot left on the board, so we settled on the right-shot Firkus.
Birthplace: Irma, Alberta
Date of birth: April 29, 2004
Weight: 154 lbs.
Team: Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
The scoring ability might be reminiscent of Pastrnak, but the body is smaller (the Bruins draft pick was listed at 6’0” and 167 pounds ahead of the 2014 NHL Draft), which did impact Firkus’s work along the boards and will until he bulks up some with more development time.
He ended the regular season with 36 goals despite a slow start to his year, and added another six in 10 post-season games. He achieved that by making use of an exceptional shot, one that challenges Jonathan Lekkerimäki’s for best in class.
It was powerful and accurate enough to score from distance, but the majority of his goals came from getting in close to the net. He requires very little space to get his shot off, finding plenty of velocity no matter how he has to shoot. He’s lauded for his ability to get pucks on net regardless of stance, and releases it quickly without warning, a skill held by some of the most prolific scorers in the NHL.
Twelve of his goals came on the power play, which is normally a criticism of a player’s game, but the Canadiens have struggled on the man advantage for several years now, and another exceptional shot to join Cole Caufield’s in that situation is worth the investment.
Unlike Lekkerimäki, Firkus’s offence isn’t limited to what he earns from his shot. He’s also a good playmaker who has no issue making the selfless play if he runs out of real estate, and will cut a net-drive short to throw off a defender and open up a lane to a teammate trailing the play. He’s quite good at winning possession back in the offensive zone for his team as well.
His craftiness works in the neutral zone when he can pull the puck to the inside to give himself more passing options on the flanks, or simply stickhandle his way right around a defender, using his quick hands to make moves an opponent can’t match.
There is work to do on the defensive side, but he’s far from hopeless without the puck. His defensive metrics are fairly good, especially for a winger under 160 pounds. He’s slightly above average in defensive plays per 60 minutes among the North American prospects tracked by Mitch Brown. It’s not an area that needs to be built from the ground up, which should reduce the time he needs to become NHL-ready.
Elite Prospects: #20
Hockey Prospect: #49
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #34
NHL Central Scouting: #12 (North American Skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #30
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #34
Firkus was one of the players who surged up the order at several outlets from the mid-term results, though did drop down some others. On average, 26th is about the spot he’s expected to go.
Going into the draft with a duo of Nick Suzuki and Caufield highlighting the roster of the future, Wright and Firkus could offer a similar dynamic on a second line in the near future. We saw Caufield playing significant time on Suzuki’s left under Martin St. Louis this season, and there’s no reason why he or Firkus couldn’t be used on their off-side to make their releases even more dangerous from the middle of the ice. It’s why there shouldn’t be too much concern about adding another right-winger into the forward corps.
The remaining six selections from the opening round will be published throughout the day, and we’ll see if our gamble that a quality defenceman would still be on offer at 33 pans out when the tumbling dice come to a rest. Next week we’ll do an unofficial continuation of the mock draft by looking at the potential options for the opening pick of the second round.
Given who was left on the board, who would your pick have been at 26th?
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The history of Eyes On The Prize’s SB Nation NHL Mock Draft selections
2022: Jagger Firkus (26th)
2022: Shane Wright (first)
2021: Xavier Bourgault (31st)
2020: Mavrik Bourque (16th)
2019: Thomas Harley (15th)
2018: Filip Zadina (third)
2017: Urho Vaakanainen (25th)
2016: Tyson Jost (ninth)
2015: Thomas Chabot (26th)
2014: David Pastrnak (26th)
2013: Josh Morrissey (25th)
2012: Mikhail Grigorenko (third)
2011: Mark Scheifele (17th)
2010: Ryan Spooner (27th)
2009: Scott Glennie (18th)