The day before the draft is often reserved for media availabilities, opportunities to ask the class’s top players about their game, their impressions of the city, and how they feel ahead of one of the most important days of their lives.
After a youth hockey clinic at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard, where Shane Wright, Juraj Slafkovsky, Conor Geekie, Matthew Savoie, Logan Cooley and Cutter Gauthier participated in training drills alongside Nick Suzuki, Jonathan Drouin and some local children, the 2022 NHL Draft prospects were made available for comment.
Then, both media members and the prospects themselves made their way to the Montreal Science Centre, where interviews continued in a more formal setting, with cameras and microphones pointed at every head available. Finnish prospect Joakim Kemell and QMJHL forward Nathan Gaucher also joined in on the action at that point.
Given the limited amount of time allocated to the two groups that formed the eight forwards, I chose to focus on the North American prospects at the event, which include all but Slafkovsky and Kemell. Here are the most prominent questions and answers that resulted from the events.
Before we get into the quotes, I need to add my thoughts on Wright after seeing him interact with young fans in Brossard. He was fist-bumping the young players, reacting loudly when they would make a good play or scored, and celebrated those goals with fervor.
Que personne ne reproche à Shane Wright son intensité. Passe PRIMAIRE et célébration en prime. pic.twitter.com/e1cuCM7ZrI— Anthony Martineau (@Antho_Martineau) July 6, 2022
He knows how to win fans over. If the Habs select him with their first pick, he will have no problem convincing them that that was the right decision.
“Montreal is where I want to go, it’s where I want to be. Just walking around the city yesterday, it’s a beautiful city, obviously here in the facilities as well. I love what they have going so far. I had a great phone call with Martin St-Louis, a really positive conversation. Marty St-Louis is such a smart coach, and they have a lot of young talent and players. I want to be part of this, part of this organisation. I think they’re building something special here and I want to contribute to that.”
I asked Wright what he would like to work on after the draft, heading into the offseason.
“Probably my skating is something I want to improve a little bit — I want to get a little quicker, a little more explosive. I think it’s something that you can always improve on. Scoring touch as well — that’s something I want to do a little better. Obviously, I didn’t score as many goals as I would’ve liked this year, so that’s definitely something I want to focus on this off-season.”
A reporter questioned Wright on how he perceives Slafkovsky, and how it’s like to talk to him given the circumstances.
“He’s a really nice guy, fun guy to talk to. I talked to him after the combine when we went to tour the training facilities together so I know him already a little bit from that. Obviously I guess we’re competing [for the number one spot] a little bit but there’s also that high-end respect. I have the utmost respect for his abilities and him as a player, so it’s really easy to be friends with a guy like that.”
Another reporter asked Wright how he approaches criticisms of his game from media members.
“I think anytime that guys maybe consider the top prospect, there’s obviously going to be questioning them, there’s also going to be people trying to find flaws in their game. It is what it is — it’s just outside noise at the end of the day. What matters the most to me is what my coaches, GMs and teammates think of me.”
I asked Geekie what he wants to work on in the offseason, and he answered straight-forwardly:
“Everyone knows I’m not the best skater, so I already know I need to emphasize that a lot this summer. I’ve seen some improvements already, so it’s just keeping that up.”
I don't know if he will fall to the #Preds at 17, but Conor Geekie's puck skills, shooting, and confidence are really, really intriguing.— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) July 6, 2022
Look at the play he makes at the 7 second mark here lol pic.twitter.com/VTCY9eFa3b
I also questioned him on which opponent this season he feels doesn’t get enough credit for the talent they have, and are underrated on many draft boards. He chose to go with a teammate instead:
“I think Mikey Milne is a really good player. I’ve been lucky enough to play alongside him for a long time now and the stuff he does sometimes, it makes [the game] easier on yourself.”
I then asked Geekie to name the biggest influence to his game on his team:
“I think our coach James Patrick — he has an influence on everyone. I think every coach does, but there’s something that he does really well and that’s playing his role, keeping us in check and that’s the reason we have so much success.”
A reporter then asked Geekie how he’s been enjoying Montreal, and he mentioned having gone to an Irish pub and tasting poutine for the first time.
“It’s the real deal,” he added.
When I asked Savoie what his biggest improvement this season was, he answered:
“I think possessing the puck, my ability to be comfortable out there, challenge defenders one-on-one, I also think that from the start of the season to the end, I think I was played in a bigger role on the defensive side as well. I think confidence-wise was the biggest thing for me to get my legs underneath me in a new league.”
I followed that up with a question regarding his time in the USHL and how that shaped his game:
“I had a great time in the USHL. With the unknown in the Western [Hockey] League starting up, I wanted to get that development still, play those 35 games, practice with a Junior team, and I thought it was a great opportunity in Dubuque. In the NCAA, some teams were shut down so it was a pretty strong league in the USHL, lots of 19, 20-year-olds that would normally be in college, but they were back due to COVID so I had a great time down there, it was a great experience, so I think I learned a lot.”
He stated that he watches Brayden Point and Matt Barzal a lot to study how they possess the puck and make plays in tight.
Savoie also mentioned not having had any follow-ups from the Habs brass since the combine, and having been rehabbing his shoulder in the gym.
Gaucher’s English is astounding for a prospect who has played his entire Junior career in Québec, though some of the following quotes will be translated from French.
When asked about the Habs’ 26th-overall selection and his availability in that range, Gaucher answered:
“It would be very fun. Obviously they’re well-placed at 26th, though they might trade up. But there’s a good range of possibilities for me at the draft, so I’m not building any expectations. Anything could happen.”
Another reporter asked Gaucher about his reported lack of top-six upside:
“If I become a third-line center, that’s already exceptional, but I like to challenge, climb higher than I’m expected, and be relied upon in every situation. But it’s not disrespectful to me to hear that I’ll become a third-line centre in the NHL.”
He was then asked about potentially moving to the wing, or if it’s important for him to be drafted as a centre:
“It’s interesting for me. I played on the wing on some teams in the past before coming to Québec, and it’s obviously much harder to make it as a centre in the NHL. I wouldn’t mind switching to the wing at all, it’d be a new challenge which I feel I’d be ready for.”
When I asked Nathan about the thing he’s most looking forward to work on in the offseason, Gaucher surprised me with his response:
“I’m excited to wait and see what my team will tell me about that — there’s a lot of details they’ll mention which could open my eyes up a bit to the things that me or my coaches won’t have identified. Working on those aspects in the summer and making a good first impression at training camp are my priorities.”
He mentioned developing his power-forward game by spending a lot of time in the gym and putting in the work to be the strongest guy on the ice, as well as fitting his style to the type of person he is:
“It’s in me — it’s the fact that I like to compete.”
When I asked him about which part of his game improved the most over the past year, he answered:
“I think it’s being more mature, being more in control. Sometimes I’m just 110% all the time always being on the go, but just reading the game, helping my teammates, being more patient and mature in my game.”
I then asked him which players he likes to watch and emulate, and he responded by mentioning Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron, and Chris Kreider.
Cooley was asked whether he thinks he can make an immediate impact in the NHL:
“The team that picks me will see what the best fit is for me, but I think I have the skills, and the work ethic and compete to do it.”
When asked about Montreal potentially selecting him:
“They have a great future and I’d love to be a part of that too. I know they have a lot of centre depth and I’m a guy who wants to play centre too, but I think wherever they think there’s a fit [on their roster] I’d be glad to do it.”
Logan Cooley is just out here breaking ankles and sending opponents to a galaxy far far away, good lord.— Sebastian High (@high_sebastian) June 21, 2022
He's such a gifted and dynamic player, could very well finish at 3 on my board this year, but my players at 1 and 2 are cemented pic.twitter.com/1OhgQFgSx5
I asked him which of his teammates he thinks is undervalued for this upcoming draft, and without hesitation, Cooley immediately mentioned Cole Spicer.
“He didn’t have the 17 year that he wanted to, but he bounced back really [well]. He was a good third line centre for us, played both sides of the puck. I think he’s a really good player who could be a steal in the draft.”
When asked about GM Kent Hughes’ comments about wanting the player with the highest potential, Cooley responded:
“I think I’ve continued to get stronger and put on weight. I think I have a high ceiling. I think with the way I’ve grown over the past year, that seems to lean towards me, but he wants who he wants and we’ll see.”
He was told about Slafkovsky seeing himself as a fit next to Nick Suzuki, and was asked where he thinks he’d fit in with the Habs:
“I think a fellow NTDP guy like Cole Caufield, I obviously wouldn’t mind playing with him. Obviously he’s a goal-scorer, and I’m more of a playmaker and could find him in open ice. I think we’d be a good one-two punch.”
When I asked him what he’s improved the most in the past season, he mentioned his two-way game:
“It’s something I’ve been focusing on a lot. Playing both sides of the puck is really important, especially in the NHL, so I’d definitely say that.”
The time allocated to the media availability was nearing its end, but I managed to sneak into the pile around Cutter Gauthier to catch two questions from other reporters.
First, Gauthier was asked about his relationship with Cooley and responded by describing it as very good.
“I think it grew over the second half of the season, when we were playing together, the way we gelled off the ice I think played a big impact on the ice. I’ve been with him almost every step of the way so far, and it’s been pretty cool to see how we’re both getting all this attention.”
The Scottsdale, Arizona native was then asked about how it would feel to play hockey for the Coyotes if they drafted him:
“That’d be awesome, it’s where I grew up so that’d be pretty cool. Growing up I’d always go to those games, whether it’s watching Shane Doan or taking some lessons down there, it’s been awesome. Scottsdale’s been part of it every step of the way, whether it’s going back and visiting, having those memories and friends, playing hockey out there, it’s cool.”