Elite Prospects has developed a reputation as a tremendous source of scouting knowledge about each year’s draft class, and their annual draft guide is a must read. In the latest episode of Habsent Minded, Elite Prospects writer and Eyes On The Prize alumnus David St-Louis joins host Patrik Bexell to discuss the 2022 NHL Entry Draft class.
Patrik Bexell, European Correspondent: We first had David St-Louis on the podcast about five years ago, to discuss that year’s draft. I’ve been asking for a repeat appearance ever since—and so has the audience. I’ve finally managed to trick David into joining us once again, this time, to look at what the Montreal Canadiens should do with the first overall selection.
David, your work—and that of the whole Elite Prospects team—is incredible, and it shows in the Draft Guide that was just released [on June 15th]. It’s an absolute treasure.
David St-Louis, Elite Prospects NHL and Prospects Writer: Thank you. I’m really happy to be here. I don’t do a lot of podcasts, but if you ask me for a while, I usually say yes. (chuckles) I’d say five years is about the timeframe.
Patrik: We’re going to pick your brain for a little bit. In Montreal’s situation, we’ve had advocates for and rumours about [Juraj] Slafkovský, [Logan] Cooley, and even Elite Prospects has [David Jiříček] in second. But through all of it, Shane Wright still seems to be the clear number one overall pick, right?
David: Yes. He still is for us. The way we do our ranking is we all vote on the top 10 prospects, and every time [throughout the year] that we did that exercise, Shane Wright came out on top. So naturally, he is our clear number one. There was a time that [Wright’s position] was more up for debate, but that was from November to January. After that period, Wright’s performance picked up and there wasn’t anyone who was able to challenge him.
We discussed other players. We discussed Slafkovský, Jiříček (but then he got injured), but Shane Wright was the only one who was always in the conversation. I think we’re surer about Wright than other outlets — not that they’re not justified in their rankings and their decision to have other people in that first overall position — just, for us, it was pretty clearly Shane Wright.
Patrik: What makes Shane Wright the first overall pick?
David: He has a complete game, he has the most upside, and he comes with the most certainty in this draft class. Yes, he’s a centre, so there’s a bit of added value from his position, but we didn’t emphasize that too much. These things in themselves make it easy for us to place him at number one, but beyond that, he also has a lot of skill. Even in terms of skill alone, he beats a lot of players in this draft class. We project that his skating, puckhandling, and shot will all be above NHL-average after five years, so I think he’ll be a scorer. Add to that his defensive game and his offensive awareness, and he really is the complete package.
The really special thing that sets him apart from the others is his off-puck game. He’s the best in this draft class when it comes to the ability to position himself, to anticipate puck rotations, to anticipate both teammate and opposition movements. This lets him support teammates and kill opposition plays. His hockey sense was scored the highest in this draft class, and that refers to his anticipation, his ability to process the play, and his ability to adapt and pressure. That hockey sense, coupled with his above average physical skills, that’s a pretty safe bet.
Patrik: A lot of the other top-ranked players in this year’s draft class have the option to play in top-tier professional leagues other than the NHL if they don’t make the NHL. Wright, on the other hand, only has the NHL or the CHL as options. Will that hurt him, whether because it slows down his development or because teams may prefer prospects with a more immediate impact?
David: It’s hard to predict, but I don’t think it matters too much. Wright, as an NHLer next season, really only has to learn how to play at an NHL pace. A lot of people have talked about Wright’s “motor” and his pace of play, and it’s the same thing that people said about Nick Suzuki. That’s the only thing that Wright will have to learn when he gets to the NHL because the rest of his game is pretty much NHL-ready, and that he was playing a type of game, at the end of this season, that would work in the NHL. If he does join the NHL next year, I’m not sure if he’s going to produce a lot or not, but I’m not worried about his ability to survive, and even thrive in some games against weaker lineups.
Slafkovský, he really thrives when the team revolves around him; when he gets 20 minutes a night and a lot of puck touches, when he’s used as the main forward on the team—the [puck carrying] forward. We saw that at the World Championships [with Slovakia], but he’s not going to get that in the NHL in the first year, and I think that’s my real issue with him. He has the physicality, he can play system hockey, he can sit in front of the net and wreak havoc and screen the goalie, he can play on the boards, and his passing game is good enough to be an NHLer in year one. But he’s not as adaptable as Shane Wright. He’s going to need a proper setup for him to succeed. Looking at what we know about [Montreal’s] trajectory for next year, I’m not sure that he’s going to get [that setup] from the start.
Ultimately, I think you can make cases for both Wright and Slafkovský being NHL-ready. But back to Wright, he could still go back to junior and it would be useful developmentally because he does need to work on being the main play creator—that is, taking a page out of Slafkovský’s playbook, taking the puck and really taking charge, learning to manipulate defenders, and creating plays for his teammates even more, kind of like Nick Suzuki does. He does all these things, but not as consistently as he could, and that extra year in the OHL could really help teach him in that regard.
Keep your eyes peeled for part two, coming soon, when Patrik and David discuss the other key names at the top of the draft rankings, including a pair of Central European defenders and this year’s top prospect from the USHL.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and length. The full, unedited conversation that serves as the source for all of the parts is available below.