Recapping Our Draft Philosophy
Fans of this series from last year will be familiar with my approach to the NHL Draft. For those unfamiliar, I'll summarize the key points that will build the foundation for our approach to the 2022 draft:
Scouts seem to do a better job of identifying elite forwards compared to elite defensemen (particularly early in the draft), although the gap appears to be closing significantly in recent years.
Given that elite defensemen are extraordinarily difficult to acquire outside of the draft, my department will have a slight bias toward defensemen over forwards with a lottery pick (assuming a comparable talent level).
Elite goalies are difficult to identify at the time of the draft, and history suggests that there is plenty of goaltending talent available toward the end of the draft (in addition to undrafted players and unrestricted free agents).
Drafting for "need" on the current roster is overemphasized, as a majority of players outside of the first round will take three to five years before cracking the NHL, if they even make it. A better approach is to draft based on the best player available in combination with depth at the position in the current prospect pool.
The value of a draft pick drops off dramatically. The difference in draft pick value between the 1st overall pick and the 4th overall pick is the same as the difference between the 4th overall pick and the 116th overall pick.
No scouting staff has consistently separated itself as "head and shoulders" better at identifying the best player available at a given draft slot. The best teams instead opt for quantity over quality to provide their development staff with the most opportunities.
On average, ~50% of players selected in the draft will play at least one NHL game. While the best opportunity to land one of those ~100 players is in the first round, having multiple later round picks increases the likelihood that you'll land other potential NHL players.
For more details on how I arrived at those specific tenets, please visit the link above from last year describing my approach in full.
2022 NHL Draft Rankings
Shifting into the players available in this year's draft...let's just say that this draft has the potential to be one of the most chaotic in recent memory. With the COVID-19 pandemic stripping away seasons and tournaments from these players in their "draft minus 2" (denoted as "draft-2") and draft-1 years, scouts have not had the same opportunity to view these players as in past years. Nowhere is this more evident than in reviewing the rankings from the top public scouts/organizations. In the 11 scouting outlets I reviewed, a total of 55 players received a ranking in the top-32. One player was ranked 17th in one ranking and 114th in another!
Using rankings from the following individuals/organizations, I generated a "consolidated' draft ranking list. I selected the following outlets because they are attempts at ranking the players based on perceived skill and not necessarily projecting where they might go based on inside information, thus the omission of Bob McKenzie's list in this exercise. The outlets included are as follows (listed alphabetically)
Craig Button - TSN (May 2022 ranking)
Sam Cosentino - Sportsnet (April 2022 ranking)
Dobber Prospects (April 2022 rankings)
Elite Prospects (May 2022 rankings)
FC Hockey (Spring 2022 rankings)
Tony Ferrari - THN (May 2022 rankings)
McKeens (Midseason rankings)
Corey Pronman - The Athletic (May 2022 rankings)
Will Scouch - Scouching (April 2022 rankings)
Smaht Scouting (May 2022 rankings)
Scott Wheeler (February 2022 rankings)
In the graphic above, the gold dot represents the average ranking for the player and the blue dots are each of the individual rankings. If a player was not ranked in the ranking from an outlet, they were assigned the next draft slot for the purpose of calculating an average (e.g. if the outlet only ranked 32 players and the player was not ranked, they were assigned 33rd).
What stands out from this graphic is that aside from the top-seven players listed here...it's anyone's guess as to who goes next and in what order. And while McKenzie's list tends to be the best representation of the potential order of players, particularly in the first round, McKenzie has not published his final rankings yet. Thus, we will operate on the assumption that the Wings will not have the opportunity to select Shane Wright, Logan Cooley, David Jiricek, Simon Nemec, Juraj Slafkovsky, Matthew Savoie, or Joakim Kemell. That could certainly change on draft night as teams hone in on the players they like the most but for our purpose, I believe that removing those seven players offers the most realistic scenario for Detroit at 8th overall. With that being said, let's discuss the merits & risks of trading up, trading down, and staying at 8th overall before we make our pick.
Given the "set" nature of the top-7 in the consolidated rankings, there is an allure to trading up to acquire one of the top centers or defensemen. Recently, there have been two teams ahead of Detroit that are rumored to be shopping their pick. Prior to the lottery, New Jersey Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald hinted that he would shop his first round pick for an "impact player". Now, this was stated prior to the Devils winning the 2nd overall pick in the lottery so things may have changed, but for our purpose we will pretend that the pick is still available. Similarly, Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion suggested that the 7th overall pick could be in play for an "impact player". Both of these situations would offer the Red Wings the opportunity to land one of the so-called "top-7" players in this draft. Let's examine what a fair deal for both of these picks would look like.
Whenever it comes to trading draft picks and prospects, the biggest challenge is placing everything on the same value scale so that it can be compared properly. In order to do this, Dom Luszczyszyn and I created the NHL Trade Machine, which attempts to place draft picks, prospects, and active skaters on the same value scale, Game Score Value Added (GSVA). While there are a number of limitations to the trade machine, it does provide us with a rough estimate of fair value for trades. Keep in mind, though, that the market value will likely differ from "fair value" given that each organization uses a different value system. With those caveats in place, let's examine mock trades for both of these picks.
Addressing Ottawa's request for an "impact player" ties our hands a bit. Clearly Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond are untouchables. Dylan Larkin is about as close to an untouchable as you can be without being in the same tier as Raymond and Seider, simply because he's a few years older. That leaves us with Tyler Bertuzzi, Jakub Vrána, and Filip Hronek as impact players that have some value on the trade market. Of those three, I believe Bertuzzi would be the most palatable to move, as he's the oldest, has one year remaining on his contract, and appears to be highly valued across the league for his style of play. Obviously, we don't know how his lack of vaccination for COVID-19 will factor into a potential deal, but assuming that it's a non-issue moving forward, the trade machine would consider this deal as fair value for 7th overall.
The biggest limiting factor with trading Bertuzzi is that he's under contract for only one more year and will be an unrestricted free agent afterwards. A team that parts with significant pieces for him would likely want to ensure that they have him for more than one year. However, Bertuzzi is not eligible to sign an extension until July 13th, a week after the NHL Draft. Thus, unless Ottawa has a verbal agreement on an extension in place prior to the deal, the Wings will likely have to add pieces to entice Ottawa to part with the 7th overall pick (assuming they intend to keep the 8th overall pick).
On the surface, my gut tells me that the Red Wings would not pay this price to add the 7th overall pick. My mind would also agree as I believe having additional "darts" to throw at the draft board this year will be more helpful than ever with less certainty in the top prospects. If Ottawa and Bertuzzi were to agree to an extension at, let's say $6.7 million AAV x 4 years (the Evolving-Hockey prediction for Bertuzzi), the trade would then look more reasonable as a one-for-one from Ottawa's perspective.
However, I believe that a trade constructed on a handshake agreement for an extension in Ottawa is a little too farfetched and thus I'm going to set aside this scenario. Revisiting the prior scenario, the Wings could certainly sub in prospects for those 2022 2nd round picks if that were desired. Comparable prospects to a 2nd round pick would be Joe Veleno, Jonatan Berggren, and Albert Johansson. Again, I don't think it would behoove Detroit to part with good prospect depth when help is needed all throughout the roster. Finally, it's important to note that this trade is considering fair value for fair value without regard to market value when trading up. Prior work from Eric Tulsky suggests that the market value exceeds fair value when trading up at the draft.
In order to land the 7th overall pick, Detroit would have to trade the 40th pick, the 52nd pick, and a player/prospect worth approximately the 14th overall pick. Bertuzzi without a contract extension is valued at approximately the 28th overall pick. So again the Wings would likely have to do more than the proposed trade above to land the 7th overall pick. Thus, I don't think a palatable trade exists with Ottawa to move up to 7th.
The New Jersey scenario is a bit more interesting. For starters, it offers Detroit the opportunity to draft who they perceive to be the best defenseman or the second-best forward after Shane Wright. That choice likely is between Logan Cooley, Juraj Slafkovsky, David Jiricek, and Simon Nemec. Given the holes Detroit has at center, I suspect they'd favor Cooley, a player that projects to be a top of the lineup player. Let's start by putting together a fair value package for the 2nd overall pick.
On the surface, this seems like a steep price to pay in order to move up six slots and this is only considering fair value. Per Tulsky's market value chart, the Wings would have to move the 8th overall pick and the equivalent of the 13th overall pick to "match" the value of the 2nd overall pick. We've already discussed how Tyler Bertuzzi's value is approximately that of the 28th overall pick so in all actuality, the Wings would likely be adding more than the above trade to make it work. All of this being said, the mechanics of a trade-up situation don't make sense in my opinion. When you factor in that some scouts say that the difference at the top of the draft is smaller than in most years along with the relative uncertainty surrounding these players, I think a trade up situation does not make sense for the Red Wings.
What about trading down? Setting aside situations like Detroit/Sebastian Cossa last year where they moved up to draft a specific player that was sliding, there are eight teams without a 1st round pick this year: Boston, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Colorado, Florida, New York Rangers, and Vegas. Of those eight teams, there are two that I think would be most interested in moving into the first round: Chicago and Vegas. The Blackhawks moved their 1st round pick in the deal for Seth Jones and Vegas moved theirs in the deal for Jack Eichel. Vegas in particular has very little cap space to work with and may be interested in trading up to shed salary and potentially add a roster player on an entry-level contract. One interesting proposal involves a couple of restricted free agents. Vegas has two restricted free agents that will require salary increases in Nic Hague and Nicolas Roy. Hague is a 23-year-old top-four left shot defenseman and Roy is a 25-year-old third-line center. Using their projected contracts from Evolving-Hockey, I mocked what a potential trade would look like centering around those pieces.
This deal would allow Detroit to solidify two spots in their lineup that were subpar last year (3rd line center, 2nd pairing left defenseman) while adding a third 2nd round pick in this year's draft and another early-round pick in the 2023 draft. My gut is that Detroit would not want to pass up on the opportunity to take their choice of player in the top-10 of this year's draft and thus I think they would pass on this deal. However, it's an interesting type of deal to consider for Detroit as they look to fix so many gaps in the roster.
Ultimately, I think Detroit stays put unless a team makes an offer above Tulsky's market value that's too good to pass up. It'd have to be a deal such as Columbus offering 12, 44, and a 2023 2nd, or something out of left field if a specific player starts slipping that a team below them covets. With that being said, let's talk about the guys from the consolidated rankings that I think make the most sense for Detroit to consider at 8th overall. Again, we'll set aside the top-seven players discussed earlier. In my opinion, there are ten players that merit consideration at the 8th overall pick:
We'll examine them in two groups - the North American players and the European players, based on the available data quality we have for those two regions. For the North American players, we'll take a deeper dive using Mitchell Brown's tracking data. For the European players, we'll utilize Daniel Weinberger's WAR model to make comparisons.
Starting with the North American players, here's a quick snapshot of how each of the six players performed relative to players at their position in their respective leagues.
The three forwards each have the potential to play center at the NHL level, but also have a significant question mark surrounding them. For Nazar, it's his size and ability to impose his style of play in the face of more physicality. For Gauthier, there were early season questions about his playmaking ability. For Geekie, there's the question of whether he has the footspeed to play center at the NHL level. However, all three are attractive options for the Red Wings as they look to identify a future 2nd-line center that can play behind Larkin. In my opinion, I'm most impressed with Nazar's relentless attacking of the dangerous areas of the ice. From Cam Robinson's video scouting report of Nazar, he noted that over the last two seasons, 76.2% of his shot attempts came from the "home plate area", an area widely regarded to be the most dangerous scoring area.
It's clear that Nazar has all the tools to succeed - the question comes down to whether or not the 5'9" center will be able to impose his game at the next level or if he'll be forced to move to the wing. Regardless, Nazar is exactly the type of "swing for the fences" player the Wings should be looking at as there are not many players in the draft with his toolkit and drive.
Among the defensemen, I'm most intrigued by Pavel Mintyukov's game. After losing his entire D-1 season with the OHL 2020-21 season cancellation, Mintyukov led all first-year draft-eligible defensemen in goals and points. Mintyukov is a dynamic skater that presses offensively and is constantly looking for opportunities to lead the breakout. Some feel that he has the potential to be the best defenseman from this draft class. Mateychuk is in a similar mold, a defenseman always looking to activate the rush. Brown called Mateychuk "the most activation-focused defenseman not named Owen Power in recent years". Scouting reports suggest he's not quite as good with the puck as Mintyukov which gives him the edge for me. Finally, Korchinski is less refined than both Mintyukov and Mateychuk but possesses an incredible amount of skill that leads to a "high-risk/high-reward" playing style. I can see the allure to that type of player but I'm not sold on him relative to the other two.
Of the North American skaters, I would rank my preference for them as:
Shifting over to Europe, we change our data set to Weinberger's to take a closer look at the prospects.
One of the biggest challenges with evaluating the European prospects is that they often have much less ice time, as they are playing in a men's league. Seider famously played 11 minutes per night at 5v5 in his draft year, which significantly impacted the scouting reports on him. Thus, turning to more advanced analytical data accounting for usage, competition, and teammates (among other variables) may help us tease out the relative impacts of each of these players.
The player that stands out the most to me from this data (and my research) is Marco Kasper. Kasper has a good shot, great motor, and plays a solid north-south game that will endear himself to many NHL front offices. While he didn't score a ton in the regular season (nine even strength points in 46 games), he found his scoring touch in the playoffs notching six points in 13 games for Rögle. If Kasper can consistently attack the net the way he did in the SHL, I firmly believe he can be a 2nd line center in the NHL.
Aside from Kasper, both Yurov and Lambert have significant question marks surrounding them despite their immense talent. Yurov saw very little playing time in the KHL this season and there are significant concerns about the ability to bring the KHL players over to North America, which may increase the risk associated with taking him at 8th. Lambert, once widely considered a "can't miss" prospect in this draft, has seen his stock fall dramatically as he moved from team-to-team to team in Liiga without ever putting it all together. He's the best skater in this draft with some of the best hands, but it remains to be seen if he can bring his game together. Finally, Lekkerimäki seems to be a little more offensively gifted than Kasper but doesn't attack the middle of the ice as consistently as Kasper. Thus, I'd rank the European prospects as follows:
Combining both lists together, my "draft board" for eighth overall would go as follows (assuming the seven guys we mentioned aren't available):
Thus, I will plan on selecting Frank Nazar at 8th overall for the Detroit Red Wings. As for the rest of the first three rounds, I conducted a mock draft using FC Hockey's Mock Draft Simulator with the following results:
After Nazar, Firkus is another player with incredible skill as he was named MVP of the CHL Top Prospects Game this past year. Some may overlook him because of his size at just under 5'10", but he has excellent puck skills, attacks defenders, and generates high quality scoring chances at a high rate. Sam Rinzel is a 6'4" defenseman with all of the tools. He's a good skater, pushes the play well, and is one of the youngest players in the draft with a June birthday. Given Detroit's recent success in developing defensemen, he's a guy I'd take a shot on. Finally, Reid Schaefer is a guy who's flown a bit under the radar in the WHL but from Brown's tracking data, Schaefer had a 60.2% 5v5 CF% and ranked 2nd in xG/60 & shots/60. He has a well-rounded game that I think gives him a floor of a bottom-six winger at worst.
With that, we conclude our look at the 2022 NHL Draft. Part 4 will cover what it would look like to "re-rebuild".