2022 NHL Draft

2022 World Juniors: Draft Prospects Recap (Day One)

Steve Kournianos  |  12/27/2021 |  Nashville 

Photo: Leijonat

Brad Lambert, RW (Finland)

Lambert (pictured) is playing in his second world junior tournament, although this year’s edition is smack in the middle of an ever-important draft year that hasn’t been as hunky-dory as anticipated. His early-season struggles with scoring while playing for JyP in Finland’s SM-Liiga can be attributed to bad puck luck over anything else, but you have to think the kid would like use this year’s world juniors as a springboard to a strong second half in league play and subsequently, a top-five selection at the NHL draft. Lambert’s play in Sunday’s win over Germany was a good start towards those objectives, as he drew primary 5-on-5 assists on two of Finland’s three goals; one which opened the scoring while the other extended the lead to 3-1. He was flying from the onset, slicing through neutral-zone traffic and entering the zone cleanly while forcing defenders to back off. Lambert deservedly was named Finland’s best player, and his assist to Samuel Helenius on the 3-1 goal was a thing of beauty. He was quick, engaged, and smart during his 12:19 of ice time.

Joakim Kemell, RW (Finland)

One of the more surprising developments during the first half of the 2022 draft season was Kemell’s domination of the SM-Liiga while outplaying and outproducing highly-touted JyP teammate Brad Lambert in the process. Kemell’s impressive run came to a halt thanks to an upper-body injury that cost him the entire month of November, but he recovered in time to shake off the rust an attend Finland’s camp for the world juniors. Although the return of 2020 NHL draftees Kasper Simontaival and Roni Hirvonen all but guaranteed that Kemmel wasn’t going to play on the top line, it remained reasonable that he would be featured prominently at even strength with an added role on special teams.

IN Sunday’s win over Germany, Kemell was not his typical crash-and-bang self but did have several chances from rpime scoring areas. His 12:51 of ice time ranked ninth among Finnish forwards and Kemmel played only 3:09 in the third period. Kemmel didn’t register a shot on goal but he attempted a wrister from the high slot in the first period that missed the net by five feet and later had a high-danger chance blocked by the defense. Considering his injury likely was the result of a hard hit he delivered during league play, it’s understandable if he’s being advised to hit less and focus more on positioning and skill plays.

Danila Yurov, RW (Russia)

Yurov is this year’s edition of the top Russian draft prospect who is too good for the junior league but plays less than two or three minutes a game in the KHL, which also means he likely would assume a depth role at the world junior tournament. As frustrating as an incomplete sample size can be for talent evaluators, the reality is that Yurov already has delivered several dominant performances at the under-17 and under-18 levels, and there was a chance that Russia would summon him (and his elite shot) to assist in the goal-scoring department. On Sunday, Yurov was slotted on what one would consider a checking line since his linemates were defenisve-minded centers Dmitry Zlodeyev and Vasily Ponomaryov.

Although he played less than four minutes in each of the three periods, Yurov did receive a regular shift, which was a rarity for first-year draft eligibles when Team Russia was coached by Valeri Bragin. But current head coach Sergei Zubov appeared to trust Yurov with ice time, especially after Russia found itself trailing early. Yurov in limited time was able to showcase his shiftiness and heady puck control in tight areas, but he also was positioned properly while keeping his head on a swivel and stick blade firmly planted on the ice. Yurov picked off passes, pressured the puck, and fought hard in the corners. He didn’t factor in the scoring and registered only one shot, but it was Yurov who stood up for a teammate who was drilled into the boards by Leo Loof, costing him two minutes for roughing. He took another penalty coming out of the box, however, and the Swedes scored on the ensuing power play.

Vladimir Grudinin, LHD (Russia)

The Russians usually don’t add 18-year-old defenders to their world juniors’ roster unless they plan on playing them, which was exactly the case last tournament with eventual Kings’ draft pick Kirill Kirsanov. Grudinin may very well be this year’s version of Kirsanov — a fifth or sixth defenseman on the depth chart who has the skill and smarts to play his way into a prominent role. Grudinin is a smooth customer who’s already experienced the KHL spotlight, and he also was one of Russia’s best defensemen at the under-18 world championship seven months ago. In Red Deer on Sunday, Grudinin was slotted on the middle pairing and it’s no coincidence that he wasn’t on the ice for any of Sweden’s six goals (three of which came on the power play) despite playing over 18 minutes. On the puck, Grudinin was his typical calm self, using his feet and hands to change direction and shield the puck effectively when forecheck pressure got right up in his face. His skating is more east-west than north-south but he joined the rush and even went to the net on one occasion. Grudinin is a tough player, but he was obliterated along the boards by Leo Loof which prompted teammate Danila Yurov to come to his defense.

Logan Cooley, C (United States)

Cooley is one of several top prospects from the under-18 NTDP who are expected to go in the first round of the draft, although he’s the one favored to be selected ahead of his teammates and also go within the first five selections. My reaction to his addition to the final U.S. roster was relief; not because he’s a high-ranking stud who I’ve covered for some time, but for his ability to make the American lineup more dangerous and improve their chances of repeating as champions. This year’s NTDP are a ton of fun to watch, and it’s true that they have skill and firepower up and down that lineup. But Cooley, a Pittsburgh native committed to Notre Dame, is the most complete, and his versatility, quick wits, and speed make him an effective option in any situation.

Being the youngest skater on the roster by nearly a year made Cooley a safe bet to occupy a fourth-line role, but he was used frequently and equally as a third-line center in each of the three periods in Sunday’s 3-2 win over stubborn Slovakia. His 15:23 of ice time was fourth among Team USA forwards and Cooley went 6-for-11 on draws.  But it was his sweet look-off assist on a bullet shot from Matthew Knies during a scoreless first period that not only opened the scoring but also took away Slovakia’s momentum. Cooley is perfect for this team — a fast, in-your-face competitor with premier puck skills and a winning attitude.

Juraj Slafkovsky, RW (Slovakia)

Slafkovsky is one of my favorite players in this draft, which puts him in line for one of my favorite draft prospects of all time. Part of my reasoning is that I love watching him play, and I’ve already confirmed that I’ve got more notes and footage on Slafkovsky than any of his peers from the 2004 year group. I also believe he’s ready for an understudy role in the NHL as we speak, and it has little to do with his massive frame. Yes, there were periods in Sunday’s game against the Americans when the Slovaks were holding on for dear life, albeit mostly during the second period of what became a 3-2 loss. But Slafkovsky was a sort of calming presence when Slovakia desperately needed one, and his footwork, quick thinking, and hands single-handedly created their best scoring chance when they were down 3-0 late in the middle frame. He was using his wide frame and long reach to win battles along the boards, but he also feathered accurate passes while being hounded in traffic. Obviously you want your top-line winger to generate more than one shot in 19:15 of ice time, but Slafkovsky is a creative playmaker for his linemates who can be effective and impressive without always denting the scoresheet.

Filip Mesar, RW (Slovakia)

Mesar is a slippery sidewinder who has been Juraj Slafkovsky’s linemate at several international tournaments, and the duo were reunited for Sunday’s match against the Americans on what one could consider Slovakia’s top line. He’s fast, fearless, and decisive, which can explain why Mesar played close to 18 minutes and was given opportunities on key offensive-zone draws and on the power play. These Slovaks love shooting off the pass, and few in this draft class (and possibly the entire world juniors) can do it as accurately as Mesar. I always find it interesting that Slafkovsky is a left shot on the right wing while Mesar is a right shot positioned on the left. This wasn’t always the case against Team USA, but Mesar knew exactly where to position himself and continued his trend of finding soft spots in opposing coverage. He had a glorious chance in the first period on the power play and an even better look alone in front via a soft dish from Slafkovsky.

Simon Nemec, RHD (Slovakia)

There’s probably a hearty debate between actual NHL scouts as to whom is the better Slovakian draft prospect — power winger Juraj Slafkovsky or Nemec, the smooth-skating two-way defender who has earned a strong reputation as a reliable blueliner in Slovakia’s adult-age Tipos Extraliga. Nemec, much like Slafkovsky, came into the tournament as a virtual lock for the top 10 of the 2022 draft, and the Slovaks’ defense corps was going to rely on him to eat the most minutes and quarterback their power play. Opening any tournament against a powerhouse like the United States can be a sobering experience for a prospect from a non-traditional hockey power, but Nemec, along with the several of his Slovakian mates, had already beaten the Americans quite handedly at last summer’s under-18 Ivan Hlinka. Of course, Sunday’s matchup was going to be different, mostly because the Slovaks are using more 18-year-olds while the U.S. iced a legitimate best-on-best roster of top-flight kids in their last year of world juniors eligibility.

Nemec’s transition game is elite, and he handled the intense forecheck pressure as well as any defenseman with his role and responsibility could have. Nemec also did applaudable work covering the front of the net while battling for positioning. He was used on both the power play and penalty kill, although the Slovaks couldn’t solve U.S. goalie Drew Commesso on either of their early man-advantages early in the first period (one of which was drawn by Nemec). He posted a game-high 22:43 of ice time and tallied a secondary assist late in the third period via a neat give-and-go with center Olekskiy Myklukha. Nemec did have a bit of a scary moment in the second period when he completely absorbed the force of a Matt Beniers slapper up high, but he quickly bounced back and showed no aftereffects.

Shane Wright, C (Canada)

The consensus top pick for the 2022 draft was invisible outside of his face-off success and a sharp-angle wrister from the right circle. He centered talented 2023 draft phenom Connor Bedard but there wasn’t much being generated in terms of chances and clean hand offs from cycle play, which wasn’t the case when they were driving their respective lines at last April’s under-18 world championship. Although Wright was not expected to carry a Canadian roster that features defenseman Owen Power, and forwards Mason McTavish and Cole Perfetti, there are unwritten requirements for presumptive top draft picks when they play under the bright lights of this particular tournament; more so than the U18 Ivan Hlinka in August or the aforementioned U18 world championship.

The biggest issue with Wright in this particular game, however, was his lack of intensity, which rarely is the case in OHL play. He wasn’t moving his feet; nor did he finish any checks or outmuscle opponents along the boards. In fact, there was no noticeable battle level, and Wright seemed comfortable letting his linemates dictate pace and set the conditions for successful entries and follow-on chances. One particular play in the third period that was disconcerting was seeing Wright barely winning a footrace against bigger defenseman David Moravec, only to lag behind on the backcheck and miss a chance to cover an open man who nearly pounced on a loose puck in the crease.

David Jiricek, RHD (Czech Republic)

This wasn’t Jiricek’s first rodeo as the Czech Republic’s top dog on its blue line, but it certainly may have been one of his most forgettable. He had a decent opening period on what you would call the Czechs’ second pairing, as Jiricek picked up a quality primary assist via a seam pass that winger Jakub Novak one-timed home for a 2-1 lead. Unfortunately, Jiricek’s evenening — and potentially his entire tournament — came to an end early into the middle frame following a huge open-ice collision with fellow bruiser Will Cuylle. Jiricek crumpled to the ice, where he stayed until he teammates had to help him to the dressing room while favoring his left leg. A serious injury may not impact his draft stock, but Jiricek was expected to play at least 20 minutes a match for the Czechs, who came into the tournament without winning a medal of any kind since 2005.

Jiri Kulich, LW (Czech Republic)

A speedy sniper with good finishing ability, Kulich and right wing Jakub Brabenec (a natural center) flanked pivot Michal Gut to form an effective scoring line. It was Kulich who kickstarted the breakout that lead to Gut’s 2-on-1 goal that tied the score at one in the first period, but he displayed thereafter his physical side, highlighted by a solid checking job on Mason McTavish in the third period that he finished with a solid hit into the end boards. He later produced an impressive shift on the top power-play unit by speeding into the zone cleanly, then working the puck around the horn with authority before stepping into a nasty right-circle wrister that Dylan Garand barely handled. If there was a visible blemish on Kulich’s evening, it was a third-period hooking that led to an Olen Zellweger power-play goal.