Pete’s Pond: My first round picks if I was the GM of every NHL team

Peter Piekarski, Staff Writer

While mock drafts are supposed to be geared towards accuracy, I focused more on what I think would be the best pick for each team once it’s their turn on the clock. With just hours before the draft begins, a smokescreen is still being used by the Montreal Canadiens for the first overall selection, so this top-five could shape up very differently based on what Kent Hughes decides is the right direction for his franchise.

Now, let’s get this mock draft rolling.


1. Montreal Canadiens select: Shane Wright, C, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) 

Despite all the last-minute hoorah over Juraj Slafkovsky, Wright not only deserves to be the first overall selection, but it’s the only correct pick to make for Montreal. The Canadiens’ center depth is barren, even among their prospects. Wright would have an immediate chance to develop in the NHL with his game being the best overall in the class. He touts all the necessary skills to be a top-line center.

2. New Jersey Devils select: Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, TPS (Liiga)

One of two things happen with this pick, either New Jersey takes Slafkovsky to bolster the left wing, or it gets traded. I anticipate that the Devils go with Slafkovsky to give their young forward corps another offensive weapon. While his play in the Liiga did not live up to the hype, Slafkovsky’s subsequent domination on the international stage showed the world how good he can be. He just needs to prove he can perform at a consistent rate.

3. Arizona Coyotes select: Logan Cooley, C, U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)

This could be a potential franchise center for the Coyotes to rebuild around. Cooley is an explosive dynamo with an elite shot, playmaking ability, stick handling and offensive IQ. He’s a highlight reel machine that can produce at even strength, on the rush and on the power play. Cooley is the first step in a very successful draft for Arizona, which doesn’t seem to happen very often for this organization.

4. Seattle Kraken select: Simon Nemec, RHD, HK Nitra (Slovakia)

The first defenseman off the board is a right-hander that dominates on the offensive side of the game, which seems to be a theme for most of the top-end defensive prospects. What separates Nemec from the rest of his class is how good his defensive game is. He plays terrific two-way hockey, highlighted by his incredibly smooth skating and hands. If he can add some snarl to his defensive game, he’ll be a stud top-line defenseman.

HC Škoda Plzeň

5. Philadelphia Flyers select: David Jiricek, RHD, HC Plzen (Czechia)

Philadelphia may trade this pick in an attempt to secure a top-line winger. Regardless, no defenseman in the draft has a shot comparable to Jiricek, who can wire a wrister or bomb a slapshot past any goalie. His skillset with the puck is NHL-ready. The only thing preventing him from becoming a top pair defender is his skating mechanics and defensive awareness. He needs to smooth out his choppy skating form and play a tighter gap against opponents in his own end. His anticipation to intercept passes masks his positional play.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets select: Frank Nazar, C/RW, U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)

I think Nazar is the most exciting player to come out of the draft. He’s accompanied by a great shot, passing/playmaking ability and spatial awareness. Between his acceleration and top speed, Nazar is arguably the best skater in the class. His flaws are being too fancy with the puck on his stick and a lack of consistency winning puck battles to either maintain possession or clear the zone. If he develops a stronger sense of urgency, he can blossom into a franchise-level player.

7. Ottawa Senators select: Cutter Gauthier, C/LW, U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)

This pick continues to be a question mark as the Senators have yet to lock up budding star center Josh Norris. If Ottawa does expect to ink a long-term extension, then drafting another center behind Norris and Tim Stutzle could create a log jam. Thus, Gauthier is the perfect fit for Ottawa to develop on the wing. He has a big frame, measuring in at six-foot-three and over 200 lbs. He also possesses a powerful shot and is a very good skater. A one-two punch of Brady Tkachuk and Gauthier on the left-wing could be a problem for opposing defenders.

8. Detroit Red Wings select: Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg ICE (WHL)

Outside of Dylan Larkin, the Red Wings center situation is quite miserable. Steve Yzerman is well-known for drafting undersized forwards that turn into eventual steals. This adds up with bringing in Savoie who is listed at five-foot-nine. Though he may have a small frame, that doesn’t stop him from being a magnet to the net. Savoie is a shifty, speedy skater that likes to drive the net and generate on the rush. His quick shot and passing skills are lethal on the power play.

9. Buffalo Sabres select: Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Djurgardens IF J20 (J20 Nationell)

Buffalo finally lands a much-needed winger. With expectations that the Sabres will extend Victor Olofsson, drafting Lekkerimaki would likely put Alex Tuch at left wing. Coupled with a very young center corps, Lekkerimaki could make an immediate impact with his shoot-first style of play. He’s a pure goal scorer with a deadly shot along with very good acceleration and speed, whilealso being a very positionally-sound defenseman.

Wikimedia Commons

10. Anaheim Ducks select: Joakim Kemell, RW, JYP (Liiga)

Much like Lekkerimaki, Kemell is a right-winger all about shooting the puck. He has a heavy wrist shot and an incredibly accurate one-timer as well. His skating doesn’t blow me away, as the European rinks allow him to utilize wide rushes. That doesn’t mean he’s a poor skater, just lacks the explosiveness of the guys taken before him.

11. San Jose Sharks select: Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg ICE (WHL)

To pair with San Jose’s seventh overall selection in William Eklund last year, the Sharks land a hefty center in Geekie. Though he may not have the quickest first step, he can really move at top speed. He has a very good shot and is an outstanding passer. He reminds me a lot of Kevin Hayes but with a much higher upside.

12. Columbus Blue Jackets select: Kevin Korchinski, LHD, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)

This could be a game-changing pick for Columbus. Korchinski is an offensive wizard that can quarterback the power play and put up big numbers. The downside is his defensive game needs to drastically improve. The Blue Jackets already have a solid blue line headlined by Zach Werenski, but the team doesn’t quite have an elite puck mover for the power play. Korchinski projects to be a Tony DeAngelo prototype, but with a much bigger frame.

13. New York Islanders select: Liam Öhgren, LW, Djurgårdens IF J20 (J20 Nationell)

Nothing about Ohgren comes off as elite talent, but his game is so well-meshed and his knack for finishing is remarkable. He has all the tools to produce in the NHL. I have nothing negative to say about his game and I think he becomes a sleeper pick for the Islanders. He’s NHL ready and joining a veteran-heavy team on Long Island will help his game mature. 

14. Winnipeg Jets select: Pavel Mintyukov, LHD, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)

Similar to Korchinski, Mintyukov is more offensive-oriented, but he has an incredible shot that can be used from anywhere in the zone. His defense still needs to be worked on, but projects to be a well-rounded two-way player. If he can limit turnovers and panic force passes, Mintyukov will fit nicely as a top-four defenseman.

Rögle BK

15. Vancouver Canucks select: Marco Kasper, C, Rögle BK (SHL)

Vancouver could not ask for a better pick. With all the upper echelon of talent on its roster, the Canucks lack that gritty, net-front style player to complement the skill. Kasper is a strong skater with better edgework who is always hovering around the net. His shot is very ordinary but his compete level disguises a lot about his game.

16. Buffalo Sabres select: Jagger Firkus, RW, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)

If this draft was based solely on names, Firkus is a serious contender for first overall. Much like his name, Firkus is a standout flashy type of player. He’s an offensive weapon and the only thing preventing him from translating to the next level is his weight, which comes in at under 160 lbs. It’s tough to compete against guys that have 50 lbs. or more on him. He’s an electric player with a ton of skill, and if he can bulk up, he can be an incredible pick for Buffalo.

17. Nashville Predators select: Noah Östlund, C, Djurgårdens IF J20 (J20 Nationell)

Yet another smaller framed forward with a high skill set. However, Ostlund does not have the explosive skating that his peers do. If he can develop his first step to be more explosive, he’ll likely become a middle-six center at the pro level. Until then, he’ll need to rely on his shiftiness and offensive IQ to climb his way up.

18. Dallas Stars select: Ryan Chesley, RHD, U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)

After the announcement that John Klingberg is likely to test free agency, it’s a no-brainer for Dallas to select a right-handed defenseman. But Chesley’s style is quite a 180 from Klingberg. Chesley is more defensive-oriented, which is rare in his class. He does have some offensive skill, but his game revolves around shutting down the opponent.

19. Minnesota Wild select: Owen Pickering, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)

Pickering has raised his draft stock significantly over the past year, gaining more height and showing his upside as a two-way caliber defender. He’s a strong puck handler and skater who can jump in on offense to produce. His inconsistency at both ends is a bit risky, but he’s a moldable talent.

The Athletic

20. Washington Capitals select: Rutger McGroarty, C, U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)

Another contender for the name of the draft. McGroarty plays a heavy game with a powerful shot. His skating could definitely use some work and may hurt his transcendence to the NHL, but he is a forceful player that could become a complementary piece to a skilled lineup.

21. Pittsburgh Penguins select: Brad Lambert, C/RW, Pelicans (Liiga)

This pick makes too much sense for Pittsburgh. A player that was once thought to be atop the heap in his draft class is now a likely late first-round selection. As Pittsburgh enters an in-between phase of competing and rebuilding, taking a shot on Lambert is a brilliant route to take. He’s a tremendous skater who had experienced a regression in his second season in the Liiga.

22. Anaheim Ducks select: Denton Mateychuk, LHD, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)

This is a bit of a project pick, which isn’t a bad thing in Anaheim’s case. Mateychuk is rough around the edges, with a tendency to make mistakes. He’s a very talented two-way defender that likes to take risks. He’s a very smart player though, especially with the puck on his stick.

23. St. Louis Blues select: Lian Bichsel, D, Leksands IF (SHL)

As the defensive core for St. Louis continues to age, snagging a big, physical defenseman wouldn’t be the worst idea. Bichsel is a unit who likes to throw his weight around. His skating isn’t eye-popping, but his big frame, if taught to be used properly, could become an effective source of defending.

24. Minnesota Wild select: Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Omskie Krylia (VHL)

This is a bit saddening of a pick as Miroshnichenko was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma back in March. He likely would have been a top-10 selection as he wields a wide and advanced skill set. Hopefully, his recovery goes quickly and successfully as he could become an incredible NHL talent.


25. Toronto Maple Leafs select: Isaac Howard, LW, U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)

Howard is another product of a strong USDP team. He’s a dynamic skater with a solid, but inconsistent shot. His decision-making needs to improve along with his all-around game. Howard’s smaller frame doesn’t help his stock, but if he can work on the necessary areas, he could be a diamond in the rough for Toronto.

26. Montreal Canadiens select: Filip Mesar, C/W, HK Poprad (Slovakia)

If Mesar can work on shot selection and limit mistakes and turnovers from trying to do too much, he could become a sneaky middle-six player. His skating and playmaking are both pluses, but his smaller frame is also affecting his stock. Mesar showed out at the U18 tournament, which leads me to believe he’ll find a way to advance his career.

27. Arizona Coyotes select: Lane Hutson, D, USA U18 (USHL)

Yet another victim of the small frame syndrome, Hutson is a tremendously talented player with elite skating. However, it is a valid concern to take a five-foot-eight defenseman that’s under 160 lbs. Hutson needs to work on the defensive side of the game, and growing will be a big part of that, but there’s no doubt he can compete at his current level.

28. Buffalo Sabres select: Calle Odelius, LHD, Djurgårdens IF J20 (Nationell)

Closing the gap is one of the most important tasks for a defender to make, and Odelius is already very good at it. He’s a very smart defender, which improves his skill on the offensive end as well. Physicality and defending are two areas that need refining which could lead Odelius to a solid middle-pair NHL projection.

29. Edmonton Oilers select: Danila Yurov, RW, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)

This could be one of the great “what-ifs” in draft history. Yurov probably would have been a top-five prospect in the class with the talent he possesses, but with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, his immediate future is a mystery. Most major draft rankings are showing a nose dive in his stock.

30. Winnipeg Jets select: Jimmy Snuggerud, RW, USNTDP Juniors (USHL)

To me, Snuggerud is the definition of a blue-collar worker. He is talented in all areas of the game and took major strides in improving with a very good USDP team. He’s by no means an elite player, but could shape into a very solid piece for Winnipeg.

31. Tampa Bay Lightning select: Tristan Luneau, RHD, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)

Luneau is a unique player in this class, not especially talented, but a high IQ player. He’s very good at reading situations and anticipating movement. He’s a sturdy player with height and if he bulks up could be more impactful in his own end.

32. Arizona Coyotes select: Owen Beck, C, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

The perfect way for Arizona to end this first round is to take a shot on a guy whose skating is high-class, and who has a motor in the offensive end. He does tend to make poor decisions with the puck, but he’s an electric skater and if he can develop his shot, watch out.