This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.
When the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup last month, their 2017 No. 4 pick Cale Makar took home the Conn Smythe Trophy, 2011 No. 2 pick Gabriel Landeskog served as captain and 2013 top pick Nathan MacKinnon led the team in playoff goals.
That trio, aided by some shrewd trade additions, form as good an argument as any for the importance of the NHL draft.
As such, they also provide hope for the league’s 31 other teams as the 2022 draft begins on Thursday with Round 1. Rounds two through seven take place on Friday. Here’s everything you need to know:
The draft is in Montreal, and the Habs are picking first. Just one year after reaching the Stanley Cup final, the Canadiens slumped to the worst record in the league en route to earning the first overall pick for the sixth time in franchise history — more than any other club. Their results in that slot are a mixed bag: 1971 yielded the late, great Guy Lafleur, but the Habs also whiffed on Doug Wickenheiser in 1980, passing on fellow defencemen Larry Murphy and Paul Coffey as well as Quebec native Denis Savard in the process. Réjean Houle, the top pick in 1969, won five titles in Montreal across a respectable 11-year playing career, but he may be best known today as the general manager who traded Patrick Roy in 1995.
The No. 1 pick, barring surprise, is down to Shane Wright vs. Juraj Slafkovsky. Wright, of Burlington, Ont., stood as the consensus top pick until the Olympics, when Slafkovsky stormed onto the scene with seven goals in seven games to earn tournament MVP and help Slovakia win bronze for its first-ever Olympic hockey medal. The six-foot-four winger, who has since turned 18, only gained momentum from there to force the Canadiens into a tough decision. Wright, for his part, has continued to perform well — just maybe not quite to the standards set when he was granted OHL exceptional status at 15, joining the select likes of Connor McDavid and John Tavares. Wright finished eighth in league scoring last year (94 points in 63 games) with the Kingston Frontenacs, but neither he nor Slafkovsky is considered a generational prospect in the mould of McDavid or Auston Matthews. In the end, it may come down to positional preference: would Montreal rather the big scoring winger in Slafkovsky, or the smaller playmaking centre in Wright? Read more about Wright’s long road to the draft here.
Never a good idea to give Juraj Slafkovský an open look 👀<br><br>The 17-year-old has been ON FIRE at <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Beijing2022?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Beijing2022</a> 🔥🔥🔥<br><br>Watch on the CBC Sports app or <a href=”https://twitter.com/cbcgem?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@cbcgem</a> <a href=”https://t.co/f7BW0r2yH4″>pic.twitter.com/f7BW0r2yH4</a>
The war in Ukraine could affect Russian prospects. Teams are weighing the risk of selecting Russian players when travel to and from their home country remains complicated at best. Last week, Flyers prospect Ivan Fedotov, who was set to jump to North America next season after completing his KHL contract, was suddenly shipped to a remote military post in northern Russia. The overarching uncertainty could mean Russians are shut out of the first round for the first time since 2005. While one top Russian in the draft, defenceman Pavel Mintyukov, may be considered a safer choice having played in the OHL, two others in wingers Danila Yurov and Ivan Miroshnichenko could fall into the later rounds after spending their draft year at home. Read more about the Russian conundrum here.
Free agency isn’t far away. The draft often produces an interesting trade or two, but the off-season should really heat up when free agency begins next Wednesday. Plenty of household names are set to hit the market, and the Flames are particularly vulnerable as 100-point scorers Johnny Gaudreau (unrestricted) and Matthew Tkachuk (restricted) both need new contracts. Other top players who could be available include Predators centre Filip Forsberg, Colorado’s Nazem Kadri, longtime Flyer (turned Panther at the trade deadline) Claude Giroux and Penguins stalwarts Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.