Prospect Ramblings: 2022 NHL Draft — 3 High-Upside Prospects Likely Available Outside of the Top-10

Hadi Kalakeche

2021-12-21

Welcome to my ramblings, where I’ll be writing down my thoughts on NHL and draft-eligible prospects once a week. I’ll be using the ramblings to keep you posted on the week’s events, or let you in on some questions I ask myself often regarding prospects, amateur scouting and player development.

This week, I wanted to review the depth in this draft and evaluate which prospects ranked outside of most top-10s released so far have the highest chance of becoming a star, even at the detriment of their certainty as NHL prospects. The players listed below won’t necessarily be surefire NHLers, but the amount of raw skill and game-breaking talent they’ve displayed so far puts them in a position to be big-time producers if they do make it to the show.

Some of these players should absolutely be in most folks’ top-10, simply because drafting for upside is one of the most strategically sound methodologies in NHL drafting. If I were a GM with 10 top-10 draft picks to make, I’d rather end up with three stars than nine average or above-average NHLers. The former win you championships; the latter are mostly replaceable via trade or free agency, and often mask a team’s inability to develop prospects.

As has happened often recently, fans, analysts and even team staff can simply point to the amount of draftees who make their team and say “See? No development problem here”, without actually looking at how the team was involved in improving the player. Selecting a high-upside prospect outside of the top-10 requires the infrastructure to buff out the imperfections in their game and to further hone the skills they excel in, as well as a perfectly symbiotic relationship between draft, dev, and coaching.

Not every team has that, but almost every team thinks it does.

Without further ado, let’s talk about this year’s sleepers:

 

Frank Nazar, RW/C — USNTDP, USHL

High: 8 (DobberProspects)

Low: 21 (FC Hockey)

Average: 13.5

Our DobberProspects scouting team is the only major draft ranking which features Nazar in the top-10, having him comfortably placed at eighth-overall.  However, I believe that Nazar’s upside is among the highest in this year’s draft, as the prospect regularly shows a level of creativity and offensive anticipation which could land him a first-line role if his game is polished appropriately. I’d even argue that his upside is higher than his teammate Logan Cooley, who often features in this year’s top-five due to a combination of extremely refined defensive abilities and above-average puck skills.

The first thing that stands out about Nazar’s game is his ability with the puck; his dekes and stickhandles are not only well-timed but adaptable, meaning that if the defenseman manages to read his intentions, Nazar is able to make an adjustment mid-deke to keep the puck away from him. He also prepares his plays by timing his pass or shot with screens or fly-bys, and can find an open teammate through a seam with ease.

His skating and his goal-scoring, alone, should carry him into the NHL. A solid, spring-like stride shows refined posture and mechanics, and his finishing in-tight, on tip-ins, and even from afar make for a promising ability to put pucks in the net, which should carry well to higher levels.

Regarding his lack of defensive consistency, with prospects you sometimes have to pick your battles; I think that focusing on Nazar’s defensive game is taking precious time and focus away from the improvements that will actually make him an outstanding player. He battles very hard for loose pucks, but can sometimes get tunnel-vision and focus on the wrong threat, which is a manageable quirk. Many one-dimensional stars exist (Patrick Kane, Johnny Gaudreau, Patrik Laine, the list goes on), and Nazar doesn’t need to be perfect defensively if his offense is overwhelmingly positive. The effort is there, so I’m far from worried about that.

The amount of pace that Nazar can create off the rush makes for extremely entertaining hockey when combined with his puck skills, and if his strength can be brought up to a level where he can at least fend off pressure effectively when carrying the puck, we could be looking at one of the NHL’s most electrifying forwards in five years’ time. I could definitely see the Red Wings jumping on Nazar early: he’s right in their backyard, and the Wings have a knack for drafting high-upside prospects early and trusting their development staff’s ability to build up their game.

 

Filip Mešár, LW/RW/C — HK Poprad, Slovakia

High: 11 (EliteProspects)

Low: 39 (FC Hockey)

Average: 19.6

The 12th-overall pick on our midseason board, Mešár is a special player who doesn’t get the credit he is due, as a result of playing in a league that’s incredibly difficult to evaluate properly in the Slovak men’s first division. His mobility is close to unparalleled in this draft, and he can pick up speed very quickly in order to blow past coverage and access the offensive zone. The way he darts away from pressure in the final third is impressive to watch, although he does show some hesitancy in gaining the middle, an element that can and has to be refined if he’s to reach his full potential.

On the offensive side, Mešár shows the forward planning required to connect plays at higher levels, anticipating pockets of space in which to feed the puck and working away from it in ways that create those same pockets. He has a vast toolkit of moves and passes which he utilizes frequently and with a relatively decent level of efficiency, which is surprising given that his opponents are almost always stronger and more experienced than he is. He gets pushed off the puck a lot, but shows a level of resilience and determination that give him an edge in some of those battles, and allows him to win pucks back for a second or third try.

He ties up sticks in intelligent and calculated ways, approaches puck-carriers at an angle to maximize his chances of prying the puck loose, and can put together some outstanding bouts of stickhandling to evade waves of pressure and open up the ice once he’s got the puck. As Mešár continues to face men on a regular basis, it’s only a matter of time before his adaptability translates to his physical game as well.

Prospects in junior leagues might look better than he does physically at the moment, but a lot of that comes from the major difference in the age and maturity of the competition they have to face. Mešár’s ability to hold his own at times as a 17-year-old against men is something that I value greatly, and the skating ability he’s displayed so far this year is just the cherry on top of an already delicious sundae of eye-catching offensive plays.

 

Denton Mateychuk, LD — Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL

High: 7 (EliteProspects)

Low: 61 (TSN/Craig Button)

Average: 26.1

Mateychuk is going to slip into the second round somehow, and one team is going to look ridiculously savvy by picking him up where they do. It’s really simple: if you’re a defender who stands under six feet tall, the NHL’s scouts will look over your head in more ways than one. Make no mistake, however: Mateychuk is among the 2022 NHL Draft’s top defensemen in terms of skill and defending ability, and is among the best skaters in this draft.

The tools, individually, are already impressive; however, the way he puts them all together on a nightly basis and drives play positively for his team is what makes Mateychuk a high-upside prospect. To dominate play in all areas — offense, transition and defense — as a sub-six-foot defenseman (5-foot-11, 187 pounds, but looks smaller than that due to a more frail physical disposition), Mateychuk uses his four-way mobility in order to close gaps wherever he finds them, and has a stifling presence with his stick- and body-positioning which more than compensates for any shortcomings in terms of brute strength.

On the offensive side, his ability to dictate the tempo of any given offensive play and delay or accelerate his intentions based on the situation ahead of him make him a tremendous passer and an intelligent shooter. Stickhandling-wise, Mateychuk keeps it simple, minimizing his puck touches by using his feet more than his hands to evade forecheckers. He also has the skill to pull off a quick dangle under pressure, effectively doubling his options when breaking the puck out of his zone with control.

The way he activates and joins rushes makes his profile easy to stereotype as the typical small-framed, mobile offensive defenseman who struggles with box-outs and stifling opposing offense, but both analytically and visually, the small details add up in Mateychuk’s defensive game and make him a premier shot-suppressor at his current level. The risk involved is in terms of his ability to keep doing what he does at higher levels, against bigger and stronger opposition, but Mateychuk will surely grow as well, filling out his frame with more muscle. As he currently stands, I’d take Mateychuk in the top-10, and so should any team if given the opportunity.

 


Thanks for reading — follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting for all of your fantasy prospect needs!

LATEST PROFILE UPDATES

Name Fantasy Upside NHL Certainty
Josh Bloom 4.5 5.5
Yegor Chinakhov 7.7 9.0
Luca Del Bel Belluz 7.5 7.5
Kirill Marchenko 8.0 5.5
Gregory Hofmann 7.0 5.0
Mikael Pyyhtiä 5.5 2.5
David Jiricek 8.5 9.5
Denton Mateychuk 8.5 8.5
Emil Bemström 8.0 8.5
Luke Evangelista 7.5 6.5