Montreal Canadiens take Juraj Slafkovsky for 1st place; Shane Wright finishes fourth after Seattle Kraken

MONTREAL — Slovakian-born skaters dominated early on in the 2022 NHL draft, where left winger Juraj Slafkovsky was picked first overall by the Montreal Canadiens and defenseman Simon Nemec was picked second by the New Jersey Devils.

They became the most highly selected Slovak players in history, overtaking Marian Gaborik who finished third overall in 2000.

Slafkovsky was the surprise pick at No. 1 ahead of Shane Wright, who slipped to No. 4 by the Seattle Kraken. Wright, a center at Kingston Frontenacs (OHL), has long been considered the top contender on this draft, but Slafkovsky’s stellar year raised his stock enough to unseat Wright.

US National Team Development Program (NTDP) Logan Cooley went No. 3 to the Arizona Coyotes and left winger Cutter Gauthier finished fifth to the Philadelphia Flyers to round out the top five.

At 18, Slafkovsky is already the size (6ft 4, 218lbs) of a power forward to complement his finesse as a highly skilled offensive player. He developed his reputation as a hard-nosed, competitive skater in the Finnish League’s TPS; Last season he scored five goals and ten points in 31 games.

Unlike some of his peers, Slafkovsky has experience in international play with and against men. Just 17 years old when he was called up to the Slovakia Olympic team in 2022, he exceeded all expectations. Slafkovsky led the Olympic field with seven goals in seven games and helped Slovakia take home bronze, the country’s first Olympic medal in ice hockey, and earn tournament MVP honors.

New Jersey held No. 2 and probably wouldn’t pick a center given its depth in position. The Devils instead went with Nemec, Slafkovsky’s Olympic teammate. Nemec is a desirable right-footed blueliner with offensive potential and predicted NHL readiness. He was able to quickly add depth to a backend in New Jersey that needed it.

The Arizona Coyotes had an opportunity to snap Wright in 3rd place but went with another center in Cooley. Though he’s shorter than Wright at 5-foot-10, Cooley plays a big two-way game and has great offensive skills, as demonstrated in his 75-point performance in 51 games with the NTDP last season .

When Seattle General Manager Ron Francis took the podium in 4th place, he didn’t hesitate to nominate Wright to be the team’s pick. Wright started last season slowly with 22 points in 19 games before rallying to finish with 94 points in 66 games. He’s not a generational talent, but Wright has the potential to become a #1 center, and for the Kraken expansion, he’s providing a franchise cornerstone to build on for years to come.

Another NTDP product, Gauthier is a tall body (6-foot-4) with a booming shot and a solid defensive topside. His skills are less dynamic than some other top prospects, which fits with the roughest, most physical style the Flyers play with. It’s a natural fit.

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