While this year's draft crop doesn’t offer the marquee value of some recent ones, there is a varied mix of skilled forwards as well as big and highly mobile defensemen in the top grouping.
Red Line Report, the independent scouting newsletter, puts the first 14 prospects in that top grouping. Then there’s a little dropoff to the next six to eight players, and another small break in the early 20s down through the late first round.
Kyle Woodlief, the publisher and chief scout for Red Line Report, offers his mock draft for the first round that will be held on July 7 in Montreal:
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1. Montreal Canadiens — C Shane Wright
6-0, 199, Kingston (Ontario Hockey League)
A Nick Suzuki-Wright center combination could serve the Habs well for a decade-plus. GM Kent Hughes hasn’t fully committed to drafting Wright, but how can he not take him? He may not be a superstar, but he will be a No. 1 center.
2. New Jersey Devils — C Logan Cooley
5-10, 180, U.S. under-18 team
All you have to do is look at Anaheim's Trevor Zegras to understand the impact Cooley will have. His speed creates breakaways, turnovers and excitement.
3. Arizona Coyotes — LW Juraj Slafkovsky
6-4, 229, TPS (Finland)
He’s a beastly presence with finesse skills. He got everyone’s attention by leading the Olympic tournament with seven goals and helping Slovakia win the bronze medal.
4. Seattle Kraken — D Simon Nemec
6-10, 199, Nitra (Slovakia)
After landing a polished offensive catalyst last year in Matty Beniers in the 2021 draft, the Kraken get a
showcase blue-liner this time around. He’s mature beyond his years, having already helped Slovakia win a bronze medal at the 2022 Olympics.
5. Philadelphia Flyers — RW Joakim Kemell
5-10, 185, JYP (Finland)
A skilled and energetic scorer. Even a shoulder injury couldn’t slow his rise up the rankings. Scoring six goals in five games at the under-18 worlds enhanced his status.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets (from Chicago Blackhawks) — C Matt Savoie
5-10, 170, Winnipeg (Western Hockey League)
If you are drafting solely on ability, Savoie goes in the top five. But teams may have him lower because he’s only 5-foot-9. You just have to convince yourself he’s another Paul Kariya or Marty St. Louis.
7. Ottawa Senators — D David Jiricek
6-3, 189, Plzen (Czech Republic)
You can’t draft enough dependable defensemen. Jiricek is a safe pick because he’s a sure-fire top four defenseman who will contribute in a variety of ways.
8. Detroit Red Wings — RW Jonathan Lekkerimäki
5-10, 171, Djurgarden (Sweden)
Perhaps the most explosive player in the draft. An exceptional skater and the dominant force at the under-18 world championships.
9. Buffalo Sabres — LW Cutter Gauthier
6-2, 210, U.S. under-18 team
Big goal scorer is a well-rounded offensive player who has terrific size and skating ability, and
drives the net hard.
10. Anaheim — D Kevin Korchinski
6-2, 185, Seattle (WHL)
After dealing Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson, the Ducks need a mini-rebuild of their blue line. Korchinski is a potentially elite offensive stud who generated 61 assists - the first WHL rearguard to do that as a draft eligible since Darryl Sydor 32 years ago.
11. San Jose Sharks — RW Jimmy Snuggerud
6-1, 188, U.S. under-18 team
The son of former NHLer Dave Snuggerud has the potential to be a big-time NHL scorer. Owns a quick release, a powerful shot and a high compete level.
12. Columbus Blue Jackets — C Frank Nazar
5-10, 180, U.S. under-18 team
Great hands, clever player, shifty, dynamic. Could sneak into the top 10. Fascinating potential.
13. New York Islanders — C Brad Lambert
6-0, 183, Pelicans (Finland)
The nephew of newly hired Islanders coach Lane Lambert seems like the perfect choice to juice up that team's offensive game.
14. Winnipeg Jets — C Connor Geekie
6-4, 190, Winnipeg (WHL)
The fit is too good not to select the massive center from the local team. Needs to work on his skating, but already has the size and offensive ability to take the next step.
15. Vancouver Canucks — D Pavel Mintyukov
6-2, 194, Saginaw (OHL)
He has the size, speed, skill and attitude to be an NHL top four defenseman. Can really run a power play.
16. Buffalo Sabres (from Vegas Golden Knights) — C Marco Kasper
6-1, 187, Rogle (Sweden)
He’s a rugged 6-foot-1 center who’s hard to play against and effective in any role. Good skater, plenty of composure.
17. Nashville Predators — LW Alexander Perevalov
6-0, 191, Yaroslavl Jr. (Russia)
It’s fair to wonder whether teams will be reluctant to draft Russian players. He could end up being a high value pick if he goes later in the draft.
18. Dallas Stars — LW Liam Öhgren
6-1, 201, Djurgarden Jr. (Sweden)
Showed an impressive level of all-around play at the under-18 worlds, and is one of the truly elite finishers in this class.
19. Minnesota Wild (from Los Angeles Kings) — D Owen Pickering
6-4, 180, Swift Current (WHL)
Though the Wild got back defense prospect Brock Faber in the Kevin Fiala trade, Pickering is a 6-foot-4 blue-liner with plenty of upside. This diamond will need lots of polishing, but teams are intrigued by his potential.
20. Washington Capitals — RW Danila Yurov
6-1, 178, Magnitogorsk (Russia)
The Caps have never been shy about drafting Russians, and he has the skills package they’re seeking. He’s a good fit as a strong skater who likes up-tempo hockey.
21. Pittsburgh Penguins — LW Isaac Howard
5-10, 180, U.S. under-18 team
He was a 33-goal scorer for the U.S. program, and dynamite at the under-18 worlds. He might be the fastest skater on that U.S. team, and is constantly dangerous in the scoring areas.
22. Anaheim Ducks (from Boston Bruins) — C Owen Beck
5-11, 187, Mississauga (OHL)
Such a well-rounded center who is responsible defensively, dangerous offensively and the best faceoff man in the draft.
23. St. Louis Blues — RW Jagger Firkus
5-11, 151, Moose Jaw (WHL)
Probably only 160 pounds after eating a huge holiday meal, but the kid can create offense
and has a nose for the net. If you want to believe in a smaller player, he’s the guy.
24. Minnesota Wild — RW Rutger McGroarty
6-1, 204, U.S. under-18 team
Served as captain of Team USA. Has an NHL body and work ethic. Safe pick. You know he’s going to play in the NHL. He also boasts quality offensive skills and is confident in front of the net.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs — D Lian Bichsel
6-6, 225, Leksand (Sweden)
The enormous Swiss-born defenseman has good mobility for his size. Big and nasty is always in style.
26. Montreal Canadiens (from Calgary Flames) — D Tristan Luneau
6-2, 189, Gatineau (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League)
Smart puck-moving defenseman is a smooth skater with great intelligence and character.
27. Arizona Coyotes (from Carolina Hurricanes) — C David Goyette
5-10, 175, Sudbury (OHL)
He has been rising in the draft rankings all season, a reflection of how offensively productive he has been with 33 goals and 77 points in 63 games.
28. Buffalo Sabres (from Florida Panthers) — D Sam Rinzel
6-4, 180, Chaska (Minn.)
He’s 6-foot-4 and still only a junior in high school. Leads the Minnesota high school brigade and his upside as a confident, creative offensive defenseman is attractive to NHL scouts.
29. Edmonton Oilers — C Luca Del Bel Belluz
5-10, 179, Mississauga (OHL)
Not blessed with blazing speed, but otherwise is a very complete player. Smart two-way center can help a team in many different facets. Good in the faceoff circle, an effective checker and can produce offense.
30. Winnipeg Jets (from New York Rangers) — C Jiri Kulich
5-11, 178, Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic)
Picked up lots of support as a first-round pick by scoring nine goals at the under-18 worlds. His dynamic shot makes him dangerous on the power play.
31. Tampa Bay Lightning — C Denton Mateychuk
5-10, 194, Moose Jaw (WHL)
One of the most mobile skaters in the draft, Mateychuk is an attacking defenseman who moves confidently into the offensive zone. Takes care of business in his own end, too, often using his skating to get his team out of trouble.
32. Arizona Coyotes (from Colorado Avalanche) — Ryan Chesley
There’s no ‘Wow!’ factor here, but he’s an impressively effective defender. He’s a smart, thorough player with a high hockey IQ who always makes right play and is physical around the corners.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL mock draft: Shane Wright No. 1? How first round could play out