The NHL Draft begins in Montreal tonight with Round One live on ESPN at 7 PM EST. The Washington Capitals will be making their first selection at pick number 20, which is the highest they have drafted since taking Jakub Vrana 13th overall in 2014.
The Caps usually say that they’ll be taking who they consider the best player available on their board, regardless of position.
I’ve picked out 24 potential prospects (12 defensemen and 12 forwards) that could end up in red.
We’ll start with the defensemen.
Note: This is all assuming that the Capitals do actually pick 20th and said pick is not used to trade up or down in the draft or to acquire a roster player. Some of these prospects, listed in no particular order, may be projected as higher or lower selections by various scouting outlets around the world. The Caps’ eventual pick may not even make this list!
Denton Mateychuk – LHD, Moose Jaw (WHL)
There are three big-time offensive defensemen in this class that could land around pick number 20 and for my money Mateychuk, despite being the smallest in stature, is the most refined and best of the three. That’s definitely not a consensus opinion in this draft and to be honest, if anyone says any pick has a consensus — including even the number one overall selection — they’re lying. There are players that could go in the top 10 picks that many draft experts have falling past the Caps at 20. Mateychuk is one of those names.
The combination of smooth, dynamic skating ability, hockey IQ, and general sense of the game offensively is what separates Mateychuk from the other two for me. You hear about certain defensemen being good at “moving the puck” almost ad nauseam at this point but that’s truly what is separating the good NHL teams from the bad right now. Take one good look at the Colorado Avalanche’s blueline depth chart. Mateychuk has that quality in spades.
NHL stylistic comparable: Quinn Hughes
Pavel Mintyukov – LHD, Saginaw (OHL)
Mintyukov is the second in that group of three quality offensive defensemen. The first qualities that jump out at you are his talent level with the puck on his stick and his scary good shot that allowed him to pick up 17 goals for the Spirit in the OHL last season. His longer frame separates him a little from Mateychuk in terms of defensive capability translating to professional hockey.
Like the NHL player that I’m going to compare him to after this paragraph, there is a bit of an issue in his game where he has a little bit of young Dmitry Orlov-itis where aggressiveness in the offensive zone can sometimes turn into a negative when the puck starts to head the other direction. With time though that part of his game probably levels out a bit and he could become a very dangerous top-four, point-scoring defenseman.
NHL stylistic comparable: Sergei Gonchar
Kevin Korchinski – LHD, Seattle (WHL)
Korchinski is the final of the three defensemen I mentioned at the start of this post and he has the most NHL-ready frame and size of the three. He is another great puck mover from the backend and probably one of the best skaters in this draft going forward and backward. His vision on breakouts is standout and there is no way he isn’t quarterbacking a power play at the professional level in the future.
The big knock on him is that he’s going to need a lot of help coaching-wise when it comes to his defensive zone responsibilities. He has all of the tools to be impactful on that side of the ice but sometimes players just need new voices at the top levels for them to be able to utilize those tools in all three zones. Some teams likely have Korchinski above both Mateychuk and Mintyukov because if he can put it all together he is going to be scary good.
NHL stylistic comparable: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Owen Pickering – LHD, Swift Current (WHL)
The six-foot-five Pickering is one of those rare prospects that can match his size with good skating and passing ability. If there’s a true “project” player in this first round it’s probably him. He needs to put on more weight but if he puts it all together he’s in for a long career in the league because defensemen of his profile tend to stick around forever.
One of the main aspects of his game he needs to refine is defending rush attempts as he can get somewhat exposed having to skate backward against shiftier, smaller, quicker forwards. Just a reminder that this is already the third defenseman from the WHL mentioned so it’s about a 105-percent chance one of them is a Capitals player soon.
NHL stylistic comparable: Colton Parayko
Seamus Casey – RHD, USNTDP (USHL)
Casey is a player that can be a little confusing. Sometimes he is Jack Hillen-lite and sometimes he’s more Torey Krug. His true playing ability is likely in-between if he becomes an NHL regular but as you can tell by those two players just compared to him, size is the largest question mark here. There is a certain level of skill to his game that should keep him at least around-ish the first round but it would not be a surprise to see him fall to the middle of the second.
With that said, it’s the NHL in 2022. Smaller defensemen that have puck skills and can play on the power play are carving out fantastic careers in the modern NHL. If he can keep up defensively as he progresses through the professional ranks, there’s no reason he can’t be considered a first-round talent. That’s why he’s on the list here.
NHL stylistic comparable: Jared Spurgeon
Lian Bichsel – LHD, Leksands (SHL)
From a giant to a smaller guy and now back to a giant. Bichsel is another six-foot-five defenseman that can skate far better than he should be able to but has the added benefit of a little bit of snarl to the defensive side of his game. Meaning, he’s no Jeff Schultz. If his puck skills continue coming along and he adds more offense to his game, which he has shown glimpses of in the SHL, watch out.
In my opinion, Bichsel has the potential to be a top-pairing guy so we may not see him even get to number 20 where the Caps are sitting. For my money, he feels like one of the safest bets in the draft around the 10-20 range in the first round. If he hits, he could be a massive player in the league. If he doesn’t, he probably still finds his way into NHL games.
NHL stylistic comparable: Victor Hedman
Calle Odelius – LHD, Djurgardens (SHL)
Scouts adore this kid’s skating ability, he’s one of the smoothest and quickest in the whole draft. It’s just that it’s not a guarantee that he gets the sort of room he did in Sweden on North American ice and he’s not exactly the strongest in the world along the boards and in the corners. He’s also not going to wow you with any sort of dynamic offensive ability but that sort of speed from the backend can kill and cover up a lot of weakness.
There are a lot of differing opinions in the prospect evaluation world on Odelius. Some have him top 20, others have him as far down as the third round. In my opinion, this is a steal waiting to happen if the latter of those opinions are shared by the majority of NHL teams. You can’t teach the sort of crisp skating he possesses and when you have that part of the game down, the rest can be more coachable.
NHL stylistic comparable: Christian Djoos
Tristan Luneau – RHD, Gatineau (QMJHL)
There are some people that love Luneau’s skating and some others that think it’s the weakest part of his game. It’s likely more in the middle and probably leaning towards the latter. The good thing is that the rest of his game is really attractive. Soft hands, a hard shot, and a good head for the game on his shoulders. It’s just that, again, his skating is gonna hold him back a little because scouts are worried it limits his effectiveness in all three zones.
Those sorts of worries typically lead to a player not being taken in the first round but none of these scouts actually work for the teams making the picks so who knows. There is a bunch of room for his game to grow which is why he’ll still probably hang right on the cusp of the first round and why he is still on my list.
NHL stylistic comparable: Jack Johnson
Lane Hutson – LHD, USNTDP (USHL)
Hutson is one of my favorite players in this draft. This is sort of a joke, but I honestly think he plays the wrong position. He’s a five-foot-nine defenseman and outside of sorta just okay skating, that’s the only reason he’s not a top 10 pick in this class in my eyes. He has gamebreaking offensive ability and is one of the best passers at any position on the board.
It’s just that…he’s a five-foot-nine defenseman. To get away with that in the NHL you normally also have to possess insane quickness or some sort of underrated physical game and I’m not sure Hutson has either. He’s truly so, so good with the puck though that someone is going to take him in the first round despite what I just talked about.
NHL stylistic comparable: Tyson Barrie
Ryan Chesley – RHD, USNTDP (USHL)
Another one of the safer picks in this draft is Chesley. He plays a really nice defensive game with physicality at its core. His ceiling doesn’t match some of the other defensive options we’ve gone over so far but his floor is much higher. There’s not a ton of skill here but he’s just fine as a puck mover in terms of taking the puck from A to B. Not so much if you’re going to ask him to find a seam with some sauce.
Solid positioning, good instincts, and an active stick make him a very solid defensive defenseman and it’ll likely land him late in the first round or high in the second.
NHL stylistic comparable: Dan Hamhuis
Ty Nelson – RHD, North Bay (OHL)
Nelson is a bit of a work in progress almost everywhere but there’s a gem waiting if that work ever gets completed. His shot is the readiest part of his game and his skating is good enough to keep him competitive with the other names on this list. He’s a former first overall selection in the OHL draft and will likely need to simmer up there for another two years before he turns pro.
He’s only five-foot-ten so he’s another guy that is going to need to carve out a role that will make a team look past his frame. Right now he’s more of a good everywhere, just not great anywhere, and for a smaller guy that’s tough. There’s certainly a ton of room to grow though.
NHL stylistic comparable: Ryan Ellis (the hockey player one)
Elias Salomonsson – RHD, Skelleftea (SHL)
Prospects like Salomonsson are always exciting when it comes time for the draft. There’s nothing to write home about when it comes to playing in his own zone but there are glimmers of talent and creativity he shows that may sparkle even brighter as he matures. He is a guy that would really benefit from getting out of Sweden and coming over to play in North America as soon as possible. That may gear up the aggressiveness in his game and make him more willing to take chances offensively.
This is a player worth watching even if the Caps don’t end up selecting him. He’s a sneaky one that checks a ton of boxes and could be a sleeper just waiting to be awoken like Snorlax.
NHL stylistic comparable: Alex Goligoski
There are a ton of great defensemen in this class even though it’s believed more forwards will fit into the number 20 range that the Capitals are selecting. Tons of guys that are talented offensively and geared for the modern NHL game of having all six rearguards able to move the puck quickly to teammates or move it themselves with their legs.
Who stands out to you most from the blueline in this draft?
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