Take a second to think about some of the greatest drafts in recent memory.
The 2003 draft had Eric Staal, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrice Bergeron and Brent Burns highlighting the group. Two years later, the 2005 draft provided top-tier talent such as Sidney Crosby, Carey Price, Anze Kopitar, Tuukka Rask and Paul Stastny. The 2015 draft had an incredible 1-2 duo of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, with Mitch Marner, Zack Werenski and Mikko Rantanen becoming stars in the following years. One year later, Auston Matthews went first and Patrik Laine followed. And we know 2020 is going to be a fantastic year, with one of the deepest talent pools we’ve seen in a very long time.
A few years from now, we’ll be able to add 2022 to that list. Of course, it’s early and much can change, but the 2022 draft arguably features three of the most promising prospects we’ve seen in years, centers Shane Wright, Matthew Savoie and Brad Lambert.
The World Under-17 Hockey Challenge wrapped up in western Canada last week, with Canada’s Wright (Canada Black) and Savoie (Canada White) and Finland’s Lambert facing off against each other for the first time in international competition. None of the three secured a medal, but Wright (seven points), Savoie (six points) and Lambert (six points) finished among their team’s leading scorers, to the surprise of absolutely nobody. More importantly, though, we got another glimpse at how talented all three pivots are. As the youngest players for their respective teams, all three were utilized as top-line forwards and didn’t look out of place in the slightest.
If the Wright, Savoie and Lambert were available in separate draft classes, chances are each would be the top contender for the first-overall pick, and while a lot can change in the next few years, we’re at a point now where we can start getting a true look at their potential. Heck, Lambert could play a game in the Finnish Liiga before he turns 16 as a reward for his incredible run in the Finnish U-20 circuit. Even three years out, there’s a reason scouts are rushing to see these three in action whenever possible. Few players have dominated their respective age groups as they have.
Let’s take a closer look at what makes the 2022 draft’s big three so talented:
Wright earned exceptional status after posting 66 goals and 150 points in 72 games with the dominant Don Mills Flyers last season, falling eight points shy of John Tavares’ offensive output as an underage player in minor midget. (McDavid had 209 points in 88 games at the same age, but, come on, that’s Connor flippin’ McDavid.) Wright was the kid scouts rushed to see throughout his final year of youth hockey. In fact, OHL Cup games involving Wright were completely full. One OHL scout said it’s tough to distinguish Wright and McDavid’s play at the same age, and that’s saying something. It’s worth noting that Wright’s 0.786 points-per-game average puts him fifth among all U-16 players in OHL history, but Wright’s Kingston Frontenacs have scoring issues.
With and without the puck, Wright is a complete player. He’s a multi-dimensional forward with unmatched acceleration and a pinpoint-accurate wrist shot. Wright is as good as any of his peers when it comes to anticipating the play, and he’s often two steps ahead of his competition. He doesn’t look for the easy pass, but more often the smart, effective one. By the time he finally gets the call to play in the NHL, Wright will have three years of OHL experience, which gives him ample time to add strength. It’s not a stretch to suggest he’ll play in two World Junior Championships before he’s eligible for the draft.
Savoie struck out in his attempt to become the first player to earn exceptional status in the WHL, but his play against kids his own age has proven he’s head and shoulders above the rest. Through seven games with Rink Hockey Academy, Savoie’s 2.86 points-per-game are good for first in the league. However, he sits 15th in scoring with 20 points, though only because he’s missed a ton of time to play with the WHL’s Winnipeg ICE. In comparison, Savoie’s career average of 2.40 points-per-game is the best among any player with at least 30 games played in the midget CSSHL league, the premier development league for western Canadian prospects.
While he hasn’t produced much in the WHL – it should be noted he’s not eligible to play full-time due to his age – Savoie is a dominant two-way forward who can burn opponents with his quick footwork and slick hands. He’s a human highlight-reel. Savoie can take the puck from behind his net and produce a magnificent goal at the drop of a hat. His game is predicated upon his speed, and his ability to create without taking his foot off the gas is a rarity in players his age. Savoie has the skillset to become one of the best players the WHL has seen in some time.
Some view Lambert as the third-best of the bunch, but it’s difficult to place him below the two Canadians. First, let’s address the elephant in the room: he’s born to a Canadian father and a Finnish mother, but for the time being, Lambert has chosen to represent Finland in international play. Prior to the U-17s, Lambert’s 0.95 points-per-game were better than Patrik Laine’s (0.93), Anton Lundell’s (0.91), Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s (0.88) and even that of the projected 2021 first-overall pick, Aatu Raty, in the same league at the same age. Lambert is putting these numbers up despite being the youngest player in the league.
Watching Lambert play is like watching a Nathan MacKinnon clone. A dynamic two-way forward with incredible top-end speed, it’s rare someone manages to take the puck off of Lambert. Lambert is typically the fastest player on the ice and looks so smooth when moving around the big European ice with the puck, handling it in ways many players his age simply cannot. Making sure he’s consistent is the next challenge, but he’s the best prospect the Finns have had in years and that’s saying something. Lambert will almost certainly make Finland’s world junior team in 2021 and play a crucial role for the club despite his age. And that’s especially true after he made the rest of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup stars look pedestrian with his performance as a 15-year-old in a U-18 tournament.