The NHL's Central Scouting Bureau has released its first watch list for the 2022 draft, an important benchmark to the prospect season. While Central Scouting's rankings are always up for debate (I mean, whose rankings aren't?), the watch list provides a great service to the hockey world in that it truly combs the globe for draft-eligible players and provides a catch-all to build off.
Personally, I reference these lists a lot, as I don't want to forget about anybody along the way. This season's October list is particularly important because of last year's chaos, where few players got the chance to play a full schedule and some didn't play at all. That's a big chunk of data missing from the overall picture, even if the players were too young to be the focal point of NHL scouts at the time.
So what can we glean from Central's first list? To begin with, there are 23 players deemed to be 'A' ranked prospects – players Central believe to be first-round candidates. 'B' ranked prospects are slotted into the second or third rounds, while 'C' rated players are late-rounders.
The first item of note for me is the lack of OHLers in the 'A' category. Right now, the league is repped by Kingston's Shane Wright, the consensus No. 1 prospect overall and likely wire-to-wire winner (folks are coming up with their tank slogans already – mine is 'Go Wrong for Wright') and Guelph's sharpshooting Matthew Poitras, but that's it.
As mentioned before, I'm sure last season's lack of an OHL campaign had an impact here. But I look at the pedigree of names such as Pano Fimis in Niagara or Danny Zhilkin in Guelph and have to imagine at least a couple more names sneak into the top 32 by the time all is said and done – and to be fair, with only 23 'A' names, my shaky math tells me there's room for at least nine more.
This is also looking like a very good year for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program and while the NTDP is always a big player in the draft, I see a lot of depth this season – especially up top. The 2021 draft featured three NTDP first-rounders, plus alumnus Matty Beniers. Central's October list has five NTDP kids in the first round, plus an alumnus in Jack D. Hughes, a freshman with Northeastern University.
The most intriguing NTDPer this year is center Logan Cooley, who brings a high-end two-way game to the table and could go as high as second overall, behind Wright. Right now, I'd say it's fair to speculate about the grouping behind Wright, but not necessarily one name. Cooley would be in that category for me alongside the likes of Ivan Miroshnichenko, Brad Lambert (though he's off to a slow start), Juraj Slafkovsky and defenseman David Jiricek.
The final area to look at here is goaltending, which could be a major sore spot for the 2022 draft. Right now, there are no goalies in the 'A' category, coming off a 2021 draft that saw Sebastian Cossa and Jesper Wallstedt go in the top 20. One of the most prominent 'B' goalies, Tyler Brennan of WHL Prince George, has the requisite size to be a top-end netminding pick, but he's currently getting blasted in the Cougars crease with a 4.88 goals-against average and .865 save percentage through three games. In Brennan's defense…it's three games. So plenty of time to turn things around. Similarly, Slovakian import Rastislav Elias, a key part of his national squad's silver medal at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament, has been battered in USHL Green Bay – but so has battery mate Aaron Randazzo.
What makes me more sketchy about the 2022 netminding class is the size aspect. Some of the more prominent names, such as Sweden's Hugo Havelid or Russia's Sergei Ivanov, measure in at 5-foot-11 or shorter – and it's going to be tough for them at the highest levels unless they grow a few more inches. One player who ticks a couple of boxes early on is Finland's Topias Leinonen, already nearly 6-foot-5 and putting up decent (but not eye-popping) stats with JYP's under-20 squad.
But of course it is important to remember that we're still in October and teen hockey players do an incredible amount of developing in a short period of time. The players we are looking into now may be completely different by the time the draft actually rolls around this summer, so we can't make any snap judgments.
At the least however, Central Scouting gives us a road map to work off.