Just past the halfway mark of the season, the NHL draft picture is as murky as ever. Shane Wright still holds onto the first spot on the vast majority of boards, but it’s no longer a lock in the eyes of some analysts and scouts. That's a debate that won't die any time soon.
The 2022 NHL draft has been a bit less impressive than it was initially thought to be, mostly due to the global pandemic disrupting the development of players. Still, there's a lot to take in this month:
Stock Up: RHD Šimon Nemec, HK Nitra (Slovakia)
The young defender has been on a tear in the top Slovak league, with nine points in his last 10 games to give him 19 points in 28 games on the year. Nemec is on pace to crush Lubomir Visnovsky’s record for U-20 defenders in the Slovak league, sitting only two points back just over halfway through the season. As a 17-year-old, that level of production in a men’s league is impressive and has warranted his rise up draft boards.
Nemec has moved into the conversation of being a top-three player in this draft in the eyes of many. His tools are impressive across the board. He is a mobile blueliner who has the vision and passing ability to move the puck up ice and continue to be a factor in the offensive zone. Nemec’s biggest flaw is that there are times when he reigns himself in a bit too much. If he can open his game up a bit more and develop a killer instinct, the young Slovak could very well solidify himself as the top blueliner in the class.
Stock Down: F Hunter Haight, Barrie Colts (OHL)
Coming into the OHL as a top-10 pick with quite a bit of hype, Haight hasn’t quite lived up to expectations this season. Haight, like most of the OHL, didn't get a chance to play last season and it definitely hurt his development. Known for his offensive production coming into the OHL, he has been able to display it in flashes but the consistency of it is lacking. His 14 points in 25 games are lower than expected production for a player that some felt could be a top-50 selection, and his impact away from the scoresheet is limited at times.
Haight is a very good skater who can manipulate opponents through the neutral zone at times, providing some good value in transition but can get lost in the shuffle at times in the offensive zone. Haight boasts a good shot and should look to attack the middle of the ice a bit more when the puck is on his stick.
Stock Up: RW Jagger Firkus, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Firkus has one of the best names in the draft and his play on the ice is just as fun. His biggest strength is his ability to play at a high pace and utilize his puck skill at that pace. Firkus can downshift to create space in the offensive zone, opening up passing and shooting lanes that he can take advantage of. Although a bit undersized, the skill and creativity that Firkus plays with are worth the price of admission to Moose Jaw games. The Warriors forward has put up 44 points in 38 games this season, including 18 points in his last 10 games.
Firkus has a very good shot that jumps off his stick and finds the corners with consistency. His passing is shifty and creative. Firkus uses his reach to manipulate the passing lanes, opening space for him to find his teammates. He can be a bit too much of a perimeter player but his funneling of pucks to the middle helps mitigate that.
Stock Down: C Markus Vidicek, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
After a solid rookie season where Vidicek put up 31 points in 43 games in a season interrupted by COVID, Vidicek was expected to take a big step for the Mooseheads. While his scoring rates are up a bit, he hasn’t quite taken the step that many expected, putting him on the fringe of the first round early in the year. He has some good traits offensively, primarily an ability to feather passes to open teammates for good scoring chances. His skating is quick and agile but can lack a top gear at times that would make him a threat to really pull away.
Vidicek is an undersized player who plays small much of the time. He's an interesting offensive player who displays slightly above-average defensive reads but until Vidicek learns how to overcome his size on a more consistent basis, there will be issues as the competition gets bigger and stronger. Physical maturity will be a major key to unlocking Vidicek’s full offensive potential.
Stock Up: RHD Sam Rinzel, Chaska High (USHS-Minnesota)/Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL)
Every year around the mid-point of the season, the hype around a U.S. high school player begins to present itself and this year, the high schooler that is trying to assert his claim to that is Sam Rinzel. A 6-foot-4 blueliner with good mobility and uses deception in all three zones. Rinzel needs to work on his defensive game but his ability to translate his game to the USHL in a small sample this year has been impressive.
Rinzel is patient with the puck on his stick, drawing in opponents and then making a move right as the lane opens up. Rinzel is a skilled passer who can make a smart breakout pass or find a teammate on the backdoor from the blueline. He is agile enough on his feet to escape pressure and create space for himself. High schoolers are always a difficult projection but Rinzel is gaining praise from analysts and scouts with each game he plays. If he finds his way into more USHL action, he could solidify himself as the top U.S. high school player in the class.