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D’Amico: The 2022 NHL Draft Feels Like 2014 All Over Again



NHL Draft

The 2022 NHL Draft is being characterized as weak for a plethora of reasons that have really begun to feel like a repeat of the 2014 NHL Draft.

At the time, the 2014 NHL Draft was seen as a weak draft by many who had soured on the top prospects in the draft. Much of that had to do with the lack of top-end finish from any of the top prospects, most notably Aaron Ekblad, whom most were expecting to be a point-per-game defenceman in his 3rd year in the OHL. Ekblad, who was an exceptional status player in the OHL, saw many doubt his top ceiling due to what was described as an underwhelming offensive season.

Similarly, Shane Wright has gone through the same scrutiny, as he’s been seen as the projected 1st overall selection for three years now and didn’t leave a lasting impression in the minds of scouts this season. The Florida Panthers ignored the noise and went for the most significant need in the organization: A top-pair, right-shot defenceman. Ekblad may not be the best player from the 2014 NHL Draft in hindsight, but he’s arguably the best defenceman in this draft, although Devon Toews is giving chase.

A Lack of Depth in the Draft?

Similar to what is being echoed currently about the 2022 NHL Draft, the 2014 class was also called weak and had its depth of talent put into question. The reason for that was primarily due to the question marks around the rest of the Top-10 in the 2014 class, as there weren’t many perceived slam dunks. In hindsight, quite a few players out of that Top-10 became top-end NHL players, most notably Leon Draisaitl, Nikolaj Ehlers, William Nylander and Sam Bennet.

That depth continued through the 1st round and into the later rounds when the names of Dylan Larkin, Kevin Fiala, Jakub Vrana, David Pastrnak, Alex Tuch, Brayden Point and Devon Toews were also called during the event. The list could continue to include another dozen notable names, but it goes to show that the elite talent was there all the time, but the uncertainty is what caused scouts to sour on 2014.

In 2022, much of that certainty is present, as teams are not sold on the top-end calibre of certain players. Bob McKenzie even said during his annual draft rankings segment that NHL scouts aren’t sure if Shane Wright or Juraj Slafkovsky will be more than 2nd line players. A lot of that comes from uncertainty in their games, led primarily by the effects that Covid-19 measures have had on the developmental curves of so many young players.

Although the cause of the uncertainty is different, the uncertainty itself is what prompts many to have a more cautious approach when it comes to talking about the players in this draft. Even the 2021 NHL Draft was called weak by many due to the same uncertainty, only to be looked back on in a much more positive light a year later.

The Shadow Of An Upcoming Draft

Another central point of contention that the 2022 class has had to deal with is the shadow being cast over them by the seemingly promising 2023 NHL Draft. With names like Connor Bedard, Matvei Michkov and Adam Fantilli leading the way, the 2023 class looks to be incredibly promising and notably superior to the 2022 Draft class. The 2014 NHL Draft class suffered from a similar scenario, as all eyes were on the 2015 NHL Draft class, led by Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Mitch Marner.

With a perceived stronger class waiting in the wings after dominant 16-year-old seasons, the current draft-eligible players aren’t as exciting and shiny as their younger counterparts. That was the feeling leading up to the 2014 NHL Draft, and how many believed the Panthers had picked the wrong year to win the lottery; even though a player like McDavid only comes around once a generation.

Ironically, the argument could be made that Leon Draisaitl, who went 3rd overall in 2014, is the 2nd best player to come out of the 2014 and 2015 NHL Drafts, which is something few were willing to bet on eight years ago. Prospects like Pastrnak, Larkin, Point and Nylander hit the ground running immediately after being drafted, while others like Bennett, Fiala, Toews and more took their time and became impact players.

Calling a draft weak before seeing how these players develop two or three years down the line has made many look bad in hindsight. To make the same mistake with such a definitive claim regarding the 2022 NHL Draft class would be equally as short-sighted. Players, especially due to the events of the last couple of years, will likely take time before truly taking off on their development curves. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the tone regarding this draft is quite different in a few years.

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