The NHL had its biggest event of the offseason on Thursday with the opening round of the 2022 Draft. The Montreal Canadiens held the top pick and many assumed that the host team would take center Shane Wright.
However, that turned out not to be the case, as the Canadiens grabbed Slovakian winger Juraj Slafkovsky. As a result, Wright fell to the fourth overall pick where he was scooped up by the Seattle Kraken.
There was a ton of intrigue surrounding Round 1 and quite a few surprises. With that in mind, here are a few takeaways from the first 32 picks of the 2022 Draft.
Slafkovsky may not be your typical No. 1 pick
If you look at No. 1 picks in recent years, you'll notice a lot of skilled forwards. Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Alexis Lafreniere and Jack Hughes are just some. These are flashy forwards that really excel in the open ice.
Montreal Canadiens newest winger Juraj Slafkovsky is in a different mold.
This certainly isn't to say that Slafkovsky is a slouch by any means. It's just not very often that NHL teams grab a big-bodied, physical presence of a winger like Slafkovsky at No. 1. When you think of players like McDavid and Matthews, these are guys that excel in open ice. In Slafkovsky, you're getting a grittier type of player that is going to camp out down low and muscle the opposition off the puck.
Slafkovsky is probably going to score the bulk of his goals around the crease. That's not a bad thing at all -- he's just not the type of forward that goes No. 1 very often.
Shane Wright's slide wasn't a huge surprise
In recent weeks, there was a significant amount of buzz coming out of Montreal that general manager Kent Hughes and company were still weighing their options at No. 1. That's why it wasn't a huge surprise that the Canadiens chose to select Juraj Slafkovsky instead of Shane Wright.
Once it was known that Wright wasn't going to Montreal, it was likely that he would slide several spots. Why? The New Jersey Devils already have a top-line center in the form of Jack Hughes. In addition, the Devils have Nico Hischier penciled in as their second-line center, so there wasn't a need for the franchise to take another center. The Arizona Coyotes were always high on American center Logan Cooley and it didn't come as a huge surprise that he was their pick.
Wright just isn't a flashy forward, and that probably was one of the reasons that he wasn't taken with the top pick. The Kingston star still is a phenomenal two-way player and the Kraken are extremely fortunate that the draft fell the way it did. Wright just didn't fit the needs of the Devils and Coyotes, which is why it wasn't that shocking to see him slide down to No. 4.
Devils improve blue line with Nemec
The Devils could've taken Shane Wright with the No. 2 pick and figured out their depth at the center position later. However, New Jersey elected to address its decencies on defense with the selection of Simon Nemec. The Slovakian defenseman is the top blue-liner in the 2022 class and really excels when it comes to moving the puck up the ice. Nemec did play in Slovakia's top league over the past three seasons, so he'll be able to step in and thrive as one of the Devils' top defensemen. The Devils only have veteran Dougie Hamilton signed past the 2022-23 season on their blue line, so addressing a huge position of need was a smart move.
Tons of defensemen go off the board
There were nine defensemen that heard their names called in Round 1 and four of those were selected in the top 10.
The Devils chose address their defensive needs with the selection of Nemec while the Columbus Blue Jackets may have gotten a steal with David Jiricek sliding down to No. 6. The Philadelphia Flyers were an extremely likely landing spot for Jiricek given their need for defensive help, but opted for the upside of American winger Cutter Gauthier.
The Chicago Blackhawks were a team that was incredibly active throughout Thursday. They acquired first round picks with trades involving forwards Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach. In the DeBrincat trade, the Blackhawks acquired the No. 7 pick from the Ottawa Senators and used it to select defenseman Kevin Korchinski from the Western Hockey League. Later in the round, Chicago scooped up Minnesota high school defenseman Sam Rinzel.
For a team that acquired star defenseman Seth Jones last year, the Blackhawks continued to build around their defense.
Huge American flavor in Round 1
The United States Under-18 National Team had quite a night at the Bell Center. There were six prospects selected that played for the American national team in the opening round of the 2022 Draft. Logan Cooley and Cutter Gauthier headlined the American haul as both went in the first five picks.
In back-to-back selections, the Blackhawks took center Frank Nazar and the Winnipeg Jets selected winger Rutger McGroarty at No. 13 and No. 14, respectively. The St. Louis Blues selected winger Jimmy Snuggerud with the 23rd overall pick and the Tampa Bay Lightning grabbed winger Isaac Howard with the No. 31 pick.
In recent years, American hockey prospects have become an afterthought at times, especially at the top of the draft. However, the United States national team and college programs have produced some terrific talent over the past couple of seasons. Players like Cooley and Gauthier truly have star potential and the United States may be starting to churn out some elite prospects again.