The Nashville Predators walked away from the 2022 NHL Entry Draft with six new prospects, including forwards Cole O’Hara and Ben Strinden and defender Graham Sward. Below, I break down video of those three selections and how they graded out during my year-long scouting. If you haven’t read part one of this breakdown, featuring Joakim Kemell, Adam Ingram, and Kasper Kulonummi, you can check that out below:
I would grade Nashville’s draft haul as good, not great. David Poile has had a strong run during the past three drafts, so it’s not an insult to say this class may be a step below those—especially considering the Predators didn’t have a second-round pick.
Cole O’Hara — RW — Round 4, Pick 114
Nashville went with an only overagers strategy for their last three picks of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, starting with forward Cole O’Hara. The 6’0” winger from the Tri-City Storm of the USHL was finally taken in his last year of eligibility. In his first year of draft eligibility, O’Hara scored 64 points in 51 OJHL games before moving onto the USHL for the past two seasons. In 2020-21, O’Hara scored 11 goals and 28 points in 49 games. This season, he kicked that up to 25 goals and 73 points in 58 games—good for third on his team and ninth league-wide. 52 of his points were primary ones and 29 were primary points scored at even-strength.
O’Hara (#19, purple) is a skilled forward who can execute high-level puck moves and difficult passes at his top speed. He skates in transition with his head up, scans the ice well for his next move, and isn’t afraid to rely on smart but less flashy plays to move his team up the ice. As we see in the clip above, O’Hara has a good understanding of changing his pace to get defenders to bite or force an earlier pivot. He pulls up a little at the blue line, giving his teammate time to dive into the open ice where O’Hara dumps the puck. #19 then immediately follows his pass, imitating a give-and-go sequence, records a nifty takeaway on the forecheck, and buries the puck.
Defensively, O’Hara usually maintains good position along the half wall. As we can see above, his above-average set of hands helps him navigate challenges along the boards. From there, he can execute that same give-and-go style of play with a good outlet pass. While his puckhandling is strong, O’Hara will need to improve his physicality and puck protection skills along with boards, but that should come with added strength and age. Regardless, he demonstrates a good ability to dig pucks out of scrums and use timely stick checks to peel away from the challenge with possession.
In this clip, we see another example of where added physicality could really help O’Hara along the boards. At higher levels—and he’ll learn this quickly in college—you have to use proper shoulder checks and the full leverage of your body weight to win those puck battles—not just your stick. My other big concern with O’Hara’s game is his skating. He uses solid knee bend and good linear crossovers, plus he can power around defenders with the puck as we see above. But he lacks an above-average acceleration gear, and his stride extension frequently ends in a heel kick that slows down his recovery. Those things can be improved, but I don’t think he’ll ever be an above-average skater at the NHL level.
O’Hara—who will head to the University of Massachusetts next year—projects to be a depth winger in the NHL if all goes well. I graded this pick as a C because I think Nashville left some talent on the board despite O’Hara’s strong puck skills and offensive instinct. I did not rank O’Hara on my final draft board.
Graham Sward — D — Round 5, Pick 146
Graham Sward is the second overage player Nashville took earlier this month, but he was eligible for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft by just three days. The 6’2” Canadian defender is my early pick for a potential late-round gem from this class. Sward has spent the past three seasons with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, debuting with two goals and 17 points in 55 games in 2019-20. Last year, Sward appeared in just 11 contests due to injury but rebounded this year, scoring ten goals and 43 points in 57 games. 23 of those points were primary ones scored in all situations.
With apologies in advance for the CHL’s subpar streaming quality, Sward (#7, red) is a quietly exciting defender to watch. While his primary-point totals maybe don’t demonstrate an offensive-minded blue liner, Sward is actually a very effective player in transition. He’s comfortable on both his inside and outside edges and generates good power from his accelerating crossover steps. Sward has good four-way mobility and is a good skater who can handle the puck fine with pace through the neutral zone. I think his transition skills break down a little with heavier forechecking pressure, but he’s an excellent enough passer to make up for that.
As mentioned above, I really like Sward’s outlet passing skills. He scans up the ice well and delivers crisp, accurate passes deep into the neutral zone. He’s not afraid to delay his passes until he pulls in forecheckers as much as he can, and his four-way mobility and edgework allow him to adjust to opponents’ attack with the puck well. Against oncoming forwards, Sward prefers to pressure them in the neutral zone, making early contact along the boards or maintaining a very tight gap near the blue line. I like the aggressiveness, but it can sometimes lead to poor pivot timing against faster forwards.
In the defensive zone, Sward gives us mixed results. His positioning can be a little all over the place as we see above, and he can get caught staring at the puck against more complex offensive attacks. Sward is effective against forwards parked in front of the net given his size and physical nature, but sometimes he ends up chasing cycling players too much. On top of that, while I like Sward’s accelerating power, I think he can improve his puck protection skills and get more creative when retrieving the pucks. In the clip above, Sward has clear body position on the Kamloops’ forechecker, but skates out of a natural puck-protection position and fails to lower his shoulder, allowing his opponent to get a proper angle on him, which ultimately forces Sward into taking a delay-of-game penalty.
Graham Sward isn’t a top-of-the-lineup offensive defender, but I think he’s an effective quarterback on any second power-play unit. Sward has a powerful wrist and slap shot from the point and patrols the blue line well with confidence while the puck is on his stick.
I gave this pick a B grade, because I think Sward has the tools to grow his offensive game and improve his defensive deficiencies. If he didn’t get hurt, he probably would’ve been picked last year too. The best-case scenario is that Sward becomes a depth NHL defender.
Ben Strinden — C — Round 7, Pick 210
With their final pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, the Nashville Predators took overage center Ben Strinden. Strident, a Fargo native, stands a 6’1” and was in his final year of draft eligibility. In his second season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL, Strinden scored 25 goals and 56 points in 61 games, which was fifth best on his team. 45 of those points were primary ones and 35 were primary ones scored at even-strength.
There’s nothing particularly spectacular about Strinden’s (#12, grey) game, and I mean that as a total compliment. He does a lot of things right in all three zones, and that was evident in all my viewings of him, including in the clip above. As the F3 entering the offensive zone, I really like Striden’s puck-support positioning throughout this shift. He’s subtly clogging up lanes and stands ready for any pass or loose puck. While waiting for the play to develop, Strinden demonstrates good use of both of his edges and then pounces when the time is right, finding himself in the perfect spot to collect a rebound and bury this goal.
Defensively, Strinden’s off-the-puck positioning remains strong. As we see in the clip above, he swings low in his own zone to help his defenders with defense or in the early stages of a breakout. But he also does a good job getting high in the zone quickly to help his team’s neutral-zone attack. I do want to point out one thing at the other end of the ice halfway through this clip. As a point shot from Muskegon gets deflected wide, Strinden gets a good jump on chasing down the loose puck, but he feels to make any impact on the play. With his size, I think Strinden can be more effective at being physical and using proper body checks and stick checks to win puck battles like this more consistently.
While most of his goal-scoring prowess comes from his workman-like play around the net, putting home high-danger chances, Strinden is an effective shooter with good power behind his wrist shot. He doesn’t have an elite release or timing like other prospects, but that’s okay. One other actual concern about Strinden’s game is his skating. I don’t think he’s a poor skater, but there are some clunky characteristics to his mechanics. He tends not to get a lot out of his accelerating crossover steps, and at full speed, he hunches too far over his toes. He could extend his stride extension a little more and clean up some heel kicks here and there. Overall, he projects as an average NHL skater that may lack a clear separating gear.
I gave this pick a B grade because seventh-round lottery selections are a lottery ticket, and Strinden could become a depth or extra forward in the NHL or a top call-up option in the AHL. He’s headed to the University of North Dakota, too, which has a solid developmental track record.