Tonight is round one of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. After another year of prospect scouting, we’re finally here. The Nashville Predators, pending a trade, will pick 17th overall tonight. Nashville’s recent first-round picks include Fyodor Svechkov, Zachary L’Heureux, Iaroslav Askarov, Phil Tomasino, and Eeli Tolvanen.
Below, I’ve taken a look at four potential picks for the Predators in round one tonight and why they could be a good fit in the pipeline.
Nashville’s Draft Board: Round 1
|Owen Pickering||D||Swift Current Broncos||WHL||2004||DY|
|Lian Bichsel||D||Leksands IF||SHL||2004||DY|
|Frank Nazar||F||U.S. NTDP||USHL||2004||DY|
|Liam Öhgren||W||Djurgårdens IF J20||J20 Nationell||2004||DY|
Swift Current Broncos (WHL) | D | 6’5”, 179 lbs. | OTF Rank: 35th
|2019-20||Rink Hockey Academy Elite 15s||CSSHL U16||34||5||16||21|
|2020-21||Swift Current Broncos||WHL||23||2||7||9|
|2021-22||Swift Current Broncos||WHL||62||9||24||33|
It pains me not to list Pavel Mintyukov year, but it feels increasingly certain that he will be taken in the early teens tonight. Regardless, there will still be plenty of defenders available to Nashville, and the hype surrounding Owen Pickering is continuing to rise. Pickering is a 6’5”, left-shot defender for the Swift Current Broncos. His 33 points in 62 games rank fifth among all draft-eligible WHL defenders this season, and he added two assists in four games for Canada at the U18 World Junior Championship.
Pickering is a raw prospect in the sense that we’re waiting to see what arriving at an NHL playing weight can do for his already-fascinating toolkit. He’s already 6’5” and filling out that frame should do wonders for his game. He skates well for his size but needs to be a little more consistent with his knee bend and more committed to stops and starts. Pickering is intelligent in puck retrieval, planning his next steps well in advance and using his big body to shield the puck from forecheckers. His rush defense is okay, but his pivots remain inconsistent, and I’d like to see more power from his backward C-cuts.
Pickering’s transition game is strong. He executes crisp, forceful outlet passes and small dekes to shake off opponents. His shot is hard, but his offensive game is a work in progress (although I have little to no concerns he will piece it together). Pickering is an exciting prospect given his size, rapid development (he’s grown nearly a foot in three years), and offensive tools. He projects as a second-pair defender in the NHL.
Leksands IF (SHL) | D | 6’5”, 225 lbs. | OTF Rank: 21st
Lian Bichsel is a 6’5” Swiss defender whose stock has steadily risen over the course of this season. Unlike Pickering, though, Bichsel’s frame has filled out to with him coming in at 225 pounds. Bichsel is one of just four defenders to play more than 15 games in Sweden’s top pro league this year, where he scored three points in 29 games for Leksands; he also notched three goals and seven points in 11 games at the J20 level.
Bichsel is a bruising, physical defender that engages with his stick and body as much as possible when defending on and off the puck. Like any prospect, his defensive awareness and scanning can begin to falter the longer opponents control possession in his own end, but his massive wingspan helps disrupt forwards coming off the rush and keep play to the perimeter.
His skating stride is powerful, but he does need to refine his posture a bit and lacks some pivot timing consistency and acceleration. His point totals don’t particularly stand out, but he plays an aggressive offensive game, pinching to make smart plays in the neutral zone and carrying the puck confidently out of his own end. Seeing as he’s already at an NHL playing size, I don’t anticipate Bichsel will need much time before he’s a regular in the pros.
U.S. NTDP (USHL) | F | 5’10”, 181 lbs. | OTF Rank: 11th
|2019-20||Honeybaked 15U AAA||15U AAA||55||49||78||127|
|2020-21||U.S. NTDP U17 Team||USDP||45||28||27||55|
|2021-22||U.S. NTDP U18 Team||USHL||56||28||42||70|
As the season has worn on, Nazar has fallen into Logan Cooley and Cutter Gauthier’s shadow, and the gap between public evaluators’ and teams’ opinions has widened. Standing at just 5’10”, Nazar finished third on the U.S. National Team Development Program squad in scoring with 28 goals and 70 points in 56 total games. 41 of his points across all games were primary ones scored at even-strength, and he did all of that while playing most of the second half of the season with an injury.
The University of Michigan commit lacks size, but he’s also one of the best skaters in this draft class. His knee bend and stride extension are flawless, he recovers under his body well, controls both of his edges with ease, and keeps his upper body quiet. He’s constantly weaving in and out of open space in the offensive zone, finding seems to set up his teammates with excellent passing. His accelerating speed may not be elite, but he’s difficult to knock off the puck when he’s manipulating his pace in transition.
His defensive positioning is fine, but Nazar doesn’t engage physically all that much. He could get a little stronger on his stick, and I would like to see him utilize his above-average puck skills better by being more patient with the puck and forcing defenders into mistakes. His shooting skill is good, but he projects more as a playmaker at higher levels. I expect Nazar to go in this range, and David Poile could have a tough choice to make between him or a standout defender.
Djurgårdens IF J20 (J20 Nationell) | W | 6’1”, 201 lbs. | OTF Rank: 8th
|2019-20||Djurgårdens IF J18||J18 Elit||21||9||6||15|
|2020-21||Djurgårdens IF J18||J18 Region||8||5||8||13|
|2021-22||Djurgårdens IF J20||J20 Nationell||30||33||25||58|
Liam Öhgren is one of the top Swedish prospects in this year’s draft and, based on Bob McKenzie’s final draft ranking/scout survey, is projected to be available at pick #17. The 6’1” winger has grown up in the Djurgårdens organization, splitting his time this season between the J20 Nationell and the SHL. In 25 SHL games, Öhgren scored just two points, but he notched 33 goals and 58 points in 30 J20 Nationell games. That total led his team in scoring and landed him fifth across the entire league and second among draft-eligible skaters at the J20 level. On top of that, an astonishing 44 of his points were primary ones scored at even-strength, and he pitched in 1.467 even-strength, primary points per game, leading his peers in both categories.
At times this season, there were some evaluators suggesting Öhgren could play in the NHL next season. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do see an incredibly cerebral player who understands his assignments in all three zones and rarely makes mistakes with the puck. He executes difficult passes and scoring chances come easy to his due to his positioning, give-and-go style, and ability to work off opposing defenders. He’s an okay shooter but also doesn’t have an issue with getting to the middle of the ice to score on high-danger chances.
There’s a good pace to Öhgren’s game, but his skating mechanics can falter here and there. He lacks elite accelerating speed, but he moves well with the puck and demonstrates excellent puck protection skills. I may be higher on Öhgren than most, but I don’t think Nashville can go wrong with this pick.