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Top Ten WHL Players for the 2022 Draft: May

It’s never too early to look ahead to the draft

2020 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Rebecca Fiorentino/NHLI via Getty Images

I’ve been a busy man this year. In addition to my Hurricanes prospect coverage, I’ve also been scouting the WHL for Smaht Scouting this year. Our final rankings meeting isn’t for another couple of weeks, but I haven’t talked about the draft as much on here, so it’s as good of a time as any to start talking about the draft. This list won’t be my final top ten, as there are still a good number of players that I need more film on before the draft comes. If you’re a draft nerd like I am, I think you’ll like the content that I have planned for June and July. For now, though, here’s my updated top ten list with brief scouting reports.

Number One: Matthew Savoie, Winnipeg

In my eyes, Savoie is still the top player in the WHL for this draft class. There’s not a single draft eligible forward in the WHL with his ceiling, and while he may no longer be considered a top five pick in some circles, he’s still a damn good prospect. Savoie can do it all in the offensive zone and is a dual threat with his playmaking and scoring. When I’ve watched him this season, he stands out as a player that can dictate the pace of play and skate laps around the competition, giving himself and his team an advantage in the offensive zone.

There are some concerns that I have about his game, such as his strength on the puck, or lack thereof. There are plenty of smaller players in the NHL, but all of them are able to either avoid pressure with their skating or strength on the puck. Savoie will need to continue to work on both aspects of his game if he wants to be able to make it to the NHL. There’s also the fact that he’s less effective at even strength, typically a red flag for teams looking for NHL talent. When I ranked Savoie first in my last list, I was confident that he was the number one player to come out of the WHL this year. Now, I’m less confident. My second and third ranked players have closed the gap significantly.

2. Denton Mateychuk, Moose Jaw

Mateychuk is one of the most unique players in this draft class. He’s a defenseman with elite skating ability both in terms of straight line speed and edgework, elite hands and elite hockey sense. What makes him such a unique player, however, is the fact that when he’s on the ice, he’s the catalyst of his team’s offense. The entire play runs through Mateychuk and he has the ability to run an offense by himself. Mateychuk could best be described as if the “LEEEEEEROOOOOOOOY JEEEEEEEENKIIIIIIIINS” meme was a real-life hockey player. It’s constant speed mixed with elite offensive skill. Mateychuk is a capable defender but can get himself into some tough situations when he decides to pinch at inopportune times.

My biggest concern with Mateychuk (and OHLer Pavel Mintyukov, for that mattter) is that he’s a unicorn. There isn’t a single NHL player like Mateychuk, and I feel that he’s just about as unique as they come. We haven’t seen very many defensemen play like a fourth forward, and a lot of NHL teams are going to try and force Mateychuk to be something that he isn’t. Mateychuk is one of the more high-risk players in this draft class because his game may not be suited for the NHL. If he does work out, however, we’re looking at a totally new kind of defenseman that has the potential to change the way we look at the position. Mateychuk has his risks but it wouldn’t surprise me if he goes in the top 15 on draft day.

3. Kevin Korchinski, Seattle

Korchinski is a much more projectable defenseman because of his size, reliability defensively, and elite skating. Korchinski is one of the smoothest skating defensemen in this draft class and his edgework allows for quick turns and elite mobility on the blue line. I couldn’t stand Korchinski early on in the season and nearly wrote him off as a prospect because of his ability to consistently make costly mistakes, but his game has grown leaps and bounds this season and we’re looking at a potential top 15, maybe even top ten pick. There’s a hair separating Korchinski and Mateychuk, and to be honest, you can flip the two players in these rankings and I wouldn’t disagree. It depends on the day with these two players.

Korchinski’s defensive game is more polished and his smooth, effortless skating makes him a must-watch prospect. While Mateychuk is more of an all-around threat in the offensive zone, Korchinski is a quarterback that can move the puck and join the rush if needed. His on-ice vision has improved over the course of the season and he’s able to make adjustments on the fly now, something that limited his effectiveness early on this season. He still makes the occasional blunder that will cost his team, but those mistakes happen much less frequently than they did early on this season. Korchinski has steadily risen up my board and I can confidently say that he’s, at the very least, a top three WHL player in this draft class.

4. Conor Geekie, Winnipeg

Geekie is going to go a lot higher than he should because of his size, in my opinion. Yes, he’s able to do things with the puck that other skaters cannot do. He’s able to attract attention to himself because of his size and strength on the puck. There’s something to be said for that, but Geekie isn’t an NHL center and I have doubts that he’ll be more than a third line center at the NHL level. Right now, it’s easy to look at the highlights and say that Geekie is a dominant presence on the ice. Going into his games, however, you don’t notice Geekie nearly as often. As the center, he should be driving the play and the offense should run through him, and it doesn’t.

His play in transition is weak, he’s poor defensively and his skating is poor. Most of the time, Geekie’s wingers have been much better than he has. Mikey Milne, an overage player for this draft, has some legitimate upside and has been excellent this season. Zach Benson, a 2023 draft eligible player, has been better than Geekie and, at times, Savoie. Geekie plays a game that will get him to the NHL, but like his brother, I have my doubts about his upside. Morgan Geekie is a fine NHL center, but likely a fourth line center at best. I feel that Conor could be a third line center, but with how his game is structured right now, that’s a major question mark.

5. Jagger Firkus, Moose Jaw

A top five candidate for Name of the Draft, Firkus is one of the best pure goal scorers in the entire draft. His speed and elite shooting ability make him a threat to score any time he steps on the ice. Firkus has also grown on me as the season has gone along. I hated his play in the defensive zone early on in the year. I felt that he was too passive and failed to make a difference defensively, which is always going to frustrate me. Over the course of the season, he has gotten more confident in his defensive abilities and I’ve grown to accept the fact that he’s one of the more exciting offensive players in this draft. Plus, think of all of the jokes you can make with his name.

6. Owen Pickering, Swift Current

In my scouting report on Pickering, I labeled him as one of the biggest “what if” players in this draft class. Pickering’s size and skating make me think that some team will take him in the first round. His game is still very unpolished, but there’s a lot of potential. He’s a raw prospect with top four upside, after all. With elite straight line speed, above average edge work and great hockey sense, there’s no doubt in my mind that Pickering will be selected in the top 50 at the very least. He can be developed into a defenseman that is good in nearly every aspect of the game: mobility, defense, physicality, hockey sense, passing and more. Right now, Pickering is very raw and will take a lot of time to grow into his frame and develop. But what if he does? If he does, you’re looking at one of the more complete two way defensemen in the draft. There’s a chance he doesn’t become that, but the potential is going to make teams want to draft him.

7. Matthew Seminoff, Kamloops

This is where the list thins out a bit. I love Seminoff’s game and I feel that it translates to the NHL, even if he only pans out as a fourth line player. The pace, physicality and hockey sense are all there, though. Seminoff is one of the more frustrating players to play against and does some of his best work along the boards and behind the net. He’s an underrated player for this draft class, but the concerns about his upside are warranted. His style of play is that of a fourth line energy player, and teams don’t usually take those players in the top three rounds of the draft. Well, unless you’re Ottawa. Then, you take one with the tenth overall pick.

8. Mats Lindgren, Kamloops

Mats Lindgren is a great playmaker and power play quarterback with strong puck skills, but man oh man is he frustrating. He’s a turnover machine and he’ll be fantastic one shift and horrendous the next, which has raised major concerns as the season has gone along. His highs are really high, like when he’s able to control an offensive shift and help put the puck in the back of the net. His lows are very low, however, such as when he goes 0-for-3 on breakout passes in a single shift and is directly responsible for a goal against. I don’t know what to think about Lindgren. Sure, he could be an NHL player, but are teams going to feel comfortable with the risks? My gut says no, not until the third round at least.

9. Tyler Brennan, Prince George

Brennan is the top goaltender in this draft class and likely won’t be picked until the third round, which shows you how weak of a draft it is for goaltenders. There’s not too much to dislike about Brennan, though. He has the potential to become a solid backup at the NHL level, tracks pucks well and takes up a lot of space in net. I’d like to see Brennan get a little quicker moving from post to post as well as recovering from shots, but those are teachable.

10. Reid Schaefer, Seattle

At a certain point in the draft, you run out of players with third line upside and you have to start taking the players with the best chance to become more than a fourth line player or AHL depth. Schaefer projects as a third line winger, and while he has some flaws, there’s a lot to like. His shooting ability is excellent and I like his play in the defensive zone. Schaefer sees the ice well, and while he may not be able to execute on his passes as well as some other players, I’m encouraged by what I see. With Schaefer, my biggest concern is his neutral zone play. It’s only average at best and he’s parallel to the puck a lot of the time, meaning that defenders are able to intercept passes made to him. Still, you want to draft players with high upside, and Schaefer is one of the more projectable players out of the rest of the WHL’s 2022 class.

Honorable Mentions

Brandon Lisowsky - Lisowsky’s speed and natural goal scoring ability make him a great offensive player, but his effectiveness at 5v5 is a concern.

Ben Hemmerling - Limited minutes on a deep Everett team this year, Hemmerling is a pure playmaker with strong skating ability and high end hockey sense. Might be a really nice late round find, but without a ton of ice time, it’s hard to tell what he’ll become.

Marcus Nguyen - One of my favorite players for the draft. Nguyen hasn’t seen a lot of ice time this season but is one of the more skilled players with the puck. A gifted playmaker and underrated scorer, Nguyen has been one of my sleeper picks all season long. NHL Central Scouting didn’t rank him, which is a major failure on their part. Nguyen can play and he’s a player I’d advocate for at the draft table.

Josh Filmon - Filmon can contribute offensively, but his skating is a major concern and I feel that he can get knocked off of the puck a little too easily for my liking. Has the profile of a great junior scorer, but I’m not sure if I see much more than that.

Reid Dyck - He had a really strong showing at the CHL Top Prospects Game and at the U18s on a disappointing Canada team. A more athletic goalie than Brennan, but he’s more raw. I’ve liked watching him play at times this season and I want to see what he can do with a better defense in front of him. Has the ability to make some big time stops and I feel that he’s better when facing high danger shots.