BROSSARD, Quebec — The Montreal Canadiens remain undecided on who they will select with the No. 1 pick in the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft, but the decision will come down to more than who has the most skill on the ice.
Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes confirmed that the three top prospects are being considered: forwards Shane Wright, Juraj Slafkovsky and Logan Cooley. Montreal is selecting No. 1 for the first time since 1980, when it chose forward Doug Wickenheiser.
“It’s probably almost harder to be the first overall pick in Montreal,” Hughes said on Monday. “So as part of our evaluation, we’re not just evaluating hockey players, we’re evaluating character. We’re trying to evaluate their ability to deal with that type of pressure on a consistent basis.”
Wright (6-foot, 199 pounds) was No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters despite missing a full season of competitive hockey. The center finished eighth in the Ontario Hockey League with 94 points (32 goals, 62 assists) in 63 games for Kingston this season after the league canceled its season in 2020-21 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
Vincent Lecavalier, who was named special adviser to hockey operations for the Canadiens on Feb. 18, spoke to Wright by phone recently and discussed among other things how he handled the pressure of his final season with Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before being selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning with the No. 1 pick in the 1998 NHL Draft.
“I’d say it’s been three years now that he’s been talked about in this situation,” Lecavalier said. “It was more about finding out how he managed it this season. I started the conversation by talking about how I felt in that situation during my last season in Rimouski. There was pressure every day, everyone asking are you going to be picked No. 1? So it was more about speaking to the young man to see how he managed it this year, and we spoke a bit about his game. It was a good conversation. I learned a lot about him. He’s a good person and he clearly has high standards.”
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Slafkovsky (6-4, 229), a left wing with TPS in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, was No. 1 in the final ranking of International skaters. He had 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 31 regular-season games and seven points (two goals, five assists) in 18 playoff games. He was also voted the most valuable player of the 2022 Beijing Olympics, when he scored seven goals to help Slovakia win the bronze medal.
Cooley (5-10, 180) was No. 2 in the final ranking of North American skaters. The center was second on the USA Hockey National Team Development Program with 75 points (27 goals, 48 assists) in 51 games. He also had 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in six games to help the United States finish second at the 2022 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
Cooley is committed to play for the University of Minnesota next season.
“We’re trying to evaluate how a player projects, right, so we can look at a hockey player and say this is what he is as a hockey player at this moment in time and where he’s playing,” Hughes said. “The players were playing in different leagues at different levels of hockey. We’re trying to look at them and say, ‘This guy is able to do this at this level. Can he do it at the next level, too?’ So there’s a hockey component too, right? There’s a positional component. There’s all these things that we’re evaluating. Can you play at that position at the next level? The other part, and I think part of why ‘Vinny’ had this conversation with Shane and will likely have conversations with the others, too, is to understand it’s hard to be 17-year-old and be under the microscope as Shane has and others before him.”
The 2022 draft will be held July 7-8 at Bell Centre in Montreal. The first round will be July 7 (7 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, SN, TVAS), and rounds 2-7 are July 8 (11 a.m. ET; NHLN, ESPN+, SN, TVAS).
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