The 2021 NHL Draft was the year of the defenseman as Owen Power (1st – Buffalo Sabres), Luke Hughes (4th – New Jersey Devils), Simon Edvinsson (6th – Detroit Red Wings) and Brandt Clarke (8th – Los Angeles Kings) took up residence in the top ten. Once the first round was complete, a total of eight blueliners were chosen. The 2022 Draft could be more of the same, as Simon Nemec and David Jiricek appear to be locked in at the top and intriguing prospects like Kevin Korchinski, Pavel Mintyukov and Denton Mateychuk are projected to be lottery picks as well.
So, now that we are just a few weeks away from naming the 2022 Draft class, let’s take a closer look at the projected top ten defensemen that will eventually be selected on July 7 and 8.
10. Calle Odelius, LD, Djurgårdens IF J20 (J20 Nationell)
Calle Odelius was only a supporting actor when it came to draft-eligible players playing for Djurgårdens’ J20 team. That’s only because there was a trio of projected first-rounders by the names of Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Liam Ohgren and Noah Ostlund headlining the show. That’s not to say he isn’t special, just that he’s not the most well-known of the bunch. Projected by many outlets to get selected towards the end of the first round or early on in the second, his toolkit is perfectly suited for the modern NHL as THW’s own Peter Baracchini reiterates in his prospect profile.
Related: THW’s FREE 2022 NHL Draft Guide
“Odelius is everything that you would want in a modern two-way, puck-moving defenseman as he displays excellent composure and situational awareness. His smarts allow him to think the game quickly and effectively, but it’s his skating that is always on display. He has great movement in all directions and he’s very deceptive with his motions and movements.”
While Odelius may not turn into a dominant force on the top pairing, his ceiling is definitely that of a second-pairing blueliner who can play on both special teams and provide a stabilizing presence for his partner due to his strong two-way game. His skating, passing and playmaking skills are strengths every coach and general manager salivate over, and he has them all in spades. He still has some work to do on the defensive side of the puck, but that will come with time as he develops. Given his high hockey IQ, that weakness shouldn’t prevent a team from selecting him on Day 2 or even late on Day 1.
Playing for the aforementioned Djurgårdens IF J20 team, Odelius recorded an impressive seven goals and 30 points in 43 games and was named to Team Sweden’s squad at the 2022 U18 World Championship where he put up three assists in six games. He also made himself known at the 2022 Scouting Combine in Buffalo, finishing at the top of the leaderboard in fatigue index and peak power output in the Wingate. Both measure endurance, which bodes well for the future as he could be relied upon to log major minutes in all situations when he makes it to the NHL.
9. Ryan Chesley, RD, USNTDP Juniors (USHL)
NHL Central Scouting: 18th (among NA skaters)
THW Prospect Profile
From one two-way force to another, it’s Ryan Chesley from the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP), who also has a bright future as a defender in the NHL. Already well developed as a defensive defenceman with a high hockey IQ, he could possibly step into the league as a bottom-pairing option as soon as next season. That’s how good he is in the defensive zone already. In fact, Peter, who wrote his profile, chose him as a prospect who could potentially do just that in his draft-plus-1 campaign in a segment on THW’s Prospect Corner.
“Chesley is a very strong and reliable two-way defender with great hockey sense. He has a great work ethic but his bread and butter is his defensive play, as he possesses great instincts in his own end or in the neutral zone. He’s extremely confident and excels in one-on-one situations, as he does a fantastic job of closing the gap on the puck carrier.”
Chesley’s strengths definitely lie in the defensive zone, but that doesn’t mean he won’t develop an offensive game in the future too. His numbers at the U18 level don’t scream offensive force, but considering he scored 12 goals in the USDP and five in the United States Hockey League (USHL), along with two goals in six games at the U18s, he might have a higher ceiling than most people think. Even if he doesn’t develop into a two-way dynamo, the team who selects him will still be very happy with what they get, even if it’s just defence with the occasional goal or two.
Committed to the University of Minnesota in the fall, Chesley will be joining a school with a rich history of developing strong two-way defenders as they boast Erik Johnson, Nick Leddy, Ryan Lindgren, Nate Schmidt and Brady Skjei among its recent alumnus. Basically, what I am saying is, don’t be surprised if he joins them one day.
8. Seamus Casey, RD, USNTDP Juniors (USHL)
The more offensively inclined of the American defenders in this 2022 Draft class, Seamus Casey is never afraid to jump into the rush or take a chance offensively. Without a doubt one of the best skating defensemen that will get selected in the first or second round, he, like another gifted USHL alum in Quinn Hughes, thrives because of their edge-work, smooth stride and ability to get up to top speed in a flash. Unlike Hughes, he’s not projected to go in the top 10 by most outlets, though. In fact, he’s all over the place from as high as a top-15 pick to as low as later in the second round.
Casey is undersized (5-foot-10, 161 pounds) to be sure, but that hasn’t stopped Hughes or Cale Makar from becoming top-notch blueliners in the NHL. No, he is not at the same level as those two franchise cornerstones, but he still has the chops to make it as an understudy to players of that calibre. Along with his elite skating abilities, he can also expertly quarterback a power play and transition the puck with ease through the neutral zone via his skates or a well-placed tape-to-tape pass. Committed to a strong program at the University of Michigan that has already churned out Power, Nick Blankenburg, Quinn Hughes and very soon, his brother Luke, Casey and the team that drafts him should have a bright future to look forward to.
7. Owen Pickering, LD, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
NHL Central Scouting: 15th (among NA skaters)
THW Prospect Profile
Initially thought of as a second-round pick at best, Owen Pickering has raised his stock as of late, not only through his play with the Swift Current Broncos but also his strong performance in the fitness testing portion of the NHL Combine at the beginning of June. Finishing first in the Aerobics Fitness: Test Duration 14:00 Minutes or More test, he blew the competition away with a 15:30 rating, which was a full 29 seconds more than second-place finisher Calle Odelius.
Standing at a menacing 6-foot-4, Pickering already has NHL size, but skates like he’s 5-foot-10. Fluid and effortless strides make up the bulk of his skating game as he can skate as well forwards as he can backwards.
“The backbone of Pickering’s game and the reason to be most excited for his potential at the NHL level is in the fluidity and athleticism with which he traverses the ice…The power he generates through crossovers is a consistent theme for Pickering seen in his backwards stride as well…Rounding out the totality of Pickering’s skating prowess are his quick feet and flexible hips. He’s incredibly agile for a player his size and can utilize nifty footwork to create lanes for himself.” –Donesh Mazloum, FC Hockey
While Pickering has the tendency to make bad decisions when it comes to his passing, he has an intriguing toolbox of talent that should translate well to the NHL level. General managers and coaches, even now, love players with size even though “undersized” players are dominating the landscape. Having said that, Pickering is no ordinary 6-foot-4 defender as his skating clearly demonstrates.
6. Lian Bichsel, LD, Leksands IF (SHL)
NHL Central Scouting: 9th (among EU skaters)
THW Prospect Profile
As we close in on the top five, let’s take a minute to talk about another sizeable defenceman in 6-foot-5 Swiss-born Lian Bichsel. Primarily focused on his own zone and covering up the errors of his teammates, he played a whopping 29 games for Leksands IF in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), where he scored a goal and three assists. Of course, not known for his prowess in the offensive zone, he has been known to rush the puck in at times and unleash his heavy slap shot.
Bichsel’s size, physicality and defensive game will be the reasons he gets drafted though. Like Dayton said in his prospect profile, “defensive defensemen are crucial in a team’s success. Just look at the best defensive pairings in the NHL; Cale Makar has worked beautifully with Devon Toews, while Tony DeAngelo revived his career with Jaccob Slavin by his side. These players put in the hard minutes in their own end, allowing a more dynamic player to rush the puck and create scoring chances.” That’s exactly what he will turn into, a perfect partner to someone like Hughes, Makar or DeAngelo.
5. Denton Mateychuk, LD, Moosejaw Warriors (WHL)
NHL Central Scouting: 14th (among NA skaters)
THW Prospect Profile
Hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Mateychuk has all the tools to be a top-pairing defenceman in his prime. Starring for the Moosejaw Warriors in the Western Hockey League (WHL), he lit up the competition this season to the tune of 13 goals and 64 points in 65 games, which was good for fifth among defencemen behind Kevin Korchinski, Chad Nychuk, Clay Hanus and Olen Zellweger. Combined with his mobility, vision and intelligence from the point, he’s everything you want in an NHL defender, especially in the modern game which is based on speed and skill.
Like THW’s Sean Raggio said in his prospect profile, “He’s quick and eager to join the rush, and isn’t a stranger to carrying the puck over the blue line. He has the ability to carry the puck into the zone and establish control for his team. He doesn’t shy away from heading into dangerous areas, and has the vision and creativity to make a play and move the puck into those areas to open teammates, or get a shot on goal.”
Mateychuk also boasts some of the best playmaking and passing skills of the defencemen in this draft class. As described by SMAHT Scouting’s Austin Garrett, who exclaimed, “If one were to make a highlight video of Mateychuk it would almost certainly be riddled with “how did he even see that guy!?!?” passes. His passing vision and creativity is at an elite level, especially in his controlled entries and exits. He is able to identify passing lanes at an elite level, and is able to manipulate defenders with his skill to open up passing lanes himself.”
4. Kevin Korchinski, LD, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
NHL Central Scouting: 7th (among NA skaters)
THW Prospect Profile
Korchinski massively increased his stock heading into the 2022 Draft with a strong performance in the WHL Playoffs with the Seattle Thunderbirds. After a regular season that saw him record four goals and 65 points in 67 games, he continued that dominance into the playoffs with another six goals and 19 points in 25 games, surpassing his goal total from the entire 2021-22 campaign. However, despite that offensive outburst, pundits started to criticize his defensive game – especially in the WHL Final against the high-powered Edmonton Oil Kings.
That fact should not negate all the positive progress Korchinski made this season, though. Might I remind you, he was playing against elite prospects like Dylan Guenther, Jake Neighbours and Justin Sourdif, so it’s not like he had it easy out there. That being said, like all defenders, he still needs to develop that side of his game in the future. His skating, edges and transition game, however, are all strengths that will eventually get him drafted somewhere in the top 10.
3. Pavel Mintyukov, LD, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
NHL Central Scouting: 6th (among NA skaters)
THW Prospect Profile
One of the most lethal defencemen in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this season, and the only OHL defender on this list, Pavel Mintyukov finished with 62 points in 67 games, which included 17 goals. Definitely not well-rounded…yet, he has the offensive toolkit to become a major contributor on an NHL backend and first-unit power play someday, as he was touted by McKeen’s scout Brock Otten as having the “highest upside of any defencemen available.”
Blessed with size, skating and high hockey IQ, NHL.com’s Mike G. Morreale compared Mintyukov to Mikhail Sergachev of the Tampa Bay Lightning. While he might not be there in the two-way sense just yet, he has everything he needs to become a top-four defender with an outside chance of the first pairing. It will be interesting to see if his talents translate favorably to the next level, as he’s still relatively raw in his own end at this point.
2. David Jiricek, RD, HC Plzen (Czechia)
NHL Central Scouting: 4th (among EU skaters)
THW Prospect Profile
On the heels of a 2021 Draft that finished with Canadian Owen Power and American Luke Hughes as the top two defenders, 2022 will – barring a surprising turn of events – travel overseas to feature a duo from the region of Czechia and Slovakia. First up is the sublime two-way presence of David Jiricek.
After suffering an injury during Team Czechia’s first game of the truncated 2022 World Junior Championship in December, a game in which he recorded an assist, Jiricek was limited to only 29 games this season. However, he still ended up finishing with five goals and 11 points and was able to get into the lineup for the 2022 World Championship where he recorded two points in five games, walking away with a bronze medal in the process. Despite the limited viewings for scouts, the 6-foot-3 Czech defender is still projected to be selected in the top 10 and most likely will be the second one off the board when the first round comes to a close on July 7.
Arguably the most well-rounded defenceman of the 2022 Draft class, Jiricek can bring it both offensively and defensively. Size, check, skating, check, hockey IQ, check, a booming shot from the point, double and triple-check. Basically, he checks a lot of boxes when it comes to what scouts, coaches and general managers look for in a two-way defenceman. He’s also a right shot, which is a rare attribute among elite blueliners. Because of this, he might actually play in the NHL sooner rather than later. In fact, THW’s Alex Hobson compared him favorably to Detroit Red Wings’ star Moritz Seider, who ripped it up as a rookie in 2021-22. If he turns into anything like him, the team that drafts him will be over the moon.
1. Simon Nemec, RD, HK Nitra (Slovakia)
NHL Central Scouting: 3rd (among EU skaters)
THW Prospect Profile
Nemec has probably sat on top of the mountain of 2022 Draft eligible defencemen since the start of the season. From appearances at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup (where he was captain), U18s, World Juniors, Olympic Qualifiers, Olympics and World Championships, he has run the gauntlet of international hockey playing in a total of 26 games across the six tournaments. While he didn’t start producing until the 2022 World Championship (1 goal, 5 assists in 8 games), he still played a ton of hockey for his country, mostly against men with a lot of professional experience. He wasn’t a passenger either, as he logged a lot of minutes and helped lead Slovakia to a Hlinka Gretzky Cup Silver Medal, Olympic Bronze Medal, and U18 Division 1A Gold Medal. Talk about an international resume, and he hasn’t even turned 19 yet.
Nemec also played for HK Nitra in the Slovakia league where he had an impressive 26 points in 39 regular-season games and an eye-popping five goals and 17 points in the playoffs. What a year indeed. No wonder he’s projected as a top-five selection at this year’s draft.
Those totals and accolades were made possible by Nemec’s vast toolkit of elite two-way hockey. Yet another right-hander at the top of this draft, the 6-foot-1, 192-pound Slovak has everything you want in a top-pairing, franchise defenceman. His confidence knows no bounds as he expertly navigates every zone on the ice with ease and precision thanks to his high-end hockey IQ, seemingly effortless skating stride and quick stick. His transition game also allows him to seamlessly switch from offense to defense, which makes for a very dangerous player to go up against. All in all, if a team is in need of a game-changing defenceman, they can’t go wrong with a selection like Nemec.
The 2022 Draft may not have the first-overall talent of Power, but it definitely has two towers of power that will eventually become elite top-pairing defenders in the future. It also has several others that could possibly be top-four, and still, others that might surprise from the second round and top out as elite even though no one expects them to at this point. Stay tuned, because you never know what can happen when it comes to matters of prospects and the draft. We will see where they ultimately end up team-wise when the cards are on the table in just a few weeks.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.