The Montreal Canadiens held the first domino at the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft. Once that dropped, the lasting effects would be felt by everyone not only now, but for years to come.
As expected, that’s exactly what happened. GM Kent Hughes and the Canadiens selected winger Juraj Slafkovsky first overall. The reaction at the Bell Centre said it all. It was a historic moment happening in real time.
The thought coming into the draft was that this was Shane Wright’s year. He would be going to the Canadiens first overall finally giving them the center they’ve been waiting for. But as Hughes said at the draft: “There aren’t many players who can skate, who have a big body and are able to score like Juraj.”
The Canadiens took their best available player. And now the NHL landscape will feel the ripple effects of this for years to come.
The Slafkovsky Domino Effect
The New Jersey Devils now had a major decision on their hands. With Slafkovsky gone and already set at center, do they take Wright anyway or pivot to a defenseman? They decided on the best defenseman on their board and selected Simon Nemec. Wright slides again and now potentially out of the Eastern Conference unless he makes it to the Flyers at five.
The Arizona Coyotes were going to take a center. But now they a choice of two with Wright and Logan Cooley on the board. It was long thought that Cooley was a Coyotes target all along. He spoke highly of them at the Combine and thought it was a realistic possibility he’d end up there. That’s what happened. Wright bypassed again.
Now it was time for the Seattle Kraken. The thought for them was to take one of the defensemen to start building their blue line around. They got the surprise of their life when Wright was still available. Do they go defense or pivot to Wright? They ended Wright’s slide at four making them one of the biggest winners of the NHL Draft.
But oh my. Wright sliding to four not only created headlines at the draft. It’s going to create headlines for many seasons in the Western Conference. Suddenly, the Coyotes and Kraken added high upside centers to their pool.
How the West Will Be Won, Eventually
We’re not going to see the impact of this for a few seasons yet. But the Canadiens’ decision to draft Slafkovsky will have major ramifications on who the West’s elite will be in 5-6 years time.
With the Coyotes clearly looking to add impact pieces to their prospect pool, they were able to secure both Cooley and Conor Geekie in this draft, giving them their future 1-2 punch to go along with Dylan Guenther who they selected last year. Suddenly the Coyotes have high-end talent on the way and could become a force down the road.
The Kraken stood patiently and a star was handed to them in Wright. The center combo of Wright and Matty Beniers make a formidable 1-2 punch that the franchise can build around.
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The West is being run by the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers now. In 5-10 years, the Coyotes and Kraken are primed to be in the mix among the elite. They have the Canadiens in part to thank for this. Instead of Wright and Slafkovsky in the Eastern Conference, it will be Wright and Cooley in the Western Conference.
This can even be taken a step further involving the Metropolitan Division. All of Nemec, Cutter Gauthier and David Jiricek now reside in that division. Ouch. That division gets even more good talent.
Championships Are Won at the Draft
The goal of every team is to win the Stanley Cup eventually. The Coyotes and Kraken each took important steps in achieving their goal by landing the top-two centers in this draft in Cooley and Wright.
The Canadiens allowed them the chance to draft these key players. They went away from the traditional thinking of drafting a center. In doing so, this moment will now be looked back on for years to come as the catalyst to a shift in power in the Western Conference. Our Canadiens’ contributor Blain Potvin says that this was a bold move for them on Day 1.
The stocks for both the Coyotes and Kraken skyrocketed at this draft with each being deemed among the biggest winners of the two days. Not only did they land their top centers, they added significant help in other places as well. Our Kraken contributor Adam Kierszenblat says they also added a potential steal of the draft in Jagger Firkus.
When we think back to the 2022 NHL Draft, it will be remembered for “the decision.” The Canadiens decided on Slafkovsky. If the Coyotes or Kraken lift the Stanley Cup in the future, they can thank the Canadiens for “the decision” that helped them to that point.
Taking Slafkovsky was a historic moment not only for the Canadiens, but for the outlook of the Western Conference too. They are forever changed thanks to two days in July 2022. What happens next will be fascinating to watch.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.