5 Predators Targets with 17th-Overall Pick of 2022 NHL Draft

Despite a memorable season full of surprises and single-season records, the Nashville Predators were the first team to drop out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Adding salt to the wound, they were the only team to go without a win, being dominantly swept by the Colorado Avalanche. General manager David Poile now shifts his focus to the 2022 Entry Draft, set to take place at the Bell Center in Montreal on July 7. He holds the 17th overall pick for just the second time in Nashville franchise history. The Predators selected defenseman Dante Fabbro at 17th overall in 2016, and things turned out quite well for him.

Selecting at the midway point in the first round has its perks, as there are plenty of good players available at every position. The question is, what will Poile prioritize in terms of organizational needs? Here are five prospects the Predators could target with the 17th overall selection.

Frank Nazar

  • Position: Centre
  • Team: USNTDP Juniors (USHL), U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)
  • Counting totals: 15 goals, 35 points in 24 games (USHL); 28 goals, 70 points in 56 games (USDP)
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Nazar has spent most of his playing career as a point-per-game player at just about every level he’s played at. Despite an increase in competition and development through learning curves, he’s handled all aspects well and continues to be a prolific scorer. He’s committed to the University of Michigan for the 2022-23 season, and he aspires to craft his style around players like Patrice Bergeron and Brayden Point.

He’s a guaranteed first-round talent regardless of his size, as his speed and ability to control a game make him a prospect worth waiting a year or two. Although his acceleration is a work in progress, his speed and edgework are two factors that make him such a threat offensively. His skills were on full display at the U-18 World Junior Championship, where he registered three goals and nine points in six games, helping Team USA win the silver medal.

Why Predators Should Consider Nazar

Nazar’s combination of speed and excellent release makes him a viable candidate for the Predators if he ends up sliding a little. While the Predators love to have bigger players in the lineup, they can stand to sacrifice some size for skill, like they did with players like Zachary L’Heureux and Luke Evangelista. Unlike several other National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) committed players, Nazar may be ready to challenge for an NHL spot in a year or two.

Related: 5 Prospects Senators Should Target with Seventh Overall Pick

The issue revolves around where he lands on draft day and which teams could covet a player like Nazar. His projection is all over the place, with some ranking him as high as a top-five pick while some have him going as low as 24th. We’ve seen players with tons of potential slipping under the radar in the past, like Cole Caufield going to Montreal at the 15th spot despite scoring 30 goals in 31 games at the NCAA level in his draft year.

Cutter Gauthier

  • Position: Left Wing/Centre
  • Team: USNTDP Juniors (USHL), U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)
  • Counting totals: 19 goals, 28 points in 22 games (USHL); 34 goals, 65 points in 54 games (USDP)

If Poile wants more size up front, one power forward that could potentially be there at the 17th pick is Gauthier. He plays an excellent 200-foot game, possesses NHL-calibre speed, and he does all the things coaches expect from a power forward. He uses his 6-foot-3 frame extremely well at protecting the puck and creating havoc in corners, and he does well in front of the net. He’ll clog up the crease and dig for loose pucks, and he has the speed and explosiveness to get back on the defensive side to help his defenders. Here’s a snippet of Sean Raggio’s assessment of Gauthier’s style:

“As one would hope for a prospect who’s 6-foot-3, Gauthier brings physicality to his overall 200-foot game. He has the strength to fend off attackers, knocking them off the puck in the defensive zone, and lay the body to create turnovers in the offensive zone. He loves to get involved in scrums when he gets the chance.”

Sean Raggio, Cutter Gauthier — 2022 NHL Draft Prospect Profile, The Hockey Writers
Cutter Gauthier USNTDP
Cutter Gauthier, USNTDP (Rena Laverty / USA Hockey’s NTDP)

Gauthier has plenty of room to develop and grow, particularly with some decision-making flaws in taking shots. He’s committed to Boston College for the 2022-23 season and will play with two Boston Bruins prospects in Andre Gasseau and Oskar Jellvik. Under their guidance, Gauthier will have enough mentorship to help him work out his few flaws, and he’ll be clawing away at an NHL role soon.

Why the Predators Should Consider Gauthier

The Predators have some good up-and-coming prospects at the forward position that do a variety of different things. L’Hereux can score and be a gritty player that crashes and bangs in corners. Jachym Kondelik, drafted in 2018, was this year’s NCAA Best Defensive Forward. Luke Evangelista tore the Ontario Hockey League apart with 55 goals in 62 games. Gauthier brings that necessary element to the Predators’ prospect pool that they sorely need.

Noah Östlund

  • Position: Centre
  • Team: Djurgårdens IF J20 (J20 Nationell, Sweden)
  • Counting totals: 9 goals, 42 points in 32 games; 5 goals, 7 points in 5 playoff games

In Sweden, the J20 Nationell’s Djurgårdens IF team boasts three of the league’s best forwards in Jonathan Lekkerimäki, Liam Öhgren, and Noah Östlund. The three played together and finished in the top-10 for scoring league-wide. Östlund is a unique talent as he possesses many high-end qualities that NHL scouts adore. He’s quick, excellent at handling the puck, has a quality release to his shot, great vision, and hockey IQ out of the ears.

He’s undersized and may be a pass-first type of player, giving up some prestige that other high-end forwards have, but he’s definitely worth the interest. His nine goals in 32 games may turn away some scouts, especially those looking to draft and develop a first-line centre, but should he slip to the middle of the round, Östlund is definitely worth the risk.

Why the Predators Should Consider Östlund

If the Predators want their future prospects to see production at the NHL level someday, they’ll need a playmaking centre that can create room and space with his stick-handling. Östlund provides just that, and he can be a real threat on the ice when the puck is on his stick. In a perfect world, Östlund is feeding Evangelista every shift, and the two create instant chemistry. That kind of talent is what separates contenders from pretenders, and the Predators would be set for a decade under proper time and development.

Liam Öhgren

  • Position: Left Wing
  • Team: Djurgårdens IF J20 (J20 Nationell, Sweden)
  • Counting totals: 33 goals, 58 points in 30 games; 2 goals, 6 points in 6 playoff games

It goes without saying that Östlund’s linemate, Öhgren, is just as viable an option at this point in the draft. A natural winger, Öhgren has size and speed, and is a proven finisher. His 33 goals and 58 points led the Djurgårdens IF J20 league this season. He and his linemates all recorded penalty minutes in the single digits, the only players to do so and finish in the top-10 for scoring. Ranked as the 8th best European skater by Central Scouting, most have the J20 Nationell Forward of the Year slated to go in the bottom end of the first round.

For the best possible look into what makes him a fantastic first-round selection, take a look at what The Hockey Writer’s very own Dayton Reimer had to say about Öhgren in the 2022 NHL Draft Prospect Profile.

“Liam Öhgren can do it all. He’s a terrific skater, utilizing a powerful stride and excellent edge work to change direction on a dime and get into position where ever he’s needed. He’s not the fastest, but he can release a quick burst of speed and then keep pace with players much older and stronger than him, as he demonstrated in 25 games this season in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) with Djurgårdens IF.”

Dayton Reimer, Liam Öhgren — 2022 NHL Draft Prospect Profile, The Hockey Writers

Why the Predators Should Consider Öhgren

Öhgren displayed great progression to his game during the season, earning 25 games in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). The exposure to heightened competition and playing against older opposition only served to help him gain valuable experience. At 18, he was keeping up with the fast pace of the SHL. At that progression, he’ll be in good position to jockey for an NHL roster spot in a few years.

Isaac Howard

  • Position: Left Wing
  • Team: USNTDP Juniors (USHL), U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)
  • Counting totals: 11 goals, 37 points in 27 games (USHL); 33 goals, 82 points in 60 games (USDP)

This year’s U.S. National U18 Team has the potential to feature several names called upon in the first round. Logan Cooley is a top-ranked pick and slated to go in the first three selections, but one player out-scored him on the team; Isaac Howard. His 33 goals and 82 points in the regular season are a few examples of how versatile a player he is. His defensive game was something NHL scouts salivate over, and his skating and playmaking are near the level of an NHL-ready prospect.

Isaac Howard USNTDP
Isaac Howard, USNTDP (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Like many others mentioned above, Howard’s main knock against him is his size. At 5-foot-10, he’s one of the smaller prospects in his draft class, but he possesses all the talent you could ask for in his small frame. He also doesn’t lack competitiveness, as he’s one of the first to get his hands dirty and dig for pucks in corners. You won’t see him taking a shift off, and he’s certain to be a firecracker the moment his feet touch the ice. Howard was a big contributor to Team USA’s success at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.

Why Predators Should Consider Howard

The Predators have a pure goal scorer in Evangelista, and adding Howard could give them two legitimate offensive weapons. He’s committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth for next season, and will be one of the more prominent players on the roster. In the 2022 draft, he’s one of the best pure goal-scorers available and will likely slide due to his lack of size. In recent history, teams that have jumped on undersized players with this kind of pedigree have reaped the benefits and left those who passed on them slapping their foreheads.

Who Should the Predators Select?

When it comes to the 17th pick, it’s a matter of who’s available at the time of their selection and what their focus should be. The Predators have a knack for finding gems in the later rounds for defensemen, so their focus should put placed on finding game-changing talents on the front end. Someone like Gauthier addresses a need on the power forward front, while the Swedish prospects provide different elements that can enhance a team’s top nine.

Howard is probably the highest reward for the risk that comes with him. While the Predators have opted for smaller forwards in the last few drafts, they all possess different qualities and bring unique strengths. Gauthier brings something new to the prospect pool, but the idea of him remaining on the board at 17 is a bit farfetched.

Poile could always trade up in an attempt to select someone he deems worth it, but the lack of a second-round pick makes that an unlikely scenario. Should any of the five forwards mentioned be available when the Predators step up to the podium, they’ll put their franchise in a good position five years from now.

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