NHL mock draft: Canadiens face tough decision between Shane Wright, Juraj Slafkovsky

Naive predictions for all 32 picks to be made during the first round Thursday, plus the Blackhawks’ top pick of 38th overall.

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Slovakian forward Juraj Slafkovsky shoots the puck.

Slovakian forward Juraj Slafkovsky will likely go first or second overall in the NHL draft.

Matt Slocum/AP

The NHL Draft is back in-person this year — and the chaos is back, too.

For the first time in recent memory, the No. 1 pick — held by the hosting Canadiens — seems undecided.

The top tier of the draft class is weaker than normal, but the class overall is deeper than normal, increasing the likelihood of surprise selections. And teams have expressed a willingness to consider trading picks for established players.

Those factors could combine to create a whirlwind of news during the first round Thursday, which is followed by Rounds 2-7 on Friday. They also might open a window for the Blackhawks, who lack a first-round pick, to join the fun.

Naively assuming no movement, however, here’s a best-guess mock draft for the first round, with a bonus prediction for the Hawks’ current top pick — 38th overall, early in the second round.

1. Canadiens: Shane Wright, C, Kingston (OHL)

Wright, the longtime first-pick favorite, is a safe choice. He’s more guaranteed to be an impactful NHL player. Juraj Slafkovsky, the fast-rising contender, has higher upside but higher risk. In the end, NHL teams usually prefer safe options.

2. Devils: Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, TPS (Finland)

This pick might well be made by a team other than the Devils — it has been mentioned frequently in Alex DeBrincat trade rumors, after all — but Slafkovsky likely will land here regardless.

3. Coyotes: David Jiricek, D, Plzen (Czechia)

Arizona historically has had better luck developing defensemen than forwards. If they trade Jakub Chychrun, they’ll need another one.

4. Kraken: Simon Nemec, D, Nitra (Slovakia)

Seattle took forward Matthew Beniers second overall last year, and general manager Ron Francis loves defense. Jiricek and Nemec are interchangeable.

5. Flyers: Logan Cooley, C, USNTDP

Cooley, a Minnesota commit, is undersized but has a smooth, dynamic, beautiful-looking game. He could go as high as third.

6: Blue Jackets: Cutter Gauthier, LW, USNTDP

These six players are the consensus top tier of the draft class, so the Blue Jackets — owning the Hawks’ original pick — likely will end up with whoever remains. Gauthier is committed to Boston College.

7. Senators: Joakim Kemell, RW, JYP (Finland)

Kemell, a shoot-first winger, ranked second in the Central Scouting Service’s final European rankings, ahead of Nemec and Jiricek.

8. Red Wings: Marco Kasper, C, Rogle (Sweden)

The Wings are expected to take Kasper, who combines high skill with a north-south mentality.

9. Sabres: Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg (WHL)

Savoie and Conor Geekie both played center on the same team this past season, but Savoie tallied 90 points to Geekie’s 70.

10. Ducks: Kevin Korchinski, D, Seattle (WHL)

Korchinski is an extremely offensive defenseman who’d fit well on the suddenly promising Ducks.

11. Sharks: Pavel Mintyukov, D, Saginaw (OHL)

The Sharks have an aging NHL defensive group and a prospect pool heavily slanted toward forwards. They’ll likely look for a defenseman here.

12. Blue Jackets: Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg (WHL)

Gauthier, Geekie and 2021 first-rounders Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger and Corson Ceulemans would form an incredible core for Columbus to build around.

13. Islanders: Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Djurgarden (Sweden)

The Islanders’ 13th pick sits at the bottom of the second tier, meaning they’ll likely end up with whoever is left. That prospect being Lekkerimaki, one of the draft’s best shooters, would prompt no complaints.

14. Jets: Frank Nazar, C, USNTDP

Nazar, a Michigan commit, is an elusive center with draft stock that’s difficult to pin down.

15. Canucks: Denton Mateychuk, D, Moose Jaw (WHL)

Mateychuk excels in transition and boasts high NHL upside, which the Canucks — who haven’t picked in the first round since 2019 — desperately need.

16. Sabres: Danila Yurov, RW, Magnitogorsk (Russia)

Like Kasper to the Wings at No. 8, Yurov is expected to go to the Sabres. Their deep existing prospect pool makes Yurov’s many complicating factors palatable.

17. Predators: Owen Pickering, D, Swift Current (WHL)

Despite their defense-first reputation, the Preds haven’t picked a defenseman in the first round since Dante Fabbro in 2016. Pickering is big, physical and reliable.

18. Stars: Noah Ostlund, C, Djurgarden (Sweden)

Ostlund’s stock is rising. His effortless skating and quick hands, despite a lack of strength, match the identity-changing Stars.

19. Wild: Lian Bichsel, D, Leksand (Sweden)

Minnesota must have someone in mind after acquiring this pick from the Kings last week. Bichsel is already 6-5, 225 pounds.

20. Capitals: Nathan Gaucher, C, Quebec (QMJHL)

Washington’s prospect pool is nearly bare, but Gaucher — likely this year’s only QMJHL-produced first-rounder — is a well-rounded power forward the team can feel confident taking.

21. Penguins: Ryan Chesley, D, USNTDP

Pittsburgh is in a similar situation to Washington. This semi-run on defensemen — Chesley being the eighth and final blue-liner certain to go in the first round — would limit the options for teams beyond this spot.

22. Ducks: Isaac Howard, LW, USNTDP

If Anaheim takes Korchinski or Mintyukov 10th, they’ll probably seek a forward here. Opinions vary widely on Howard, a Minnesota-Duluth commit, but his creativity is intriguing.

23. Blues: Rutger McGroarty, RW, USNTDP

McGroarty plays as intensely as the sound of his name implies, but the Michigan commit’s skating is concerning. He’d fit well with the Blues’ style.

24. Wild: Jiri Kulich, C, Karlovy Vary (Czechia)

Kulich, versatile in ability and position, has surged up rankings since dominating the under-18 world championships.

25. Maple Leafs: Brad Lambert, C, Pelicans (Finland)

Once projected to be a top-five pick, Lambert struggled in 2021-22 after a great 2020-21 season.

26. Canadiens: Liam Ohgren, LW, Djurgarden (Sweden)

Ohgren, another shoot-first winger, is the third forward from the Djurgarden organization expected to go in the first round.

27. Coyotes: Jimmy Snuggerud, RW, USNTDP

This spot represents the bottom end of where Snuggerud, a complementary-type winger, is expected to go.

28. Sabres: Liam Hutson, D, USNTDP

Hutson, a Barrington native, has a chance to sneak into the late first round.

29. Oilers: Ivan Miroshnichenko, LW, Omsk Krylia (Russia)

Miroshnichenko, once projected to be a top-10 pick, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in March. But he finished treatment in June and has been cleared to resume hockey.

30. Jets: Sam Rinzel, D, Chaska (Minnesota)

Coming straight out of high school, Rinzel is years away from pro readiness, but he possesses the tools to get there.

31. Lightning: Luca Del Bel Belluz, C, Mississauga (OHL)

This will be Tampa’s second first-round selection in five years. Del Bel Belluz is a low-risk but low-reward bet.

32. Coyotes: Reid Schaefer, LW, Seattle (WHL)

As a defensive forward already measuring 6-3, 213 pounds, Schaefer has seen his stock rise significantly.

38. HAWKS: Filip Mesar, LW, Poprad (Slovakia)

The Hawks are prioritizing forwards and players with speed, and Mesar — a small (5-10, 174 pounds) but blazing-fast winger who tallied 16 points in 37 games in the Slovakian pro league last season — perfectly fits both categories. He might go before 38th, but the Hawks likely would love it if he fell to them.

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