He is just the ninth European to be chosen first overall and unseated Shane Wright, who had been considered the favourite all season long. Selecting 1st overall for the first time since 1980, the Habs’ management team received a thunderous ovation after calling Slafkovsky’s name. Next up, New Jersey called another Slovak, and a little later a third was called, marking the most successful first round in Slovak history.
Here is how the first round unfolded:
1—Montreal/Juraj Slafkovsky - Slovakia
Slafkovsky led the Olympics with seven goals and helped Slovakia win bronze, the nation’s first Olympic medal. He played with TPS in the Finnish league and is considered a strong candidate to make the Habs this fall.
Shocking everyone, the Devils followed Montreal by picking another Slovak, marking the first time this small but proud hockey nation has gone 1-2 in the draft. A teammate of Slafkovsky in Beijing, Nemec played in the Slovak league with Nitra in 2021-22. His name was announced by Kate Madigan, the team’s assistant GM.
The Coyotes had three picks in the 1st round and used their highest of these to take USNTDP forward Logan Cooley. A skilled centreman, Cooley has developed by leaps and bounds in the last two years and promises to be the cornerstone of a major Coyotes rebuild. He played at both the 2021 and ’22 U18s.
Finally! The projected number one had to wait nearly half an hour to hear his name, but when Kraken GM Ron Francis called his name, Wright was excited and relieved. Seattle surely got an upgrade over what they thought they might have had available. Wright captained Canada’s 2021 U18 team to gold.
The Flyers took another member of the USNTDP in Gauthier, a left winger who helped the U.S. to a silver medal at this past year’s U18 tournament. He has committed to Boston College for the coming year and has one of the best shots of all draft-eligible players. The Flyers will almost certainly want him to convert to centre. Gauthier was born in Skelleftea, Sweden but raised in Arizona.
The Jackets got this high choice in the deal that sent Seth Jones to Chicago, and Finnish GM Jarmo Kekalainen went with a Czech defender from HC Skoda Plzen who helped Czechia win bronze at the 2022 World Championship.
The Hawks acquired this selection only a few hours before the start of the draft, sending Alex DeBrincat to Ottawa for the 7th and 39th selection this year and a 3rd-rounder in 2024. And with it they took Saskatoon, Saskatchewan defender Korchinski from Seattle of the WHL. An offensive player with a great shot, he will contribute to the offence from the back end.
8—Detroit/Marco Kasper - Austria
The Red Wings selected Austrian Kasper, who also played at the most recent World Championship in Finland. He played the last season with Rogle in Sweden and this selection marked the fifth straight year the Wings used their first selection on a European. The only higher Austrian ever chosen was Thomas Vanek (5th in 2003 by Buffalo).
Like Arizona, the Sabres have three choices of the first 32 players, using their first one to claim Savoie, who plays for Winnipeg in the WHL. Matthew’s brother Carter was drafted by Edmonton two years ago. Not the biggest player, he’ll make his mark with speed and skill.
10—Anaheim/Pavel Mintyukov - Russia
A defender with Saginaw, Mintyukov is a Russian-born player who will help the team’s offence. And given the Ducks are in need of blue line help, he might make the team sooner rather than later.
11—Arizona/Conor Geekie - Canada
Acquired from San Jose right after Anaheim made the 10th selection, the Coyotes chose centre Conor Geekie from the Winnipeg Ice of the WHL. His younger brother Morgan plays for Seattle.
12—Columbus/Denton Mateychuk - Canada
Playing for Moose Jaw in the WHL, 17-year-old Mateychuk played on Canada’s superb gold-medal team at the 2021 IIHF ICe Hockey U18 World Championship. He’ll turn 18 on July 12 and is another fine offensive blueliner in the top dozen of the draft.
13—Chicago/Frank Nazar - USA
The third player from the USNTDP so far, Nazar is slated to join the University of Michigan in the fall. He also played at the 2022 U18.
14—Winnipeg/Rutger McGroarty - USA
Another USNTDP product, McGroarty captained the U.S.’s U18 team to a silver medal last season. He is a rare player to come out of Nebraska, Lincoln to be precise.
15—Vancouver/Jonathan Lekkerimaki - Sweden
The first Swede selected this year, Lekkerimaki helped Sweden win gold at the 2022 U18 World Championship. He follows a tradition of Swedes making an impact in Vancouver, from Markus Naslund to the Sedin twins. And he wears number 40 because of Elias Pettersson, the most recent Swedish Canucks star.
16—Buffalo/Noah Ostlund - Sweden
The Sabres acquired this selection from Vegas in the blockbuster deal that sent Jack Eichel to the Golden Knights, and they wasted no time taking a second Swede in as many picks. He was a teammate of Lekkerimaki on the golden U18 team and is a skilled forward with Djurgarden.
17—Nashville/Joakim Kemell - Finland
The first Finn goes 17th overall in the form of Kemell, a right winger who helped Suomi win bronze at the 2022 U18s. Injuries slowed him this past season, and had he played the full year he likely would have been a higher selection.
He plays for Leksand in Sweden, but Bichsel is the first Swiss player taken this year. He is only the second Swiss defender ever taken in the first round (Mirco Muller, 2013). Big and strong, he might take a bit longer to develop, but he has the potential to be a force in his own end.
19—Minnesota/Liam Ohgren - Sweden
Acquired from Los Angeles in the massive Kevin Fiala deal just a few days ago, the Wild took another Swede. Ohgren captained the 2022 U18 winning team and played for Djurgarden this past season.
20—Washington/Ivan Miroshnichenko - Russia
It wouldn’t come as much of a surprise that a team captained by Alex Ovechkin wouldn’t shy away from selecting a Russian. Miroshnichenko captained the Russian entry at the 2021 Hlinka Gretzky tournament, which they won. He also won silver at the 2021 U18. He had a cancer scare last year but overcame Hodgkin’s Lymphoma to resume his career.
21—Pittsburgh/Owen Pickering - Canada
From Swift Current of the WHL comes Pickering, a Manitoba native who played for Canada at the 2022 U18s.
22—Anaheim/Nathan Gaucher - Canada
The second choice in the first round for the Ducks was acquired thanks to the trade that sent Hampus Lindholm to Boston at the deadline this past March. Gaucher a popular and unpopular pick both among the Bell Centre crowd. Popular because Gaucher was the first QMJHLer selected this year, but unpopular because he was selected by Anaheim and not Montreal!
23—St. Louis/Jimmy Nuggerud - USA
Another member of the vaunted USNTDP, Snuggerud also was on the U18 team this past year. He’ll play this upcoming season at the University of Minnesota, and his one-timer is already considered world class.
24—Minnesota/Danila Yurov - Russia
The third Russian selected so far, Yurov also played at the 2021 U18 Worlds, helping Russia win silver. Yurov had seven assists and eleven points in seven games.
25—Chicago/Sam Rinzel - USA
Acquired from the Maple Leafs after the Yurov selection, along with goalie Petr Mrazek, for the 38th selection, the Hawks then chose a player from Chaska High School in Minnesota. A physical defender, he was the Hawks’ third pick of the first round and the biggest gamble. The Leafs cleared some cap space, and the Hawks got the chance to gamble on a very untested prospect.
26—Montreal/Filip Mesar - Slovakia
The other selection for the hosts came via a deal that sent Tyler Toffoli to Calgary. The Habs used it to take another Slovak in Mesar, who plays with Poprad. He has tremendous upside in the offensive end, and if he can build some muscle and continue to grow, Montreal could have a true star down the road.
Prior to announcing their selection, newly-appointed GM Mike Grier gave a speech to celebrate the life of Bryan Marchment, who died suddenly yesterday in Montreal while preparing for the draft with the Sharks. He was only 54. Bystedt was another member of Sweden’s U18 gold-medal team this past season and plays for his hometown team Linkoping HC.
28—Buffalo/Jiri Kulich - Czechia
The third selection of the opening round for the Sabres—all centremen—came thanks to the deal that sent Sam Reinhart to Florida last summer. The Sabres took Kulich of HC Energie Karlovy Vary, the MVP of the 2022 U18s and Czechia’s captain.
The Coyotes acquired the pick, along with three other selections, in exchange for taking on Zack Kassian’s contract from Edmonton. Arizona selected the second player from the Quebec league in Lamoureux, a 6’7” defender whom the Coyotes will be patient with given his size and possible upside.
30—Winnipeg/Brad Lambert - Finland
The Jets acquired this selection from the Rangers in a trade for Andrew Copp on 21 March. They used it to select a Finn, Lambert, who had been projected to go much higher. He was on Finland’s bronze-medal team at the 2021 World Juniors.
31—Tampa Bay/Isaac Howard - USA
The Lightning earned the penultimate pick of the 1st round by virtue of being the Stanley Cup finallists. They selected Howard from the USNTDP, a left winger who will be at the University of Minnesota-Duluth come September.
32—Edmonton/Reid Schaefer - Canada
Playing for Seattle in the WHL, Schaefer is a power forward who had a breakout season with the Thunderbirds in 2021-22. The Edmonton native could not have been happier being drafted by his hometown team.