Welcome back to The Journey, where we follow hockey prospects and their paths to the NHL, providing fantasy predictions and analysis along the way.
Before we recap a hectic first round of this year's draft, I want to thank everyone that reached out with kind words about my article last week; it was greatly appreciated!
This year's NHL Draft was filled with surprises, big trades, death stares, and the usual boos (sorry Bettman). After two years of virtual drafts, the Montreal crowd welcomed the league back with a phenomenal turnout.
Since it was such a rollercoaster of a day, I thought, why not try to recap and grade each first-round selection (inspired by former Journey writer Hadi Kalakeche). These grades will be a mix of the upside I see in the prospect, whether the pick was a reach, steal, or just about right, and how they fit overall in the organization.
- Montreal Canadiens – Juraj Slafkovský, LW, TPS, Liiga (B+)
To some, this was a surprise right off the bat; to others, they saw this coming. Montreal started off the draft with a bang by selecting the 6-4 Slovakian winger. It is definitely a risk passing on players like Wright, Cooley, and Nemec, but Slafkovský is their guy, and they stuck to that. Although able to create chances purely due to his size, there is more to his game. Slafkovský has an underrated pair of hands and uses that in combination with his size to drive the net, creating scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. He is a very raw player, but if Montreal can develop him properly, they have a top-six power forward winger for the long term.
- New Jersey Devils – Simon Nemec, RD, HK Nitra, Slovakia (A)
I think no matter what, the Devils were going to come out of this draft as winners. They were either going to get a perfect winger to pair alongside Jack Hughes, another top-tier centerman to add behind their already elite crop, or get one of two elite right-handed defense prospects as they did with their selection. Nemec is by far my favourite defenseman in the draft, and I think his upside is through the roof. He is creative, has great awareness on the ice, very mobile, and can move the puck efficiently. Just for a bonus, Byron Bader's model has Victor Hedman as Nemec's top comparable in terms of production. Everything about this kid screams a future star, and I think the Devils did really well here. I kept them at an A over A+ because they didn't technically go best player available in my eyes, but I completely understand the rationale behind their pick.
- Arizona Coyotes – Logan Cooley, C, U.S. National U18 Team, USDP (A-)
It seems that even with Wrigh