When the NHL settled on Montreal as the host as the 2022 NHL Draft, which starts tonight (7 p.m. ET on ESPN), the league had no idea that the storied Canadiens would be picking first overall, but after a disastrous 2021-22 regular season the Habs will do so for the first time since 1980. It's a clear two-man race for the pick at Caesars Sportsbook with Shane Wright the -250 favorite to be the choice and Juraj Slafkovsky next at +160, followed by a massive drop-off.
Montreal made the 2021 Stanley Cup Final but was devastated by injuries and COVID this past season – No. 1 goaltender Carey Price played in just five games due to off-the-ice issues – and finished with the league's fewest points with 55. The Habs had the best odds to win the draft lottery in May at 18.5 percent and walked away with the top pick.
The first NHL Entry Draft was held in 1963 and this will be the sixth time the Canadiens pick first, the most of any club. They last did in 1980 and took Doug Wickenheiser, who didn't live up to that selection. The time before Montreal picked first was in 1971 when it took a guy named Guy Lafleur, which worked out decently.
While Wright isn't considered a transformative talent like Auston Matthews (2016 first pick), Connor McDavid (2015) or Sidney Crosby (2005), it would be an upset if he isn't the pick. The 18-year-old Wright, a center from Canada, is ranked as the top prospect by nearly every scouting service. The past season for the Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL, Wright had 94 points (32 goals, 62 assists) in 63 regular-season games. He has been compared to Boston's Patrice Bergeron.
"Generational players don't come along very often. I don't see Shane as generational," said Craig Button, the prospect analyst for TSN in Canada to ESPN.
While Wright has decent size at 6-foot, 198 pounds, the Slovakian winger Slafkovsky is a massive 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. He blew up at the Beijing Olympics, where he scored seven goals in seven games to lead Slovakia to a surprise bronze medal and earned Slafkovsky tournament MVP honors. But he followed that performance up with just five goals in 31 games with TPS in Liiga (the Finnish Elite League). Slafkovsky has drawn comparisons to late Hall of Famer Clark Gillies.
Bob McKenzie, the noted hockey expert from TSN, ranks Slafkovsky as his No. 1 overall prospect and Wright No. 2. New Jersey picks second and is expected to take whichever of the two is still available.
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