How names like Shane Wright, Logan Cooley and Matthew Savoie ascended youth hockey ranks
While it’s still not completely back to normal, the 2022 NHL Draft will feature teams selecting players following the closest to a traditional hockey season we’ve seen since 2019.
The World Juniors will be played later this summer, but for the most part, the leagues that produce the majority of NHL draftees played full seasons, and the scouts had opportunities to get a good look at who they will be trying to select this week when the draft takes place in Montreal on Thursday.
So who will be the top players selected? There seems to be a pretty clear No. 1, and he’s been at the top of the draft board for quite a while.
All signs point to Shane Wright being the first on stage when the NHL Draft officially begins on July 7. The captain of the Kingston Frontenacs has been making headlines for the better part of a decade at this point, as he has dominated at every stage of youth and junior hockey.
Wright, a Burlington, Ont., native whose family was not familiar with the sport, got his start with his hometown hockey program. At the age of 12, it was clear that he needed more challenges and opportunities, so Shane and his father, Simon, moved to Vaughan. There, Shane could suit up for the Don Mills Flyers. He played against older competition every year he was with Don Mills, and yet he thrived, helping the Flyers to a GTHL U15 and Ontario Hockey Federation Bantam AAA championship in 2017-18 before an even bigger season in 2018-19.
That’s when Wright posted 150 points in 72 games to lead Don Mills to the OHL Cup — he led the field in scoring with 18 points and was named MVP of the iconic season-ending tournament. Along the way, he was named GTHL Player of the Year, and earned a silver medal at the Canada World Games. All of it was enough for him to earn the rare ‘exceptional status’ from the OHL, where the Kingston Frontenacs were able to select him No. 1 overall a year before his 2004 birth-year class was eligible for the junior league selection process.
Wright served as an assistant captain his first year in the ‘O’ despite his under-ager status, and he was named CHL Rookie of the Year after posting 66 points in 58 games. He and John Tavares are the only 15-year-olds to receive that award.
While the 2020-21 OHL season was cancelled, he still led Canada to gold in the IIHF World Under-18 Championship, and this season, he was awarded the CHL Top Draft Prospect Award after registering 94 points in 63 games.
There’s no clear No. 2 overall pick after Wright, but the next player to take a look at is Logan Cooley of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (USNTDP). Cooley is a product of Pittsburgh, Pa., and he owes Sidney Crosby a ‘thank you’ card whenever he reaches the NHL. In the first year of the Little Penguins program — started by Crosby and the Penguins in 2008 — Cooley was one of the initial participants.
Unlike Wright, he did grow up in a hockey family, however — Cooley’s two uncles played Division-I college hockey and coach high school hockey programs in the area — while Cooley’s older brother plays for Ohio State University. That was enough to keep Cooley at home during his formative youth hockey days, as he rose through the ranks with the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite AAA program.
Cooley played for the Jr. Penguins at the Quebec International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament in 2016-17, and he played for the Upstate Kings in the World Selects Invitational in 2018-19. In the summer of 2019, he skated in the USA Hockey Select 15 Camp before playing up with the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite 16U team for the 2019-2020 season. There, he secured a spot with the NTDP Under-17 Team the following year. Quickly, he earned call-ups to the Under-18 Team, finishing his first season in the Plymouth, Mich., based program with 32 points in 28 games with the 17s and 14 points in 19 games with the 18s.
This past season, he registered 75 points in 51 games, finishing second on the NTDP in scoring behind only Isaac Howard, who had 82. Cooley also made the U.S. World Junior team that traveled to but didn’t end up completing the tournament due to its postponement.
A pair of Slovaks could make history on Thursday. Juraj Slafkovsky and Simon Nimec are both projected Top-5 picks according to several major news outlets, some of which even have Slafkovsky upending Wright for the No. 1 pick.
Slovakia has not produced a top-five selection since 2005, and have only produced four top-10 picks ever. If both Slafkovsky and Nimec are selected early as expected, it’d be the first time the European country — with a total population of just 5.5 million — produced multiple top-five picks.
Slafkovsky began playing youth hockey for HC Kosice in Slovakia. In 2018-19 though, he crossed the border into the Czech Republic to play for national powerhouse Mountfield HK for his U16 season. The next three seasons would be spent in Finland’s top junior league, SM-Sarja, with TPS.
An hour-and-a-half west, Nimec started his youth hockey career with HK32 Liptovsky Mikulas. Unlike Slafkovsky, Nimec stayed local, remaining in Slovakia and eventually playing in the country’s top professional league for the past two seasons with HK Nitra.
Both Slafkovsky and Nimec were important members of Team Slovakia in international competition at the 2021 under-20 World Junior Championships, 2022 Olympic Games and 2022 World Championships.
Turning attention back towards America for the next prospect, and this time, it’s a native of Scottsdale, Arizona, who was born in Sweden but played his formative years in Michigan. Cutter Gauthier, who was born in Skelleftea while his father, Sean, was wrapping up his career as a professional goaltender with Skellefteå AIK. The Gauthier family moved to Arizona when Cutter was 2, and by the time he was 10, they decided he needed to play for HoneyBaked in Metro Detroit to hone his craft as a talented young hockey player.
Gauthier played one year with the Compuware 16U team — it was the last year that Michigan players were allowed to skip the 15-only AAA age group and play up at 16U — and then made the NTDP to skate alongside Cooley and a talented ’04 American class. Along the way, he played for Team California at The Brick, then DraftDay Hockey for World Selects 12U, and Pro Hockey for WSI 14U and 15U. He also played for Team USA at the Youth Olympic Games, a team that made up the bulk of the NTDP group a few years later.
While it appears his draft stock is falling to some, talented forward Matthew Savoie is still one notable prospect worth mentioning as well. Born on Jan. 1, 2004, he has long been regarded as an top prospect in his birth year, despite his relatively small frame (Elite Prospects lists him at 5-foot-9 and 179 pounds).
Savoie got his start skating for his hometown St. Albert program in St. Albert, Alberta. After playing for the St. Albert Sabres U15 AAA in 2016-17, Savoie made the jump to the famed Canadian Sports School Hockey League (CSSHL) in 2017-18, playing for the Northern Alberta Xtreme U15 Prep team. It was there where he started to make his mark on the hockey world, as he posted 97 points in 30 games. The next season, skating for Northern Alberta Xtreme Prep in the CSSHL U18 division, Savoie posted 71 in 31.
He was the captain of the Team Brick Alberta squad for The Brick in 2013-14, and he played in three different WSIs with DraftDay Selects in 2015-16 and Western Canada Selects for 13U and 15U.
Savoie posted an impressive 18 points in six games at the John Reid Bantam tournament in 2017-18, and in 2019-2020 he also served as captain for Team Canada at the Youth Olympic Games.
The Winnipeg Ice used their first pick in franchise history to take Savoie No. 1 overall in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft. He had previously applied for exceptional status but was denied by the WHL. It was a bit of a surprise when the Ice still selected him because Savoie had previously given a verbal pledge to the University of Denver, where his brother Carter plays.
Savoie ended up playing in 22 games with the ICE in 2019-2020, registering seven points. He played for RINK Hockey Academy Prep in the CSSHL for 22 games, as well, and posted 52 points. In 2020-21, he played in 34 games with the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, earning USHL All-Rookie Team honors after registering 38 points in 34 games.
Back with the Ice for 2021-22, Savoie posted 90 points in 65 WHL games to lead all rookies in scoring. He was named to the WHL First All-Star Team, as well.
World Hockey Hub will have extensive coverage of the 2022 NHL Draft through a youth hockey lens. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube for the latest youth hockey news at all levels of the game.
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