A week out from the 2022 NHL draft, the Seattle Kraken have 12 picks through seven rounds, highlighted by the fourth overall selection.
Soon after the Kraken’s inaugural season ended, general manager Ron Francis pointed out Seattle could deal those picks to a cap-strapped team or one willing to part with a higher pick. They could also use them to build organizational depth. The Coachella Valley Firebirds, the Kraken’s American Hockey League affiliate, begin play this year.
They’re intertwined, but there’s a clear direction.
“We’re not going into this draft drafting for Coachella. We’re going into this draft drafting for Seattle,” Francis said last week.
Seattle has one selection in the first (No. 4), four in the second (Nos. 35, 49, 58 and 61), one in the third (No. 68), three in the fourth (Nos. 100, 117 and 123) and one each in Rounds 5-7 (Nos. 132, 164 and 169). Particularly in the first few rounds, there’s opportunity to select someone who can be ready soon.
“We might be able to get a guy in the draft that can step in and play in our lineup next year,” Francis said.
The order varies, but Juraj Slafkovsky (Liiga, Finland’s top professional men’s league) and Shane Wright (Ontario Hockey League) are the consensus top two picks to the Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils, respectively. Wright had a long run at widespread No. 1, but scored seven fewer goals than he did as an OHL rookie (39 goals, 27 assists, 58 games), which seemed to shake some faith.
Slafkovsky, meanwhile, used high-pressure performances in international competition to climb the rankings. He scored seven times in seven games for Slovakia at the 2022 Olympics and was named the tournament MVP. He’s in TSN’s No. 1 spot heading into the draft.
College-bound center Logan Cooley (U.S. National Team Development Program) is poised to round out the top 3.
A Czech defenseman with a valuable right-handed shot could be an option for the Kraken at No. 4. The knock on 6-foot-3, 190-pound blueliner David Jiricek is that he injured ligaments in his knee in December at the IIHF World Junior Championships and had surgery. He missed the rest of the regular season.
Jiricek returned in time to represent the Czech Republic in the IIHF World Championships in Finland. He had a goal and an assist in five games.
His skating is average and offensive skills aren’t exceptional yet, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie. An offensively inclined defenseman was on Francis’ wish list at the end of the season, among other things.
Jiricek is bigger than fellow top defensive prospect Simon Nemec (more on him later this weekend) with a physical edge. He has a booming shot that he’s proud of.
“Maybe [my] slap shot will be hardest in the NHL,” Jiricek told TSN. “We’ll see.”
In theory, every NHL coach wants a left-handed shot and a right-handed one on each defensive pairing. Some defensemen are adept at both, but for most it helps to maneuver on the strong side, particularly under pressure. It also opens up more ice.
“Ideally if you can find the perfect right-side guy, it makes it easier to go righty-lefty,” Francis said.
Adam Larsson and Will Borgen are Seattle’s rostered right-handed shots. Francis mentioned left-handed shots Jamie Oleksiak, Carson Soucy and Haydn Fleury had to play on their off sides last season.
“They’ve been fine,” he said, indicating the initial decision to carry eight defensemen and sacrifice pairing chemistry could have had a greater negative impact.
Ideal would be better than fine.
Jiricek has a tie to Washington. The Spokane Chiefs hold his rights after selecting him 54th overall in the 2020 CHL Import Draft.
“David is an elite defenseman and will be selected early in the first round of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft next Thursday in Montreal,” Chiefs general manager Matt Bardsley said in a team release. “We look forward to having a discussion with him, his representation and his NHL team about the potential of joining the Spokane Chiefs this coming season.”
In NHL Central Scouting’s year-end rankings, Jiricek was the fourth-rated European skater, just below Nemec. Jiricek contributed 5 goals and 6 assists in 29 games for HC Skoda Plzen. He’s ranked No. 2 according to Elite Prospects.
A history of knee injuries is enough to warrant a follow-up question. If Jiricek is no worse for wear — and the injury was reportedly not as bad as it could have been — he’s expected to settle in as a top-four defenseman somewhere.