Who is number 1? Uncertainty surrounding the first pick in the NHL Draft


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Juraj Slafkovsky, left, Shane Wright, center, and Logan Cooley, right, pose during the NHL Top Draft Prospects press conference, Wednesday, July 6, 2022, in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

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Rather than give him a hand on who the Montreal Canadiens plan to select with the first pick of the NHL Draft, general manager Kent Hughes joked that they would end up with the three Shane Wright, Juraj Slafkovsky and Logan Cooley.

If the Canadiens want to make a splash, they could end up with two of them.

There is uncertainty over who will become No. 1 for the first time in nearly a decade, when the Colorado Avalanche picked Nathan MacKinnon in 2013. In the wake of MacKinnon leading the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup , the Canadiens face a potential change in franchise decision to their first selection in 42 years and as hosts of the draft which begins Thursday in Montreal.

“If there was a player with a perfect record, it would be a pretty straightforward decision and we probably would have already said what we were going to do,” Hughes said on Wednesday. “Anything we know, whether it’s Shane or Logan or Juraj, we want to know how much they can live with the pressure of playing in Montreal.

For years, Wright played under the pressure, under the microscope of the Ontario Hockey League as the long-projected first pick in this draft. He had 94 points in 63 junior hockey games last season.

The Canadian center believes he’s ready for the NHL and wants to take the pressure of being picked first overall by the Canadiens at the Bell Center 51 years after picking Guy LaFleur in the same slot.

“I’m competitive,” Wright said. “I always want to be first, I always want to be the best. I think no matter what position you’re in, no matter where you’re ranked, that’s always your goal and you always want to be first. You want to be that first chosen guy and that’s always been my mindset.

Dan Marr, head of NHL Central Scouting, said Wright and Slafkosky, a top Slovakian forward, are the most likely prospects to play in the league next season. Slafkovsky drew comparisons to the late Hall of Famer Clark Gillies and was named Most Outstanding Player at the Olympics after scoring seven goals in seven games.

Slafkovsky repeated Wednesday that he would be well placed on the left wing with Montreal centers Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. When asked if the Canadiens would take him, the charismatic 18-year-old replied, “I don’t know. You have to ask them.

Because Hughes doesn’t say so, teams with next picks need to be prepared for multiple scenarios. The New Jersey Devils have received a significant number of calls to trade the No. 2 pick, but they’re willing to do so depending on what Montreal does before them.

“We’ve got it all mapped out,” general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “At the end of the day, Montreal will choose a player and then we will have a decision to make. »

The Arizona Coyotes choose third, the Seattle Kraken fourth and the Philadelphia Flyers fifth. Arizona could have a tough choice between Cooley, an American center from Pittsburgh, and Cutter Gauthier, who grew up in the Phoenix area.

Dominoes starting with the first pick could take the draft in many different directions.

“Obviously we’re going to cross out four names before calling one name, assuming we stay at 5,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “I can see scenarios where almost every player could be available at 5.”

There is also a scenario in which the Devils could do something surprising, given that Czech defender David Jiricek and his Olympic teammate Slafkovsky Simon Nemec are also among the best prospects available. Just like nine years ago, when long-planned first pick Seth Jones fell to four, it could happen to Wright.

Or Wright could go first, as most hockey players have been expecting for some time.

“There’s no clear number 1,” Fitzgerald said. “The majority of years you’ve had someone, that’s why it’s unique. They are all very good players, in many different positions. But they can all end up being the same at the end of the day with all similar caps in our opinion.

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AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow contributed to this report.

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Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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