Canadiens undecided on the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft

BROSSARD, Quebec. The Montreal Canadiens remain undecided on who they will select with the No. 1 pick in the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft, but the decision will come down to more than who has the greatest ability on the ice.

Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes confirmed that the top three prospects are being considered: forwards Shane Wright, Juraj Slafkovsky and Logan Cooley. Montreal is drafting No. 1 for the first time since 1980, when it selected forward Doug Wickenheiser.

“It’s probably almost harder to be the No. 1 overall pick in Montreal,” Hughes said Monday. “So as part of our evaluation, we’re not just evaluating hockey players, we’re evaluating character. We’re trying to evaluate their ability to deal with that kind of pressure on a consistent basis.”

Wright (6-foot, 199 pounds) was No. 1 in the final NHL Central Scouting rankings of North American skaters despite missing a full season of competitive hockey. The center finished eighth in the Ontario Hockey League with 94 points (32 goals, 62 assists) in 63 games for Kingston this season after the league canceled its 2020-21 season due to coronavirus concerns.

Vincent Lecavalier, who was named the Canadiens’ special advisor for hockey operations on Feb. 18, spoke with Wright by phone recently and discussed, among other things, how he handled the pressure of his final season with Rimouski of the Major Junior Hockey League of Quebec before being selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning with the No. 1 pick in the 1998 NHL Draft.

“I would say it’s been three years since he’s been talked about in this situation,” Lecavalier said. “It was more about figuring out how he coped this season. I started the conversation talking about how I felt in that situation during my last season at Rimouski. There was pressure every day, everyone asking if you would be picked No. 1? So it was more about to talk to the young man to see how he handled it this year, and we talked a little bit about his game. It was a good conversation. I learned a lot about him. He’s a good person and clearly has high standards.”

[RELATED: 2022 NHL Draft complete coverage]

Slafkovsky (6-4, 229), a left winger for TPS in the Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, was No. 1 in the final ranking of international skaters. He had 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 31 regular season games and seven points (two goals, five assists) in 18 playoff games. He was also voted the Most Valuable Player of the 2022 Beijing Olympics, when he scored seven goals to help Slovakia win the bronze medal.

Cooley (5-10, 180) was No. 2 in the final ranking of North American figure skaters. The center was second in the US National Hockey Team Development Program with 75 points (27 goals, 48 ‚Äč‚Äčassists) in 51 games. He also had 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in six games to help the United States finish second at the 2022 IIHF U-18 World Championship.

Cooley is committed to playing for the University of Minnesota next season.

“We’re trying to assess how a player is projected, right, so we can look at a hockey player and say this is who he is as a hockey player right now and where he’s playing,” Hughes said. “Players were playing in different leagues at different levels of hockey. We’re trying to look at them and say, ‘This guy is capable of doing this at this level. Can he do it at the next level as well?’ So there’s also a hockey component, right? There’s a positional component. There’s all these things that we’re looking at. Can you play that position at the next level? The other part, and I think part of why ‘Vinny’ He had this conversation with Shane and he’ll probably have conversations with the others as well, it’s understanding that it’s hard to be 17 years old and be under the microscope like Shane and others before him.”

The 2022 draft will take place July 7-8 at the Bell Center in Montreal. Round 1 will be July 7 (7 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN+, SN, TVAS), and Rounds 2-7 will be July 8 (11 am ET; NHLN, ESPN+, SN, TVAS).

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