Detroit — The NHL Entry Draft is always a difficult exercise to try and predict — but never more so than this year.
This is a good class, one with many players who could potentially break through and become quality players, but it’s difficult to separate or differentiate many of the prospects.
Even at the head of this draft, there is a big unknown.
Shane Wright was a junior star who many analysts and scouts felt would be a clear and easy pick at No. 1 overall for the past two years.
But Wright had an uneven season, didn’t dominate as he had or was expected, and suddenly there is a question he will be the top pick.
Juraj Slafkovsky is a Slovakian star who has dominated in several tournaments, looked like a potential big, dominant winger. And then at other times, Slafkovsky has been rather ordinary, raising big question marks.
Then there’s the Red Wings, who picking at No. 8, could pull an unexpected surprise, as general manager Steve Yzerman is always capable of doing.
Here’s one educated guess at how Thursday’s first-round will go:
► 1. Montreal Canadiens — Shane Wright, Kingston, center: There’s been a lot of speculation the Canadiens are shying away from Wright, who long has been considered the best player in this class. That’s not necessarily the case anymore after Wright had a somewhat disappointing season. But the variables Wright brings to the table are too much to ignore, and are ingredients Montreal need.
More: Improved Red Wings unlikely to win Shane Wright Sweepstakes
► 2. New Jersey Devils — Juraj Slafkovsky, TPS (Finland), left wing: The most valuable player at the Olympics, a big (6-foot-4) wing who boasts tremendous scoring potential and handles the puck well. This is an exciting prospect — although his production in a men’s league wasn’t overwhelming. Slafkovsky is an exciting prospect who Montreal might not be able to pass up. He fits perfectly in New Jersey.
► 3. Arizona Coyotes — Logan Cooley, USNTDP, center: The Coyotes need pretty much everything. Might as well begin with offense, with Cooley, who projects to be an exciting first-line center.
More: How a Sidney Crosby hockey school grad could accelerate Red Wings’ rebuild
► 4. Seattle Kraken — David Jiricek, Pizen (Czechia), defenseman: The Kraken are another team that needs organizational depth at every position. Jiricek could develop into one of the best players in this class, a defenseman with an edge.
► 5. Philadelphia Flyers — Cutter Gauthier, USNTDP, left wing: The Wings might be hopeful Gauthier drops to them, but it’s difficult to see that scenario. The Flyers are banking on Gauthier soon igniting the offense.
More: Wings’ draft wish list includes Cutter Gauthier, son of Kris Draper’s ex-teammate
► 6. Columbus Blue Jackets — Matthew Savoie, Winnipeg, center: Some scouts are leery because of Savoie’s lack of size, but his dynamic speed and scoring ability is something the Blue Jackets crave.
► 7. Ottawa Senators — Simon Nemec, Nitra (Slovakia), defenseman: The Senators could stand to beef up their defensive depth in the organization, and Nemec is one of the top prospects in this class.
► 8. Detroit Red Wings — Marco Kasper, Rogle (Sweden), center: You never know what Steve Yzerman will do, especially at this point in the draft, but Kasper seems like a neat fit into what the Wings need.
More: Red Wings have choices with No. 8 pick as draft approaches
► 9. Buffalo Sabres — Joakim Kemell, JYP (Finland), right wing: The Sabres are on the upswing, it finally appears, and Kemell has the potential to provide offense that is lacking in the organization.
More: ‘Electrifying’ winger Joakim Kemell could be rare Finn to crack Red Wings’ lineup
► 10. Anaheim Ducks — Conor Geekie, Winnipeg, center: In his first draft, GM Pat Verbeek could go in many different directions with the rebuilding Ducks. Geekie is projected to go higher in some mock drafts.
► 11. San Jose Sharks — Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Djurgarden (Sweden), right wing: The Sharks’ roster is getting old, so they’ll need these young guys to make an impact soon. Lekkerimaki is considered one of the more promising offensive prospects.
► 12. Columbus Blue Jackets — Kevin Korchinski, Seattle, defenseman: If the Jackets can wind up with an elite forward and defenseman prospect in the first round, that has to be considered a successful first day. Korchinski could be an underrated gem, down the line.
► 13. New York Islanders — Noah Ostlund, Djurgarden (Sweden), center: The Islanders will need to get younger soon, if not real soon, and Ostlund has the potential to be a impactful goal-scorer.
► 14. Winnipeg Jets — Owen Pickering, Swift Current, defenseman: The Jets are thin defensively in their organization, and Pickering is one of the best available on the board.
► 15. Vancouver Canucks — Nathan Gaucher, Quebec (QMJHL), center: The Canucks could go in any direction, and Gaucher is a good way to go. He’s a big two-way center with high-end potential.
► 16. Buffalo Sabres — Danila Yurov, Magnitogorsk (Russia), right wing: The Sabres have been linked to Yurov on several drafts, a potential game-breaker when he arrives from Russia at some point.
► 17. Nashville Predators — Ryan Chesley, USNTDP, defenseman: At this stage it’s easy to go with the best prospect regardless of position. The Predators need depth in different positions, and Chesley is rising on many draft boards.
► 18. Dallas Stars — Lian Bichsel, Leksand (Sweden), defenseman: The Stars are going to need to beef up their defense, and GM Jim Nill and his staff know Sweden well. Bichsel is a solid prospect at this stage.
► 19. Minnesota Wild — Frank Nazar, USNTDP, center: The Mount Clemens native fits the profile what the Wild have liked to draft under GM Bill Guerin. Nazar is a nice pick this far in the draft.
More: Frank Nazar III’s NHL dream driven by dad’s ‘love’ of the Red Wings
► 20. Washington Capitals — Ivan Miroshnichenko, Omsk (Russia), left wing: The Capitals have a tendency to go with Russians early in drafts and Miroshnichenko has the talent to go much earlier in some scouts estimation.
► 21. Pittsburgh Penguins — Rutger McGroarty, USNTDP, right wing: The Penguins need offense, and McGroarty has shown first-line potential during the season. For the Penguins, this could be a terrific reach at this point of the draft.
► 22. Anaheim Ducks — Jimmy Snuggerud, USNTDP, right wing: If the Penguins pass on Snuggerud, this seems like a good landing spot for Snuggerud, who was projected to go higher early in the draft process.
► 23. St. Louis Blues — Jiri Kulich, Karlovy (Czechia), center: The Blues need some offensive spark, and Kulich could strengthen the Blues in the near future. Kulich also plays the type of two-way game the Blues value.
► 24. Minnesota Wild — Reid Schaefer, Seattle, left wing: The Wild could use some size, and Schaefer projects as an intriguing prospect this late in the draft. Another good fit for the Wild’s organizational needs.
► 25. Toronto Maple Leafs — Pavel Mintyukov, Saginaw, defenseman: Mintyukov is much higher on several draft boards and is the type of long-range prospect the Leafs like to gamble on (and have success).
► 26. Montreal Canadiens — Brad Lambert, Pelicans (Finland), center: Another guy who has dropped on many boards, but Lambert is the type of player who the Canadiens could gamble on and possibly strike big. An elite skater, but inconsistent in areas.
► 27. Arizona Coyotes — Denton Mateychuk, Moose Jaw, defense: The Coyotes need talent, and Mateychuk has the skill that intrigues the teams this late on the first day.
► 28. Buffalo Sabres — Isaac Howard, USNTDP, left wing: If the Sabres are able to land Howard with their third pick of the first round, that would be quite the haul.
► 29. Edmonton Oilers — Elias Salomonsson, Skelleftea (Sweden), defenseman: The Oilers like offensive potential, and Salomonsson has high-end ability. A long-range prospect GM Ken Holland likes and is willing to wait on.
► 30. Winnipeg Jets — Filip Bystedt, Linkoping (Sweden), center: The Jets add another quality offensive prospect to a roster that will need an overhaul in the near future.
► 31. Tampa Bay Lightning — Luca Del Bel Belluz, Mississauga, center: The Lightning rarely have had a first-round pick in recent years, always having traded it. They could go in a variety of directions, needing an infusion of talent everywhere, but they’ve been linked to Del Bel Belluz.
► 32. Arizona Coyotes — Seamus Casey, USNTDP, defenseman: The Coyotes might be able to get Casey in Round 2, but why not grab him with the last pick of the first round?