The 2022 NHL Entry Draft is just two weeks away, with the first round kicking off on July 7.
Barring a trade up or down in the draft — a distinct possibility — the Canucks will be picking 15th overall in the first round. It’s a tough position to pick: outside of the top tier of prospects in the draft but in a spot where the best player available is unlikely to perfectly fit the needs of the organization.
It’s also hard to predict exactly who might be available at 15th overall. Every NHL team has their own draft list and they frequently wildly differ from each other. A player that one team has attached a “do not draft” label to might be in another team’s top ten. Some teams will reach and top-rated prospects will slide and, in a draft with a lot of differing opinions, that could lead to a lot of movement on draft day.
So, who might the Canucks pick? Various public draft rankings have a dozen players ranked 15th overall , so it’s hard to say. Over the next two weeks, however, I’ll be looking at a number of options, starting with Marco Kasper, a two-way centre with the type of throwback game that could quickly make him a fan favourite wherever he ends up.
Marco Kasper - Centre
6’2″ – 187 lbs – Apr 8, 2004 (18)
Rögle BK, SHL (46-7-4-11)
Kasper led all first-time draft-eligible players in the SHL in scoring this past season, with 7 goals and 11 points in 46 games. That’s comparable to the 17-year-old seasons of Lucas Raymond and Adrian Kempe, not to mention Daniel Sedin, albeit in a slightly different era.
Unlike those Swedes, however, Kasper had less of a chance to shine in international competition, playing for a frequently overmatched Austrian squad that gave Kasper few opportunities to even touch the puck. Perhaps Kasper would be even higher on draft boards with a couple more high-profile star turns in international competition.
As it is, Kasper is largely ranked in the second half of the first round by public scouting services, with a few exceptions. Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino is the big outlier, moving him up to 8th overall in his final rankings, while Elite Prospects and International Scouting Services have him at 12th overall on their draft boards.
If any of the teams ahead of the Canucks are similarly high on Kasper, he could be gone before the Canucks pick, but if they agree more with the consensus, he could still be available.
If he is available, Kasper ticks a lot of boxes for the Canucks. He’s a big, physical two-way centre, though he spent his draft year on the wing in the SHL. The Canucks lack centre depth in their prospect pool and definitely don’t have a blue-chip prospect at that position. Kasper would provide a succession plan up the middle, and it’s easy to see how he could slot in behind Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat in the future.
"This prospect is violent."
Kasper has skill but what stands out about his game is his relentless motor and eagerness to engage in the physical aspect of the game. Cam Robinson describes Kasper as a “menace” and Mitch Brown outright calls him “violent.”
“Kasper's physicality isn't mindless. It's integral to his game,” said Brown. “When he's locked into the physical aspect, he's also winning footraces on pucks, turning board battles into inside-lane attacks, and stretching the ice with well-timed sprints to the opposing blue line.”
He regularly just runs over opponents, whether in open ice or on the forecheck. It’s not just reckless either — he uses his skating and awareness to take the best routes to his opponents. Timing matters when it comes to throwing big hits and Kasper has that timing down pat.
Keep in mind that Kasper was playing this physical, demanding style of hockey as a 17-year-old playing against men in Sweden’s top league. It also led to his primary method of scoring: going to the most dangerous areas of the ice to take punishment from much older defencemen in order to score goals — typically tipping in point shots or out-battling defencemen to bang in rebounds.
Along with the physicality, Kasper can play with incredible pace thanks to his excellent skating. It’s not just straight-line speed — Kasper is shifty in transition with his ability to quickly step to the inside or outside and create gaps in order to gain the offensive zone.
Kasper’s assist against Team USA at the World Championship showcases that skating, as he wheels through the neutral zone and catches Austin Watson flatfooted at the blue line, then patiently outwaits the sprawling defenceman to set up Benjamin Nissner in front.
"Every shift, he does something positive."
Kasper is a strong two-way forward — ranked third in the draft by Elite Prospects — and plays a rugged defensive game, battling hard along the boards and backchecking vociferously. He doesn’t get out of position to chase hits either but goes to the right areas of the ice defensively. As a result, he has an impact on the game even when he doesn’t touch the puck.
“Every shift, he does something positive,” said an NHL scout to The Hockey News. “He’s a high-compete guy who helps you in the playoffs.”
He certainly helped Rögle, putting up 6 points in 13 games in the SHL playoffs — impressive work for a player who had just turned 18 earlier in the month.
The question for Kasper is about his ceiling. With his skating and physical play, Kasper will almost certainly make the NHL, but is his ceiling as a third-line forward or does he have the potential to put up points and be a legitimate top-six forward?
Kasper’s puck skills are fine. His vision and playmaking are decent. His shot is okay. At the NHL level, Kasper may not those skills to be more than fine or okay in order to be a point-producing top-six forward. With his diligence and coachability, he could improve in those areas but there are no guarantees.
Without that dynamic, offensive element to his game, some teams might be hesitant to spend a high pick on Kasper. In addition, his value could change if he is more of a winger than a centre. His SHL team intends to try him at centre next season but if he grades out as a winger, that changes things.
How teams view those two elements will determine whether or not he’s even available for the Canucks at 15th overall. If he is available, he would certainly make a lot of sense for the Canucks — the talent evaluators I trust believe Kasper has erased any concerns about his ability with the puck on his stick and that his awareness on the ice should land him at centre in the NHL.
At this point, the odds are very good that Kasper will get picked before the Canucks have a chance to take him.
The upshot of Kasper rising and potentially getting picked before 15th overall is that another quality prospect will get pushed down the draft. We'll take a look at more of these potential picks over the next two weeks.