Monday June 27, 2022

We are now exactly two weeks away from the start of the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft from Montreal’s Bell Centre. From this point forward, the pressure on all teams is starting to mount.

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That pressure will be the focus of this piece. In particular, there are three teams that are facing perhaps the most pressure of anyone to make sure they nail this draft. Not doing so will be particularly damaging to these three teams and for different reasons.

With the draft as wide open as it is without a consensus number-one player and a wide variety of rankings from fourth down, these three teams must do all of the homework necessary to be ready to add an impact player to their organization. These decisions shape the course of the next decade.

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Let’s see now who’s under the most pressure at the 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal.

Toronto Maple Leafs

You might be surprised to see the Maple Leafs top this list. But they are on here because of the challenge they face given where their team is at overall.

You know the story of the recent Maple Leafs. They’ve been good enough to make the playoffs. They’ve been good enough to give teams in round one a great series. But they have not been good enough to win in the playoffs since 2004. So why does this draft matter then if their goal is the Stanley Cup?

This and every draft matters because of their current philosophy. Auston Matthews makes $11.64 million for two more seasons. John Tavares makes $11 million for three more seasons. Mitch Marner makes just under $11 million for three more seasons. They’re each great players who are part of the core GM Kyle Dubas has built.

Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs
Kyle Dubas and staff face intense draft pressure when their goal is the Stanley Cup. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

But you have to fill out the rest of the roster with good pieces and depth. Under this model, the Maple Leafs more than most teams depend on players on their ELC’s to fill in important roster spots. Now here’s the challenge. When you’re good enough to make the playoffs, your first-round pick is later in the round. This year, they pick 25th.

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The Maple Leafs have to nail their picks because these players will be depended upon to make key contributions on their quest for the Cup. They have no other choice when most of their cap goes to just a few key players. So this is a different kind of pressure they face but it’s the most pressure of anyone because of their expectations. They expect to compete for the Stanley Cup. In order to do that, they must find players that can step in and play in key roles.

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In reviewing several mocks, it seems the Maple Leafs can land a very good player with their first-round pick. But they can’t miss. They can’t afford to keep losing in the playoffs at the rate they are.

Having top-end offensive talent is great. But it’s only good if the rest of the team chips in their fair share. In order to do that, these Maple Leafs have to nail their picks. They have to nail their picks from the back end of the rounds to boot. It’s extreme pressure. The longer they go without winning, the faster their clock starts to tick away.

New Jersey Devils

Unlike the Maple Leafs, the New Jersey Devils are facing a different kind of pressure. They seem stuck in mud. They have some great pieces in Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier among others. But they have to take the next step.

Owning the second-overall pick in the draft should help them accomplish this task. But without a consensus number-one, this is still a difficult decision.

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Reports have surfaced indicating they’re willing to listen to offers for the second pick. They need now help to build around their young cornerstone pieces. That pick could land an impact player. But it could also bring in the kinds of players they need to take the next step.

The pressure here is making the right decision on a couple of fronts. First, the Devils have to decide if they need to trade the pick or hold onto the pick. We won’t know until near the draft. Once they decide that part of it, then they need to decide which player to take.

Juraj Slafkovsky seems primed to land with the Devils at two if they keep the pick. But that’s not 100% guaranteed. There are some folks who think Slafkovsky will go lower than that. Until the pick is made, we just don’t know.

No matter what the Devils decide, they must make the right choices here. Will they trade the second pick or to keep it? Which player will they turn to in order to take the next step if they keep the pick? It seems like an easy decision but it’s anything but easy. Prolonged mediocrity will have damaging effects if this keeps up. Tom Fitzgerald and staff have a franchise altering decision ahead of them.

Tom Fitzgerald, general manager of the New Jersey Devils
Tom Fitzgerald and staff must decide the best way to use the second-overall pick. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Philadelphia Flyers

And then there’s the Philadelphia Flyers or at least I think that’s them. What’s happened to them in recent years? When you see some fans of that proud franchise be indifferent towards the team, you know something is not right.

If there’s any team in the NHL in which the logo is a sign of immense pride for a city, it’s the Flyers. That’s why they make our list of under the most pressure at the 2022 NHL Draft. They have to start nailing their high picks if things are going to change for them.

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The thing for the Flyers is that they’ve had chances with high picks. But that hasn’t done them any good. Nolan Patrick is gone. Ivan Provorov has been fine but not great and now fans are questioning what he might become.

If the Flyers are going to get out of this mess, GM Chuck Fletcher, new coach John Tortorella and staff have to make the right picks to rebuild their core. Like it or not, the NHL is a better league when the Flyers are relevant. If they don’t start hitting their top picks soon, more sweeping changes could be coming. We’ll see soon enough if they make a safe pick or if they choose to surprise us all. Regardless, the Flyers are under immense pressure not just now, but moving forward.

In Conclusion

The Maple Leafs must nail their picks as they need to maximize their ELC usage. The Devils must choose the best way to use the second-overall pick if they want to leave the land of mediocrity. The Flyers must find a way to matter again.

It’s for these reasons that the Maple Leafs, Devils and Flyers are the three teams under the most pressure at the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft.

Mark Scheig

I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.

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