The big questions hanging over the 2022 NHL draft

It's been a long time since decision makers in the NHL descended on one location at a time when rosters around the league stood this incomplete. An optimist would figure there's a transaction boom around the corner.

That may not be the case; there is that no-fun thing called the salary cap, after all. That said, there are quite a few major questions which require answering, and which could spur on a decent amount of action at the NHL draft in Montreal and beyond.

Here are those dominos:

Will the New Jersey Devils move the No. 2 overall pick?

This is a decision that likely hinges on another. With the Canadiens not tipping their hand with the No. 1 overall draft choice, plans could change for Tom Fitzgerald and the Devils front office based on who is or isn't available after Montreal picks.

But if priorities don't shift based on the Canadiens, it's been widely reported that the Devils are open to moving the second overall pick — and perhaps the rights to Juraj Slafkovsky or Logan Cooley — for a player who can help improve their roster immediately. Personally, this seems terribly misguided. The Devils have assembled a decent measure of talent, but it's hard to imagine that even an impressive return on an immensely valuable asset will push the team into serious contention.

It is, however, the sort of scenario which could make this draft one to remember. Fitzgerald's openness to moving the pick, which is not a decision often even mulled over, means an assembly of teams suddenly have an opportunity to bag a franchise-altering talent.

It's the draft drama we rarely receive.

Is Alex DeBrincat moved out of Chicago?

Here's another potential inflection point in the lottery section of the NHL draft.

There's serious potential here for one team (perhaps even the Devils) to use its standing in the top half of the first round as part of a package to land the top trade target this offseason. Alex DeBrincat is almost assuredly being dealt by the Chicago Blackhawks this offseason, and it's difficult to imagine that general manager Kyle Davidson isn't desperately working to trade back into the first round after the previous regime coughed up their first-round pick in the Seth Jones trade last summer.

Will Blackhawks star Alex DeBrincat be moved during this year's NHL draft? (Getty)
Will Blackhawks star Alex DeBrincat be moved during this year's NHL draft? (Getty)

DeBrincat presents the means to accomplishing that, meaning his trade likely happens prior to the first round. It's unlikely we see a player moved in the immediate moments after sliding on a new cap and jersey and taking photos with the management team that decided to call their name.

If not the Devils, the Philadelphia Flyers and Ottawa Senators at Nos. 5 and 7 seem like possible entry points for the Blackhawks, who aren't scheduled to make a selection until No. 38 overall.

The two-time 40-goal scorer makes loads of sense in particular for the Senators, who have the assets necessary to make the deal.

Will Johnny Gaudreau tip his hand?

The one team that stands to lose the most this summer is the Calgary Flames. With Johnny Gaudreau reportedly chewing on a maximum-term offer worth nearly $10 million annually, it's exceedingly possible that the Flames' best player will walk through that free-agent door sometime after July 13, changing the complexion of the franchise altogether.

While the Flames seem content enough to be patient with their star winger, the wonder has to be if they ask for some clarity before moves start being made on the draft floor. Because if Gaudreau does plan to walk, a team chasing a championship may instead start to re-tool.

Calgary likely can't improve its current draft position by, say, dealing Gaudreau's negotiation rights. But perhaps other moves can be made to bring in a draft selection higher on the board than their current top selection at No. 59 overall. The Flames have several impressive assets they could deal for valuable futures if Gaudreau forces them to step back.

Is J.T. Miller traded by the Canucks?

Miller was already a prime trade candidate, but the Canucks' decision to extend Brock Boeser further solidified that over the weekend. A near-100-point scorer this past season, Miller is in his prime and could bring a valuable draft pick back in return. The clock is ticking on making that happen.

Like the Blackhawks, Vancouver should be looking to replenish first-round futures after dealing away its No. 1 pick last summer in a trade involving a high-priced defenseman. Adding to their current position — which is the No. 15 overall pick — would give Patrik Allvin and his new-look staff an opportunity to feed a starving prospect system.

Miller won't bring back the same return as DeBrincat; he's both turning 30 and scheduled for unrestricted free agency next season. So while he will unlikely bring back a lottery selection, the Canucks could pawn Miller off to a contender looking to spend its late first-round draft pick.

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