NHL mock draft 2022: Projections for all 32 first-round picks

The NHL draft can be nice and tidy when there's a franchise player at the top of the board like Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, or when there's a consensus choice like Owen Power was for the Buffalo Sabres last year.

When there isn't, like in the 2022 NHL draft scheduled for Montreal's Bell Centre beginning Thursday night (7 ET, ESPN), things can get a little messy.

There isn't a generational talent in the draft. Some scouts feel there isn't even an immediate top-line player in the draft, either.

The top choice for most of the season was center Shane Wright of the Ontario Hockey League. He's a tremendous prospect. He's just not a generational talent. "The first thing I would say about Shane: You're not going to get this spectacular flash and dash. I'm not saying that negatively. He's just not a Nathan MacKinnon or Connor McDavid type. That's not who he is," TSN director of scouting Craig Button said.

Then there's the "Russian factor." For years, NHL teams have been hesitant to draft prospects playing in Russia because getting them signed and playing in North America could sometimes be an arduous and lengthy process. Russia's invasion of Ukraine this year has accelerated those fears, as NHL general managers worry about everything from travel restrictions to military service requirements to the fact that the NHL and the Kontinental Hockey League do not currently have a transfer agreement.

The Montreal Canadiens hold the first overall pick in the draft. The expectation is that they'll select Wright. But there's been considerable speculation that it could be Slovakian winger Juraj Slafkovsky instead.

I can't remember the last time we had this much intrigue at the top of the draft. The 2017 draft comes close, with the debate between Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick. Patrick was the top-ranked skater in the final NHL Central Scouting Bureau rankings, but Hischier went first overall.

What the Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes do with the first three picks in the draft will set everything else in motion. Will it be calculable or chaotic?

Here is the ESPN mock for the 2022 NHL draft, based on pundit forecasts, conversations with draft insiders from around the hockey world and our own gut reactions to team needs.

For more on the draft, see Corey Pronman at The Athletic; Chris Peters at Daily Faceoff; Bob McKenzie at TSN; Cam Robinson at EP Rinkside and Ryan Kennedy at The Hockey News. Enjoy!