After his World Junior Championship performance, Connor Bedard’s legendary draft year performance continues. No one will touch the top prospect, but there has been shuffling within the top-ten. Beyond the upper echelon of prospects, rounds two and three are now coming into focus. Of course, there will be surprises, and every draft board will differ, but there are starting to be a lot of common names among the top-100 prospects. Although we won’t rank our top-100 until the season is complete, here is a look at the top-64 prospects, and some honourable mentions for the 2023 NHL Draft.
Connor Bedard, F, Regina, WHL — Few would have thought Bedard’s WHL dominance would carry over to the World Juniors the way it did. He scored nearly at will, showcasing his elite skating and evasive puck skills. Bedard is the unanimous first overall choice, and what he did for Canada entrenched his spot as a junior hockey legend. It wasn’t just the type of goals he scored, it was the big moments he scored them in. Bedard is a generational talent.
Adam Fantilli, F, Michigan, NCAA — A well-rounded pivot, who if not for Bedard, would be a player receiving far more attention. He played a central role for Canada at the World Juniors, and is dominating against older, physically mature competition in the NCAA. Fantilli could join Bedard in the NHL immediately.
Leo Carlsson, F, Orebro, SHL — His frame is pro-ready, and his ability to drive possession, and contribute not only as a playmaker but as a powerful goal scorer will give teams reason to consider Carlsson at any position after first overall. His performance at the World Juniors did nothing to hurt his status, and he’s playing well beyond his years as a professional in the SHL.
Matvei Michkov, F, SKA St. Petersburg, KHL — He continues to produce, and flash elite skills. His contract situation will give teams reason to pause. At times this season he’s tried to do too much, but at the same time, he’s a player who wants the puck on his stick and wants to control the game. It’s easier to teach a player to balance that desire than to teach Michkov’s innate killer instinct.
Zach Benson, F, Winnipeg, WHL — A high-end skater who is hard to defend because you’ll rarely catch him attacking in a straight line. When the puck is on his stick, Benson is evasive and is equally adept as a scorer, or set-up man. He’ll need more physical development, but Benson has every tool to be a top-six forward in the NHL.
Eduard Sale, F, Brno, Czechia — Sale hasn’t looked out of place in Czechia’s top professional league, and he was a key piece for Czechia on their path to silver at the World Juniors. When the season began, scouts had him anywhere from top-five to the bottom of the opening round. That debate is over as Sale will be off the board before the first half of round one is over. He’s a threat on the power play, but can also back off defenders on the rush with his speed and vision.
Will Smith, F, USNTDP, U18 — It was a surprise to many when the USA cut Smith from their World Junior roster. He’s the leader for the National Development Team, playing a well-balanced game, but has flashed elite scoring abilities this season. He's headed to Boston College next season.
Axel Sandin Pellikka, D, Skellefteå AIK, U20 Sweden — At the beginning of the season, few had Sandin Pellikka going in the first round. As the calendar flipped to 2023, Sandin Pellikka’s offensive numbers continued to climb, as did his draft status. Alongside Leo Carlsson, he was one of only two first-year eligible players named to Sweden’s World Junior roster. While he didn’t produce big numbers at the tournament, he did lead a strong Swedish team in time on ice.
Andrew Cristall, F, Kelowna, WHL — His vision, and ability to find passing lanes, and open space while in possession, are elite. Cristall is thinking the game faster than almost anyone in the WHL. While he can score, his true talent rests in luring in opponents before exposing the space he created to find a teammate.
Dalibor Dvorsky, F, AIK, Allsvenskan — Some have claimed Dvorsky’s stock has dropped significantly this season, but he played well against peers at the World Juniors, and he’s one of the better pure goal scorers in the draft. Loves having the puck and has a shoot-first mentality, but Dvorsky also excels in the simpler areas of the game.
Mikhail Gulyayev, D, Omskie Yastreby, KHL — Pinning down the top defender in this draft is difficult, but Gulyayev is certainly a first-round talent. A modern defender, Gulyayev has excellent edgework and can evade the forecheck, quickly turning the puck up ice in transition. When the pace is high, Gulyayev is at his best. He hasn’t had time to shine in the KHL, but the added playing time he’s gained in VHL and MHL competition is bringing out the best in his game.
Ryan Leonard, F, USNTDP, U18 — He asserts his presence everywhere on the ice through a relentless forecheck and willingness to engage physically. Injecting energy whenever he steps on the ice, Leonard does a little bit of everything and his impact goes beyond the scoresheet.
Riley Heidt, F, Prince George, WHL — Possesses many of the same skills as fellow WHL top prospect Andrew Cristall in that he’s a high-end playmaker, and perhaps a better shooter than Cristall. He could run the half wall on the power play for an NHL club in the future, but needs to round out his game away from the puck.
Brayden Yager, F, Moose Jaw, WHL — A quick and powerful release, Yager can fire the puck. Scoring is not a problem for Yager…but a team will need to commit to teaching him the defensive game because right now, he’s trending toward a one-way player. Still, there are traits you can’t teach, and with the puck, Yager has them. Without the puck, he’s a work in progress.
Otto Stenberg, F, Frolunda, J20 Sweden — Stenberg has a motor that rarely quits. With the puck, he can flash the skill, putting the puck on a string, as well as anyone. Without the puck, he’s pesky if not a pest. He’ll need to add strength, but he can impact the game in all three zones.
Oliver Moore, F, USNTDP, U18 — Moore toys with defenders as a deceptive puck carrier who can manipulate his own positioning, and cause checkers to give pause before he unleashes a shot. He does so many things well, without being flashy, but still produces with his well-rounded game.
Gavin Brindley, F, Michigan, NCAA — There are several players - Cristall, Heidt, Brindley - who all possess similar skills. Brindley’s calling card is his dogged puck pursuit. He disrupts and is one of the better passers available in the opening rounds.
Calum Ritchie, F, Oshawa, OHL — Utilizes his 6-foot-2 frame well, but has struggled at times this season after a spectacular campaign that had scouts scrambling to see him play last season. Still, Ritchie has a great shot and has shown glints of excellence. Needs to be more consistent, but if this campaign isn’t indicative of his future, could turn into a pick teams kick themselves for passing on.
Matthew Wood, F, UConn, NCAA — His initial torrid pace as an NCAA rookie has slowed slightly, but Wood is perhaps closer to NHL-ready than most first-round prospects due to his size and physical maturity. Most of the top-end forwards in this draft are small, with lightning-quick hands. Wood has good hands, but brings an element few ahead of him do.
David Reinbacher, D, Kloten, NL — The best way to describe slotting Reinbacher in this high is by saying he has “upside.” He was overwhelmed on a weak Austrian team at the World Juniors but has continued his strong play in Switzerland against pros. He defends well using his stick to take away lanes and keep players out of the middle of the ice, and is mobile enough to close gaps, and quickly turn the puck up ice.
Nate Danielson, F, Brandon, WHL — At times you can forget Danielson is as good as he is because he makes it all look easy. He has good speed and utilizes it most effectively coming through the neutral zone. Effective as the puck carrier, or attacking from the second wave, Danielson will make an NHL team very happy in their middle six.
Colby Barlow - F, Owen Sound, OHL — He scores in a lot of different ways, although rarely with the flash and dash of others available in round one. Barlow is excellent at being in the right place, at the right time, and will find ways to contribute in the NHL. He’s good on both sides of the puck showing the versatility that reads like a safe pick.
Gabe Perreault, F, USNTDP, U18 — Doesn’t receive the hype of Moore, Smith, or Leonard, but Perreault produces, and does so in a variety of ways. He has the skills to change his release angle, showcasing an accurate shot, but he can also play set-up man. Definitely a player who will need to refine his two-way competencies, but you can’t deny his scoring acumen.
Bradley Nadeau, F, Penticton, BCHL — Nadeau is a fascinating prospect. Coming out of the BCHL, he’s pouring in points, scoring nearly at will. He is agile and processes the action in slow motion allowing him to get to spaces, and expose defenders to generate chances. Headed to the NCAA with Maine.
Quentin Musty, F, Sudbury, OHL — A great shooter, the 6-foot-2 forward has been the OHL’s top-scoring draft-eligible player for much of the season. He’s come on in the last month and is showing signs that he can distribute as well as finish.
Michael Hrabal, G, Omaha, USHL — If a goaltender goes off the board in round one, it will likely be the 6-foot-6 Hrabel, who not only possesses a modern NHL goaltender’s frame, but has a level of quickness and athleticism to his game. After coming over from Czechia, he’s adapted well to the smaller ice, hinting he may only be scratching the surface of his potential.
Dmitri Simashev, D, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, KHL — A mobile defender with a 6-foot-4 frame, Simashev is not going to dazzle with offensive numbers, but he’s so effective defensively that it’s a trade worth making. That said, he transports the puck well with his long stride, but the best part of Simashev’s game is his ability to take away time, space, and lanes, eating up the defensive zone.
Alex Ciernik, F, Sodertalje, U20 Sweden — Perhaps one of the fastest skaters in pursuit of a puck available, Ciernik was crucial for a revitalized Slovakian squad this year. His offense is still growing, but Ciernik can move up and down a lineup as he reads plays well on both sides of the puck.
Kasper Halttunen, F, HIFK, Liiga — Had Halttunen cracked Finland’s World Junior roster, his placement in the draft may have been clearer. The 6-foot-3 forward sees limited time in Liiga but has played well against his peers. There is risk with this pick, which is why Halttunen appears anywhere from mid-first-round, to mid third-round on various draft boards.
Lukas Dragicevic, D, Tri-City, WHL — Continues to put up good numbers, Dragicevic has good size (6-foot-2) and is an elusive right-shot blueliner. He’s the highest scoring defenceman available in the draft.
Jayden Perron, F, Chicago, USHL — Agile and an incredible passer, Perron makes those around him better. Whether it’s with his own feet, or a deceptive pass, Perron changes the line of attack rapidly to break defenders.
Koehn Ziemmer, F, Prince George, WHL — Dangerous release, Ziemmer can find quiet space in the offensive zone to shoot from, but he can also use his hands in tight to create opportunities. Ziemmer wants the puck, and is persistent in his puck pursuit.
Daniil But, F, Loko Yaroslavl, MHL
Luca Pinelli, F, Ottawa, OHL
Charlie Stramel, F, Wisconsin, NCAA
Samuel Honzek, F, Vancouver, WHL
Tom Willander, D, Rogle, J20 Sweden
Cameron Allen, D, Guelph, OHL
Noah Dower Nilsson, F, Frolunda, J20 Sweden
Étienne Morin, D, Moncton, QMJHL
Caden Price, D, Kelowna, WHL
Ethan Gauthier, F, Sherbrooke, QMJHL
Lenni Hämeenaho, F, Pori, Liiga
Maxim Strbak, D, Sioux Falls, USHL
Jesse Kiiskinen, F, Pelicans, J20 Finland
Emil Jarventie, F, Ilves, Liiga
Kalan Lind, F, Red Deer, WHL
Ondrej Molnar, F, HK Nitra, Slovakia
Beau Akey, D, Barrie, OHL
Hunter Brzustewicz, D, Kitchener, OHL
Roman Kantserov, F, Magnitogorsk, MHL
Jessi Nurmi, F, KooKoo, U20 Finland
Oliver Bonk, D, London, OHL
Tanner Molendyk, D, Saskatoon, WHL
Noel Nordh, F, Brynas IF, J20 Sweden
Zeb Forsfjall, F, Skellefteå AIK, J20 Sweden
Carson Bjarnason, G, Brandon, WHL
Gracyn Sawchyn, F, Seattle, WHL
Mathieu Cataford, F, Halifax, QMJHL
Trey Augustine, G, USNTDP, U18
Luca Cagnoni, D, Portland, WHL
Oscar Fisker Mølgaard, F, HV71, SHL
Jordan Tourigny, D, Shawinigan, QMJHL
Theo Lindstein (D, Brynas, Sweden)
Honorable Mentions: Danny Nelson (F, USNTDP, U18), Carson Rehkopf (F, Kitchener, OHL), Tyler Peddle (F, Drummondville, QMJHL), Denver Barkey (F, London, OHL), William Whitelaw (F, Youngstown, USHL), Aram Minnetian (D, USNTDP, U18), Kalem Parker (D, Victoria, WHL), Anton Wahlberg, Malmo, J20, Sweden), Timur Mukhanov (F, Omskie Yastreby, MHL), Jason Shaugabay (F, Warroad High, USHS)
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