With the NHL trade deadline having passed, we now have more clarity as to what the draft board looks like. There are some conditions still to be determined, but for the most part we have a pretty good sense as to how many picks each team has.
As for when those picks will be made, we still don’t have the full picture. The draft lottery on May 8 will determine the order of selection for the first 16 picks, and then we’ll wait until the Stanley Cup is awarded in June for the remainder of the selections to be ordered. The trade deadline in and of itself doesn’t have an impact on pure player rankings, but it remains a determining step in the overall draft process.
Draft capital has become an increasingly important weapon for NHL teams. Depending where a team is in its cycle picks can be used to restock, to be used in trade or to be maintained for future, in-season transactions.
As it currently stands, the Nashville Predators have 13 picks in the 2023 draft, followed by Arizona and San Jose with 12, while Montreal and Chicago possess 11 picks each. Nashville’s David Poile left his successor Barry Trotz in a perfect position to re-tool on the fly. As of writing, the Preds are still very much in the playoff picture and yet still have a well-stocked arsenal of picks for the next two drafts. Arizona’s GM Bill Armstrong is trying to time the arrival of his team’s contention with a new arena in the next three-to-five years. Chicago’s Kyle Davidson has had to move on from the Kane/Toews era in Chicago, while Kent Hughes has seen his team’s youth take big strides on the way back to sustainable contention in Montreal.
Getting back to the draft, scouts are now pushing towards the end of the regular season, and getting views in on players who won’t make it to the post-season. They’re also planning ahead to prioritize which playoff matchups are most important. Playoff viewings carry additional weight as the pace and “hardness” of play ramps up considerably from the regular season. So too does the immense pressure. Scouts want to see how players respond in adverse conditions.
The next big event for scouts to attend are the World Under-18 Championships to be held in Switzerland beginning April 20. This event will feature all the top 2005 or later born players in the world, except for those from Russia or Belarus. Keep in mind, players born between Sept. 15, 2004 and Dec. 31, 2004 (still first-year draft eligibles) are aged out of this event. That means no Leo Carlsson, Adam Fantilli or Matvey Michkov. Aside from birth year requirements, there also won’t be players from the CHL whose teams are involved in league playoffs.
As for Russian and Belarusian born players, their situations are very much in the air. A number of teams have scouts based in Russia and have been able to see players from both countries, live and in-person. All teams have been tasked with watching players from those countries on video, but it’s just not the same.
From my viewings on video, there are at least five Russian players who have first round potential. None of them are as gifted as Michkov, who is unquestionably a top five talent in this deep draft class. Daniil But, who admittedly is debuting on this list far too late in the season, is also a fascinating study. At 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, he skates like the wind, competes hard, can score from anywhere and has great hands. As a right shot, he has additional value. He is undoubtedly a top 20 talent, but his draft position is truly a wildcard.
I would opine that the eight teams with multiple first round picks, are the most likely to take a swing and accept the risk that comes with choosing a player from a country in the midst of a war, not to mention the potential backlash that may follow.
Here are the March 2023 NHL Draft Rankings.
1. Connor Bedard, C, Regina Pats (WHL): In his final weeks of regular season WHL hockey, can he finish with a goal and two points per game career averages?
2. Adam Fantilli, C, U of Michigan (NCAA): Another fascinating player to watch as Michigan strives to not only win a Big Ten Title, but a National Championship. Is a trip to the men’s worlds in the offing afterwards?
3. Matvey Michkov, RW, Sochi (KHL): From a pure skill perspective, he challenges Bedard for the most talented player available.
4. Leo Carlsson, C, Orebro (SHL): Scouts have a lot of time for this player thanks to a package that projects as a top-six NHLer. Leans less goal scoring, more pass-first.
5. Zachary Benson, LW, Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Hockey sense and awareness allow him to be an effective producer. Consistently involved in the play. If only he were three inches taller.
6. Will Smith, C, USNTDP: Utilizes his blazing speed to create space for himself or to better use his deft passing skills.
7. Colby Barlow, RW, Owen Sound Attack (OHL): Has built layers into his game from the start of the season, showing a path to quick development.
8. Ryan Leonard, RW, USNTDP: The window to project Leonard is quite clear based on him being one of the most physically developed players in this group.
9. Brayden Yager, C, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL): His goals are down compared to the same number of games played one season ago. Shot and release are still his best assets, though. Scouts are concerned if he will be able to drive play at the next level.
10. David Reinbacher, D, Kloten (SUI): It’s not often a player so young is so heavily relied on by a senior men’s team in a top-notched pro league.
11. Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (Allsvenskan): Bouncing around to a number of different teams the past couple years (including stints with the national team) did not serve him well. Playing nearest his peer group at the world juniors was more telling of the true talent.
12. Nate Danielson, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): A low maintenance player who can be trusted in all situations and relied upon to provide sustained offence.
13. Samuel Honzek, LW, Vancouver Giants (WHL): Embraces his size and uses it to full advantage through a powerful stride. Understands the game well and is committed to improving on it daily. Top-10 potential is not out of the question.
14. Andrew Cristall, LW, Kelowna Rockets (WHL): Continues his meteoric rise up the rankings as one of the most exhilarating players inside the opposition blue line.
15. Eduard Sale, RW, Brno (Czechia): He wows with the puck on his stick, but scouts question whether or not he’s determined enough to get it back when he doesn’t have it.
16. Daniil But, LW, Yaroslavl (KHL): Moves around effectively for a big man, competes hard, shoots hard and accurately, and has no problem moving the puck if there’s a better option.
17. Axel Sandin-Pellikka, D, Skelleftea (Sweden J20): Uses his edges and skating ability to retrieve pucks. Can move it as a transporter up the ice, or with a deft first pass.
18. Oliver Moore, C, USNTDP: When playing under control, his skating ability can change games.
19. Mikhail Gulyayev, D, Omsk (MHL): His KHL action was limited to early season looks. A player most impacted by not being able to play in the U18 worlds.
20. Riley Heidt, C, Prince George Cougars (WHL): There’s no denying his career year in terms of pure point production. What he does or does not do away from the puck, however, is the biggest concern.
21. Matthew Wood, RW, UConn (NCAA): Exceeded all expectations with 34 points in 35 games as the youngest player in college hockey this season.
22. Quentin Musty, LW, Sudbury Wolves (OHL): Has gained momentum thanks to an increased consistency in effort. At his best, he can impact the game outside of point production.
23. Otto Stenberg, C, Frolunda (SHL): Scouts are certain he will play and play regularly in the NHL. But exactly what he projects to become, or how much he will produce, has the scouting world cautious.
24. Calum Ritchie, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL): One of the most hotly debated prospects in this draft class. An upper-body injury may keep him out of the OHL playoffs and U18 worlds, leaving scouts left to wonder.
25. Theo Lindstein, D, Brynas (SHL): With confidence regained from a solid Four Nations tournament, he has been able to play regular SHL minutes over the past three weeks, with a spot on the U18 team waiting.
26. Lukas Dragicevic, D, Tri-City Americans (WHL): A true rink rat whose offensive instincts are amongst the best-in-class. Skating is the concern amongst scouts.
27. Charlie Stramel, RW, U. of Wisconsin (NCAA): In a draft class full of smaller, speedy and skilled forwards, Stramel brings the unteachable element of size.
28. Ethan Gauthier, RW, Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL): A successful playoff run with a team expected to go deep into the spring will be key to maintaining his first-round status.
29. Gabriel Perreault, RW, USNTDP: Anticipates the game so well and competes so hard that he’s rarely out of the play.
30. Oliver Bonk, D, London Knights (OHL): NHL bloodlines, right shot, good size, Bonk checks a lot of boxes. Will the offence translate to the next level, or is it an element that develops after some time in the pros?
31. Gracyn Sawchyn, C, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL): His ability to work in tight spaces with quick changes of direction, elusiveness and creativity is like few in this draft class.
32. Nick Lardis, LW, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL): Trails only Connor Bedard in CHL goals scored (22) since the Jan. 10 trade deadline.