NHL Draft

An early look at the top 12 prospects in the 2023 NHL Draft

The upcoming 2023 NHL Draft is full of skill and talent and is one of the deepest we’ve seen in a long time. It is dominated by centres, but there is still a fair share of great wingers, good defencemen, and some solid goalies. With the World Juniors starting today, let’s take a look at the draft’s top 12 prospects before the tournament commences to see who to watch for.

#1 Connor Bedard, Regina Pats (WHL), C

Everyone has heard his name before. Connor Bedard is a generational talent and the best prospect we’ve seen since Connor McDavid. In 28 games, Bedard currently has some crazy numbers with 27 goals, and 37 assists for 64 points on a very mediocre Regina Pats team. Bedard has been gifted with by far the best shot of this draft class and it’s reminiscent of Auston Matthews’ shot. Along with his Matthews-level shot, he has insanely good hands and skating that allow him to skate through entire teams. Bedard’s worst attribute is his playmaking but even then, it is at an elite level.

Connor Bedard is a lock for first overall this year and what ever team is lucky enough to win the sweepstakes will be given a player with potential to be a top-three player in the NHL that maybe even pushes himself into the conversation of the best.

#2 Adam Fantilli, Univ. of Michigan (NCAA), C

Adam Fantilli is to Connor Bedard what Jack Eichel was to Connor McDavid. It is highly likely that Fantilli would go first overall in many other drafts. He has been considered a top three lock for years now, but his name caught wind when he had a historic start with Michigan. Currently, Fantilli has 11 goals and 15 assists in 16 games for 26 points. Fantilli possesses fantastic puck control and playmaking skills tied into his physicality which allows him to dominate the ice. He is a very intelligent and uses his smarts both offensively and defensively.

Adam Fantilli is the NHL’s next star power forward and should be a franchise changing talent and elite centre. Fantilli will help soften the blow of losing out on Bedard for which ever team receives the honour of selecting him.

#3 Matvei Michkov, KHL/VHL, RW

Matvei Michkov should be another franchise changing talent in the NHL. Michkov is probably the best Russian prospect we have seen since some guy named Alex Ovechkin. He is currently on a loan to HK Sochi in KHL, but he was lighting up the VHL for SKA-Neva St. Petersburg as he 10 goals and four assists in 12 games played.

Michkov possess a high offensive IQ and an elite shot that teams will love. He is a scary offensive threat, a pure goal scorer who also has some great playmaking abilites, elite skating, and a creative style of play. There has been some consistency concerns, but they are not huge problems.

Matvei Michkov is the second most offensively gifted player in this draft class and the team that selects him will be stoked. Although he should go third (possibly second) overall, there is concerns that he will not come over to North America right away because of the contract he has with SKA St. Petersburg until 2025 which could be the reason we see him fall at the draft.

#4 Leo Carlsson, Orebo HK (SHL), C

Leo Carlsson really drove up the draft stocks this year because of his performance against grown men in the SHL. Carlsson has looked fantastic and has been able to pot in three goals alongside 11 assists for 14 points in 25 games. He is a well-rounded centre who has been gifted some amazing hands, playmaking ability, and two-way play and reminds me of Aleksander Barkov. Carlsson has a high hockey IQ and compete and he has made some crazy plays in the SHL this year and has not looked out of place. It is high likely that Carlsson will be an elite centre at the NHL level.

Leo Carlsson is the best consolation prize of all time. He’s either on the same tier as Michkov and Fantilli, but on the lower end, or just below their tier. Carlsson will cause the team that misses out on Bedard, Fantilli, and Michkov to suffer less pain.

#5 Brayden Yager, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL), C

To round out the top five, I have Brayden Yager of the Moose Jaw Warriors. Yager has had consistent production and in 32 games he has tallied 18 goals and 21 assists for 39 points so far. His shooting ability is the most important part of his game which allows him to be dangerous. Yager is also a great skater which makes him perfect in transition and has some amazing hands that adds some fear to his opponents. Although he’s not the biggest, that doesn’t make him shy away from having a high compete level. Yager’s playmaking skills could use some work, but it shouldn’t hold him back too much.

Brayden Yager isn’t as a good as the other four ranked higher than him, but he still has the potential to be elite and will likely be a top line centre at the NHL level some day.

#6 Dalibor Dvorsky, AIK (HockeyAllsvenskan), C

The hype around Slovakian prospects continues into this draft with Dalibor Dvorsky. Dvorsky possesses probably the third best shot in this draft class and he is a pure sniper. His shot makes him dangerous but so does his hockey IQ and vision. He knows where to go to score goals and can be the main man on the power play. His skating could use a little bit of work, but it isn’t a huge concern. Dvorsky has struggled in transition and his unwillingness to drive the play holds him back a bit.

Dalibor Dvorsky should be a top line centre in the NHL one day. If he works on his weaknesses, there’s a chance he could be a top goal scorer centre for an NHL team eventually.

#7 Zach Benson, Winnipeg Ice (WHL), LW

The third player from the WHL in the top 10, Zach Benson is having a very good year with the best team in the WHL. Benson has scored 20 goals and 26 assists for 46 points in 29 games for the Winnipeg Ice so far. He is a small forward with average skating which isn’t a recipe for success, but his skillset makes up for it. Benson is a deadly, slick playmaker who scans the ice quickly and effectively. One of the smartest player in this draft class is a title Benson can have. He also doesn’t play like his size, he goes into puck battles and has a strong work ethic on the ice.

Zach Benson continues the trend of prospects from this draft likely being top line players. Benson has one of the lower ceilings of this draft’s top prospects but he has one of the higher floors.

#8 Mikhail Gulyayev, Omskie Yastreby (MHL), D

In my opinion, Mikhail Gulyayev deserves the title of best defenceman in this draft class. Gulyayev is an offensively minded defenceman, but that doesn’t stop him from playing well at both ends of the ice. Gulyayev is a very smooth skater with some offensive tools. His skating allows him to being great in transition. He is also a fantastic passer and one of his best skills is his passes from the blueline. His hands and puck control deserve some praise as well and they make him a threat in the offensive zone. Obviously, there’s some defensive concerns like most young defencemen, but he should be able to fix those concerns with experience.

Mikhail Gulyayev has the potential to be a good number two defenceman in the NHL. He might only end up as a number three, but that’s still great value.

#9 Will Smith, USNTDP (USHL), C

No, this is not the Will Smith who’s starred in everyone’s favourite movie (Shark Tale, obviously). This hockey playing Will Smith is having a great year in the USHL with 10 points in eight games so far, as well as 47 points in 26 games for the US U-18 national team. Smith is a good two-way playmaker who has a great set of hands, along with some smarts. He can drive the offence and create offence for himself and his team. Smith’s stock has been rising lately due to his dominant performances.

Will Smith has the potential to be an elite centre in the NHL, but it is more likely he ends up as a strong 2C and weak 1C.

#10 Eduard Sale, HC Kometa Brno, RW

Eduard Sale rounds out my top 10 prospects. Sale is another prospect who has been play against men this year. He only has three goals and three assists for six points in 25 games, but he hasn’t looked out of place. Sale isn’t super amazing at anything, but he is good, even great at everything. He has great hands, vision, playmaking ability, and hockey IQ which all make him a threat to play against. A strong second half of the season and Sale could rise in draft rankings.

Eduard Sale could be a top-six scoring winger at the NHL level one day. There’s a chance he might become an elite player due to all the great tools he possesses, but that could also back-fire and he ends up a bottom-six forward since there’s nothing that special with his game.

#11 Calum Ritchie, Oshawa Generals (OHL), C

Calum Ritchie is a prospect that I think NHL coaches will love. He has the build of a power forward, but can play many different styles. Ritchie has some great vision and passing abilities which derives from his high hockey IQ. He also has some quick hands that can fake out and goalie and has shown flashes of having a great shot. Ritchie isn’t afraid to use his size to battle for the puck. He hasn’t produce as much as you’d want a top prospect to with only 27 points in 29 games, but a good second half and we could see his stock spike.

Calum Ritchie likely ends up as a 2C on a competitive team, but will still be a valuable piece to which ever to team drafts him.

#12 Andrew Cristall, Kelowna Rockets (WHL), LW

Andrew Cristall is the only player in the WHL that is remotely close to Connor Bedard’s production. In 29 games, Cristall has 21 goals, 34 assists for 55 points for a points per game pace of 1.89. Cristall is one of the most creative and dynamic players in this draft class. Like I already mentioned, his production is insane but so is his skillset. He’s like a magician with the puck with the set of hands he has and can see passing lanes most players wouldn’t. To round out his skillset, Cristall has a good shot and good hockey IQ. What brings his stock down is that he is a smaller player with skating issues and while I like smaller players, it does create the scare that he might not hit his potential because of it.

Andrew Cristall has the highest chance out of all prospects outside the top 10 to sneak into it on draft day. It is highly likely Cristall ends up as a top-six winger at the NHL level whether that be a supporting winger or an elite one.

Just how good is this upcoming draft?

Honourable mentions: Riley Heidt, Colby Barlow, Matthew Wood

The 2023 NHL Draft is perfect opportunity for a team to try and find a centre for their future as this draft is stacked with them. A few wingers make some headlines too but most aren’t on the same level as the centres. This draft is loaded with talent from top to bottom and will be the deepest draft we have seen in a while. A generational talent at the top, followed by three potential franchise-changing talents and every top prospect seems to have at least a bit of potential to become elite.

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