The 2023 NHL Draft class is shaping up to be one of the most explosive and deep classes in recent memory. The projected first round is littered with offensive firepower and athletes who might legitimately have Hall of Fame potential. The mid first round projections this draft are difficult to rank, but Riley Heidt makes a strong case to be a top-20 pick, potentially top-15.
The Saskatoon product enters the draft as one of the most underrated prospects in my opinion. With tremendous passing ability, smooth skating and great top end speed Heidt could be a pick we look back on and wonder why so many teams passed on the forward.
Who is Riley Heidt?
|Riley Heidt||C||L||5’11” / 180cm||179lbs / 81kg|
Heidt was born on March 25, 2005 in Saskatoon Saskatchewan. Riley played his minor hockey in Saskatchewan while watching his uncle Ryan Keller play professional hockey in predominantly in Europe and the AHL, having one stint with the Ottawa Senatros in 2009–10.
Heidt played for the Prince George Cougars the last two full seasons, setting the franchise record for single season assists this year with 72—a mark that tied Connor Bedard for the WHL lead.
Heidt’s on-ice production
It’s clear to see Heidt has always had a playmakers touch, posting impressive numbers throughout his minor hockey career. He didn’t slow down once he reached the WHL and his jump in point production from 2021–22 to this season has been astounding.
Heidt’s creative use of the puck and quick decision making combined with his speed make his assists not only impressive to watch, but head scratching for defenders. His ability to find small passing lanes and react on closing space is good indication his transition to the NHL may be smoother than other players in the mid to late first round.
|2017–18||D-5||SAAHL U15||Martensville Marauders U15 AA||31||22||32||54|
|2018–19||D-4||SAAHL U15||Martensville Marauders U15 AA||31||36||63||99|
|2019–20||D-3||SMAAAHL||Saskatoon Contacts U18 AAA||44||17||20||37|
|2020–21||D-2||SMAAAHL||Saskatoon Contacts U18 AAA||6||3||7||10|
|WHL||Prince George Cougars||22||2||6||8|
|2021–22||D-1||WHL||Prince George Cougars||65||21||37||58|
|2022–23||D+0||WHL||Prince George Cougars||68||25||72||97|
Heidt’s skating is amongst the top of his draft class. He’s constantly moving his feet in both the offensive and defensive zones, with or without the puck. His stride is smooth and looks effortless at times with top end speed that can burn defenders and win him races to loose pucks.
His 72 assists is evidence of his passing ability, averaging just over an assist per game this season. Heidt’s jump in point production has been in part due to his increased consistency. This is still something the young forward struggles with at times but is moving in the right direction.
Heidt also shows his ability through his shot, one of his most underrated assets. Most of Heidt’s 25 goals this season came off his quick release in the slot, also displaying his accuracy and ability to elevate the puck quickly in tight during shootouts this season.
The young centre may project better in the NHL as a playmaking winger, but his skating and strength on his skates has proven he can accelerate down the middle of the ice. He’s somewhat a Swiss Army knife—coaches can feel confident putting him on the ice in any situation. An all-around player with sparkle to his offensive game. Beyond the skill, Heidt has an edge on the ice, throwing hits, getting in scrums and not backing down from contact.
Prospect rankings have Heidt anywhere from 12–25 overall in the upcoming draft. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s one of the mid first-rounders taken closer to #10 overall than #20 solely based on his skating and decision making.
Heidt was a standout in the CHL top prospects game this year, winning player of the game for Team Red. Heidt was all over the ice, attempted a Michigan behind that net that rested on the goalies shoulder before being blown dead, posted an assist, and had five shots. Heidt raised his stock after displaying his skillset to the fullest.
Riley Heidt’s strengths
Passing and playmaking
Heidt is a natural passer. When the puck is on his stick he’s actively assessing the zone to look for opportunites to move the puck quickly. He has the ability to make quick deflection passes in tight space and also has patience with time and space.
His patience makes him great at carrying the puck into the zone and establishing the cycle if there’s no rush opportunities at the net.
Some of his highlights this season the centreman moves the puck so fast the cameraman can’t track the puck accurately. You combine his quick decisions and strong passing with his skating and you get a player that can win puck battles and drive play in all three zones of the ice.
Heidt has great edges and a smooth stride. He can accelerate quickly and get to loose pucks, turn on a dime create an opportunity. His agility is the strongest aspect of his skating, looking to shake defenders and turn on loose pucks to defend possesion.
His ability on the rush is exceptional and is a great display of his strength on his skates. For a slightly smaller guy, Heidt rarely gets knocked off the puck and can be seen laying reverse hits in the corners and behind the net. His wide base when he skates makes it difficult for defenders to move him off the puck, combined with his speed this gives him opportunities to drive the front of the net from the outside of the ice and create space to look for passing lanes.
In the defensive zone he can be seen winning puck battles due to his quick acceleration and reliance on moving his feet. Heidt does a good job of predicting play in the defensive zone and is great at starting breakouts from his own end.
Riley Heidt’s areas of improvement
Consistency and Size
Heidt’s biggest issue this season was his decline late in games. Throughout his WHL career there have been some consistency issues which he has drastically improved on from last season. Across much of the season late in close games Heidt’s production dropped off, which could be a potential issue if it carries forward. Heidt carries himself well and wore a letter for the Cougars this season so I wouldn’t chock it up to lack of effort. Some room to mature and gain some confidence during crunch time is something Heidt can look to continue improving in the coming years
Although Heidt displays strong edges and a tough demeanour, size would benefit him in the NHL especially at the centre position. Heidt just turned 18 in March and has plenty of time to continue growing and gaining weight. I don’t expect it to be an issue in his game going forward in a year or two.
Some scouts have talked about Heidt underutilizing his shot, instead looking to pass too often. With a quick and accurate release and exceptional ability to move in open space, it would be interesting to see what the young player could do if he capitalized on more of the slot shot opportunities he creates for himself.
Riley Heidts’s comparables
Heidt’s skillset can be loosely compared to that of Patrick Kane or Bo Horvat.
Fit with the Flames
Heidt is a realistic potential draft candidate for the Flames at pick #16. Heidt has the potential to play on the wing or at centre and his offensive upside and scoring make him a low-risk selection.
The Flames have strong forward depth in their system but Heidt would be a surefire addition to the organization in my opinion. He has realistic middle-six centre opportunity and great power play upside—a great addition to the upcoming young core.
Heidt has the opportunity go as high as 10th overall in the upcoming draft. With edges and natural playmaking ability, he has all-star potential at the NHL level. I could see Heidt growing into a top line centre or winger with great power play ability.
If I were the a GM and he was still on the board at pick #15 it would be an absolute no-brainer. Last season, Heidt would’ve likely gone in the top 10 and could be an everyday NHLer in a season, assuming he returns to junior next year.
Heidt’s breakout season has turned heads and gives credit to the prospects continued pace of development. With some more weight and increased consistency, Heidt could grow into a potential superstar.
Projection: Elite, two-way forward
All TWC 2023 NHL Draft Profiles
Check out more of our individual player profiles of selected 2023 NHL Draft prospects:
Connor Bedard | Matvei Michkov | Adam Fantilli | Leo Carlsson | Zach Benson | Andrew Cristall | Oliver Moore | Will Smith | Ryan Leonard | Eduard Sale | Colby Barlow | Axel Sandin Pellikka | Dalibor Dvorsky | Brayden Yager | David Reinbacher | Nate Danielson | Riley Heidt | Matthew Wood | Quentin Musty | Mikhail Gulyayev | Calum Ritchie | Gabe Perrault | Jayden Perron | Ethan Gauthier | Dmitri Simashev | Samuel Honzek | Lukas Dragicevic | William Whitelaw | Otto Stenberg | Gavin Brindley | Daniil But