We’re just over a week away from the 2023 NHL Draft and expectations are sky-high in Calgary to see who the newest Flames will be. After a disappointing season and rumours of trades to key players like Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin, the team will need to build from the draft.
The good news is that the team holds the 16th overall selection in this year’s draft. Not bad, but given how deep this year’s crop is expected to be, this is a very good selection. While they are not going to be able to take expected first overall selection Connor Bedard, there are a number of prospects that may just fall to them at 16th. Let’s take a look.
Prospects slated for the middle of the first round
A hard-working winger, the Owen Sound Attack winger is coming into this draft following a 79-point season in the OHL. Goal scoring is what he does best, and the forward finished fifth in the entire league in goals, with 46 in 59 games. Those goals came from all over the ice, with Barlow having a nose for the net, but also having a great show, allowing him to score from distance and still beat goalies clean.
Standing 6’1″ and weighing in around 190 lbs, Barlow is a man among boys in the OHL, able to muscle his way around to create chances. The one area he needs to work on is his skating. He’s got pretty good straight-line skating, but moving east-west and using his feet to be deceptive are both areas of his game that will need work at higher levels. That being said, these are smaller issues that he should be able to fix.
Barlow’s rankings are all over the board, with some as high at single digits and others close to the end of the first round. If he’s still available at 16, the Flames could do a lot worse.
Described as this year’s Lightning McQueen, Moore simply does not quit when he’s on the ice. A high-energy, hard working player, the forward spent the year with the US National Team Development Program teams, putting up 71 points for the U-18 side and 25 points for the USHL team.
Moore is a clear goal scorer, with a wicked shot that can beat goalies clean. He finished with 31 goals this year, good for sixth on the U18 team this year. He’s also just so much fun to watch, one of those players you cannot take your eyes off of.
Moore does need to work on his puck movement particularly in the corners, as he struggles to make plays in tight spaces, but that’s something that will come. He likely should go higher than 16th, but having been hidden behind Will Smith and Ryan Leonard this season on the National Team and with how deep of a draft this year looks to be, don’t be surprised if he drops. If he’s available at 16th, he’s a surefire pick.
Axel Sandin Pellikka
The one thing that the Flames desperately need in their prospect pool is defencemen. Beyond Jeremie Poirier, there aren’t many potential NHLers in the system right now. Adding Sandin Pellikka would be huge for the organization—and he looks to be a phenomenal player.
The Swedish blueliner is an offensive defenceman, splitting time between the SHL and J20 Nationell and had 41 points this season combined. A truly gifted blueliner, Sandin Pellikka is an excellent skater, able to deke out forwards on the rush, and also stick with his man on defence to limit chances against. He also has a wicked shot, particularly on the one-timer. He led all defencemen in scoring in the J20 this season, and it’s a small wonder why.
While he does need to get bigger and stronger, as all defencemen do, the concern with him as with most blueliners is his defensive game. He loves the offensive side more and does have a tendency to miss assignments to try to push the puck forward instead. This problem is endemic among offensive defencemen, but is teachable with time. With how dire the Flames’ need is on the blueline, adding Sandin Pellikka is he’s available would be huge
The Russian blueliner is virtually the polar opposite of Sandin Pellikka, standing 6’4″ and excelling at the defensive game. Simashev is an elite defensive defenceman, using his size and speed to keep players to the outside. He particularly excels at breaking up rush chances and winning one-on-one battles. For a big man, Simashev is remarkably quick on his feet and very agile to move laterally.
The one question mark for Simashev is his offense. He has very little of it. The prospect had just one goal in the MHL, Russia’s junior league, and none in the 18 games he spent in the KHL. Most scouts feel the instincts are there, and this really isn’t that out of the ordinary. The Flames’ defensive defenceman Yan Kuznetsov had just two goals in 34 games in his draft year in the NCAA. Goal scoring is not his forte and not why he was drafted, and it shouldn’t be a big issue for Simashev.
Simashev is an exceptional defenceman and with Chris Tanev over 30, the Flames will need to backfill that position in their lineup, and could do much worse than SImashev.
A right handed forward who can play centre, Matthew Wood has high end skill and size that should project really well to the NHL level. Standing 6’4″, the Lethbridge product is coming off of a 34-point rookie season in the NCAA with UConn. This is uncommon for draft-eligible prospects, with few playing their D+0 season in the league and fewer putting up these numbers. There’s a reason he’s expected to go high this year.
Wood has a phenomenal shot, particularly his wrist shot, which he loves to fire right into the top corners of the net. His release is really quick, freezing goalies in the process and seems to be unstoppable some nights. He’s a very smart player, able to anticipate where he needs to be at any given time, and can use his great hands to move the puck to create openings for scoring chances or great passes.
Wood does need to work on his two-way game as he can lose players along the walls., however the major area of concern is his skating. He does have a good top-end speed, but his acceleration is a work in progress, allowing him to be caught by opponents too easily. That being said, it has gotten better of late and should be something that he can fix by the time he hits the NHL.
Who should the Flames pick?
The story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is very apt here. Moore, Barlow, and Sandin Pellikka are all Papa Bear. Very good, very high-end players, but also all players who are likely to go early in the draft. If any of the three are available, you take them every time, but smart money would say all three will go somewhere between seven and 15th.
Simashev is an elite defensive defenceman, but the Flames desperately need skill and scoring this year, and even if he is available at 16th, the Flames would be wise to pass on him.
Baby Bear in this case is Wood, which is ironic because he is a very large man. He brings the right balance of skills to the table, able to score and create chances on the rush. The Flames have a strong connection with the UConn program, with Kuznetsov and goalie Arseni Sergeev both playing for the program. They have clearly seen a ton of Wood and know what they are getting. He would be a phenomenal asset to add to the Flames’ prospect pool.