Yes, the best pick made in the 2023 NHL Draft is likely to be Connor Bedard — that, after all, is why he was the first player taken overall.
But who were the favourite and most interesting picks made, as seen through the eyes of our draft experts?
We asked our scout Jason Bukala and draft guru Sam Cosentino that question and they both have picked out one player from each round of the draft to focus in on.
Bukala: Colby Barlow, Winnipeg Jets, 18th overall
Sometimes a player falls into your lap at the draft. If you’re really lucky, the prospect ticks off every box you value.
That’s exactly the case with Colby Barlow. He projects as a power forward who leans goal-scorer. Barlow has a very quick stick, battles along the wall and around the crease, and competes in all three zones. He also has elite character and is the captain in Owen Sound. People in Winnipeg will enjoy watching him produce offence for the Jets, but they will also appreciate how he carries himself in their community.
Cosentino: Tanner Molendyk, Nashville Predators, 24th overall
Molendyk, a native of tiny McBride, BC., comes from humble beginnings. Prior to the bantam draft he had his sights set on the University of North Dakota, but changed course to play for the Saskatoon Blades, who have had a number of NHL draftees of late, most notably Kirby Dach. Molendyk is an elite skater with great edges. He moves pucks well and can support the rush. He also plays with some bite in his game and is not afraid to commit to the big open-ice hit. He went without a goal in his first 23 games, but still ended the season with nine goals and 37 points with a plus-31 rating in 67 games.
Bukala: Etienne Morin, Calgary Flames, 48th overall
Morin projects as a transitional defenceman at the NHL level. He can quarterback the power play and he’s a fantastic skater. His defending detail is average to average plus, but not a concern. The Flames might have acquired a player who can skate in their top four for years to come. You can’t teach offence. Some players simply have better hands, better vision, better shots, and a clear sense of how to contribute offensively. Morin is one of those prospects. In other draft years he might have had late first-round value, so getting him in the second round should be exciting for the Flames organization.
Cosentino: Lukas Dragicevic, Seattle Kraken, 57th overall
In our NHL Combine interview, Dragicevic gave us a detailed explanation of what his suit was going to look like for the draft. With some expectation of going in round one, he was excited to show it off to the in-arena and TV audiences. Not only did he slip into round two, but, according to our Associate Producer Michelle Methot, the suit didn’t get there on time either. Dragicevic is an offensive defenceman who’s just three years into playing the position. His defensive zone details need some work as does his skating, but he’s already addressing those things.
Bukala: Quinton Burns, St. Louis Blues, 74th overall
The Blues had a fantastic week at the draft. The three players they selected in the first round — Dalibor Dvorsky, Otto Stenberg, and Theo Lindstein — forecast as top-of-the-lineup players in time. Adding Burns in the third round impresses me as well.
He is a bit of a throwback. He’s an “in your face” competitor who plays up to (and sometimes crosses) the line with his tenacity and physicality. He projects as a mean two-way defenceman who is capable with the puck, blocks shots, and will make life miserable on top six forwards in the league.
Cosentino: Nick Lardis, Chicago Blackhawks, 67th overall
While I was chasing Shane Wright last year in a trip through Peterborough, the Petes coaching staff made a point for me to track Lardis this season. On an older Peterborough team, he wasn’t getting top line or first PP minutes, but after being acquired by a younger Hamilton team, Lardis began to play more minutes and in more high-leverage situations. Of his 37 goals, 25 were scored in the final 33 games of the season. He has elite skating and goal-scoring ability. Taking the puck more to the middle of the ice and working on defensive details will be the plan for next season.
Bukala: Beckett Hendrickson, Boston Bruins, 124th overall
Hendrickson played a depth role at the USNTDP. The team was top heavy with forwards that included Will Smith, Gabe Perreault, Ryan Leonard and Oliver Moore — and there’s only one puck. Sometimes there isn’t enough situational opportunity to go around. Hendrickson could have easily played higher up in the lineup, though. He skates well, has understated offensive upside, and contributes reliable detail defensively. He doesn’t cheat the game. He plays the right way. He’s a solid add for the Bruins in the fourth round.
Cosentino: Jaden Lipinski, Calgary Flames, 112th overall
Big body guy who improved immensely from the start of the year to the end. Was an injury replacement for teammate Samuel Honzek at the 2023 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, and showed well there. At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds Lipinski has power forward capabilities. An Arizona product, Lipinski caught the eye of Vancouver Giants scouts while they were there looking at Colton Langkow.
Bukala: Cam Allen, Washington Capitals, 136th overall
Allen projected as a potential first round pick last August, but his season didn’t go to plan and he suffered through significant inconsistencies. But he skates well, is a proven leader (he was part of the leadership group in Guelph and with Team Canada), and is hard to play against. When he’s on he makes safe/sound puck plays and his physicality stands out. Allen projects as a two-way D. Some prospects suffer through a year of “draft-itis” and I put Allen in that category. He’s definitely worth the investment at this stage of the draft.
Cosentino: Kevin Bicker, Detroit Red Wings, 147th overall
From the same Mannheim program as Mo Seider, Bicker turned heads at the 2022 Hlinka-Gretzky tournament. He plays a tenacious game with a bundle of energy, can make plays and hold his own defensively. He was a point per game player in the German U20 league, and played well again at the U18 worlds. He’s an averaged sized winger at 6-foot, 176 pounds.
Bukala: Angus MacDonell, Dallas Stars, 189th overall
MacDonell is fun to watch. He’s shorter than a lot of prospects (5-foot-9) but he’s plenty strong (180 pounds). He’s a combination of energy and skill. MacDonell scored 29 goals and added 92 penalty minutes this past season with Sarnia and Mississauga in the OHL. He’s not shy about hunting pucks in front of the net and along the wall. What I like most is the fact he never seems to go away. He wants to make an impact every time he rolls over the boards.
Cosentino: Tuomas Uronen, Vegas Golden Knights, 192nd overall
Uronen is a 5-foot-11, 183-pound right winger. He plays with pace and has a big motor. There’s enough skill to project him as a middle six player, but he’s not elite. He goes to hard areas, and never gives up on a play. Uronen participated in all the major pre-draft year events for Finland, including the 2022 U18s where he was featured as an underaged player. He got into five Liiga games, but made most of his mark in the U20 league where he was over a point per game.
Bukala: Emil Jarventie, Pittsburgh Penguins, 217th overall
The Penguins had to be surprised to see Jarventie available in the seventh round. He’s worth the risk. Jarventie is a light (5-foot-10, 168 pounds) forward whose element is clearly his offensive upside. He averaged nearly a point-per-game playing for the Finnish national team. He lacks an interior game at this stage of his development and will have to get more involved in traffic as he matures. When rolling the dice this late in the draft, however, it’s nice to find a player who has the skill Jarventie does.
Cosentino: Tyler Peddle, Columbus Blue Jackets, 224th overall
His special moment came at the very end of the draft when he was the last player selected and you could see the relief in his face. It’s never easy attending the draft and waiting until the very end, or not being selected at all. Peddle began his career in Drummondville with eight goals in his first nine games, but finished his rookie season with 17 goals total. He backed that up this year with 24 goals. He’s a fast straight-line skater who’s at his best when getting in on the forecheck and creating havoc. At 6-foot-1, 204 pounds, he’s a big body who shoots a ton. His play can be all over the map at times, and this is likely the reason why he was taken this far down in the draft. Ty’s dad, Brad, is the head coach for St. Francis Xavier’s CIS program, and is a former pro player.
ONE UNDRAFTED MISS
Bukala: I wanted to mention that I was surprised Jordan Tourigny of the Shawinigan Cataractes was not taken at the draft. At one point during the season he was highly touted and, in fact, he may have made my top 32 list early on. Tourigny is a 5-foot-11, 165-pound, right shot defenceman who put up 41 points in 67 games this past season. He was leaned on for big minutes by head coach Dan Renaud and was their first PP option. His brother, Miguel, was seventh round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2022 NHL Draft.