Hello from Nashville!
Last week I published my year-end rankings of the top 80 prospects in the 2023 NHL Draft. Building a mock draft is a completely different process, though. What you are about to read is different than my own personal rankings.
I base my mock draft on what I have experienced over the years, and a feeling I have for the kind of players certain organizations value. Some teams value smaller, skilled players. Others like to build out their rosters with size and grit. It’s not an exact science, but it’s an enjoyable process that forecasts what teams might do in the first-round.
So, here is my first round Mock Draft for 2023 with a quick comment on each player selected:
1. Chicago Blackhawks: Connor Bedard, C
Elite offensive talent who will be the centrepiece of the Blackhawks’ rebuild for years to come.
2. Anaheim Ducks: Adam Fantilli, C
Play driver who brings high-end compete, plays fast, can be used in all situations, and play both the wing and the middle.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets: Leo Carlsson, C
Combination of power and finesse with room to easily add 20 pounds to his frame. Moves very well. Absorbs contact along the wall to extend plays. Hockey IQ to eventually be used in all situations at the NHL level if asked.
4. San Jose Sharks: Will Smith, C
If not for the depth at the top of this draft class Smith would be a first overall candidate in other years. Motion player. Playmaker. Exceptionally dangerous on the power play. Wants the puck on his stick every shift. Difference maker offensively.
5. Montreal Canadiens: Ryan Leonard, C
Not just offence. He brings the kind of growl and push back that leads to team success at the hardest time of year, the playoffs. Combination of skill and bulldog.
6. Arizona Coyotes: David Reinbacher, D
Coveted right shot defender who leans two-way/transitional NHL defenceman in time. Understated shot from range. High end hockey sense. Can be used in all situations.
7. Philadelphia Flyers: Colby Barlow, RW
The Flyers are rebuilding. Here, they get a power style goal scorer who will establish a culture with their young group of prospects on the horizon. Could be a future NHL captain.
8. Washington Capitals: Matvei Michkov, RW
The timeline for Michkov’s arrival in Washington could be different compared to other clubs. He’s a high-end offensive talent who would have been a top three pick under different circumstances.
9. Detroit Red Wings: Otto Stenberg, C
The Wings are hard to predict (example: drafting Moritz Seider sixth overall in 2019). Stenberg would tick off the boxes required to win in the playoffs and the Wings are trending up. He’s a leader, relentless competitor, play driver, and raises his game against the toughest opponents.
10. St. Louis Blues: Samuel Honzek, C
The Blues are likely to retool more than rebuild. Honzek is scraping the surface of his upside. He’s a big body in the middle of the ice who has an excellent stick. He’s hard to defend around the net and has the IQ to be deployed in a variety of roles.
11. Vancouver Canucks: Axel Sandin-Pellikka, D
The Canucks will have choices in this slot, but adding a right-shot, transitional defender who can QB one of their power play units is a fantastic add for their organization. Sandin-Pellikka is a minute muncher who can be used in all situations and gobble up over 23 minutes of ice time.
12. Arizona Coyotes: Zach Benson, LW
Benson is an elusive player who has some of the best offensive vision in this draft class. He also has the commitment to be used in key defensive scenarios. His 1-on-1 skill off the rush is fun to watch.
13. Buffalo Sabres: Tom Willander, D
The Sabres welcome Willander to the fold. He will slide into their top four in time along with Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power. Willander is a two-way defenceman who started to display another level of offence in the back half of his season. He’s an elite skater who is quick to space and agile.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins: Gabriel Perreault, RW
The first pick in the Kyle Dubas era in Pittsburgh. Perreault fits the kind of prospect Dubas valued in his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s a gifted scorer who creates in small areas.
15. Nashville Predators: Oliver Moore, C
It’s David Poile’s last draft at the helm of the Nashville Predators and incoming GM Barry Trotz will value what Moore brings to the franchise. The Predators target prospects with relentless compete. Moore ticks off the skill, speed, and compete boxes.
16. Calgary Flames: Nate Danielson, C
Danielson is from Alberta and he was a leader at the WHL level with the Brandon Wheat Kings. He’s the kind of prospect who can be thrust into a variety of roles and be counted on to produce offence while competing on the defensive side of the ledger.
17. Detroit Red Wings: Matthew Wood, C
Wood brings an interior power game. He’s a big body who corals pucks quickly and has a quick release to the net in traffic. He was a clear leader for Team Canada at the U18 Worlds, where his pace, compete, and presence physically were notable.
18. Winnipeg Jets: Brayden Yager, C
Possessses a great release. Takes what is given in the offensive zone. His playmaking went to another level this season, displaying understated vision in the process. Loads of room for more strength. Adds a layer of scoring depth to the Jets’ prospect pool.
19. Chicago Blackhawks: Dalibor Dvorsky, C
Dvorsky ended the season on a high. He scored nearly two points per game at the U18 Worlds for Team Slovakia. Dvorsky has a very quick “catch and release.” He makes decisions with the puck on his stick very quickly and efficiently. He’s also hard to knock off the play with his compact/strong frame.
20. Seattle Kraken: Gavin Brindley, RW
Brindley plays fast. He’s also very difficult to defend. He’s slippery in tight quarters and battles around the crease. He can play in the top six or bottom six. Brindley competes exceptionally hard. He can be deployed in all situations as well and is increasing his value as an NHL prospect.
21. Minnesota Wild: David Edstrom, C
Edstrom provides a range of value. He scores, he takes key draws in all three zones, and his size and length around the crease in the offensive zone make him difficult to defend. Edstrom’s value to his team was on full display at the season-ending U18 Worlds.
22. Philadelphia Flyers: Eduard Sale, LW
Sale has great skill. He makes plays off the rush and from the flank on both his forehand and backhand. He has excellent puck touch overall. He gained valuable experience this year playing internationally for Czechia at the Hlinka/Gretzky, WJC, and U18 Worlds.
23. New York Rangers: Theo Lindstein, D
Lindstein oozes high end hockey IQ. He’s a two-way defenceman who complements a player like an Adam Fox or can be paired with someone like Braden Schneider as a middle pairing match-up tandem. Lindstein moves well and makes sound decisions with the puck. Teams win in the playoffs with players like Lindstein. He’s on the rise.
24. Nashville Predators: Andrew Cristall, LW
Trotz is on record asking his scouting staff to take calculated risk at this draft. He wants them to attempt to hit some home runs. Cristall fits the bill. He’s a gifted scorer who put up a ridiculous amount of offence on a rebuilding Kelowna Rockets team in the WHL.
25. St. Louis Blues: Danil But, RW
But is a giant prospect who’s a capable skater and brings projectable skill that could lead to becoming a top six NHL forward. His long reach is an asset. He has vision, competes, and surprises with his ability to make plays close to his body despite his length.
26. San Jose Sharks: Oliver Bonk, D
Bonk is a two-way defenceman who has the ability to match-up against top six opponents and provides heavy lifting in high leverage scenarios. He also brings some offence. He’s capable with the puck and shows willingness, at times, to lead the rush on his own.
27. Colorado Avalanche: Calum Ritchie, C
Ritchie is a big body forward who flat out contributes offence. He played through injury the entire year and remained a threat to play to his heavy, point producing identity to the end of the U18 Worlds representing Canada.
28. Toronto Maple Leafs: Nick Lardis, RW
Lardis is a fantastic skater. He has, arguably, the best stride of all the forwards in the draft class. He’s a motion player who leans goal scorer. Lardis is aggressive getting pucks to the net in the offensive zone and a threat to gain the edge off the rush, creating scoring chances in the process.
29. St. Louis Blues: Lukas Dragicevic, D
Dragicevic has some learning to do defensively, but he only started playing defence three seasons ago. The converted forward thinks the game offensively and he’s aggressive directing pucks on net from range. He also has the ability to lead the rush. With three picks in the first-round, the Blues can take a swing with Dragicevic knowing that if he doesn’t work out as an NHL defenceman they can groom him to be a forward instead.
30. Carolina Hurricanes: Kasper Halttunen, RW
Halttunen ended the season on a high not representing Team Finland at the U18’s. He leans shooter more than playmaker, especially on the power play when ripping pucks from his weak side flank. He has one of the best shots in the draft class.
31. Colorado Avalanche: Dmitri Simashev, D
Colorado values big, strong, fluid moving defencemen who are sound puck movers. Simashev fits the bill. He’s an excellent skater who has more to give in the offensive zone. He makes more plays than his stats display.
32. Vegas Golden Knights: Michael Hrabal, G
Massive in the net. Plays between his posts, never outside the blue paint. His size affords him the luxury of playing deep and having to travel less distance to make saves laterally. Rebound control is generally sound. Pucks rarely bounce off him resulting in second chances against. There are moments he does open up moving side to side tracking the play, with his stick leading behind and pucks beating him between the legs. Low blocker/above the pad is also an area that needs attention. Could be the first goalie off the board at NHL draft. Attractive foundation to build upon.