It only feels like yesterday that the 2022 NHL Draft happened in Montreal. Even though it’s been just a few weeks since the event, it’s an exciting time for scouts and prospect enthusiasts if you’re looking forward to the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
While the 2022 draft offered great talent, the class of 2023 is a much deeper and talented group of prospects with a lot of high-end and elite level talent. Not to mention two-generational talents and one that could be closing in on the label as well.
With the upcoming 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and a number of these prospects participating in the tournament, I thought it would be a good time to do a way too early ranking of my top-15 players for the 2023 NHL Draft. This was extremely difficult to compile as there are names that could jump in that I left out and named as honourable mentions. Just goes to show how deep this draft is.
Enough waiting around, here are my early top-15 for the 2023 NHL Draft.
1. Connor Bedard, C, Regina Pats (WHL)
If you don’t know who Connor Bedard is, get used to hearing his name as he’s going to be talked about a lot as he’s considered to be the consensus first overall pick for the 2023 draft.
Bedard was granted exceptional status and joined the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League for the 2021 shortened season. He immediately stood out and that continued where he was absolutely dominant for Canada at the World U18 Championship finishing with 14 points in seven games. He’s also the first 16-year-old since Connor McDavid to suit up for Canada at the World Juniors and he didn’t disappoint displaying his elite level talent before the tournament was paused. He exploded for 51 goals and 100 points in his second season and while Canada wasn’t great at the World U18 Championship in 2022, Bedard was still a stand out with six goals and seven points in four games.
Bedard is a generational talent. He’s extremely dynamic as he possesses a lot of elite level qualities, but his IQ and ability to be shifty and evaluate situations is always on display. He possesses a quick release with his shot and generates a lot of power with his follow through. Even when you think he has no chance of scoring, he always finds a way. He has excellent hands to make moves in tight spaces and makes the most difficult moves look easy. Despite his size, that isn’t a detriment given his elite level skating and edges to evade tough situations.
2. Matvei Michkov, RW, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
The biggest phenom goal scorer to come out of Russia since Alex Ovehckin, Matvei Michkov is worth the hype and wait for a team willing to draft him. He signed a five-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg, so an NHL team won’t be getting his services right away, but the potential for another elite level goal scorer is hard to pass up. He averaged a goal per game in the MHL (22 in 22) and wasn’t affected at all by the competition in the KHL.
Michkov possesses an insane level of offensive talent. His shooting and accuracy are already at an NHL-level for a 17-year-old and he’s absolutely dynamic. If there’s one player you don’t want to have the puck, it’s Michkov as he’ll hurt you every time. He’s always in motion as he’s extremely evasive with his quick and explosive skating stride. He uses all areas of the ice and has the ability to always drive to the middle of the ice for a dangerous scoring chance. He protects the puck exceptionally well and has soft hands to move around defenders with such ease.
While Bedrad is poised to go first overall, Michkov isn’t that far behind him.
3. Adam Fantilli, C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
I knew Adam Fantilli was going to be a high-end pick in the 2023 draft since I saw him play with the Toronto Red Wings in the GTHL. He’s already made a name for himself in the USHL winning the Clark Cup and playoff MVP in 2021 and was a first team All-Star in 2021-22.
Fantilli is extremely effective and deceptive with his movements, be it with a head fake or when he’s carrying the play quickly in transition. He’s quick on his feet and he has a very smooth skating stride. His speed alone pushes defenders back allowing him to open the game up and attack with force. The skill he possesses and his ability to power through and force his way past opponents makes him extremely effective when in the offensive zone. He’s smart and is always aware of how things are going to unfold, being one step ahead of the competition.
4. Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (HockeyAllsvenskan)
Part of the new wave of talent to come out of Slovakia, Dalibor Dvorksy is looking to follow in the footsteps of Juraj Slafkovsky and Simon Nemec. While the chances of him going first or second is slim given who’s at the top of the board, but he has the potential to be a top-five pick. Dvorksy is a high IQ, confident and highly skilled centre that maintains great control. He’s a smart playmaker, but his shot and accuracy isn’t something to ignore.
He can work on improving his foot speed, but he’s got great edges to evade opponents and get out of dangerous situations. He helped Slovakia earn silver at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup where he finished with 12 points.
5. Brayden Yager, C, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
There’s a lot to like with the reigning CHL Rookie of the Year’s play. The Moose Jaw Warrirors centreman posted a franchise record 34 goals, while finishing with 59 points in 63 games. Based on his goal production, he loves to take control and take as many shots as possible. On 188 shots last season, he had an 18.09 shooting percentage.
He has great accuracy, power and a quick release with his snap shot, especially when he winds up for a one-time shot. He’s not the best skater, but he always finds the open spaces for a prime scoring opportunity and is in position to break up a play. When in control, his size allows him to excel at protecting the puck very well when he drops his shoulder to get around defenders with ease.
6. Calum Ritchie, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Size, speed, skill and smarts, Calum Ritchie has it all as he’s a complete package offensive powerhouse. He has great hands when dealing in tight situations, has the IQ to open himself up and provide great support for his teammates. He’s got great vision to locate his teammates with a perfectly executed pass and lightning quick release to boot when he has a prime look at the net.
While he excels offensively, he’s very responsible and smart on the defensive side of the puck, being in great position to break plays and separate the puck carrier with his size. He was very productive as a rookie in the Ontario Hockey League with 45 points in 65 games. He was noticeable at the Capital City Challenge last year in Ottawa and look out for him to do the same at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
7. Leo Carlsson, C, Örebro HK (SHL)
When you’re 16 years old and you’re already finding yourself playing at the pro level, you’re definitely doing something right. Carlsson excels in all aspects on the ice as he’s quick, competitive and has an insane work ethic. He displays great IQ and a sense of calmness whenever he has control of the puck, showing his soft hands and great patience. He’s a shifty play maker, but don’t underestimate his shot. While he only suited up in two games for Sweden at the U18 World Championship, he made the most of it with two goals and one assist.
8. Kasper Halttunen, F, HIFK (U20 SM-sarja)
A big and rangy forward, Halttunen is a monster when he’s on the ice. He’s mean, physical and nasty to play against as he has all the tools to be a great power forward. He possesses a booming one-timer, soft hands to make dekes around opponents with ease and the ability to have an active stick to break plays up and regain possession.
Halttunen plays with great intensity and has great awareness and the mindset to keep himself open for a prime scoring opportunity. When the play collapses down low, he either remains open for an outlet pass or can sneak in undetected to pounce on a rebound opportunity. With his skating, he has terrific speed to cut to the inside and attack the middle of the ice easily.
9. Matthew Wood, F, Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL)
Emulating the play of Evgeni Malkin and Auston Matthews, Matthew Wood certainly does show glimpses of their play style in his game. He displays excellent vision in all three zones as well as the offensive tendencies and skillset to always be a dynamic scoring threat.
He has great strength and accurate shooting abilities that makes him extremely dangerous when on the attack, as his 45 goals in 46 games with the Grizzlies shows. He has a quick release and a clean follow through with his shot and his curl and drag motion is very reminiscent of Matthews’ shot. His speed and size allow him to fend off and break free from defenders.
10. Cameron Allen, D, Guelph Storm (OHL)
Recently named captain for Canada at the upcoming Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Allen is a highly competitive, two-way defender and is probably the top defender in this draft class.
Allen is a very confident and mobile defender when carrying the puck in transition with a long and smooth stride. He’s got great smarts knowing when to back off and transition back to defense and defend against the rush. He’s always in your face, forcing turnovers or being extremely physical in battles along the boards or in front of the net. A right shot, he’s got accuracy and power from the point and his slap shot is one that you don’t want to get in the way of.
11. Quentin Musty, LW, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
There’s a reason why the Sudbury Wolves drafted Quentin Musty first overall in the 2021 Priority Selection Draft. His NHL-like shot and high-end playmaking abilities make him an unpredictable and dual offensive threat. He’s a silky-smooth puck-handler and is able to execute moves at such a quick pace. Here’s a highlight to prove his impressive handling and control.
The 6-foot-2, 203-pound forward always plays with such conviction and determination when hunting down loose pucks and engaging in battles along the boards. He’s a competitor and it’s always on display.
12. Colby Barlow, RW, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Drafted eighth overall in the 2021 Priority Draft, Barlow is a goal scoring machine. He finished tied for second in OHL rookies in scoring with 30 goals. Out of the 30 that he scored 25 were at even strength and 83.3% of his goals were primary points. Already impressive goal production for a 17-year-old.
Barlow’s strength clearly lies in his shot and scoring abilities. His wrist shot is already at an NHL level and he has great power when unleashing his one-timer. He possesses great accuracy and is able to score from anywhere on the ice. Give him the time and space and the puck will end up in the back of the net.
13. Charlie Stramel, F, University of Wisconsin (NCAA)
Although he missed significant time due to injury last season, when healthy, Stramel is a powerhouse when he’s on the ice. He plays a consistent power forward game as he uses his size to his advantage effectively. He’s got a smooth skating stride, a powerful release in his shot and the ability to provide a strong net front presence. He’s extremely difficult to get the puck off in one-on-one battles and is always driving hard to the net.
14. Zach Benson, C, Winnipeg ICE (WHL)
Although he might not have the best strength compared to others in the draft at 150 pounds, Zach Benson possesses great smarts and awareness, reading the situation extremely well.He had a slightly better even strength primary point production (0.65) than ICE teammate Matthew Savoie (0.64) and Benson was in his DY-1 season. Benson is extremely energetic as he’s always on the go and always generating offensive chances, but it’s his excellent hands and puck control that stand out as he’s able to execute moves at a high degree of difficulty.
15. Eduard Šalé, LW, HC Kometa Brno U20
Sale was a major standout for Czechia at the World U18 Championship, especially when he was with Buffalo Sabres first-round pick Jiri Kulich’s wing. Sale possesses some of the best hands and playmaking vision in the draft as he’s very crafty. He’s able to make crisp passes and find the cross seams with such ease. He’s a quick and agile skater with strong edges being able to curl back, assess his options and make a play by opening the game up.
Related: 4 Winners From the 2022 NHL Draft
Honourbale Mentions: Theo Lindstein (Brynäs IF, SHL), Lukas Dragicevic (Tri-City Americans, WHL), Nate Danielson (Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL), Hunter Brzustewicz (Kitchener Rangers, OHL), Tyler Peddle (Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL), Kalan Lind (Red Deer Rebels, WHL), Riley Heidt (Prince George Cougars, WHL), Otto Stenberg (Frölunda HC J20, Nationell), Mikhail Gulyayev (Omskie Yastreby, MHL)
As mentioned and given the long list of honourable mentions, this is going to be the deepest and talented draft since the 2015 class with Connor McDavid leading the way. There are plenty of other names that will be highlighted throughout the season. There will probably be a lot of movement and debate as result, but nevertheless, it’s going to be a fun season for prospects.
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Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.