The start of the 2022-23 hockey season is already underway. While the NHL season is just around the corner, those looking to make a name for themselves for the 2023 NHL Draft are already into the swing of things for their draft year.
The 2022 NHL Draft was definitely interesting to say the least. After being labelled as the top prospect, Shane Wright dropped in the draft to the Seattle Kraken while Juraj Slafkovsky was selected first overall by the Montreal Canadiens. In a year where things were returning to normal, scouts and prospect enthusiasts were able to attend and scout games in person.
Deep Draft Class Since 2015
With everyone back in the rink, it’s the perfect time to have eyes in the stands as the 2023 NHL could match that of the 2015 draft as this class possesses some generational and elite level talent, especially in the first round. This draft is so deep that there’s the possibility that first-round talent can slide and vice versa due to the fact there’s so much skill in this crop of prospects.
Ever since he was granted exceptional status into the WHL, all eyes will be on Connor Bedard as he’s the consensus first overall pick. A highly intelligent centre and a sharp shooter are right behind him with many other elite level talents that will follow as the draft goes. The first round could be Western Hockey League heavy as a number of highly skilled players could be taken early on in the draft.
Similar to my 2022 preseason rankings, I’ve broken everything up into tiers to get a quick gauge of where each player is at for each specific range. In each range, a player has the potential to move up my draft board and sneak into the next tier at any point.
My list will be changing and more players will be added throughout the year as we inch closer to draft day. For now, these are the names who caught my eye to be on my top-32 list. Without further ado, let’s take a look my preseason rankings for the 2022 NHL Draft.
2022 Draft Rankings
1. Connor Bedard, C, Regina Pats (WHL)
As mentioned, Bedard is going to be the ultimate prize in this year’s draft. While Wright saw his name drop in the draft, there should be no concern with Bedard as he is a generational talent with his high-end IQ and skillset.
As a 15-year-old in his rookie season with the Pats, Bedard has been outstanding since his first game. Despite that season being shortened because of the pandemic, Bedard was outstanding with 28 points in 15 games. Though it was his play at the World U18 Championship where he continued his dominance. He followed that up with another productive season in 2021-22 where he finished fourth overall with 100 points in 62 games. This is after a slow start to the season with 17 points in 21 games. Still great production, considering the Pats weren’t a strong team overall.
Bedard is absolutely dynamic in everything that he does as he’s a complete package offensive powerhouse. He’s got elite level IQ and awareness as he’s able to quickly evaluate the situation and pick out routes for him to generate a quality opportunity. But it’s his NHL-like shot that stands out as he’s got a strong release and great accuracy. Even when you think he won’t score on a low-level chance, he’s always able to find an opening. He’s got great vision to make plays and draw in players to open the game. He’s extremely deceptive as you never know what he’s going to do.
Even though he’s 5-foot-9, he doesn’t get taken advantage of as he’s always willing to go into the corners and battle for possession of the puck. He has decent strength and is not afraid to stand up for himself when facing stronger opponents. His speed and skating allows him to get out of pressure situations and his soft hands allows him to maintain great control of the puck. His play at the World Junior Championship said it all, with and without the puck.
2. Matvei Michkov, RW, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
3. Adam Fantilli, C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
The next phenom to come out of Russia since Alex Ovechkin, Michkov is a pure and talented goal scorer with an NHL release and accuracy. He’s absolutely relentless when he’s in the offensive zone. No matter where he is on the ice, he’s got one thing in mind and that’s scoring goals. He was above a goal per game between SKA St. Petersburg and SKA-Varyagi in the MHL (30 goals in 28 games) and wasn’t affected at all by the competition in the KHL. He’s quick on his edges and his hands allows him to make moves swiftly in tight. His contract might be an issue as he signed a five-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg in 2021. At the moment he’s second, but could his contract second guess some teams or will one be willing to wait for a few more seasons?
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Let me know if you see a pattern here: Fantilli was excellent in the GTHL, he was excellent in the USHL and in his draft year, he’s going to excel in the NCAA. At every level he’s played, he’s excelled. Fantilli is a highly skilled and smart centreman. He’s extremely deceiving with his movements and has the ability to play at a fast rate, controlling the pace of the game. He’s quick on his feet and has excellent puck control, being able to manoeuvre around and get defenders on their heels. He finished second on the Steel in scoring with 74 points and is looking to immediately make an impact in his freshman season offensively.
4. Brayden Yager, C, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
5. Leo Carlsson, C, Örebro HK (SHL)
6. Calum Ritchie, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
7. Zach Benson, F, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
8. Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (HockeyAllsvenskan)
9. Cameron Allen, D, Guelph Storm (OHL)
10. Kasper Haltunnen, RW, HIFK (U20 SM-sarja)
Last season’s CHL Rookie of the Year, Yager was a standout for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup finishing with nine points in five games. He loves to take control of the game with his shot and high-end scoring abilities. He has a knack for finding the open spaces and freeing himself up for a prime scoring opportunity. Among players in their DY-1 last season, Yager was sixth in even-strength goals with 21. After finishing with 34 goals as a rookie with the Warriors, he’s primed for another productive season in 2022-23.
I’m already a huge Carlsson fan. A smart and calculated centreman with great IQ, he shows no panic in his game. He’s calm and is always displaying a great compete level. He’s always utilizing his 6-foot-3 size to his advantage in order to protect the puck and keep the opposition off him or in one-on-one situations to get around defenders. He’s a smooth skater with a long stride and combine that with his hands and patience, you have a player who can do some damage.
Ritchie has the whole package of a player that you would want in a centreman. He has the size, speed, hands, smarts and skill to be effective on both sides of the puck in any situation. He has great situational awareness to open up the game or be in position to be an outlet option for his teammates. He’s got a great work ethic, a powerful shot, an accurate passer and is capable of being responsible on the other side of the puck. He was a major standout out at both the World Junior Championship and at the Capital City Challenge.
Benson finished his rookie season with a 1.09 point per game average, along with a respectful 0.79 primary point per game. He plays with a lot of energy as his motor never stops. He has a great work ethic, speed and hands to be extremely difficult to contain in the offensive zone. He possesses some of the best awareness and smarts in this class. He was an essential part to Canada’s gold medal win at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
The next player in line in the next wave of Slovak talent, Dvorsky’s smarts and vision are what makes him a high-end prospect. He’s highly confident with his decision making and extremely skilled possessing the ability to either make plays at a quick pace with his passing or unleash a quick and accurate shot on net. While his skating could use some work as he could improve his first few steps, but he’s an offensive powerhouse that teams should line up for.
Allen comes in as my top defender as he possesses all the qualities teams want in a mobile two-way defender. He’s got great composure when carrying the puck in transition and is a handful when he’s defending in his own end or against the rush. He plays an intense style given his aggressive and competitive nature and always getting into the lane to apply pressure and break plays up.
Halttunen is a force to be reckoned with in regards to both his offensive capabilities and physical style. He possesses a strong and powerful one-timer along with a quick wrist shot. He’s got great speed and a long, smooth stride to quickly establish a forecheck and isn’t afraid to lay a big hit along the boards or in open ice.
11. Charlie Stramel, F, University of Wisconsin (NCAA)
12.Eduard Šalé, RW, HC Kometa Brno (Czechia)
13.Colby Barlow, LW, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
14. Riley Heidt, C, Prince George Cougars (WHL)?
15. Nate Danielson, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
16. Ethan Gauthier, RW, Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
17. Matthew Wood, F, University of Connecticut (NCAA)
Stramel is another competitive and highly skilled power forward in the making. He’s got tremendous energy and work ethic and has the ability to come on top of any puck battles with his size and strength. He’s got great body positioning to separate opponents and the physical edge that teams always look for. He could look to improve his skating mechanics and speed, but the tools are there for him to be an impactful centre.
Šalé has some of the best hands and playmaking abilities in this draft, as his play at the World U18 Championships showed. He’s able to make even the most difficult of plays look easy with his soft hands and great puck control. He’s quick and elusive and he easily showed why he’s going to be a top pick in this draft.
Setting a rookie goal scoring record with the Attack last season, Barlow possesses a very balanced offensive skillset. He has the shot, the compete and drive to maintain possession and battle for loose pucks. He was electric for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, scoring two short-handed goals to start the tournament.
Scoring 58 points as a rookie with the Prince George Cougars last season, I’m absolutely captivated at how smart Heidt is and how quickly he is able to process the game. Everything he does, he does it with pace and executes plays flawlessly with his awareness and creativity. He’s always looking ahead as to what he can do in order for the competition to catch up to him.
Players who can provide a steady two-way presence, yet are still dangerous offensive producers always have great value. Danielson does all of that as he can play a reliable game while still generating quality chances. He’s always at the centre of the play as it unfolds. He provides great support for his teammates but has the vision to open things up quickly. He has a great shot and is impactful in all situations.
The son of former NHLer Denis Gauthier and first overall pick in the 2021 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft, Ethan was absolutely dynamic at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup with six goals and seven points. He plays with a high level of energy, he’s very responsible in all three zones and is always the first one in the offensive zone to establish an attack. He’s got a strong shot, great hands and does an exceptional job at creating space for himself to attack the middle of the ice. He’s very attentive, knowing when to sneak in undetected for a prime scoring opportunity.
Wood is another player in this draft that possesses a lethal and accurate shot. He has the positioning and wrist shot similar to Auston Matthews with his power and speed behind it. He’s great at identifying the open lanes and is able to get into position swiftly in order to complete quick give-and-go plays. He’s truly a threat any time he has the puck or by being open, ready to unleash his shot.
18. Otto Stenberg, C/W, Frölunda J20 (Nationell)
19. Theo Lindstein, D, Brynäs IF (SHL)
20. Mikhail Gulyayev, D, Avangard Omsk (KHL)
21. Will Smith, C, USA U18 (USDP)
22. Andrew Cristall, LW, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
23. Quentin Musty, LW, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
24. Oliver Moore, C, USA U18 (USDP)
25. William Whitelaw, C, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
Stenberg and Lindstein are the next top Swedes in this draft. Stenberg already plays a mature two-way game with tremendous energy and skill. He’s constantly involved in driving the play and always on the go in the offensive zone. Lindstein is a very poised and confident two-way defender, with great mobility and vision. Teams value that kind of responsible defender with that mix of offense and Lindstein does that consistently well.
Out of the players to suit up for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, I was constantly drawn to Cristall. While the focus was on the top names, Cristall was flying under the radar in a depth role, but made the most of it when he was on the ice. He’s very deceptive with his movements and he’s extremely difficult to contain. He maintains great body position with the puck and has the burst of speed to blow by defenders. He’s smart, patient and has great awareness to spot his teammates. Cristall ranked third in WHL rookie scoring with 69 points in 61 games and had great primary production with a P1/GP average of 0.88 last season.
Musty is a dual-offensive threat, displaying a great combination of his playmaking abilities and shot. He’s extremely skilled as his creativity shows whenever he’s in transition or in the offensive zone. However, there are times where he isn’t as consistently competitive and his decision-making has come into question at times. His value would rise if he’s able to make better decisions, with and without the puck.
Moore is a highly energetic forward with great speed, agility and skill. He’s got great hands in tights areas and has the ability to manoeuvre easily in traffic. He has great edges to turn on a dime and draw in the opposition. Even when he doesn’t have the puck, he’s able to open himself up and always find himself in front of the net. He’s got great awareness when he doesn’t have the puck to help on the backcheck and be a factor defensively.
Whitelaw is one player that could generate some buzz as he was extremely productive last season, scoring 110 points in 55 games with Shattuck St. Mary’s. He’s extremely crafty and elusive when the puck is on his stick. His soft hands and strong edgework allow him to find the open spaces with such ease. With his work ethic and ability to play at such a high pace, he’s always in control of the play that unfolds. He’s already recorded two goals and three points in two games this season.
26. Koehn Ziemmer, RW, Prince George Cougars (WHL)
27. Alex Ciernik, LW/RW, Södertälje SK J20 (Nationell)
28. Caden Price, D, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
29. Lukas Dragicevic, D, Tri-City Americans (WHL)
30. Carson Rehkopf, C, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
31. Hunter Brzustewicz, D, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
32. Tanner Molendyk, D, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
After an impressive rookie season where he scored 30 goals in 68 games with the Cougars, Ziemmer is already off to a hot start with three goals in two games in 2022-23. While his teammate Heidt displays great playmaking abilities, Ziemmer brings a strong and heavy shot along with great control of the puck. He’s got great vision in the offensive zone and excels at creating space for himself for a prime scoring opportunity.
Ciernik is already off to a great start in the Nationell League with nine points in six games. He’s extremely deceitful with his mobility and strong skating abilities. He’s got a great first step and a smooth stride to maintain separation and blow by the opposition. He’s an excellent puck handler, maintaining great control at high speed to control the pace of the play.
While everyone likes high-octane defenders who can transition nicely, I’m always a fan of players who can still be effective offensively, but aren’t as flashy as others. That is Price as he simplifies everything that he does. He’s quick with his transitional and breakout passes, yet has the smooth skating ability to lead an attack. He’s got great gap control and position within his own end. He quietly stood out at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and is poised for a strong draft season.
Rehkopf is another player that has great vision and skill, but is also very competitive with a physical side to his game. He’s always in motion as he has a great first step and his NHL-like frame (6-foot-1, 194 pounds) allows him to get strong body positioning when getting around the opposition. He’s a got a long reach to either break plays up defensively or to make soft dekes in tight. That combination makes him extremely dangerous.
Kalan Lind, F, Red Deer Rebels (WHL), Ethan Miedema LW, Windsor Spitfires (OHL), Gavin Brindley, RW, University of Michigan (NCAA), Kalle Carlsson, C, Örebro HK J20 (Nationell), Daniil But, LW, Loko Yaroslavl (MHL), Ondrej Molnar, LW, HK Nitra (Slovakia), Jordan Tourigny, D, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMHJL), Emil Järventie, F, Ilves (Liiga), Tyler Peddle, C/LW, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL), Luca Cagnoni, D, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Who are some of your early favourites for the 2023 NHL Draft? Have your say in the comment section below.
Statistics from Pick224.
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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.