With the NHL’s 2023-24 regular season just around the corner, I thought I’d round out my offseason prospect coverage with a ranking of the best NHL prospects from each country. I am only including players who have been drafted by NHL teams and who I believe have a realistic chance at becoming meaningful contributors in the NHL someday.
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I want to give a quick shoutout to a player who will likely debut on this list next offseason after going through the 2024 Draft in Michael Brandsegg-Nygård who will help Norway crack this list for the first time. There aren’t any drafted Norwegian prospects at the moment who project to be real difference makers in the NHL but Brandsegg-Nygård looks to be just that after tearing up the top junior league in Sweden last year.
When it comes to my definition of a “prospect”, I will be following Corey Pronman’s rules as a guide. Here are the criteria for this list: A player is considered a prospect if he has played less than 25 games in one campaign (regular season and playoffs combined), less than 50 games total in their career, and is 25 years old by Sept 15. (From: “Pronman: 2019-20 NHL Farm System Rankings”).
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the best NHL prospect from each country!
Canada: Connor Bedard, Chicago Blackhawks
HM: Adam Fantilli, Zach Benson, Shane Wright
This one was a lay-up for me, with no serious competition for Connor Bedard as the top Canadian prospect in the hockey world. Bedard shoots the puck like very few in the world can and he only just turned 18 this Summer. While I don’t expect Bedard to immediately play like a superstar in the NHL or turn the tides of Chicago’s rebuild instantly, he will be given every opportunity to succeed next year is a massive role and I expect him to do just that.
Bedard isn’t only going to succeed in the NHL because of his shot, he’s going to succeed in the NHL because he’s got phenomenal skill with the puck and a strong enough skating foundation to win many one-on-one battles. While he’s more than just that shot, Bedard’s biggest strength is obviously the fact that he will be one of the best shooters in the league from the moment the puck drops on the Blackhawks’ season. As he adapts to the pace and physicality of the NHL, Bedard will only get better at scoring and I expect he’ll end up as a true superstar in the NHL someday.
USA: Logan Cooley, Arizona Coyotes
HM: Luke Hughes, Will Smith, Ryan Leonard
Logan Cooley is a dynamic offensive force with the potential to be a great first line center for the Arizona Coyotes, a piece that they have so desperately needed throughout the length of their rebuild. Cooley was undervalued a bit in his draft year due to his height (5-foot-10) and the uncertainty around him being a center in the NHL. He has impressed me more than any of the top prospects in the 2022 Draft since being selected third overall by Arizona and would probably be the favorite to go first overall if the draft were re-done today.
Cooley had a phenomenal rookie season in the NCAA last year where he scored an absurd 60 points in 39 games as a freshman, the kind of numbers that would typically make a freshman the talk of the hockey world in a normal year. Unfortunately for Cooley last year wasn’t normal with Adam Fantilli bursting onto the scene with a 65 point rookie season, effectively stealing the spotlight.
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The Coyotes have several excellent players on the wings from emerging star Clayton Keller to the younger Dylan Guenther, meaning Cooley will likely have some pretty talented linemates in the NHL next year even if he slides down the lineup a bit before earning increased icetime. He’s a wicked skater with enough skill and hockey sense to be a legit point-producer in the NHL someday, potentially as a Jack Hughes type of player.
Russia: Matvei Michkov, Philadelphia Flyers
HM: Pavel Mintyukov, Alexander Nikishin, Daniil But
Matvei Michkov might just be the smartest prospect in the NHL with an incredible ability to manipulate opposing defenses. He has a great shot, but more often than not he scores goals because he slipped his defender and managed to find the space and time necessary to score a goal. While Connor Bedard scores by shooting a wrister as hard as possible, trying to punch a hole through the goalie, Michkov will outsmart the defense and score by finding holes in coverage.
Related: The NHL’s Best Farm Systems Ranked
Michkov is currently fighting for a roster spot with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL who loaned him to one of the league’s bottom-feeders for most of his draft year. If he can’t land a spot in the lineup soon, then I’d expect him to be a top-line winger on a loan team once again, with the potential to be recalled to SKA if they think he’s ready to be a difference maker on their juggernaut of a team. It’s worth noting that it’s rather common for young players, even future stars, to struggle for icetime in the KHL early on in their careers, but 2024 Draft prospect Ivan Demidov is even younger and appears to have a lineup spot all but guaranteed at this point. Maybe Michkov will have some competition on this list in a year’s time.
Sweden: Leo Carlsson, Anaheim Ducks
HM: Simon Edvinsson, Alexander Holtz, Axel Sandin Pellikka
Leo Carlsson is a phenomenal prospect who excelled in the SHL last year as a teenager where he led all U20 players in scoring with 25 points in 44 games. He played on the wing for his draft year but has spent most of his life as a center and was great for Sweden at the World Championships down the middle. Carlsson has a ton of skill and plays a really mature two-way game as well.
The Anaheim Ducks already had one of the most exciting young center cores in the league with Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish, and Nathan Gaucher, but now they can afford to flex one of those three to the wing with Carlsson looking like a true top-of-the-lineup player. I expect Carlsson to make the Ducks opening night lineup though another year of development in either the SHL or AHL certainly wouldn’t hurt either.
Finland: Joakim Kemell, Nashville Predators
HM: Brad Lambert, Jani Nyman, Aatu Raty
There was a time when Joakim Kemell was seen as the second-best prospect in the 2022 Draft. His red-hot start in the Finnish Liiga in his draft year had NHL scouts salivating at his goal scoring potential, and while he ultimately cooled off quite significantly, that potential hasn’t disappeared. Kemell had a disappointing second half of his draft year which led to him falling all the way to 17th overall on draft day where the Predators were more than happy to add him to their prospect pool.
He had another inconsistent year in the Liiga last year, scoring at a lower rate than his draft year, but then he decided to try out the North American pro game and that was a different story entirely. Kemell joined the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL and was immediately a star, scoring 23 games over 28 games split between the regular season and playoffs. If he can keep that type of play up in North America, there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t become one of the most entertaining player in the NHL someday with the skill and shot to produce many highlight reel plays.
Slovakia: Simon Nemec, New Jersey Devils
HM: Dalibor Dvorsky, Samuel Honzek, Filip Mesar
The last few NHL Drafts have seen a massive group of incredibly talented players drafted from Slovakia from Juraj Slafkovsky to Samuel Honzek. There’s a fair bit of competition here but Simon Nemec is my pick after tearing up the AHL in his draft +1 year. The New Jersey Devils have a really solid D group so Nemec and Luke Hughes will need to earn minutes which can be a good thing for a young defenseman.
Nemec makes smart risks on offense when he knows he can get back or when his d-partner is prepared to bail him out and he projects as a good two-way defender in the NHL. He might not ever explode offensively or be a true shut-down defender either, but I think Nemec’s balanced skill set, when paired with his excellent work rate, will make him one of the best all-around defenders in the NHL someday. He’s going to need to work hard to get into the NHL this coming season, but I think he’s got a good chance of making it.
Czechia: David Jiricek, Columbus Blue Jackets
HM: Jiri Kulich, Eduard Sale, Michael Hrabal
Just a year after being drafted sixth overall, David Jiricek looks to be NHL ready. With a projectable frame at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, he had the size and smarts to be a regular in the Blue Jackets lineup last season, especially considering the devastating waves of injuries the team faced, but Jiricek only got into four NHL games as the team slow-played his development rather than throwing him out against tough competition with little to no help. I expect him to be a top-four regular in Columbus this Fall.
Jiricek is going to be a massive piece of Columbus’ rebuild and I expect he will be the best defender in the lineup next year not named Zach Werenski. It’s extremely rare for such a young defender to excel in the AHL like Jiricek did last year and I’m conident his two-way game is going to translate to the NHL very soon.
Germany: Lukas Reichel, Chicago Blackhawks
Lukas Reichel is someone who I consider to be severely underrated and who I think will become a great top-six winger in the NHL very soon. He dominated the AHL last year scoring at a point-per-game rate as a 20-year-old. His ability to persevere on the forecheck makes him a dangerous player in the offensive zone, even when he doesn’t have the puck. Reichel’s speed and skill make him a threat in transition as well where he can dance through defenders like they’re standing still.
Reichel would have improved the Blackhawks’ lineup last year no doubt but that would have damaged their tanking chances so he only played 23 NHL games last year, scoring 15 points. He will likely start the year in the team’s top-six and I wouldn’t be surprised if he reaches the 50-60 point range in the NHL next year. The hope is that he can form some quick chemistry with Connor Bedard to form a dynamic offensive duo that can make teams fear the Chicago Blackhawks again.
Austria: David Reinbacher, Montreal Canadiens
HM: Marco Kasper, Marco Rossi
David Reinbacher is a 6-foot-2 defender with a right-handed shot and great mobility who played lots of minutes in the National League (NL), Switzerland’s top professional men’s league, during his draft year. He’s a very responsible defender who shuts down tons of rush attempts with an active stick and stellar positioning. Reinbacher is looking like a potential top-four mainstay in the NHL with exciting defensive potential.
This is an excellent group of young talent for Austria, certainly their best ever in the NHL with Reinbacher looking like a high-end defensive prospect and with both Marco Kasper and Marco Rossi looking like potential NHL stars as well. I expect this is just the beginning for a new wave of Austrian talent in the hockey world.
Belarus: Danila Klimovich, Vancouver Canucks
It has been a bumpy ride for Danila Klimovich since he arrived in North America, but I truly believe things are looking up. He has spent two full seasons now in the AHL with the Abbotsford Canucks and he has continued to improve and learn. Klimovich’s biggest calling card in his draft year was his shot which is still incredibly powerful, however his accuracy is quite rough still. If he can reign in his control a bit, watch for him to push 25 goals in the NHL during his prime.
A positive development is that Klimovich has been eveloping a bottom-six skill set so he can adapt and fit a need other than top-line sniper (which isn’t a likely possibility at this time). He has begun to gain the trust of his coaches and is earning more important minutes which is only a good thing. Klimovich is still a work in progress but he’s still just 20 years old and I think he’s got a real chance to be a difference maker.
Switzerland: Lian Bichsel, Dallas Stars
There are always a few first-round picks who rose in their draft year in large part to their size advantage, and Lian Bichsel is certainly one of them. The 6-foot-5 defender is adept at using his size to get what he wants on the ice, against junior players as well as seasoned pros. When things are going well I can see a bit of Simon Edvinsson in his game, but when he’s panicking and making poor decisions I see a bit more of Tyler Myers.
His offensive game is unlikely to ever really pop in the NHL, but I could see him as a solid complimentary guy you gladly pair with your top offensive defender if all goes well over the next few seasons. Bichsel is physical, mean, and he had a great showing at the World Juniors this year for Switzerland where he looked like a man amongst boys.
Denmark: Oskar Fisker Molgaard, Seattle Kraken
Oscar Fisker Mølgaard might have one of the lowest floors from the 2023 Draft, with the effort and defensive game to become a serviceable bottom-six forward if he makes very little improvement. However, if Fisker Mølgaard can improve his offense a bit, he’s got the potential to rise up an NHL lineup considerably. Despite not creating much offense on his own, Fisker Mølgaard led all U18 players in points in the SHL this season, and was fourth in points among U20 players, behind only Carlsson, Marco Kasper, and Filip Bystedt.
While I don’t expect Fisker Mølgaard to be a flashy offensive player in the NHL, I think his defensive value is great enough that he can be a really good middle-six center for the Seattle Kraken someday.
Latvia: Arturs Silovs, Vancouver Canucks
Arturs Silovs has had a bit of a bumpy ride to this point developmentally due to the pandemic as well as the crowded nature of Vancouver’s goaltending group a few years ago. Despite that, Silovs has emerged as a legit NHL goaltending prospect following a solid season as an AHL starter last year in Abbotsford. Silovs will likely be a workhorse goaltender in the AHL next season with hopes of stealing the backup spot from Spencer Martin.
Silovs authored a heroic performance at the World Championship for the hosting Latvians where he led them to the Bronze medal (their first medal in the history of the tournament), and was named the best goalie and the MVP of the entire tournament (.921 SV%). He is a large goalie who tracks plays well, positions himself smartly, and who has a good controlled-chaos level that makes him look like a potential starter in the NHL if things go well over the next year or two.
Italy: Damian Clara, Anaheim Ducks
This one might be a bit of a surprise as Italy is definitely not the first nation you think of when you think about hockey, but I added them here because Damian Clara is a legit prospect. He’s a very tall goaltender who was good in junior play last year but was even better in a short Hockey Allsvenskan stint (Sweden’s second-tier professional league). Clara hasn’t been the most consistent goalie but his size and athleticism are exciting.
The Ducks already have John Gibson and Lukas Dostal in net for the future so there’s no need to rush Clara to the NHL. He was dominant at the U18 World Juniors Division 1B where he dragged Italy to a Bronze medal finish (none of his teammates scored more than three points in their five games) so hopefully he can develop some more consistency over the next few years.