Projecting the Top 10 picks at the NHL Entry Draft 

Photo by: Brenden Cowan

Hockey fans always look forward to the NHL entry draft because they can’t wait to see which young prospects will be joining their favourite teams. One name that is generating a lot of buzz this year is 17-year-old Connor Bedard. Bedard is regarded as one of the most gifted young players to emerge in recent memory, joining the likes of Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews for how much pressure is being put on the youngster.

In this piece, I’ll be breaking down my top 10 prospects heading into the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.

  1. Connor Bedard, Centre

The most potent offensive threat in his draft class is Connor Bedard. His ability to understand the game at break-neck speeds complements his above-average skating legs. He already possesses a shot that competes with the best in the NHL, especially from awkward angles and an absurdly rapid release. Because of his superior hands, he can manage opponents, create time and space, and find the quality attacking opportunities he wants. With such a large attacking toolkit, I envision him as a standout in the NHL from day one. 

  1. Matvei Michkov, Right-wing 

Matvei Michkov has a remarkable ability to read the defence, making him maybe the smartest player in this draft class. While he possesses tremendous shooting, he typically scores goals by faking out his defender and gaining the space and time needed to pick his spot. Michkov will outwit the defence and score by spotting openings in coverage, in contrast to Bedard, who will score by shooting the puck as hard as he can and trying to punch a hole through the goaltender.  

Although some teams may pass on him at second overall due to the fact that he is committed to the KHL through the 2025-2026 season, meaning he would not be able to play for whatever team drafted him until 2026-2027. 

  1. Adam Fantilli, Centre

For the beginning of the season, Fantilli has maintained his top-three ranking with many around the sport having him go second overall due to the fact that he is a centre and will be able to jump into play in the NHL well before Michkov. As a freshman who is 18 years old and finished the NCAA as the league’s leading scorer, his microsat profile continues to emphasize him as a potent attacking weapon, as he is involved in 37 per cent of Michigan’s successful offensive zone transitions. He also takes 70 per cent of his shots from high-danger areas and completes 17 cent of his passes to dangerous areas as well. The question surrounding Fantilli is whether he will be heading back to Michigan for another season in the NCAA or if he will turn pro and play in the NHL starting in the 2023-24 season.

  1. Will Smith, Centre

With his sustained domination as a member of the United States National Team Development Program, where he is averaging just over two points per game, Will Smith has established himself as one of the top talents in this draft. If he maintains that average, he will join Jack Hughes in the USNTDP record book, as the only player on the U18 squad to have ever scored two points per game for an entire season. 

Whether weaving passes through traffic, stickhandling past pressure, or taking his own shot, Smith is a remarkably cunning playmaker who can conjure high-danger situations at will. He is an extremely clever offensive player who can read the game quickly and make fantastic moves. He is so challenging for defensemen to contain because of the way he manipulates their movements, such as waiting for them to shift their skates in one direction before darting the other. Smith will be an amazing consultation prize for whatever team does not land in the top three. 

  1. Leo Carlsson, Centre 

With Rebro of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) this season, Carlsson has been playing at a high level for a teenager playing in a men’s league. In the offensive zone, he will take control of the cycle and shift rapidly laterally to escape pressure because he believes that by doing so, he will skate into a good passing lane that he can take advantage of, Carlsson can escape well-pressured situations in all three zones because to his vision and stick handling ability. While searching for a teammate in stride to pass to, he will find good passing lanes in the neutral zone and has little problem navigating the ball around heavy pressure. Speedily pursuing loose pucks, Carlsson also possesses the toughness to execute effectively checks along the boards that interrupt the flow of opponents’ play and allow him to win many puck battles on the boards. 

  1. Andrew Cristall, Left-winger 

Andrew Cristall, one of the few draft-eligible players in the WHL who has been able to match Bedard’s performance this year, is one of the most skilful and dexterous players in this draft. Cristall averages 1.7 points per game as he continues to show growth in all facets of his game. He commands a lot of attention in the attacking zone and excels at making quick decisions under duress to free up teammates and facilitate their work. He is one of the higher ceiling players in the draft class but where he is selected will depend if NHL GMs and scouting staff are worried about his size as he is only five feet, 10 inches, weighing in at 165 pounds. 

  1. Zach Benson, Centre 

Similar to Cristall, Benson is a very skilled, high-ceiling player but lacks some size. Though he possesses the toughness and dexterity that smaller players need to have these days to have a significant impact at the NHL level, so I’m not overly concerned about either his height or his weight (5-foot-9, 160 pounds). 

Benson finished the Western Hockey League (WHL) Regular season then his two linemates, Matthews Savoie and Conor Geekie who were both drafted in the top 11 in the 2022 entry draft. He also finished top three in league scoring with 36 goals and 62 assists in just 60 games. Benson loves to play in traffic as it allows him to best display his edgework and hands because it is so difficult to knock him off the puck. Benson continually gives it his best in puck battles which results in him winning a lot more of them than you’d anticipate for a guy with his statue. He may be the most combative player in the whole draft. If he can increase his top speed by one or more gears, he could be a force to reckon with off the rush. 

  1. Oliver Moore, Centre

Oliver Moore, who has blistering speed and exceptional agility, is one of the greatest skaters in his draft class. He is a great attacking weapon thanks to the combination of skating, shooting and playmaking abilities. Because of his agility, I anticipate that one day he’ll be highly effective on zone entries in the NHL, providing his team an opportunity to take control of play anytime he touches the puck. He has provided consistent offence for the US U-18 team throughout his season, which is all the more remarkable considering that he spent the most of that time playing on the second line in the shadow of Smith. 

  1. Axel Sandin-Pellika, Defenceman

Right-handed offensive defence Axel Sandin Pellikka scored points at an astonishing pace in J20 National, the premier Swedish junior league before being called up to the SHL to play for Skelleftea AIK where he managed five points in 22 games playing limited minutes. He partolls the blue line well and very few in the draft class can quarterback the powerplay better than Sandin-Pellika can. 

He is the greatest offensive defenseman in this class, with outstanding passing skills, terrific mobility, and extremely fast hands. He also has a strong, accurate shot. His hands make him an expert at walking the line; they are mesmerizing in their quickness, and the real danger comes from his ability to fire a lethal shot or a flawless pass off of any one of those moves; that freezes defenders and in essence, gives him free reign over the blue line because no one wants to challenge him. He excels in transition, caring when needed but never neglecting passing due to his high speed, fluidity, handling ability and crafty fakes. 

His defensive game has improved a lot over the course of the last calendar year but he still struggles along the walls and in front of his own net. Though, this can always be improved upon as he is only 17 years of age and has a lot of time to fix that side of his game. 

  1.  Dalibor Dvorsky, Centre 

Another player who has made an impression this year playing in a men’s league is Dalibor Dvorsky. As he has spent most of the year competing in HockeyAllsvenskan, the second-tier Swedish Professional league. He played a few games in Sweden’s premier junior league, where he demonstrated that he is obviously a step above his age level by averaging over two points a game.

Dvorksy played well defensively against men, and his vision and puck handling talents have been great. While his play in transition needs to be improved, once he enters the attacking zone, his ability to keep the puck under control and make quick, smart passes makes him a constant threat. Dvrosky has the foundation of a solid second line centre, he just needs an NHL development staff to help him put all the tools together.

The NHL Draft Lottery to determine the order of the first 16 picks will be taking place on May 8, while the Entry Draft will be on June 28 and 29. Both can be watched on Sportsnet or streamed on SportsnetNow

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *