Updated: Mar 7
Hello all! Welcome back to the top 32 edition of the draft ranking. A few players in the top 16 have changed orders, and some new additions have found their way sneaking in. This ranking will not be the final one, as I plan for a top 64, and then a top 100 with HM's by the draft. As we're getting closer and seasons are winding down, some things are coming into focus for me. This is a tremendously deep draft overall, but I don't think the back 16 are particularly outrageous, just that they're a bit better than previous years because of how good the top 16 is. The tiers have changed a bit; I think the middle pack has widened a bit, while the top 7 remains unchanged for me. I'll try to mention some of the changes as we go. Keep in mind the changes may just be because I got more viewings of the player, rather than actual change of the player throughout the year. There are some interesting swings to be made, and my favorite team also happened to pick up an extra pick in this range by trading Timo Meier, so I'm pretty interested.
Here's the list as of now (March 2023):
TIER 1 - Bedard Tier
1, Connor Bedard - What else can be said about Bedard that isn't on every single scouting ranking that you've already read. Elite shot, dangerous playmaker, processes the game so fast that even for somehow who watches a ton of junior and minor hockey, I often can't figure out his next move until he makes it. Every time I watch another prospect I think about how Bedard is a better prospect. That sounds rude, and it most definitely is, but how damn good Bedard is right now is downright rude. He's going to be a superstar within 2 years in the NHL.
(No change from prior ranking at all. Bedard might hit 150 points this year. Please Sharks. Please. Win the loser bowl.)
TIER 2 - Not-Bedard, Damn-good Tier
2. Adam Fantilli - If you haven't been keeping up with Fantilli after the WJC's in the winter, he's burning down the NCAA to the tune of 29 points in his last 15 games. His PPG rate is rivaling Paul Kariya's in his draft year. He's a remarkably complete player already possessing a high-level shot, excellent playmaking skills, and a heads-up and aggressive style of play. His mind for transition is far above even the college level, and he is no slouch defensively either. He projects as a #1C at the NHL level, and there's little doubt to me anyways that he'll reach that projection. His overall size, skating talent, skills and position make him the 2nd most valuable asset to grab in this draft.
(Not much has changed here. Fantilli is somehow just as dominant over the past month, and there's little doubt he's going #2 in the draft, deservedly.)
3. Matvei Michkov - I think the Michkov hate has died down substantially over the last month, which is excellent. After recording the highest ever PPG in a draft-1 MHL season (after he had outscored Connor fucking Bedard in the 2021 WJC U-18 tournament), people doubted him. They hated his style of play, how he would shoot from anywhere on the ice, and his over-reliance on below the goal-line bankshots and fancy tricks. Somehow, even after scoring 14 points in 12 VHL games in his draft year (a rate which has never been done before), people hated. They said it wasn't because he was Russian, it was his style of play and how untranslatable it would be past the VHL level. He followed that up by currently sitting with the highest PPG in the KHL ever for a draft eligible skater, above that of Ovechkin, Malkin and Tarasenko, on the absolute worst KHL team possibly in the league's history. I've watched 6 or so games of Michkov's with Sochi, and 2-3 VHL games for fun. He's really, really, really good. He's deceptive with his skating and his movements up the ice that fool KHL defenders. His shot needs no fluffing up. It's excellent. His spacing to find that shot is even more advanced. He's developing a playmaking game but this still has some ways to go. He'll frequently launch area passes that are ill-advised, or just not put the right touch on passes to his teammates. He's doing more work along the boards to retrieve pucks. There are warts, and his contract is the biggest wart of them all, but for a rebuilding team, who cares? Draft him if you don't get Bedard or Fantilli. Wait and accumulate some complementary players for him over the next couple years. When he arrives, he's going to make waves in the NHL.
(Michkov has done everything and more to prove he's in the same tier as Fantilli and a clear #3 in my mind. If there was no Russian factor (no oppressive war, no oppressive contract) there would be legit Bedard vs. Michkov debates on TSN nightly. Search your feelings, you know it to be true.)
TIER 3 - TOP SIX OPTIONS
4. Zach Benson - Benson is almost a perfect hockey player. That seems overdramatic but after having watched Benson both this year and last year on the Winnipeg Ice, he's been their best player almost every night. This includes above teammates such as former 9th overall Matt Savoie, and 11th overall Conor Geekie. The knock on Benson is his position, LW, and his size, 5'9", mean other options such as Leo Carlsson and Will Smith (both have the possibility of playing center and have some better size) may be better options to take with this pick. However, I'm here to say, ignore that...mostly. Benson is an extremely skilled skater, with excellent four-way mobility, even if the absolute top speed isn't high end. He uses his skating, hands, and mind to steal pucks and create in split-seconds. For his size, he's an outrageously skilled forechecker. For his skill level and production, he's very involved defensively. As a Sharks fan, this pains me to say, but he reminds me of a better William Eklund. Take him, wait a couple years, and he'll very likely be on your top 2 lines LW spot.
(This margin between Benson and Carlsson below is razor thin for me. Carlsson has looked really good almost every game and has found ways to contribute. Benson has continued his strong play, and I'm seeing even more creative passing and creation from him. It's super close here.)
5. Leo Carlsson - I first noticed Carlsson while watching the summer Four Nations tournament (there's a post about it here!). He stood out immediately in that tournament for his ability to transition the puck with speed, find space, and create using his shot. With his size at 6'3" and a productive SHL season finishing up, there are serious talks about him in the top 3 of this draft. I don't necessarily think that's a mistake, given the uncertainty with Benson's size and Michkov's Michkoviness, but I don't think his projection is exactly the same as others above this list. I think Carlsson is good, very good, but I worry about just how high the ceiling is. He doesn't seem to possess the high level playmaking talent that Fantilli or Benson possess. His shooting is good, but Michkov's and Bedard's are much more impressive. He's very solid overall though, and with some refinement to his physical play and defensive work he has a very high likelihood to become a top six winger or possibly center (he's been playing both in the SHL). He gets a little puck focused in the defensive zone and opens himself up to being passed through a lot. His production has been hit or miss especially at even strength, as one might expect from such a young player in a men's league. Still though he's a tantalizing project given all the tools, and I need to re-watch some more games before the end of the season to make sure he doesn't need to move up.
6. Will Smith - While in the same tier as Carlsson and Benson, I wouldn't draft Smith above those two. I think Smith has serious boom or bust potential, much like Andrew Cristall, his counterpart on the lower end of this tier. Will Smith has been extremely productive in the USDP this year, with a 2.0 PPG average, 88 points, third all-time for that league in draft eligible skaters to Gabe Perreault's 2.04 PPG (his linemate, and likely first rounder), and one Jack Hughes' 2.24 PPG. This is above names like Caufield, Turcotte, Keller and Logan Cooley. Damn this draft is stacked. Anyways. Will Smith is a creative and exciting playmaker. He's one of the most deceptive playmaking forwards on this list, baiting his opponents into attack and slipping passes under their sticks, or faking a shot and passing between their legs. Rinse and repeat. He's got a heck of a shot as well and also displays some fun sneakiness with this (for more on Smith and the USDP crowd click here!). So why isn't this player top 5? Well, there are some issues. His defensive involvement can lag at times. He's not the most effective retriever at either end of the ice. He's got an average overall skating ability, and he had, at least earlier on this year, a nasty habit of just trying to deke through 3-4 skaters and losing the puck. That won't fly even at his next destination, Boston College and the NCAA. While I think the above is overcomeable, and the skill is so undeniable, it gives me pause when more complete forwards are above him.
7. Andrew Cristall - The last of this tier, Andrew Cristall is absolutely tearing up the WHL. He's an excellent playmaker, able to thread passes through multiple defenders and use his hands to manipulate defenders. He possesses a really underrated shot as well. He's lacking ideal size, ideal speed, and his overall defensive impact is questionable. He's a project, but one that is worth picking in the top 10. He's also one of the few players on this list who is able to change his pace of attack to match the situation. He's probably only second to Bedard in this specific skill. He'll be full of speed and suddenly pause, wait for the play to develop and execute, or he'll speed up out of that pause and fool defenders. He's so fun. If he had just a bit more of a well-rounded game I think he'd get higher on this list.
(I think it's a bit silly of me to have Smith and Cristall in the same tier as Benson or Carlsson, because I wouldn't choose either over Benson or Carlsson, but I think they project to the top of a lineup better than everyone else who comes later. So I'm keeping them there. They are still excellent players, and the end of the year has only solidified this top 7 for me. It's also an absolutely ludicrous top 7 in my mind, and any team picking here should be ecstatic. Cristall may drop on draft day, but that just means a team somewhere else in the first round gets to point and giggle 3 years from now.)
TIER 4 - POSSIBLY TOP, LIKELY MIDDLE-OF-THE-LINEUP
8. Colby Barlow - I'll be honest, this is the hockey man in me making this pick. Barlow is big, physical, and shoots real good (this is the technical term, real good). He's consistent in those above qualities, and possesses some of the best shooting and spatial awareness in this draft when it comes to finishing. He looks like he's been dropped from a professional league into a junior league in how he can get through defenders and find space for his shooting talent to shine. He feels like a "safe" pick in this range, sort of how Timo Meier did in his draft year at #9 overall. Barlow has lots of similar qualities with his size and shooting that given the production almost matches exactly Meier's in his draft year, Barlow is likely going to stick at the top of this tier. Sure there are other players who may possess some higher end playmaking, speed or skill, but I look at Barlow and I see a player scoring goals in the NHL. He's got just a bit of heavy boots when he accelerates, something that needs to be cleaned up to advance his game, and when he's not driving offense through his shot, he can leave you wanting.
(No change. Barlow still scoring goals like it's his job. Wait. It is his job. Nevermind.)
9. Ryan Leonard - His projection is similar to Barlow's. He's the 2nd fiddle in the line of Perreault-Smith-Leonard. He plays a very effective puck-protection game, able to shield off defenders using his frame, even if he isn't the biggest guy at 5'11". He's got a powerful lower body, and a heck of a shot, able to pick corners with ease. He actually will display some high level playmaking as well when he isn't shooting. He's effective on the boards as well...man I don't know why he's this low. I guess maybe he doesn't have the game-breaking ability of some of the other forwards, and it is difficult to parse out how much of his line's success is from him or Smith just being really, really good. I think one day though he finds a home in the middle of a lineup for a team given his physical tools, shooting skills, and overall smarts.
10. Oliver Moore - Moore/Leonard/Smith are really interesting because they all have different qualities that make them top 10ish picks. Moore is a fantastic skater, likely the best skater in this draft. He uses that speed to retrieve pucks off the wall, strip pucks off players defensively and transition the other way. He's effective in using his own speed to open up lanes for his teammates and pass into those lanes. He doesn't just rely on the untranslateable junior swoop-n-score around defenders to drive play, which you might expect given his speed. I have some questions about just how effective of a puck carrier he is at speed, and I see his hands lagging behind his own feet at times, losing the puck behind or missing pass options while he zips around the ice. His pass accuracy needs to improve as well. To me, he feels like an Athanasiou type at the very least with blazing fast speed but maybe the overall dynamism isn't there. However there certainly is room for that projection to grow, especially over some time in college. He's also just so fun to watch that in this range it feels like a no-brainer to me to pick.
11. David Reinbacher - This draft is full of good forwards. Really good forwards. Reinbacher is the best defenseman. That doesn't mean a team should take Reinbacher or any other defenseman above the top 6-7 names on this list. Just wanted to make that clear. I think Reinbacher is a very, very solid bet to play top-4 minutes in the NHL, and that chance is a lot higher than most of the defensemen in this draft. That's why he's coming in here at number 11. He's a big, mobile, right-shot defenseman who is able to create simple and effective offense with the puck on his stick. He can get his shot on net from range and use it to create rebounds. He keeps his head up in transition and has excellent pass accuracy. He plays a mature and simple style that allows him to use his size and mobility to push play. Did I mention he's doing all this playing 20 minutes a night in the Swiss men's league? His draft year production is just a hair behind JJ Moser's draft+3 season, a player who stepped right into the NHL the year after he was taken as a way overager by the Coyotes. I think there's some knock on Reinbacher that he isn't flashy and isn't as skilled or fast as some of the other defensemen in this draft. I just don't think it matters. He's very likely to play high up in the lineup in the NHL, and at #9 that's what a team is going to want.
(Reinbacher has fallen a few more spots from me after I watched more tape of him, but not much. He's still a reliable defender, plays with pace and makes a smart first pass. He wasn't very productive or dangerous offensively when I watched more of him so I dropped him a couple spots, but the projection remains the same for me)
12. Axel Sandin Pellikka - I just want to preface this by saying I like ASP. A lot of what I'm going to say sounds like I don't, but I definitely do. I think there's a phenomenon where we are so desperately looking for top 20 defensemen here that we're projecting better defensemen onto ASP. He has excellent mobility, and is able to skate the puck out even at the SHL level. He has some good outlet passes. He's also a decent rush defender at his current level, but can get bodied in the corners given his smaller size. My biggest issue is I just don't see lots of high-level offensive creation when in the zone. He, to me, seems to mostly just be treading water at this level. He elects for simple shots, or in-zone dump-ins / corner passes that don't do much to excite me. He doesn't use his mobility to really manipulate in the offensive zone. I watch Erik Karlsson on a near nightly basis, and I want to see the same sort of puck-skills (I fully understand comparing him to a HOF defenseman is ridiculous but go with it) from ASP, and I just don't right now. Still though, given his speed, transition ability, and his ability to keep the puck in the zone, I think there's a defenseman here, worthy of a top 15 pick and hope the rest falls into place.
(After watching a bit more of ASP, I think he's a lot closer to Reinbacher in overall projection, but given I haven't seen amazing offense from either, I'm still leaning Reinbacher.)
13. Samuel Honzek - Honzek has rocketed up my list over the past month. He's a 6'4" winger with decent speed, a rangy stick, and excellent hands for a big player. I've watched plays where he'll enter a near-impossible situation on the rush, and find a way to sneak the puck through to a teammate. He has a really interesting way of pushing defenders' sticks with his own, and completing passes through them. He's got a great mind for transition, for rush offense, and for in-zone creation. He's got a great shot, and elects to get it on net as quick as possible and let chaos reign. I'm really excited about his projection given his size, speed, hands and overall game, and I think an injury mid-season kind of lowered his overall draft stock. It wouldn't surprise me in the least for a team to now even swing a top 10 selection on Honzek.
14. Nate Danielson - Let's run it back with another WHLer. Danielson is one of those guys that goes top 10 and everyone loses their minds thinking a team made a reach. I think they just did their homework. He's a 6'1" right shot center/winger with an excellent shot. He's consistent with his offensive production and possesses a good mind for creating slot shots. He'll often take the puck wide of a defender, wait for a recovery and slip a pass into a streaking teammate. Defensively he's sound, plays in all situations for a not so great Brandon team. Simple and effective offense with good puck-skills, defensive responsibility in a big body center? Sign me up. I think there are legitimate concerns with just how dynamic he can be, but it's a safe bet that he plays a high-up role in the NHL and in this range I think that's worth it.
15. Riley Heidt - There's definitely risk with this one. Heidt is one of the many WHLers on this list being discussed as possibly a first rounder. I have specific game notes of Heidt where I make crazy statements like "is this guy top 10?". I have other game notes where he is barely mentioned unless it's on the powerplay. I have notes where I fully believe he made area-passes into spaces where he thinks his teammate should be, even if they are nowhere near there. His offensive mind is really something, but I think he needs to recognize some of the simpler plays. He also has a habit of standing still and waiting for a stretch pass in the defensive zone instead of just carrying the puck out himself. When he's on though he has some of the best manipulative playmaking in the draft for my money, and that's why he's so high up here. He's feisty as well, getting in player's faces and starting shit. He needs refinement but I really like his upside, just know that it's a risky pick.
(I dropped Heidt slightly, and he might drop a few more slots if the back half of the teens/20s impress more. He relies a lot on powerplay production, and I haven't seen the same level of high-level playmaking I saw from some games in December.)
16. Dmitri Simashev - I was skeptical. I was really skeptical. I saw lots of early lists having Simashev, a pretty much non-scoring MHL defenseman top 15 and I laughed (now I did see a list with Simashev above Michkov and I laughed. I laughed so hard that I'm still laughing). But, I watched Simashev at the MHL level, and I watched him at the KHL level. And you know what? He's really good. He's got excellent speed for his size, and his defensive mind is excellent. I bolded that for effect, but it's really good. He can close on players at both levels, angle them to the outside and kill rushes. He retrieves and has a plan for his retrieval almost every time he grabs it behind the net. He has a good first pass out of his zone and can even carry it out given his speed. This pick is all about tools, because the offensive game still has some ways to go. There are flashes there, but he's still figuring out how to set himself up to activate for shooting opportunities, how to pinpoint players with his passes in the zone and do more than just be an absolute stud defensively. He's a risky pick in some ways because there is a world where he's just a really good 5-6 defenseman, but there's also a world where he's your #2 and allows your Erik Karlsson or Cale Makar to be absolute monsters while your net is defended. There's also the Russian bit.
17. Eduard Sale - Sale. I feel like he's one of those players I've heard about and watched for so long, but still don't know where to place him. Similar to Raty and Lambert, I think Sale is primed for a tumble on draft day because of a less than stellar draft year. He's got 14 points in 43 games in the Czech men's league this season, which isn't strictly awful, but I think everyone wanted a little more. I watched 2 games from him at that level and he did pretty much nothing. He has excellent skating, some great hands and displays some high-level playmaking, but is too often a passenger on his line. He has struggled to find a way to affect play at this level. Compared to watching Jiri Kulich last year in the same league, and I think Kulich found ways to break through a little more often than Sale. Sale did have a hat-trick game out of seemingly nowhere, but did have an entire month of November and December without a point in his league. I watched him at the U18 Four Nations in February, and he displayed some nifty passing, but wasn't creating much unless he had lots of time and space to do so. I think there is a tendency as scouts to underrate players who struggle in a men's league in their draft year though, and in some ways Sale has already proven he's "above" a junior level by his outrageous D-1 Czech U20 production. It's a tough situation, and one that will take a few years to really sort out. Maybe a team brings him over just like Kulich did this season and he shines, but I worry that the change to even AHL play might hinder his output even more.
18. Dalibor Dvorsky - A tale of two European players here with Sale and now Dvorsky. I think Dvorsky could find his way a little higher up the board if I get a few more U20 viewings of him in, because man, he's excellent there. The issue, and similar with Sale and his Czech league play, is that his Allsvenskan play has been just okay. While at the U20 level Dvorsky has the skill level and speed to just challenge defenders one-on-one, or beat players to loose pucks in the corner, or simply bully people off the puck and do what he wants with it, he isn't finding that space, even in the Swedish second division. Still though what he does well is undeniable. He's quick, plays well with a chaotic game of back and forth hockey, has quick-twitch offense built in, able to make the simple play faster than you can blink. He's got a heavy shot, and can compete for loose pucks really well. I think if I was only looking at viewings of tape from this year, and had no prior knowledge of international play, etc., that I might choose him above Sale. It's close though, and it's even really close from this spot all the way to 11 or 12. We'll have to see where the year takes us.
19. Gavin Brindley - Brindley is also a riser on my list, and I'm sure many other scouts'. He's an undersized but aggressive offensive-minded winger. He's riding shotgun with Fantilli and proving that he can hang just fine. He's got a good one-timer, a heads up offensive mind, and reminds me a bit of Leonard on this list, just in a smaller body and a hair quicker. He is thriving in college despite his size because of a simple and effective rush-offense game, combined with excellent puck-protection and quick playmaking. He's a top 10 pick if he's 6 feet tall, and these types of players can be tremendous value if you get them in the back half of the first or second.
20. Gabe Perreault - Perreault is scoring above 2 points per game this season. That's absolutely nuts, just wanted to get that out of the way. I think there's a world where 5 years from now when Perreault is separated from Leonard and Smith that he is just fine on his own, and we all look like fools for having him so low. The issue is now that his production is so intertwined with that specific line that it's difficult to parse out his contribution. With careful watching he does a LOT correct for his role. He's a play connector, able to move the puck, get himself into space after, and chain plays together in the offensive zone. The question, and the question you'll hear repeatedly about him is how much does the sum matter if the parts don't always look elite. He's a good but not elite skater. He's a decent but not great shooter from distance. He's a great connector of plays, but isn't the most creative in his passing. He's a great cleanup crew guy at this level, but will that continue when players are significantly more physical? It's a lot of question marks, but the production has to speak for itself at some point. He'll get taken (hopefully) in the first round, and a team will see where the chips fall after.
21. Mikhail Gulyayev - This may be a bit low to be perfectly honest. Gulyayev is an absolutely phenomenal skater, and is having one of the best, if not the best MHL season for a draft eligible defender ever. He does however look like a junior player right now. He's fast, faster than most everyone he plays against at the MHL level, and he uses that speed to swoop by his competition. That offense gets you somewhere, but not always where you want to go at the next level. Still though he has an excellent mind for getting into open space and activating offensively. He can distribute well and looks comfortable on the powerplay. His size and playstyle means that the entirety of him as a prospect is a work in progress. There's also the Russian thing. It's a supremely risky pick, but I think there's legitimate top-4 upside here, if not a top pairing defender if EVERYTHING, including his geopolitical status, comes together.
22. Quentin Musty - Musty is the type of prospect where I don't notice him all game, then look at the scoresheet and he has a goal and three assists. He's a force on the powerplay, and his skill on his team syncs up well with David Goyette, Seattle's 2nd rounder from 2022. He's got a good shot from range, getting it on net quickly to setup rebounds and other opportunities. He's an excellent playmaker, able to hit teammates with stretch passes for breakaways from way back. Still though I sometimes don't really notice him pushing play, being aggressive or hounding for pucks. I think he relies a bit too much on rush-offense, and I worry that his lack of retrieval game might hurt him down the line.
23. Brayden Yager - Yager has fallen out of favor of sorts with many amateur scouts around the internet after a lightning strike of a Hlinka tournament in the summer. He's had a productive but not dynamic season for Moose Jaw in the WHL. He displays excellent shooting skills, and at certain times it feels like the game is taken over by Yager, and other times he disappears entirely. He's still pretty skinny on his frame, and when I've watched him that shows. He isn't the most effective player on the boards and can get outmuscled looking for pucks. He's the type of player that his open-ice play and puck skills drive the projection, but there is work to be done. If I had two draft picks in the first round, I think Yager is the second, with my first being a less risky proposition.
(Yager has fallen quite a lot for me. I think the player is still there, but given his season relative to everyone else, I have to drop him down this far.)
24. Calum Ritchie - Ritchie does a lot of things well for his current role. He's a big center with quicker feet than I initially thought. He's lacking some elite skating that would make him a top 10-15 pick in my mind though. He has some good handling skills in tight. He's a patient playmaker who keeps his head up to make difficult passes seem easy. He can occasionally be a little passive and a little too patient, but the skills are evident with lots of room to grow. He's the type of player that with some work on his stride, some coaching and work on hitting the net from range, you might end up with a top six center someday. If not, a bottom six role still could be had given his overall package of playmaking, size, and game. I see him as a safe pick for a contender around this range who can afford to be patient with him.
TIER 5 - LIKELY MIDDLE-OF-THE-LINEUP OPTIONS
25. Jayden Perron - Perron is a highly skilled and intelligent winger who is undersized. He reminds me of Andrew Cristall, and for an NHL comparable, Nikita Kucherov, but just a bit smaller. His game runs through his playmaking and smarts, able to create around and through defenders at his current level. I think the size doesn't limit him as much as some might think though. He's an effective forechecker, smart about how he angles and gets under defenders. He'll never be the bruiser or the physically dominant driver of play that teams might want in this range. Still, the skill is evident, and how many years do we have to play the game of "well he's under 5'10" so we'll think about drafting him entire rounds later than he should be" from NHL GMs. To be honest, I highly doubt he's taken here, but I'd do it in a heartbeat. Many probably have him higher, and the more I watch him the more I'm leaning that way too.
26. Gracyn Sawchyn - Hands. Hands. Hands. He's got some slick hands. After showing out at the CHL top prospects game, Sawchyn has climbed up my list throughout the year. I keep looking at the list and realizing that Sawchyn's production likely is a lot higher if he isn't playing on the second or third line of an absolutely stacked Seattle Thunderbirds team. He's got a mind for transition, able to enter the zone with ease, hit a man up the boards, or delay until a better option presents itself. Think his shot needs some work, but everything else seems to scream a middle six winger, able to push play with his hands, speed and skill.
27. Tanner Molendyk - Tanner Molendyk got an entire article here at HWH. He's got an extremely high defensive ceiling for my estimation. For an NHL, and Sharks comparable, I would lean towards Mario Ferraro. Always active, good edges, aggressive to cut off lanes and angle attackers into the corner. It's really impressive how far advanced this aspect of his game is. The trouble is, I think his offensive side hasn't caught up to him. He's very simple in the offensive zone, and doesn't manipulate much at all at the point, except the occasional cut to the inside. If this part can improve though, there could be a top 4 defender here. If it doesn't, I still see an NHL defender, just a simpler one.
28. Koehn Ziemmer - Ziemmer is a playmaker primarily on Riley Heidt's line at PG. He's risen up my list believe it or not, simply because his game at the beginning of the year didn't scream first rounder, despite the production. He would attempt the same inside-outside move up the middle of the ice to get around defenders, that simply wouldn't work and would kill rushes. He would be a bit passive defensively, and wouldn't backcheck like he should. Now I watch him and occasionally I'll see these plays, but it's a lot less frequent. He's a smart passer, holding well to create off the rush or on the powerplay, but at evens he can disappear a bit.
29. Matthew Wood - Wood is super interesting. It's so rare to see someone with all of his skill, his production in the NCAA, his shooting talent, and one single flaw hold him down draft lists, including mine. Wood is a really awful skater. One of the worst I can remember in a first rounder. Like all bad skaters, people will point to clips of them at full speed, racing by a junior player or on a breakaway and say "see! look!". But that's not the point. Wood round his back, has upper body noise, and an awkward, choppy stride all at once. He's got no fluidity with his motions. What worries me is not how good Wood can be sitting at the half-wall on the powerplay, or when he has a breakaway with the closest defender 40 feet away. What worries me is how he's going to get back to the play when the transition from offense to defense happens. What worries me is how he's going to get up to the point to block a shot, or take away a passing lane defensively. He is simply that poor of a skater that I don't think he can make the NHL UNLESS it improves. Not "can make the NHL despite of his skating" projection. This is a bit different. It has to change or else he'll be hard to place in the NHL. All of that being said, he's extremely intelligent, has good hands in tight, an excellent shot, and playmaking as well. He's the type of prospect that if I have two or three first rounders, he's one of them, but you better be sure you have players with your other picks.
30. Luca Cagnoni - Cagnoni is a good skater, is a calm distributor of the puck, and one of the more "safe" picks for a defender in this draft. I think the biggest adjective to describe him is calm. He doesn't panic under pressure, and is able to delay until the last second to get his passes off. He's got excellent four-way mobility, and uses it to push play occasionally. Still though, my biggest gripe with him is his rush-defense isn't that refined, and he gets beat wide occasionally. He also will stand waiting for a breakout pass instead of using his feet to carry it out of his zone despite some good feet. I think he's taken higher than a lot expect in a defenseman starved draft, but I like him around this area.
31. Lukas Dragicevic - Dragicevic also got an article here on HWH. Stylistically he's the opposite of Molendyk defensively. He's passive, his mind for defense isn't really there, and he can take himself out of plays entirely instead of getting the puck back. But yet, he's #31 on this list. Production has to speak for itself at a certain level. That, and Dragicevic has an outrageously good passing game. He's got every pass in his arsenal, and a mind for transition offense. He's got a deadly shot as well, something he's really dialed in throughout this year. I hesitate to compare him to Ryan Merkley, given how Merkley has fallen flat on his face, but it isn't the worst comparison. Dragicevic though can get the puck on net way better than Merkley, which severely limited Merkley from reaching an NHL floor. Dragicevic is also not THAT awful defensively, just pretty passive and needs a lot of work. In a draft without a lot of high-end defensemen, I think this is the right range for him.
32. Felix Nilsson - This is my own little bet here. There's very little chance that Felix Nilsson (maybe Noah Dower Nilsson) is selected in the first round, unless a team has absolutely fallen in love with his game like I have. I first noticed him at the U18 Four Nations Tournament in February, and tweeted about it here. I think this is a time to re-introduce my philosophy on evaluating forwards. Carry, Distribute, Finish, Retrieve are the four categories I look at when I scout forwards. A player can and will naturally be better in a category, and lean into that category to produce at their level. Nilsson seemingly is above average in all of them and has been producing extremely well at the J20 level with 40 points in 33 games. He's a great puck-carrier with a mind for transitioning the puck quickly, entering the zone and creating. He's a manipulative playmaker, baiting opponents into attack and passing through them. He's got a decent shot with a quick release, and a nose for finding open areas. He's a really smart retriever at the J20 level, so smart that I think next year in the SHL he'll succeed simply from the opportunities he'll get because coaches will love his board-play. He's extremely well-rounded, and the knock will be that no single trait stands out, but to me he seems like third best player from Sweden behind ASP and Carlsson.
Next up: Daniil But, Carson Bjarnason, Ethan Gauthier, Matthew Cataford, Charlie Stramel, Kasper Halttulen, Beau Akey, Luca Pinelli, Noah Dower Nilsson, Otto Stenberg, Andrei Loshko, Alex Ciernik
That's all for now! A lot will change when the top 64 comes out, but that will likely be beginning of May timeframe, then a top 100 in June.
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Looking forward to next time