Hello all! Welcome back. The U18s are wrapping up, and with it a lot of changes have occurred to the draft board. The back end of the first round has shuffled quite a bit, a few players made pushes into that mid-first range, and I have just so many exciting prospects in the second round range to talk about. This post...will be long. I wanted to make a few points up front:
I don't anticipate major changes to the top 6 between now and my final draft ranking.
Speaking of the final draft ranking, it'll be a top 100, with some honorable mentions of dudes I think deserve to be drafted, but may not for whatever reason. I looked at my last draft ranking, and all but 8 prospects in my top 100 got drafted last year (and all of the top 64), so most of the names, presumably, will be names called on draft day.
I'm going to the draft in Nashville! It's my first one, so if you're going hit me up!
I know this list will be NA heavy, as a lot more game tape is available from those leagues. As always there's an indicator of watch time, which is a shading of green on the player's name. Darker green = many, many games watched. Light green = some games watched. White (none on this list currently) = only highlights and reports. All the players in the top 64 I've watched full games of, as well as highlight packages, read scout reports and rankings, and incorporated their stats into the mix. A wise man once said, "never write about a prospect you haven't watched full games of or else you'll end up looking like a dumbass". As we all know, trying really hard to not look like a dumbass is the name of the game in hockey prospecting.
Tiers are in shades on the left of the chart. Those tend to shift a bit between rankings so don't be surprised if the top 100 has different tiers.
Here's the list as of now (May 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.
There was a really interesting video on Bedard from the EP people here. I like this video because it demonstrates a hidden quality about Bedard, how he uses the threat of his own skills to convince players to make bad plays. Yes Bedard has excellent hands, passing skills and one of the deadliest shots in a prospect in awhile, but how he uses them is even more impressive. He knows his shot is a threat, so he uses that threat to force defenders to get out of passing lanes to block him, and he slips a pass through the open ice to a teammate. He knows that his handling skills can force defenders back and create space, even if he himself isn't going to get around them. His threatening attack style is amazing to watch because of his fearlessness to attack defenders, forcing them to make a move, and then capitalizing on that threat. It is manipulation that is unseen at this level.
TIER 2 - "Not-Bedard but Damn-good Tier"
2. Adam Fantilli - If you haven't been keeping up with Fantilli after the WJC's in the winter, he has burned down the NCAA in his freshman year. 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.
My only concern with him is just how stubborn he can be. He occasionally forgets to make the smart play and forces a hope pass, or tries to bully his way to the net when he doesn't have to. I think most, and myself included, think this will iron itself out as he reaches the NHL likely next year, but it's something to keep an eye on. 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.
3. Matvei Michkov - I am just going to toot my own horn here, as my first ranking had Michkov here at 3, while others were doing crazy things like dropping him out of the top 5. Then he went ahead and dropped a 5 point game and a Michigan goal in the KHL and people turned their brains on again. One of my biggest pet peeves with scouting is how easy it is for people to forget, so here's a recanting of his pre-draft journey:
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 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. He also again dropped 5 points in a KHL game, which I can say with almost near certainty has never happened for a draft eligible.
I watched almost every game of Michkov's with Sochi, and 2-3 VHL games. 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 - "First or Second Overall In Any Other Year"
4. 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. He's very solid overall 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 primarily wing 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. I originally had Carlsson as low as 5, but I watched more of his late-season play and moved him up. He became more confident with the puck every time I watched him, and his playoffs were excellent for his age. His playmaking has come a long way since the beginning of the year as well. He started to delay, use his frame and handling skill to shield pucks and find teammates with passes. If he goes back to the SHL next year, he's probably going to score a point per game and step into the NHL the year after.
He has every tool an NHL club could ask for and I think that puts him at the top of this very small tier. With that being said it is its own tier in my eyes. Bedard, Michkov and Fantilli had near superstar and generational draft seasons. Carlsson had a star draft season. It goes to show just how deep this draft is.
5. Will Smith - I think Smith has serious boom or bust potential. Will Smith was extremely productive in the USDP this year, with a >2.0 PPG average, then he followed that up with one of the most productive U18's ever with 20 points, 1 short of Nikita Kucherov's record. 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!). His handling skills are so impressive. He's one of the few forwards on this list, or in any draft that can see the ice will look like 2 plays ahead before he makes his move. Not, makes move, then sees teammate for pass. No. He makes his moves because the teammate will become open after he makes said move. It's a subtle skill that separates junior playmakers from NHL ones.
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, I originally had him as low as 6 because of the above. I've changed my tune on him a bit though, and I think if you don't get the top 4, Will Smith can still carry your franchise as a star forward in the future.
6. 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. 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.
I think he perfectly rounds out this tier of players. I originally had him as high as 4, and while he has slipped a little, I think the evaluation is the same. He had an injury late that has taken a bit to recover from, and he hasn't looked as dangerous in the playoff games I've watched of him. While others like Smith and Carlsson were soaring, he has mostly just stayed the same. Still though, if I'm at six and he's here, there's no doubt in my mind I'd take him if the above options are gone. This tier has players that I think would be first or second overalls in most draft years besides this one and 2015.
TIER 4 - "Top Five In Any Other Year"
7. Ryan Leonard - Ryan Leonard has a certain confidence to him that is hard to explain. He's part of the best line in junior hockey, 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. In any other draft year he would be top five, which is kind of the theme of this tier. 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/top of a lineup for a team given his physical tools, shooting skills, and overall smarts. He also now owns a fancy gold medal from the U18s, after an excellent shift in overtime, capped off with him powering his shot through Sweden's goalie.
8. 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. 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. His retrievals are excellent, able to anticipate before he grabs the puck where he needs to go next. I watched him play some difficult minutes in his zone this season, then be the one who finally gets the puck out, and skates off after making sure his team is set up for the attack. Did I mention he's doing all this playing 20 minutes a night in the Swiss men's league as a fdraft eligible? 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 #8 that's what a team is going to want. I think there's a chance he goes above Benson and Leonard, but personally that wouldn't be my play.
9. Andrew Cristall - Andrew Cristall tore up the WHL this year, but then had a slightly unproductive playoff and U18s. Concerns have started to be raised with his style of play, size and skating that I think are legitimate gripes. However. 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. His offensive skill is that good.
10. Axel Sandin Pellikka - I was a little down on ASP, but after his U18s I think he showed just how far ahead he is of every other defender not named Reinbacher in this class. He has excellent mobility which drives most of his game, and is able to skate the puck out even at the SHL level. He has some good outlet passes and a decent but not spectacular shot. He has some issues with gapping up his attackers that I think can be ironed out, and he can get caught in the corners not being able to take pucks off attackers given his size. His projection is mostly based on his smarts and his skating. With enough time, there a top 4 defender here for sure, it just may take a bit to work the defense out enough to play huge minutes in the NHL and let his carrying talents shine.
11. Dalibor Dvorsky - While at the U20 level, Dvorsky had 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 didn't find that space in the HockeyAllsvenskan and had a tendency to fade at that level occasionally. Still though what he does well is undeniable and after an absolutely electric U18s, I think he's going top 10. He's quick, plays a chaotic game of back and forth hockey, has quick-twitch offense built in and is 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. There have been multiple articles out about how he's a perfect "grinder" at the NHL level. In some ways sure, but it does seem to be underselling his offense a bit. I think the most interesting route for a team to take next year would be the AHL, if possible. Gives him a chance to play on a smaller ice, where his physical play may shine, and develop against competition closer to his skill level.
12. 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. The skating is simply that good.
TIER 5 - "Getting Closer to a Normal Draft's First Rounders"
13. Riley Heidt - There's definitely risk with this one. Heidt is one of the many WHLers on this list being likely to be taken in the first round. 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. He was mostly okay at the U18s, but I think his hesitance really held him back. I'd watch him have open shooting lanes and pass up chances for worse passing options. Heidt's game seemingly runs on confidence (and can be inconsistent), so that is something that has to be taken into account in his development.
14. Samuel Honzek - Honzek has rocketed up my list. 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.
15. 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 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. 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. I had him a bit higher earlier on, but the other players above him simply outplayed him towards the end of the year and at the U18s.
16. 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 in the second.
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. So I'm trying to fight through that tendency. 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. He was good at the U18s this year, but still felt like a passenger in key moments. It's a frustrating lack of a retrieval game / compete level that brings him down here to 17 for me.
18. 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 in the first round, and a team will see where the chips fall after.
19. 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 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 around this range who can afford to be patient with him. His U18s likely improved his stock as well. He was a connector on his line, and one of the few Canada forwards able to push play.
20. 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. He was exceptional the U18s, at least offensively, showing that he belongs in the discussion for the top 15. I suspect a team falls in love with him and he goes higher than I have him. It's absolutely not a bad pick, just a risky one.
21. Nate Danielson - 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.
22. 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.
23. 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.
24. 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. Someone said, "is a big guy, plays like a small guy", and I think that's just right.
25. 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.
26. Otto Stenberg - Stenberg has decided he's a first rounder, and I think all of the scouts agree. It took awhile though. I watched a few of his games early in the year and he wasn't doing much of anything, even at the J20. He was hesitant and opted for standing still to create. Somewhere around mid-season though it started to click. He's a gifted puckhandler, playmaker and shooter. Once he gets the puck into the offensive zone, he mixes his routes up, drawing defenders in and finding lanes for his teammates. He's aggressive and manipulates defenders well at the J20 level. His U18s showed just how far ahead he is of the multitude of good Swedish prospects that are on this list. It may have taken the entire year to get there, but I think the prolonged "low" point of Stenberg dropped him down a little too far.
27. Jayden Perron - Perron is a highly skilled and intelligent winger who is undersized. 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. There's a legitimate chance he falls to the second round and it's Logan Stankoven all over again.
28. 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. I 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. Don't be surprised if next year, once the big names in Seattle have moved on, he bcomes a dominant force there and his production skyrockets.
29. Lukas Dragicevic - Dragicevic got an article here on HWH. He's passive and 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 #29 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. His feet also need to improve. He's a project.
One final note about Dragicevic and his passing game from me can be found here.
30. Tom Willander - I watched Willander in February at the Four Nations tournament, and came away impressed with his ability to break-up cycles, transition the puck effectively with speed, and create simple offense. He has a good shot from the point that can get through traffic well. I went back and watched tape of him at J20 with Rögle, the same team as one of my favorites Felix Nilsson, and man. he's a first rounder. At the U18s, it all came together. He was carrying with ease into the zone and pushing play. I love his ability to stop rushes defensively, and he retrieves the puck behind the net really well already. Overall he seems like an NHL defender one day, in the mold of your Stralmans, Orlovs, or maybe even Matt Dumba on the higher end of projections, if the physicality and his shot ramps up.
TIER 6 - "Super Fun Project Time, Goalies, and Safer Picks"
31. Daniil But - But seems like the best player to kick off the "Super Fun Project Time" picks. There's a legitimate chance But is drafted top 15. But is a 6-foot-5 winger who looks like a monster out on the ice. He was productive in Russian juniors this year, going over a point per game this year with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Corey Pronman is so high on him that he has him ranked top 10. So what's he doing down here at 31? Well, in my mind he's still very much a project pick. He has decent but not great skating, that could improve with strength on his legs. He's a decent playmaker, that could improve if he's able to hold onto pucks longer with the strength of his frame coming around. He's a good shooter who could get even better if he adds more strength to his frame. Sensing a pattern? It's a projection pick that if things improve predictably around his frame, he could develop well. If it doesn't, then he's stuck in the mold of Logan Browns past and you took him #11 overall.
32. 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 and I like him around this area.
33. Kasper Halttunen - Similar to But, Halttunen is a project. He's an above-average skater for his size, and an aggressive player. He's a great shooter who knows where to place the puck. He's....hardheaded...in how he attacks defenders, using his frame to muscle the puck through or around them. The handling needs work in my opinion, as too often he is missing those subtle keeps that high-end forwards possess. His playmaking isn't great either, and too often he's focused on getting his shot on goal and not much else. In his limited Liiga minutes, he was very ineffective. At the U18s though on a poor Finland roster, he was brilliant. I think the projection is important here, as his size, shooting and skating is hard to come by. You just hope the rest of the game evolves some layers.
34. 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.
35. 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 well at the J20 level with 41 points in 36 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. These types of players slide through to the second all the time, and if I'm at a draft table I take him early Day 2 knowing I've got a player coming.
36. Alex Ciernik - It took awhile for me to watch Ciernik for whatever reason, but once I did I realized that he's going right around this range on draft day. He's a winger with soft hands, excellent playmaking talents, and a mature game. His offensive hockey sense, and knowing when and how to attack defenders with speed is why he keeps rising for me the more I watch him. There's a legitimate chance he ends up higher by the time the top 100 rolls around, I just haven't had enough viewings yet.
37. Bradley Nadeau - Also a player I've had limited viewings of, but to be honest the tape maybe is a bit deceiving? He flat out dominates. He's so good at the BCHL level that I end up laughing watching it. He's a super aggressive, rush-style offensive player who uses the threat of his shot to bait defenders. Behind Bedard, Michkov, Barlow, and 1-2 others, he's one of the best shooters in this draft. Defensively he's very average even at the level he's at. His skating is good, but I think needs a bit more explosiveness to really take advantage of his style of play. It's another project folks, but one that I'd feel great about early Day 2, or even as a swing pick late Day 1.
38. Koehn Ziemmer - Ziemmer is a playmaking winger primarily on Riley Heidt's line for Prince George Cougars in the WHL. He's risen up my list believe it or not, simply because his game at the beginning of the year didn't scream first or second 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.
39. Beau Akey - I have lots of time for Beau Akey. Akey is an excellent skater, which helps him drive offense through his zone entries. The problem is, I don't think Akey knows just how good his hands and skating in combination are yet. Often I'll see him fly into the neutral zone, only to make a dump-in. Or stop and wait for help to arrive instead of trying to challenge defenders. He's an okay defender at this level, but needs lots of refinement to use his skating as a weapon defensively. This is something that Molendyk has mastered, and Akey has not really entirely grasped yet. To me he feels like a project pick in the second round of a defenseman-starved draft, one that could boom or just never get there. There's also a very real possibility that with Brandt Clarke moving on to the NHL next season, that Akey really comes into his own next season as "the guy".
40. Jakub Dvorak - Man I love this tier. It really is project picks and "safer" picks. Dvorak feels like the latter. It should really be noted that there are no "safe" picks in a draft. A guy like Dvorak could definitely bust, and low-production defensemen bust all the time, or toil in the AHL and you never hear about them. With that being said, Dvorak feels like a player. He's got ideal size, good four-way mobility, and a stout defensive mind. He's very capability breaking pucks out himself or passing through traffic. He's got good hands to beat forecheckers one-on-one in the defensive zone. I question his dynamism offensively though. He had a few injuries related to his collarbone I believe this year that has held him down a lot of boards. I suspect his U18 play vaulted him up though.
41. Michael Hrabal - It's goalie time! I think everyone who does public scouting, aside from a select few who scout goalies a lot a lot, often remark how goalies are...difficult...to put into a draft ranking. Some avoid them entirely, defer to other sources, or place a separate list of goalies only. I'm going to attempt to rank them, as long as we are all of the understanding that I am not a goalie scout, goalies are voodoo, and all of my opinions on goalies cannot be used against me in a court of hockey prospecting law. Capeesh? Carpaccio? Cool.
Hrabal is the first goalie off my board. He's got more than ideal size and quickness for an NHL goaltender. He's positionally sound, and is aggressive in cutting off angles for shooters coming into the zone. He has the feel of a goaltender who is mature and able to handle the crease. In the U18s, on a mediocre Czechia squad he was more than holding his own, keeping them at least semi-competitive. I think the 2nd round is going to have a run on goalies, and the margin between Hrabal and the other two I have listed here is pretty close.
42. Lenni Hameenaho - Hameenaho has ran a little under the radar for a guy who was as productive as he was in a men's league. The net front is how he will make his money at the net level it seems. He's able to box out, find space, and jam home rebounds. He's a decent shooter from distance, but adding more to this element could really turn his projection up a notch. His puck control and playmaking need improvements, and his speed is just decent, with a little slow acceleration. He feels like a safe bet here for a productive third line forward, but how much higher in the lineup can he fit is the question.
43. David Edstrom - David Edstrom was a monster at the U18s. He opened a lot of eyes, mine included, to what kind of player he can be at the next level. He's aggressive, a good skater, and a sneaky creative playmaker. He looks as comfortable net-front as he does on the perimeter. His craftiness can give him a lot of runway up-and-down a lineup in the future. I went back and watched a J20 game of his from earlier this year, to make sure this wasn't just a flash in the pan type of tournament for him. He was just as versatile. I didn't watch any of his tape from the SHL level, so will have to defer to others about how he did there, but 4 points in 11 games ain't too shabby on the surface.
44. Ethan Gauthier - I believe he's the first QMJHL entry here. Gauthier plays like a man possessed sometimes when it comes to taking the body. He's physical, a decent skater, and downright nasty at times. His retrieval game is advanced, able to maneuver the puck out from the wall and pop it out to teammates for chances. I think he can get a little lost in coverage by trying to take the man, but is definitely engaged. His handling skill is fine, but the overall dynamic offensive impact may not be there at the next level for Gauthier. He's excellent net-front as you might expect, and keeps his stick on the ice in the offensive zone. Teams may reach on him at the end of the first, as they know the physicality and motor are going to take him far.
45. William Whitelaw - Oh William Whitelaw. I totally understand when some scouts put Whitelaw in their top 20. I get it. He's one of the more gifted shooters in this class, seemingly making it his mission to score goals from anywhere in the offensive zone. He has an absolute laser of a shot. I question some of his shooting choices if I'm being honest, especially because when he does slip that seam pass, or take a second and delay, his playmaking talent can really shine. It just doesn't always get to that point of a play for him. The rest of his game, defensive engagement included, needs work. He's also incredibly skinny looking on the ice right now, and can get bodied physically. This is a prospect that is definitely a project, but if he hits, will fill nets at the NHL level.
46. Matthew Cataford - I like Cataford. End of segment.
Nah, I got more to say (when do I not?). Cataford plays in the QMJHL, for the Halifax Mooseheads, one of my favorite junior hockey teams (my in-laws have a house in Nova Scotia). Cataford plays a pro-style game, with a good motor, retrieval habits, and is a good finisher. The issue I have may be related to his individual skill as well as the overall coaching of the Mooseheads. They generate offense in one of two ways: either Jordan Dumais carries the puck into the zone, or someone dumps and chases until they can get Dumais the puck. Cataford has prolonged stretches where he skates the red line, dumps the puck in, and skates off. It's difficult to get his projection because of this, but when his skill does come through I think there's a player there.
47. Noah Dower Nilsson - NDN has been a bit of a difficult projection for me. It has been difficult to reconcile his outrageous production with his play on the ice. He has great handling skills, and he battles well down low to retrieve pucks. He makes some questionable shooting decisions, often passing up passing options (hehe) for shots into shins or from far out. He's quick and agile on his skates. There are lots to like about him and his production but I just haven't been impressed when I've watched him. This happens sometimes, and when it does I have to find a way to merge my eyes with others, as I know many are very high on him. This feels like the right slot for that merging of the minds.
48. Carson Bjarnason - Goalie number 2! Bjarnason was actually Goalie number 1 on my list for awhile, but a poor second half dropped him a bit. Still though, he's an athletic, 6-foot-3 goaltender with great vision through traffic, and sound positioning. He's able to pop off his post quickly, get into position and stone shooters with his glove. He's got to keep himself upright a bit more, as he has a tendency to shrink when battling through traffic. He's a calming presence in net, and I have no doubt that a team scoops him up in either the late first or early second.
49. Hunter Brzustewicz - His smarts separate him from the rest of the CHL defenders below him on the list. He knows just where to angle the opposition to steer the puck out of high danger areas. He has a mind for the defensive zone that I wish a few other players (cough Dragicevic cough) had, because it's so hard to teach what he is good at. He's a skilled breakout artist, and also jumps up into the offensive zone when needed. He has okay size, and decent enough speed, but doesn't appear the most agile on his skates. His shot needs a little more oomph, but I think it'll improve. This is a true sum of the parts pick, and I think he fits in that "safe" category we talked about earlier.
50. Nick Lardis - So we got Barlow...Whitelaw...Nadeau... I feel like we're missing a shooter here...OH Lardis! Hey if somehow I'm the first one to tell you about Nick Lardis, you might be stuck mentally in January. Since he was traded to Hamilton he's been shooting the lights out with 25 goals in 33 games. This rivals the production of Barlow, often regarded as the best OHL sniper. Also a project pick because aside from a very good finishing ability, he lacks a bit of the handling skill, or playmaking game to really be a top of the lineup player right now. Still, these players can definitely make the NHL on their finishing talent alone, so he's a worthwhile pickup here.
51. Matthew Mania - Mania reminds me Aram Minnetian, who comes up a bit later on the ranking. He's full send, man. He's just coming into his own as a offensive defenseman who pushes play and carries deep into the zone. He activates, pinches well and tries to keep the play alive offensively. He's a good forward skater, but I think his backwards skating could use a little work. Defensively he needs some tweaks we'll call it to stay positionally sound in the defensive zone. He would be a super fun project pickup for a team lacking some defensive standouts in their prospect pool.
52. Oliver Bonk - Bonk, son of former NHLer Radek Bonk, has a lot going for him as a good sized right-handed defenseman with decent skating, a good shot, and a last name like Bonk. All I'm trying to say here is there's a lot to like. No he's not this high because I like saying Bonk. How dare you assume because his name is Bonk that I'm going to rank him high. I am offended at the insinuation here, and I am sure Bonk is too. Bonk does many things that separates him, Bonk, from other non-Bonk defensemen. He's patient defensively, and he's able to bonk pucks out of the zone. Bonk is excellent at breakouts, the puck seems to hit sticks with a satisfying bonk, as his teammates (none of them named Bonk) shoot forward. Bonk is no slouch physically, although I think he could use a bit more bonk to his game. Overall, seems like Bonk is destined for a second round selection, and I think that's just fine. Bonk.
53. Etienne Morin - Morin came shooting into the U18s after Quinton Burns got injured for Team Canada. A highly skilled and productive defender at the QMJHL level, Morin immediately became one of their best puck-movers. He’s comfortable breaking into the zone himself, as well as challenging forecheckers and finding a passing lane after. He’s a good skater, able to blend his aggressive style and feet to create. I think his defensive game needs some refinement, but he’s not your typical highly productive defender that can’t hold his own. He’s just a bit physically underdeveloped right now to project him defensively. Hard-worker though and I think he has a great base to build off of.
54. Luca Pinelli - Pinelli has fallen just a tad for me. I always come away from watching him impressed with his speed, hands, and his aggressiveness. His decision-making with those tools is what baffles me sometimes. He’s sometimes head-strong in trying to get around one-on-one with defenders which means that he can get stymied far too often. He’s a bit small and doesn’t excel in retrieval scenarios. He reminds me of Sawchyn, but the decision making makes them almost a full round separate in my eyes. Still though Pinelli is a skilled forward with lots of areas to focus on to improve, so you take him here and wait.
55. Theo Lindstein - More like Theo Lind-fine amiright? Huh? Right? Heh. Nah, he’s fine. I think Willander and ASP are a bit more skilled and have higher ceilings, but Lindstein still is worthy of a pick in this range. He’s got great four-way mobility, and excels in simple, effective defending, simple pass-first transitions, and getting the puck on net in the offensive zone. He’s got the mold of an NHL defender, just one that plays on bottom pairings mostly.
56. Kalan Lind - Lind is all about physicality, possessing good size and a good checking form for the job he likely fills at the next level. He’s not just a grinder though, as he does display flashes of soft hands, scoring touch, and offensive creativity that I think with some careful development, could come a long way. He seems to be a player that goes early on Day 2 judging from recent drafts.
57. Caden Price - I think Caden Price moves up a tad more by the time the top 100 comes around if I’m being honest. He came into his own as a puck-carrier in the WHL this season, in an offense that ran directly through Andrew Cristall most nights. He’s a highly skilled defender, with good hands, feet, and a mind for transition. He’s also extremely young, almost eligible for the 2024 draft. He falls into the project side of this tier similarly to lots of defensemen in this range. I like his ceiling a bit more than players like Cam Allen, Tristan Bertucci, and Aram Minnetian, all who come up a bit later on.
58. Trey Augustine - Goalie number 3! I realized the other day, while watching Team USA, just how many times I’ve watched Augustine play. It has to be more than 20 full viewings at this point just because he’s been “the guy” for Team USA. He also has what, like ONE regulation loss this season? Absolute insanity. Augustine, while lacking ideal size, is so sound in net. He’s calm, patient, and quick down low. He can be a bit leaky, and struggles occasionally to spot shots through traffic, but all goaltenders do at this age. If I’m looking for a goalie prospect though and the other two “higher ceiling” picks are gone, he’s next for me. Again, “higher ceiling” is in quotes, because goaltenders are voodoo, and small goalies do perfectly fine when they’re good. Just like large goalies.
59. Oscar Fisker Mølgaard - It feels like there are too many players with multiple names this draft season. Oscar Dower Pellikka is a skilled defensive forward who possesses a great feel for the game. He’s a great skater and keeps his feet moving when corralling pucks to create quick-hitting offense. He’s constantly got his stick in lanes to try to pick off passes and transition the puck. He has decent hands, but the struggle is projecting Oscar Sandin Nilsson offensively without elite skills. A “safe” pick that may find his name called higher than he is listed here.
60. Nico Myatovic - Myatovic is big, physical, and has a nose for the net. However, he’s also a better skater than might be anticipated given his build, and he has decently soft hands. Not just because they play on the same team, but he reminds me of Reid Schaeffer from last year’s draft. Seattle is absolutely stacked, and Myatovic and Sawchyn being far down the lineup may harm their draft status come June. I like them both, and I’m excited to see what they do with some more room to breathe next season.
61. Coulson Pitre - Pitre is a powerful skater, who has excellent scanning habits, physical play and decent hands. He was a driving force for his line this season with Flint. I came away impressed watching him with his puck-protection and transition play. I think there’s a lot to work with in Pitre to turn him from a decent to great player, but it’s hard to really place him too high up in the list lacking any one elite skill. Similar to Oscar Unger Dower Nilsson Mølgaard if I'm being honest.
62. Timur Mukhanov - Small, Russian, cross him off the list right? Nope. Mukhanov is indeed small but he’s quick, albeit a little choppy in stride, and resilient. He’s an aggressive backchecker, a hard-worker on the boards, and constantly gets into passing lanes to disrupt play defensively. Both his skill-level and his hockey sense are very high, and I want to find reasons to drop him more, but just can’t. I think there’s a player here, even if you have to wait a long time to find out what kind of player that really is. A truly fitting end to the Project Fun Time tier.
TIER 7 - "Solid Dudes"
63. Jaden Lipinski - The Dudiest of Dudes. This isn’t a knock on Lipinski or anyone else to come in this draft tier by the way (of which there are only two in this top 64, but many more to come next time in the top 100). These are players that have qualities of NHLers, and some of them will become them, and a few may even become stars. For now though, they’re distinctly “dudes” in my eyes. Most are hard workers, some of them project picks, some of them defensive defensemen or scrappy goalies. There’s a lot to like in this tier, starting with Jaden Lipinski. Lipinski was decently productive, with 51 points in 68 games for Vancouver in the WHL. Aside from the production though, he’s a workhorse. Always involved on the forecheck, defensively, and in transition, I came away impressed with him more and more throughout the season. He’s got a dump and chase game primarily, but when he does get the puck back he can create in an instant.
64. Anton Wahlberg - Wahlberg came away from the U18s with only 6 points in 7 games for Team Sweden, but I found him to be consistently involved at both ends of the ice every game. He’s got decent speed, and is a great forechecker, with ideal size for a power forward game at the NHL level. He didn’t flash any real high-end skills this tournament really, and his J20 tape is mostly hit or miss. Still though, I think there’s a player that an NHL GM is going to fall in love with a bit earlier than expected. For me, he’s right around this range, and a fitting end to our top 64.
Next up (to be released when the top 100 comes out): Jesse Kiiskinen, Charlie Stramel, Andrei Loshko, Rasmus Kumpulainen, Andrew Gibson, Martin Misiak, Aidar Suniev, Denver Barkey, Carson Rehkopf, Maxim Strbak, Roman Kantserov, Tristan Bertucci, Aram Minnetian, Matthew Soto, Adam Gajan, Cameron Allen
Phew. You made it. Thanks for reading some, all or none of that. I will have one more final ranking of the top 100 sometime next month, and a few of these players may jump around as I get even more viewings in as we get closer to crunch time. If there's someone that you think I missed, or someone I underrated or overrated, let me know in the comments below! As of now, no one has left a comment on this site, despite thousands (thank you by the way) of views. Break the mold, be the first.
Looking forward to next time.