It's a a draft ranking everybody! However, I'm a little slow with my other writing obligations, so we're doing this in stages. First is the top 16, then top 32, then top 64, and finally a (final) top 96, plus a smattering of interesting 4th-7th round options. I find that once you get past about 75-80 or so names, the order becomes a bit nebulous. There will be guys on future lists that move up and down pretty far, just want to state that up front. I also know that there will be some players I don't rank who will end up drafted. For some really in-depth draft coverage, check out Eliteprospects.com, Scouching.ca, hockeyprospect.com, and just so many others.
Also we're putting the order right up front, and blurbs below. I ramble enough you deserve the meat up front.
The shading on the left side is the tier list. The Green shading over the names is how comfortable I feel with their projection based on how much I've watched them. Darker green means I've seen so much of them that I'm pretty sure they're in the tier they're in. Lighter green means I need to do a little more digging into their games, but I've seen enough to project them. In future rankings, a white shading means I've only seen highlights and other's projections. For now I feel comfortable with this top 16.
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.
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 18 points in his last 8 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.
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.
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.
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 1.90 PPG average, 78 points, third all-time for that league in draft eligible skaters to Gabe Perreault's 1.98 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.
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.
9. 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 9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. Riley Heidt - There's definitely risk with this one as well. 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.
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, defensively 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 role in the NHL and in this range I think that's worth it.
15. 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.
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.
Next up: Eduard Sale, Dalibor Dvorsky, Gavin Brindley, Gabe Perreault, Mikhail Gulyayev, Calum Ritchie, Quentin Musty.
That's it for now folks. I think this draft just has so many good forwards that I caution people to put defensemen above their actual skill level because of the lack of options. I do think Reinbacher is the best available defenseman considering everything, but even he isn't the highest upside projection compared to other drafts. A lot of this may change on our next draft ranking, which will expand to the top 32. Or maybe it won't!
If you want to sign up and comment here how wrong I am, that would be cool! There's a sign-up button at the top of the page. Follow me on Twitter, shoot me a DM if you want to yell about anything on this list.
Looking forward to next time