Preliminary 2023 NHL Draft Rankings

Photo Credit: Keith Hershmiller / Regina Pats

Alexander Appleyard, Sebastian Jackson, Matthew Somma, Gray Matter, Ben Jordan, Mike Wright, Jordan Malette, Tobias Pettersson, Austin Garret and Josh Tessler combined their draft rankings and put together the official Smaht Scouting 2023 NHL Draft Preliminary Rankings.

Below you will find the rankings and a high level summary on each player.

#1 – Connor Bedard, C, Regina

Connor Bedard is the most dynamic offensive threat in this draft class, period. He compliments his above average skating legs, with the ability to process the game at lightning quick rates. He already has an NHL caliber shot even from tough angles, and a ridiculously quick release. His elite hands allow him to manipulate defenders and free up time and space leading to him uncovering his desired quality offensive opportunities. With a tool box the size of his, offensively, I see him being a star at the NHL level from day one. (Ben Jordan)

#2 – Adam Fantilli, C, University of Michigan

Fantilli is closer to Bedard than he is to the rest of the draft class to me. His combination of skill, speed, size, and defensive prowess is exceptional and his microstats are just as exceptional as his counting stats to start the year at the University of Michigan. He’s able to make plays both using brute strength and deceptive lateral moves to get by defenders, and his decision making in completing passes to dangerous areas of the ice is mature beyond his years with 18% of his passes going to that part of the ice through two games. I would like to see him drive more in the neutral zone as he is playing second fiddle to Mackie Samoskevich in transition, but he’s successful on almost 77% of his offensive transitions. If he continues to improve he’ll push Bedard for the number one ranking all year. (Austin Garret)

#3 – Leo Carlsson, C, Örebro

Carlsson has been playing extremely well at the SHL level this season for Örebro. In the offensive zone, he will take over the cycle and will move laterally quickly to shift away from pressure as he sees that if he moves laterally he will skate into a quality passing lane that he can exploit. Carlsson’s vision and stick-handling can get him out of well-pressured jams in all three zones. He will find quality passing lanes in the neutral zone when looking for a teammate in stride to pass to and has no issue with maneuvering the puck around tight pressure. Carlsson hunts for loose pucks with speed and has the physicality to deliver quality checks along the boards to cause puck disruption in tight board battles. Carlsson is a prospect that we see being a reliable playmaker and playing in a line one role at the NHL level. (Josh Tessler)

#4 – Zach Benson, LW/C, Winnipeg

Benson has consistently been one of the biggest play drivers on his lines and has dynamic, eye-popping skill to go with a stellar work ethic. Benson has enough offensive skill to be a true top line forward at the NHL level, and if his skating can improve to be more than average, he’ll be a threat every time he’s on the ice. Despite his average skating, we feel that Benson’s work ethic and skill outweigh the risk and that he can develop that aspect of his game. You can’t teach work ethic, and you can’t teach a player to be as smart as Benson is. He’s the top WHL forward not named Connor Bedard in the eyes of our staff, and his game has continued to grow as the season has gone along. (Matthew “Martin” Somma)

#5 – Matvei Michkov, RW, SKA St. Petersburg

A smart and dynamic goal-scoring winger with exceptional deception and skating ability. Michkov dictates play when he’s on the ice, with constant delays and changes of pace, baiting poke checks to freeze defenders just enough to get by them, making up for his lack of a high-end top speed; making give-and-go plays all along the ice, using his teammates effectively, he’s not afraid to turn back in transition in order to maintain possession and open up new opportunities; he finds open ice extremely well and always positions himself to be a good passing option in the offensive zone. All this is designed with the end goal of creating space for himself in dangerous areas to let his lethal shot fly. He may look small, but he’s not easy to knock over, and he doesn’t shy away from physical battles. He has the potential to be a game-breaking talent, but there are some question marks around other areas of his game. His passing ideas and vision are great, but the execution less so, he’ll send soft passes to no one that are easily intercepted, or just miss his mark, often making his passes difficult to control; and he’ll sometimes look off the best play in favour of doing things himself, or just firing the puck on net. (Gray Matter)

#6 – Eduard Sale, LW, Brno

If your center is a bit weak in transition, have no fret. Eduard Sale can take over puck movement in the neutral zone for his center. When encountering traffic in the neutral zone, he can navigate around and secure the puck with his reach. If he is further back (towards his own zone) and he spots a teammate in stride or at the offensive zone blue line, he has shown that he will execute great passing feeds to get the puck to said teammate. When Sale doesn’t enter into the offensive zone as the F1, he constantly looks to establish positioning down low at net front to provide a backdoor shot passing option for the F1. While Sale does an excellent job of keying up those passing lanes, we aren’t seeing him find the back of the net regularly in Czech league play. His success with his shot is far more constant in international play. Should Sale start having consistent success with his shot in Czech league play, his stock could go up a bit. (Josh Tessler)

#7 – Andrew Cristall, LW, Kelowna

Cristall is the premier playmaker in this year’s draft. I mentioned before on the podcast but I’ll repeat here: he’s completed more total passes than all but two players in my North American dataset have attempted, he’s completed four more high/medium danger passes than anyone has attempted, and he is only one of two (Connor Bedard being the other) that has been involved in more than 50% of their team’s total successful offensive transitions in the CHL. He’s a magician with the puck on his stick with his skill, and his ability to thread passes all over the ice is high end. He’s going to make a hard push for the top 5 by the end of this year as his puck luck is regressing positively recently and the points are starting to stack up in bunches. (Austin Garret)

#8 – Jayden Perron, C/W, Chicago

If it weren’t for Andrew Cristall, Jayden Perron would be the premier playmaker available in the draft. His ability to use puck movements to pull defenders out of position and open up passing lanes is genuinely remarkable. Especially off the rush, he’ll frequently enter the offensive zone with control and scan for all options before picking the specific gap in the opposition to exploit for a dangerous chance. This playmaking and creativity are undoubtedly at the forefront of what Perron offers but combined with his shiftiness and tremendous puck skills, you’re looking at quite the offensive juggernaut. At 8th overall, it’s a home run swing, but the upside justifies it. (Jordan Malette)

#9 – Gavin Brindley, C, University of Michigan

Brindley plays the center position so well and so effectively it’s shocking that he’s just a freshman in the NCAA. He supports his teammates offensively and defensively, he moves puck through the neutral zone and is the main puck transporter for the second line on Michigan, and, despite his size, he takes pucks to the dangerous areas of the ice to get his shot off. Coming into the year I was a bit concerned about his overall speed given his size, but he’s looked quick and defenders aren’t able to get on top of him. He’s one of the best shot generators to begin the year (per 60 he’s even ahead of Bedard 5v5 through two games) and 82% of his shots are coming from dangerous areas of the ice. He’s involved in 46.7% of his line’s successful offensive transitions and was successful at 90(!)% of them individually. One area of improvement will be to not just get to the middle of the ice for his shot, but also more with his passes as only 9% of his passes are to dangerous areas of the ice right now. (Austin Garret)

#10 – Calum Ritchie, C, Oshawa

Calum Ritchie offers value in all three zones, mainly through proper positioning that allows him to provide strong puck-side support, especially in the defensive end. Calum is typically the puck transporter through the middle of the ice navigating through pressure and entering the zone with control. In the attacking third, he can use body positioning and his reach to protect the puck and gain an advantageous position on defenders. Occasionally you’ll see flashes of nifty puck skills, but that is different from his expected playstyle. I’d say he definitely leans more towards a “high-floor” type of player as I don’t see an abundance of top-end traits, so depending on your philosophy, he may slide further back on your list in favour of higher-upside players. (Jordan Malette)

#11 – Mikhail Gulyayev, LHD, Omsk

A dynamic and elusive offensive defenceman with good puck skills all around. He lacks some size and physicality, he gets knocked down easily, and can struggle with physical battles sometimes; but in spite of this, he defends decently well. He’s a bit chaotic at times, and likely still has a long way to go to be very effective defensively in the NHL, but he does a fine job of using his stick to block lanes, cut passes and pester opponents at all times, fused with his quickness and 4-way mobility to ensure that any attacker has a bad time. But he shines in transition, he adapts quickly and he doesn’t overhandle, he extends his reach to one side before shifting to the other, giving himself extra room to maneuver around opponents and maintain his speed and momentum. He times his activation well on the rush and in the offensive zone, and uses his speed to ensure he rarely ends up late on the backcheck or out of position defensively. (Gray Matter)

#12 – Brayden Yager, C, Moose Jaw

Brayden Yager, seemingly one of the more polarizing names thus far, brings with him a straight line, puck dominant style of play that for myself is hard to overlook. Yager gets around the ice in all areas very well thanks to his elite ability to see plays unfolding. This makes up for some of the skating deficiencies that I see with Yager. There’s no denying his straight line skill, and his ability to rip shots from wherever and whenever he has space to do so, but for Yager to work his way up this board I’m looking to see him more involved in transition. Right now he’s too much of a passenger, and when he struggles to create space for himself, he can become a ghost for many shifts at a time. (Ben Jordan)

#13 – Axel Sandin Pellikka, RHD, Skellefteå

My personal favourite player so far this year, Sandin Pellikka is a ton of fun to watch. He’s a mobile offensive defenceman with really quick hands and a hard, accurate shot. Great at walking the line, using the threat of his shot with constant fakes to break defenders’ ankles, allowing him time and space to find the best play. High speed combines with his handling skill and use of fake passes to make him a great option in transition, preferring to carry when possible, rather than making long and predictable passes. Defensively, his rush defence is solid, but in the defensive zone he can struggle a bit to keep up, even at the junior level; he’ll need to work on that to be a very effective defender at the NHL level. (Gray Matter)

#14 – Oliver Moore, C, USNTDP

Last year it was Moore who was able to run on the top line with Gabe Perreault and Gracyn Sawchyn for the u17 team. This year the NTDP has seemed to task Moore with running his own line and he hasn’t disappointed. He is the most involved player in North America in transition (61.1% involvement in successful offensive transitions), his shot attempts 5v5 are dead even with counterpart Will Smith in both total shots and dangerous shot attempts, and 23.5% of his passes are going to the dangerous areas of the ice (which is 15% below Smith). Additionally he is an elite skater, is exceptional in defending the neutral zone and a great support in the defensive/offensive zone and has an underrated shot. My only gripe with Moore is his pension for attacking the zone at his top speed at all times. More speed variation that navigates his attack to the middle of the ice and opens up secondary rush options will make him a truly dynamic center prospect. (Austin Garret)

#15 – Otto Stenberg, C, Frölunda

I’m a big Otto Stenberg fan. Before watching league play this season, I was quite intrigued with his playmaking off the rush last year and at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Tournament. When Stenberg has control of the puck, he takes ownership of the cycle and wants to be the one driving across the zone to hunt for quality passing lanes. When facing tight pressure down low in the corner, he does have the ability to pivot out of pressure, but sometimes he does have to pivot out multiple times when facing pressure from one attacker. Should a passing option have opened up over the course of Stenberg pivoting multiple times, the passing lane might have been taken away by an attacker by the time that Stenberg has broken free of pressure. His shot also needs more development. When shooting, especially on one-timers, he isn’t putting enough power into his shot. He isn’t shifting enough weight into his shot and thus reduces the power needed to elevate the puck. If Stenberg can improve his shot over the course of the season, his stock will rise. (Josh Tessler)

#16 – Riley Heidt, C, Prince George

Riley Heidt is one of the more premier skaters in this 2023 class. He has extremely great edges and accelerates very quickly in all zones. Heidt excels with the puck on his stick when he’s using his skating ability to create separation from defenders. His skating is also an asset for him in transition where he is great at carrying the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. When Heidt is on the ice, he wants the play to run through him, and I love that. Through all my viewings thus far, I have never questioned his drive or willingness to drag himself and his teammates into the fight. With Heidt I see a player that could make the leap as a center in the NHL. Before he can make that leap he’ll want to improve his overall strength which will aid in his play along the wall and in puck battles down low. (Ben Jordan)

#17 – Will Smith, C, USNTDP

The Twitter highlight reel machine of the NTDP. Will Smith in the offensive zone with the puck on his stick is a defenseman’s ankles worst nightmare. His ability to use his small area skill to dangle through and around defenders is one of the best in the class. He’s one of the top players in the entire dataset at sending pucks to the dangerous parts of the ice, and he is the best player on one of the best lines in junior hockey right now. However, he does have a pension to go missing if his linemates aren’t able to get him the puck at even strength. He’s the least involved player in transition on his line (though he is successful on 77% of his transitions). He’s also best when using his stick to intercept passes and I’d like to see him better support his defensemen in the defensive zone to cement his status as projecting down the middle in the NHL. (Austin Garret)

#18 – William Whitelaw, C, Youngstown

There isn’t a player in this draft that excites me as much as William Whitelaw. The pace and dynamic skill set are a lethal combination that is the exact type of player I’m looking for early on day one of the draft. He can be absolutely electric dangling through defenders and can certainly create a ridiculous highlight reel. However, what drove me to be a touch bearish on Will is prioritizing shots from low danger and the inability to access high danger consistently. Especially at the USHL level, I’d like to see him look for dangerous passing options more often rather than a low-quality perimeter shot. The tools are certainly there for a top-ten player in my books, but I want to see them applied more frequently to be willing to make that swing on the upside. (Jordan Malette)

#19 – Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK

If you had asked me where Dalibor Dvorsky would be on our rankings earlier this summer, I likely would have said “somewhere in the top 10”. It was always going to be tough for Dvorsky to get past Michkov, Benson, Carlsson, Fantilli and Bedard, but I honestly thought without a doubt that Dvorsky would be in the top 10 range. Unfortunately, his stock has fallen this season. Dvorsky is being deployed as a center with AIK, but he isn’t a big factor when it comes to north-south puck movement. He isn’t overly involved in transition. Instead, Dvorsky looks to enter into the offensive zone as the F2 or F3 in some cases to provide an outlet passing lane should their puck carrying teammates run into tight pressure along the half-wall and red line boards. While that does allow Dvorsky to net quite a bit of puck touches, it’s the next move that has been a struggle for him. Getting a quality shot on net. At 5v5, he is struggling to get shots to the corners. The puck often ends up gloved or ricocheted off the goaltender’s pads. When Dvorsky is being deployed on the power play, he is finding more success with his shot but that can be attributed to having more open ice and not having pressure right on him. I’m hoping that we see a bounce back and the script is reversed come the next set of rankings. (Josh Tessler)

#20 – Caden Price, LHD, Kelowna

One of the more intriguing case studies thus far has been Caden Price. His play at the Hlinka left people thinking that this may be a top 10 pick in the 2023 draft. He has since had some consistency struggles in Kelowna, and some people are leaving him off their 1st round board. To me it boils down to this: this kid’s got all the tools to become a truly elite defender at the next level but is very early on in his development track. There are consistency concerns at this very moment. One game he may take those calculated risks, and have them pay huge dividends, other games he may look shy to make any gambles at all. Looking strictly at the tools, he is a premier puck distributor with elite vision and creativity. In his own end he uses his agility to shake forecheckers and afford himself a bit of extra time to start breaking the puck out of his zone. Price will grow ever more confident as the season goes along, and with that, I believe we’ll be seeing a lot more of the Price we saw at the Hlinka. Don’t be surprised to see him climb our rankings as the season goes along! (Ben Jordan)

#21 – Dmitri Simashev, LHD, Yaroslavl

A mobile, smooth-skating defenceman, Simashev is among the best defenders in this class; he shuts down plays before they start; he reads and anticipates play very well, he’ll step up in the neutral zone with perfect timing to prevent entries without taking himself out of the play. He’s big, and uses his size effectively; he protects the puck really well, extending his long reach and using his free arm to shield off pressure. He’s not the most physical yet, but I think that’ll come with time and maturity; he doesn’t really need to be super physical right now, but he’s certainly capable. If he’s got the puck, good luck getting it away from him, he controls the puck exceptionally well, and adapts to pressure instantly, weaving through defences in transition and making it look easy. He’s a breakout wizard, great at escaping pressure with the puck, recovering it along the boards and combining his skating and puck protection to evade incoming pressure; he sniffs out contested pucks and turns them into offensive rushes in an instant. The points haven’t really come yet for Simashev, but he does so much that won’t show up on the scoresheet, everything he does makes life a lot easier for his teammates; whether he’s getting points or not, he’s making good things happen for his team in all three zones. (Gray Matter)

#22 – Gracyn Sawchyn, C, Seattle

One of our more “outlandish” rankings based on consensus, Gracyn Sawchyn is the brains steering the ship in Seattle. There may not be another player in this draft that can think it the way Sawchyn can. In each of my viewings of him, there were multiple instances where it felt like he was plays ahead of his teammates. As you can imagine, this led to many broken plays, especially in the offensive zone. This is a player that I truly believe can a) play center at the NHL level, and b) will benefit immensely from being surrounded with other high IQ players. His play in the defensive zone is calm and refined, and always willing to make the risk adverse play to up the puck. (Ben Jordan)

#23 – Luca Pinelli, C, Ottawa

There are many details of Luca Pinelli’s game to appreciate, but I’ll keep it brief and focus on my three favourites. Firstly, Pinelli constantly scans to find open pockets of space to sneak into. You can typically find him hovering high in the offensive zone, looking for the right time to pounce into space to be available for a dangerous pass. Once he gains that slight separation from defenders, he can unleash a one-timer that can beat the goalie from medium to long range. Next, I appreciate Luca’s tendency to keep his puck touches short and rarely overextend his possessions. He’s always looking for passing options to advance play, and the attack rarely breaks down on his stick. And finally, Luca never arbitrarily forces the puck up ice at all costs. Pinelli routinely turns back to reset to escape immediate pressure, buy time, and allow a teammate to get open for a controlled exit pass. It’s a minor detail, but it speaks to his prioritization of puck possession which is a significant component of my evaluation process. (Jordan Malette)

#24 – Nate Danielson, C, Brandon

I was one of Danielson’s biggest supporters in our ranking, and I still feel that he could rise up the board as the season goes along. Danielson is a complete player that can defend, carry the puck, stickhandle through defenses and score. Danielson is still coming into his own offensively and as of right now, that’s what’s holding him back in our rankings. As a staff, we were unsure of whether or not Danielson was more than a third line center at the NHL level. If Danielson can improve offensively, then this is a ranking that we will revisit. In my eyes, I see a player that is an NHL center with solid two way ability and the potential to provide some secondary offense. He won’t drive the play in the offensive zone, but he’ll be reliable when called upon. (Matthew “Martin” Somma)

#25 – Luca Cagnoni, LHD, Portland

Cagnoni has taken a big step this WHL season. And it all stems from his tactical, mobile stride. He plays the gap extremely well, knowing exactly when to make that risky play up ice, or hold back. His skating routes are thought out and calculated, and that helps him navigate the ice extremely efficiently. This season he has shown offensive upside putting up 8-12-20 in 20GP. He has the perfect instincts on the rush, with a good idea of when to jump into the rush. For a two-way defenceman still in junior and growing, I was very impressed with his ability to not leave his partner out to dry.  (Ben Jordan)

#26 – Tanner Molendyk, LHD, Saskatoon

Despite the counting numbers not being as high as his WHL counterparts; Molendyk is a lot more efficient in transitions compared to Cagnoni and Price and is also hyper-active in the offensive zone with his dangerous passes and shot attempts. His skating is among the tops in North America for defensemen, but it’s his ability to reset and move pucks under control that is super impressive. The only thing missing from his dataset are the points, and given his success getting pucks to areas of the ice where goals are scored it only makes sense that points will be coming for Molendyk as the season progresses. (Austin Garret)

#27 – Alex Čiernik, LW/RW, Södertälje

If you are looking for someone who is constantly looking to key up give and go opportunities, Čiernik is someone to keep an eye on. He loves to key up give and go opportunities while driving up the neutral zone. When Čiernik is skating up the ice, he scans and looks for teammates along the boards right at the blue line. He delivers a pass to them and they drive the puck into the offensive zone. Čiernik enters the zone as the F2 and looks to establish open ice for himself in a medium and/or high danger spot. Then that allows the teammate who received the pass from Čiernik to deliver a pass back to Čiernik that could potentially generate a quality scoring chance. Prior to moving up to Allsvenskan, Čiernik had been producing at an excellent pace at 5v5 in Swedish J20 play. Since joining Södertälje in Allsvenskan, he is struggling to adapt to the amount of pressure that he is facing. The pressure at the next level is far more assertive and in his face. While he does have the stick-handling to navigate out of tight pressure, the speed that he has isn’t creating enough separation as he is netting in J20 play. But, he is doing a great job of navigating out of space and passing to high danger areas. It’s just a matter of time before he adapts and we start seeing him produce at 5v5 in Allsvenskan. As of now, he projects as a middle six forward. (Josh Tessler) 

#28 – Ondrej Molnár, LW, Nitra

Molnár is zippy. He has quality speed and uses it well in all three zones. Molnár is constantly using his speed to adjust his positioning when his teammates have control of the puck. He is looking to key up potential passing lanes for his teammates to use. His speed also allows him to keep good positioning on the forecheck. He maintains quality pace, but he isn’t assertive. He stands from a little bit of a distance, but his presence alone does force the opposition to skate the puck along the boards instead of at open ice. Unfortunately, Molnár has struggled with his production over the course of the season (to date). He has spent the majority of his time playing with Nitra at the Extraliga level in Slovakia, but was struggling to find the back of the net and key up high and medium danger chances. Molnàr was recently sent back down. Hopefully he finds immediate success, regains his confidence and comes back to the Extraliga in fighting form. I have seen him find success with his one-timer shooting and distribution off the rush and I can’t wait to see him produce more consistently. (Josh Tessler)

#29 – Michael Hrabal, G, Omaha

Hrabal is the top goaltender prospect in the 2023 NHL Draft class. He is a reliable goaltender, who has excellent size and speed. When protecting the post, Hrabal owns the post. He forces the shooter into trying to shoot for the far side as he doesn’t leave an open spot for the shooter on the short side. With his size and speed, he is quick to react to changes in puck movement. So even if a shooter thinks he has a quality backdoor option, Hrabal can react in time to take it all the space away and force the attacker to try to get the puck up towards the far post and in. When traffic intensifies right in front of him, he shifts his head around the attacker to maintain a sight line on the puck carrying attacker. He constantly moves his head to react to the attacker (the one in front of him) shifting over a bit as the attacker is looking to eliminate Hrabal’s sight lines. In addition, he has an excellent glove and will capture shots from the slot with ease. If you are looking for a reliable goaltending prospect who is already well developed, Hrabal fits the bill.  (Josh Tessler)

#30 – Hunter Brzustewicz, RHD, Kitchener

Brzustewicz is one of my favourite prospects from the OHL this season, and in this entire class. He’s the perfect blend of skill and strength. He’s got a relatively small frame but makes up for it in muscle. One of the more impressive aspects of his game is his ability to use his upper body strength to shake off his opponent, freeing up lanes to break out the puck. Of all the defenceman on this list, I think Brzustewicz consistently makes the best first pass out of the zone. His quick stick on defence and ability to defend the rush make him a very competent two-way defender. His offensive ability has peaked this season as well. After leaving the USNTDP, where Seamus Casey and Lane Hutson took most of the opportunity offensively last season, he has done a good job quarterbacking a top power play and chipping in at even strength as well. I see Brzustewicz as a middle pair guy, that could play all situations, similar to the mould of Neal Pionk. (Ben Jordan)

#31 – Ryan Leonard, RW, USNTDP

Leonard runs as the second fiddle on the NTDP top line, and he’s an elite option as a second fiddle at that. Leonard’s best weapon is his wrist shot where he’s able to load both on the rush as well as catch and shoot. He has very good puck skill and is able to dangle his way past oncoming defenders in the neutral zone as well as he possesses good small area skill in the offensive zone to get off the wall and move into the middle of the ice. Overall, I’d like Leonard to take another leap as a playmaker. His vision isn’t poor, but a lot of his game is predicated on Smith finding him in a chain-linked play or Perreault springing him off a one-touch pass. He’s involved a decent amount in transition (35%) but his passing metrics are pretty low for the dataset overall.  If Leonard can develop his vision and playmaking to another level he could rise even higher in the rankings. (Austin Garret)

#32 – Bradly Nadeau, C, Penticton

Nadeau does two things that are high end regardless of what league he plays in: He’s the highest involved player in transition and he has the highest percentage of his passes going to dangerous areas of the ice. Those two things combined directly correlate to his very good point production that he’s had over the course of the first month and a half of the season. Nadeau needs to be more engaged in the defensive zone and be harder on the puck, as well as in the forecheck. However, his combination of speed, vision, and his quick, accurate, and hard shot make him a dynamic offensive weapon. (Austin Garret)

HM – Theo Lindstein, LHD, Brynäs

Lindstein is a two-way defenseman who does an excellent job of closing out gaps. He traps attackers who are attempting to skate into the slot consistently. His success with trapping can be accredited to his excellent active stick. When he gains possession of the puck in his own zone, he is quick with distribution. He doesn’t like to hold onto the puck for long. If the forecheck pressure does intensify, he has shown that he can pivot out routinely and quickly complete a pass. When moving the puck through the neutral zone, should he attract pressure, he will pivot, double back and then complete a backhand pass to an open teammate in the neutral zone (on the opposite side of the ice). Lindstein has proven that he is a reliable distributor from the back end. In the offensive zone, he will pinch up for pucks, but it’s mostly to preserve the offensive attack when a loose puck appears. When he has the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, he is mostly trying low danger shots from the point and hoping that a puck is deflected in or looking to dump pucks into the corner. I’d like to see him start leveraging his excellent straight line speed and pivoting to drive further into the zone so he can complete passes to teammates in high danger areas. If he starts utilizing his skating to open up quality passing lanes and starts producing at 5v5 regularly, he will be bumped up in our next set of rankings. (Josh Tessler)

HM – Jesse Nurmi, LW, KooKoo

Nurmi is an interesting case this year, he’s moved up and down my list like no one else early on this season. He’s an outstanding passer, and sees the ice very well; he scans a lot which I particularly like. As well, he’s a pretty strong defensive player, especially for a winger; he positions himself well, drops down low to support his defencemen, and is quick on loose pucks; he reads play extremely well and uses his speed to rush in and block a pass before it happens. He’s a good option on the penalty kill with his strong defensive play and speed, allowing him to mount a counterattack should the opportunity arise. When he’s on, he’s relentless, constantly causing turnovers in every zone with his speed, using his reach and body well to force opponents into quick decisions; if he can bring this more consistently, he’ll start climbing up my board again. He’s fast, and he handles the puck well; doesn’t overhandle much, and he’s strong on his stick, allowing him to keep control of the puck and cut through defences at the junior level. He’s good at controlling the puck close to his body, but outside of being strong on his stick, he doesn’t do too much in the way of protecting the puck; right now he mostly just takes the space that’s given to him, rather than creating his own; without improvement in that area, he’ll likely struggle to find or create space in the NHL. (Gray Matter)

HM – Timur Mukhanov, C, Omsk

One of the more fun players in the draft, Mukhanov is a quick and shifty dual-threat winger with a knack for sneaking into dangerous areas and making himself available. Good awareness of his surroundings, and he reacts to play quickly and with confidence. His best asset is likely his shot, it’s accurate, heavy, and deceptive, and he can score from anywhere, in a variety of ways; he loves the curl-and-drag wrister, changing the angle just enough to fool the goaltender. But he’s a creative playmaker as well, he positions himself well in the offensive zone to be a passing option, while looking around, planning for his next play. He can blow the defensive zone early, leaning too heavily towards offence, but for the most part he’s responsible enough defensively for a winger: he recognises holes in coverage and attempts to fill them, covering for his defencemen when needed, and he’s usually pretty strong on the backcheck. (Gray Matter)

HM – Alexander Rykov, F, Chelyabinsk

A smart and reliable centre, Rykov is pretty well-rounded, he doesn’t excel at any one particular thing, but he’s just solid across the board, and he thinks the game well. He’s elusive, particularly along the boards, he spins off checks well and uses changes of speed to evade pressure. However, his puck control is lacking, he loses the puck often, especially along the boards; but he’s decently quick and always makes an effort to get it back immediately. He puts himself in good spots offensively without the puck, and he’s a skilled passer, able to adapt his passes quickly to different situations. He reads play well, and he probably won’t wow you with anything, but he’ll just make smart, simple plays all the time; and he’s got a great motor, he’s always active and making an effort at both ends of the ice. (Gray Matter)

HM – Colby Barlow, RW, Owen Sound

A heavy power forward equipped with a pro hockey frame and above average shot. There’s a lot to like this early on with Barlow but there are many aspects of his game that I would like to see refined before committing to a higher placement. This is a player that I don’t see being able to drive his own line. He has great hands in tight areas, and can unleash a bomb of a wrister, but to see him reach his potential, he’d benefit immensely from a centerman with vision and distribution skills. He has the body to retrieve pucks down low and win puck battles, but is not super engaged in carrying the puck into the offensive zone. He has the ability to kill penalties at the next level, and could slot in on a second power play, giving him some versatility. Would love to see Barlow develop his play off the puck, as well as the ability to stay engaged with the play in the defensive zone. (Ben Jordan)

HM – Denver Barkey, C, London

Denver plays at a high pace which is the obvious standout in his game. His footwork enables him to navigate pressure with agility and gain separation with a few strides. He can be a pest on the forecheck, disrupting attempted zone exits and forcing turnovers. Finally, I am most impressed with his ability as a playmaker, especially off the rush. He can identify passing lanes and exploit them before they close, creating chance after chance. Denver’s combination of pace and creativity off the rush offers are great building blocks for an exciting prospect.  (Jordan Malette)

HM – Emil Järventie, F, Ilves

Järventie is one of my early favourites this year, although he’s fallen a fair bit for me since the beginning of the season. He’s just a fun watch; he’s not big, or very strong, but he brings a lot of skill, speed, and overall fun energy. He’s a skilled handler, he has excellent passing vision, and I’ve seen his ability to thread passes through tight spaces, but too often he just passes into skates or sticks; the skill and the vision is there, but the execution isn’t yet; which is a bit of a pattern in his game. He’s got a pretty good shot on him too, powerful, he makes slight adjustments to his angle before releasing, pulling the puck towards him just enough to sneak it by defenders, and catch goalies off guard. Usually pretty good on the forecheck, he moves his stick quickly in any direction to intercept passes. He has some really good tools, just hasn’t figured out how to put them all together yet. He’s likely got a long road ahead of him in terms of development, but it could be a worthwhile bet to make for a team who’s willing to take their time with him. (Gray Matter)

HM – Jakub Dvorak, LHD, Liberec

Dvorak is a strong defender in his own zone. He provides a physical presence in the corner and does an excellent job of using his active stick to trap attackers. Dvorak will be rather assertive with pressure and will aim to trap attackers on the rush before the rush reaches the perimeter. When defending in the neutral zone, he will look to stick lift attackers on the rush and cause puck disruption. While Dvorak excels in closing out gaps and canceling out oppositional puck movement, I’d like him to improve on his speed to loose pucks. He will sometimes struggle with activating his speed after changing direction to adjust to loose puck movement. If he can improve upon his speed, his stock will go on the rise. (Josh Tessler)

Full List

RankingPlayerTeamPosition
1Connor BedardReginaC
2Adam FantilliUniv of MichiganC
3Leo CarlssonÖrebroC
4Zach BensonWinnipegF
5Matvei MichkovSKA St. PetersburgRW
6Eduard SaleBrnoLW
7Andrew CristallKelownaF
8Jayden PerronChicagoF
9Gavin BrindleyUniv of MichiganC
10Calum RitchieOshawaC
11Mikhail GulyayevOmskLHD
12Brayden YagerMoose JawF
13Axel Sandin PellikkaSkellefteåRHD
14Oliver MooreUSNTDPC
15Otto StenbergFrölundaC
16Riley HeidtPrince GeorgeF
17Will SmithUSNTDPC
18William WhitelawYoungstownC
19Dalibor DvorskyAIKC
20Caden PriceKelownaLHD
21Dimitri SimashevYaroslavlLHD
22Gracyn SawchynSeattleC
23Luca PinelliOttawaC
24Nate DanielsonBrandonC
25Luca CagnoniPortlandLHD
26Tanner MolendykSaskatoonLHD
27Alex CiernikSödertäljeLW/RW
28Ondrej MolnárNitraLW
29Michael HrabalOmahaG
30Hunter BrzustewiczKitchenerRHD
31Ryan LeonardUSNTDPRW
32Bradly NadeauPentictonC
HMTheo LindsteinBrynäsLHD
HMJesse NurmiKooKooF
HMTimur MukhanovOmskC
HMAlexander RykovChelyabinskF
HMColby BarlowOwen SoundRW
HMDenver BarkeyLondonC
HMEmil JärventieIlvesF
HMJakub DvorakLiberecLHD

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