Scouting Report: Zach Benson

Photo Credit: Erica Perreaux / Lethbridge Hurricanes

Zach Benson is a top prospect eligible for the 2023 NHL Draft.

He has spent the last three seasons, including this one with the Winnipeg ICE of the Western Hockey League. The Chilliwack, BC native was selected by Winnipeg 14th overall in 2020 bantam draft following a dominant season with the U15 Prep Yale Hockey Academy putting up 30 goals and 86 points in 30 games.

At the time of writing this, Benson is in the midst of a terrific season and is 3rd in WHL scoring amassing 23 goals, and 56 points across 34 contests. Benson was also selected to represent Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Under 18 tournament this past summer, where he put up 2 goals and 5 points in 7 games, good for 3rd on the Canadian squad.

Player Profile

D.O.B – May 12, 2005
Nationality – Canadian
Draft Eligibility – 2023
Height –5’10″
Weight –150 lbs
Position – Center
Handedness – Left

Benson’s Style Of Play

Offense

Zach Benson strives when his team is on offense. In terms of forwards in this entire 2023 class, no one thinks the game with and without the puck better than Zach Benson. In my viewings of Benson, I have picked up on many offensive tendencies, all of which led to very successful offensive opportunities. The first being his play on the half-wall and in the corners without the puck. Benson is a hound for retrieving loose pucks. Think Zach Hyman. Once he has control of the puck after a strip, I’ve seen Benson time and time again feather 10ft passes through sticks and skates from below the goal line, setting up teammates for prime scoring opportunities.

With the puck, Benson is a wizard. This all starts with how he surveys the ice. He uses effective shoulder checks even when possessing the puck, that allow him to read plays ahead of his opponents. Benson is great at finding pockets of space when in the offensive zone that allow him extra time to fetch out that next pass or shot. Benson is a terrific distributor of the puck. He uses a variety of different pass types to successfully execute different plays. Like I mentioned above, he is great at dishing little 5-10ft passes from below the goal line and is extremely precise when doing so. He is also effective feathering cross seam passes across the ice, especially to the back door. He is a great match for power forwards that like to crash the net. If you have your stick on the ice at the net front, Benson will find you.

Benson’s shot has not been one of his highlight features in his draft year. Benson’s ability to find teammates cross ice after a fake shot has been a real tool for him. One thing I’ve noticed however, is that he seems to take awhile, and looks uncomfortable shooting coming out of a fake pass. I’ve looked at this closer and notice that many of the instances he has trouble getting that shot off quickly is the weight transfer has already occurred. All the energy he stores in his legs is being wasted on the fake pass, leaving him little to no strength coming through the shot release. In the grand scheme of things, I’m not overly concerned with Bensons shooting mechanics, nor his shot power. I don’t anticipate Benson to ever come in on the rush, and burry snap shots under the bar like prime Phil Kessel, but I do think once he fills out his upper half, and bulks up a bit that he will have an above average shot. The mechanics are certainly there.

Defense

One thing I love about Benson’s game defensively is how involved he is. Every loose puck battle, every zone exit, it feels like Benson is involved in a meaningful way. As a centerman, the ownness is on him to support his defenseman in deep and along the sideboards, he does a great job supporting them, and avoiding defensive zone turnovers. The key to avoiding turnovers is quick decision making. Benson keeps his head on a swivel and is constantly looking to see if or when pressure may come. When supporting his defenseman and receiving the puck, Benson makes very quick decisions with the puck. His zone exit passes are crisp, and he’s great at leading his passes. In other words, finding his wingers in stride so that they have speed coming through the neutral zone.

Off puck play is equally as important as play with the puck. From my viewings I find that Benson is actively trying to find soft spots, mainly in the neutral zone where he can make himself available to receive a pass, and transition play the other way. Although Benson is virtually always involved in the play, I find that it’s this area of his game where he can become a bit disconnected. When Benson is looking to be an outlet on the breakout, he can get caught hovering, ultimately leading to him being a bit of a passenger in transition. This is a very specific issue, and one that likely doesn’t carry too much weight. Every time I’ve noticed this from him, I’ve wound back the footage and watched what’s going on in the defensive zone. It’s typically clumsy plays from the backend, and failed breakout passes. As Benson climbs the ranks, these types of plays will only become more routine. Overall, not an aspect of his game I’m overly concerned with.

Transition Play

I sound like a broken record, but Benson’s head is ALWAYS on a swivel! That’s no different when he is transition. This eases so many different aspects of play in transition. It ensures he’s in open ice where he can get the puck up quickly to his wingers. When not carrying the puck Benson lets his edges go on display, in attempt to open himself up for receiving a pass up ice. When successfully orchestrated, and Benson is flying through the neutral zone in transition, good luck. He is so deceptive using shoulder fakes and uses give and go’s with teammates to get into the offensive zone, and set up quality opportunities.

Transition Data

I’ve tracked data from four of Benson’s games this season. In those four games, he attempted 26 zone exits, with a success rate of 69.2%. In other words, 18 of his 26 zone exits were completed, with what I deemed to be control of the puck. In those same four games, he attempted 56 zone entries (this includes special teams) in which he was successful at gaining the offensive zone on 66% of those entries.

Skating

I can’t get over how well Zach Benson uses his edges. It’s eerily similar to what I see in Mitch Marner’s game. Not only is he shifty and able to carve out space for himself with tight turns, and shifty plays to keep the puck in at the line, but he uses his edges to build up speed in all zones. He moves up ice so effortlessly, and unlike a lot of younger players, he keeps his feet moving all the time. Benson is a perfect example of leveraging speed to find open areas to counteract his slighter frame. This is great for accepting outlet passes from teammates engaged in puck battles along the boards. This opens the ice for him, and he’s benefitted from many grade A scoring chances because of it. When in on the forecheck, I love the way Benson incorporates crossovers to stay glued to his target defender. His lateral mobility is great.

From a technical standpoint, Benson’s smaller frame allows for a lower center of gravity. Why is that important? Well in hockey especially a low center of gravity increases balance and stability. This allows Benson to change direction quicker when he is lower to the ground. That, paired with his great edge work and crossovers combine for a very dominant skater. Looking at mechanics quickly, he has great bend in his knees, which discussed above, helps with lateral mobility. He also has impressive ankle flexion, which will aid in maintaining good balance while in stride.

Projection

While I don’t necessarily see Zach Benson reaching the top of the superstar bucket, (Tavares, Kane, Stamkos etc…) I do envision him being a cornerstone piece for the franchise that selects him this June.

When thinking of a player comparison, I get drawn to a few different players. From an offensive skills standpoint, I personally see a lot of similar traits to Cole Perfetti. Great vision, feet always moving, and just very technically sound with every movement. Benson has a motor on him though that never stops running. To me, very similar to watching Brayden Point roam around. There just seems to always be a certain intensity when both of them are on the ice and hunting down pucks. Both great at carving out pockets of space, and tremendous at distributing or finishing plays themselves.

Benson carries with him a massive question mark. When a team steps up to the podium in June, will they be selecting Benson as a center or a winger. That is to be determined, but here is my stance. My gut tells we winger. When his motor is running high (which is most of the time) he plays a very textbook left wing. Forechecking in deep, attempting to turn the puck over, and then looking to set up a teammate from below the goal line. When I think of Benson, this is where I see the majority of his success. Here’s what’s caused me to go back and forth a few times. His coverage in the defensive zone, and just overall defensive awareness, are not tools to sneeze at. Playing lots of center for Winnipeg this season, he has shown very good ability to fulfill all centerman duties in the defensive-zone. My conclusion. Benson will just fine playing either position and quite frankly I envision him getting looks at both whenever he is ready to crack an NHL lineup. The ultimate x-factor as to where he will stick will be his face off success. In the WHL this season, he is operating at just 38.5%. If this area does not see improvement, I think he’ll line up on the wing, while assuming many of the center duties in the defensive zone. His skills defensively are just too good to completely over look.

As it stands currently, I have Benson at #5 on my personal rankings. When the dust settles at the end of the year, I anticipate Benson remaining in the top 10, and likely somewhere in the #4 to #7 range.

Latest Update

January 21, 2023


stats from InStat and EliteProspects

Prospect report written by Ben Jordan. If you would like to follow Ben on Twitter, his handle is @BJordanNHL.

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Scouting Report: Matvei Michkov

Photo Credit: Russian Look Ltd. / Alamy Stock Photo

Matvei Michkov scores…a lot. He’s been on everyone’s radar for years, and when you look at his production, it’s easy to see why. Although points ≠ good, it’s hard to ignore the impressiveness of his statistical profile. He’s a goal-scoring machine and the records seem to just keep piling up.

He debuted in the MHL (Russian junior league) as a 15-year-old, where he became the first U16 player to score a goal / point in the MHL. He put up 38 goals and 56 points in 56 games, earning him first place in the league in goals and eighth in points, behind players 3-4 years older than him, and earning him the most points and goals ever by a U17 player in the MHL. He really started to garner a lot more widespread attention when he dominated the U18 world championship, with 12 goals and 16 points in just 7 games. Ahead of other names in the tournament like Shane Wright and Connor Bedard; and good for 2.29 points per game, one of the highest ever in the tournament; just ahead of some names you may know, Alexander Ovechkin and Connor McDavid.

He followed that up the next year with 30 goals and 51 points in just 28 MHL games, for a cool 1.82 points per game, giving him a decent lead at first place in that category, as well as the highest points per game for a U18 player ever in the MHL. A fair bit ahead of Nikita Kucherov’s 1.41, while Kucherov was 6 months older.

Michkov was able to earn 13 games in the KHL (Russian pro league) as a 16-year-old, in which he put up 2 goals and 5 points (good enough for the highest points per game metric ever for a U18 player in the KHL), while averaging only about 8 minutes of ice time a night. He also scored 13 goals and 17 points in 17 MHL playoff games on the way to a championship, including the championship-winning goal, which was a lacrosse goal, because of course it was.

He started this season with SKA-Neva in the VHL (the AHL of the KHL) putting up 10 goals and 14 points in 12 games, tying the record for most goals by a draft-eligible player in the VHL, held by Ivan Miroshnichenko, who took 19 more games to do so. He also played 3 games in the KHL with SKA where he was held off the score sheet, but he only got a few minutes of ice time in each, so he wasn’t exactly given much opportunity. 

Since then he’s been loaned to Sochi in the KHL, where he should spend the remainder of his season. He’s been given a good opportunity there, and he’s made the most of it so far with 4 goals and 6 points in 11 games at the time of writing (January 18th, 2023), while playing on the by far worst team in the league. Impressive numbers for a draft year player in the KHL, and although it’s a small sample size, he’s on pace for the second highest point total and points per game for a draft year player in the KHL, as well as already tied for the second most goals; all behind only Vladimir Tarasenko.

These are all impressive numbers, but obviously, points don’t tell the whole story. Michkov’s become one of the more polarising players in this year’s draft, so let’s dive into it a bit.

Matvei Michkov is one of the smarter players I’ve watched this year. He dictates play, and always knows how to create the play he wants; he’s a painter, and the ice is his canvas. It feels as though he thinks two plays ahead of everyone else, and his anticipation and timing are impeccable. He knows where the puck is going before the puck itself does, and it always seems to gravitate towards him. He has the potential to be an offensive dynamo in the NHL, but he has some core issues that he’ll need to address if he intends to make it to that level.

Player Profile

D. O. B. – December 9, 2004
Nationality – Russian
Draft Eligibility – 2023
Height – 5’10”
Weight – 160 lbs
Position – Right Wing
Handedness – Left

Michkov’s Style of Play

Offense

Michkov thinks the game at a high level, and brings a more tactical approach. Every move he makes feels like a fragment of a fully mapped out sequence which ends with him putting the puck in the net. It sounds simple when it’s put that way, but I don’t see this kind of thinking out of most players. Little give-and-go plays up and down the ice, sometimes just edging slightly closer to the offensive zone, or to a scoring area; understanding that gaining even just a sliver of ice is progress towards the end goal. He has a high-level understanding of defensive gaps and manipulates them with ease; creating lots of space for himself and his teammates with constant delays and changes of pace, the aforementioned give-and-go plays, deceptive skating and handling ability, and a ton of patience.

It’s rare to see a player at 18 years old who is as composed with the puck as Michkov is. He has so much patience, is able to wait for the perfect play to present itself, and he’s very deceptive in his handling and skating, combining them to fake out and weave around opponents, creating as much time as he needs to find that perfect play. If he doesn’t find it, he tries to create it with crafty give-and-gos, handing the puck off and moving into the space it creates behind defenders while remaining open for a return pass. The downside here is that he often ignores open teammates or other plays in his search for the best one, in the end doesn’t find the play he wants, and just runs himself out of time and right into pressure. Patience is a very useful tool, but he needs to be more decisive.

He’s a pretty great forechecker, which I didn’t expect from him coming into the season. He’s usually F1 on the forecheck with Sochi, and he does a good job of it. He has an active stick and pressures the defense pretty well; he’s tenacious and quick, hounding the puck-carrier and forcing them to rush their decisions. But his play reading and anticipation serve him well playing any role, timing his activations into the play well to disrupt breakouts and force turnovers; capitalising on any mistake the defense makes.

His handling skill is good, he’s shifty and deceptive, and his hands are quick; he moves the puck across his body in an instant to avoid sticks, and he’s good at staying strong on the puck, maintaining control under pressure, and improvising quick stick movements to navigate tight situations. He struggles to corral pucks at times, and can bobble it a bit, but he recovers quickly and I don’t see it as a long-term concern. When making skill moves to beat 1-on-1 situations, he usually prefers to push the puck ahead and skate into it, rather than attempting a tricky dangle with the puck on his stick, which I think is good, especially considering his tendency to bobble it, and that he’s typically outmatched physically.

But what makes him dangerous is the way he’s able to combine his handling and his skating. He’s very deceptive and elusive, which helps to make up for his lack of speed; even standing still, it’s difficult to take the puck away from him. He’ll turn to the inside from the half wall to bait out a poke-check, then shift weight to his outside leg or make a quick mohawk turn to shield the puck and escape pressure, before accelerating quickly to get to the net. He uses the threat of his shot with quick hands and his innate ability to chain together an array of crafty moves to freeze defenders and make them look silly.

Michkov’s shot is what gets a lot of the attention, and it’s well deserved; I wouldn’t solidify his as the second best in the class (I’d put Dvorsky and Yager in that conversation as well), but it’s definitely up there. His shot is elite and should serve him well in the NHL. His release is quick and dynamic, he changes the angle on release, can score from any angle or distance with precision and power, and from any position / situation: to his side; in front; in his feet; on his backhand; behind his back; between his legs; you name it. He can get it off in heavy traffic and under tight pressure, making him a legitimate scoring threat any time he’s near the puck.

He can fire just as well from a standstill, off a pass or off the rush, and he’s capable of shooting in stride, although I’d like to see him utilise this a lot more. He tends to glide for a few steps before shooting, which makes him more predictable and may make him a less potent goal-scorer in the NHL.

What sets Michkov apart in terms of goal-scoring is his off-puck game. His sense of timing and positioning is exceptional; he does an excellent job of sneaking into space in the offensive zone with his stick on the ice, and making sure there’s always an open lane for his team to get him the puck. He finds open ice really well and reads the play well to figure out where he needs to be. Sometimes watching him you see him drift off to seemingly nowhere and you start to wonder what he’s doing, until you realise that he read the play around him perfectly and just knew exactly where to be. The natural ability he has to process the play, recognise space and lanes efficiently in the offensive zone and exploit them with perfect timing is great and projectable.

He’ll be a lethal weapon on the power play, and that’s one thing that I don’t think is in question. He’s great when he has open ice and time to work with, so it’s no surprise that he can take over the man advantage, and he’s shown that he can do so no matter where he’s used, on either wall, down low, bumper spot, or even net-front, he makes it work.

In terms of playmaking, he’s very good at creating plays that he is at the end of, but when it comes to creating plays for his team, it’s no secret that it’s not his strong suit; but I think there’s a lot more potential in this side of his game than he gets credit for. He’s good at drawing defenders away to open up passing lanes; his vision for passing is very good, he sees teammates really well, and thinks of creative ideas for passes and plays to make. His frequent use of soft area passes is something I particularly like, and I think shows a lot of promise. All of this is good, but his execution is quite poor a lot of the time. He’ll send soft passes to no one that are easily intercepted; he’ll miss his target a lot and often by a pretty significant margin; even when he hits close to his target, it’s often just off and difficult for his teammate to control.

When he attempts a pass, especially cross-ice, it’s often slow and weak, and sometimes predictable because he takes too long to dust off the puck first, particularly when passing directly in front of him; he leans over and drops low to the ice in an attempt to better its accuracy, but usually this fails. Not only is it more predictable, but I find that he misses his passes way more frequently when he does this compared to when he makes a quick pass without overthinking it. Sometimes you’ll see him make a pass and think “Whoa, where’s that been?”, and it does tend to be when he has to make a decision quickly. There are flashes of great playmaking, usually his teammates just aren’t able to finish.

In addition, his decision-making is questionable at times; and it’s difficult to say that he’s learning from his mistakes. He’ll frequently look off better plays in favor of trying to do too much himself, ignoring wide open teammates and too often just walking himself into trouble, usually resulting in a turnover at the offensive blue line, and sometimes an opposing breakaway. Decision-making can be improved, and this would be fine as a learning experience, but I’m not too sure if he’s learning at this point. This has been a consistent issue throughout the year, but I do believe this will improve with maturity and coaching, and it’s already improved a bit since moving to Sochi. I think it’s a positive that he has the confidence to try things, he just needs to do a bit less; it’s a team sport, and if he can be less selfish with the puck, it’ll unlock a ton of new opportunities for him.

However, I’ve found many times that he runs into trouble, it’s partially due to a lack of support from his teammates. Sometimes he’s waiting for a teammate to read what he’s doing and activate into the play like he would, but they don’t see it like he does, and he doesn’t have a plan B. Michkov recognises the basics: one player creates space, and the next occupies that space; he does an amazing job of moving into space without the puck and being aware to remain in an advantageous spot at all times, but when he tries to create it, his teammates so often fail to execute on the second part. Is he at fault for that? A little bit. Tunnel visioning into that one perfect play he wants to create will probably lead to frustration more than anything, but it’s an interesting conundrum to have.

With Michkov, you have a player who often spots a great play that others don’t see, to get himself or a teammate into a dangerous area with the puck, but relies on others recognising space in the same way that he would, which a lot of players just don’t do well enough. If he is put into a position to succeed, with linemates who can read off of him and vice versa, I think the sky’s the limit with Michkov.

Defense

I won’t drag on about the defense too long, but it’s not a strength. That said, I expected a change of situation and coaching would improve his defense rather drastically, and I do think it has. Previously, he wasn’t really trying, and while that’s definitely still the case sometimes, overall the effort level has improved quite a bit. He no longer blows the zone early constantly, he doesn’t lag behind the play nearly as much, and he makes an effort on the backcheck when necessary. He’s very good at reading play and has a good sense for positioning, so I still think the defense is mostly just a matter of effort for him, and it’s good to see him putting in more.

With Sochi he’s seemingly turned into a shot-blocking machine for some reason, he seems to be puckwatching a fair bit, drifting out of position, yet he’s always positioned perfectly in shooting lanes, and it’s kinda fun to watch, but it’s good and bad. It seems as if blocking shots is all he’s really thinking about for defense, and there is a bit more to it than that. He doesn’t try to disrupt passing lanes much unless the puck is along the half wall, he mostly just pressures the point and blocks shots well; he’ll charge up from down low to cut off the angle, and he’s got good reflexes and positioning for shot-blocking.

He usually stays high in the defensive zone, but he drops low to support his defenseman, and does a decent job of it; his positioning low in the zone isn’t typically great, but it’s fine enough. He makes an effort to always be a good outlet option on breakouts. He looks to position himself advantageously to be the first one on rebounds / loose pucks down low, and he often is; but usually his first instinct upon retrieving the puck is to clear it, or make a short pass to a teammate, and in both situations he often is too soft and turns it back over. As well, his commitment to the point man can sometimes lead to him overextending and letting opponents walk by him.

Transitional Play

Give-and-gos are the name of the game with Michkov, he’s always looking to create space and open up defenses with them, long or short. He’ll make quick short passes to teammates on the rush before charging ahead to be an option, or pass back to his defense with the plan of getting it back with more open ice. 

Like in this clip: he spins out of pressure, buys some time for his teammates to change, passes back to his defenseman and immediately heads up ice to receive a return pass, beating the first defender. This is a common occurrence in his game, and it shows strong awareness, as well as an ability to read the ice well and plan ahead. He then catches the second defender flat-footed, fakes a move to the inside, before putting it between his legs and driving the net, showing some manipulation ability. The move likely won’t work in the NHL, especially with the lack of speed on display, but it’s fun in the VHL.

I’m not yet convinced that Michkov will be able to consistently drive transitional play at 5v5 in the NHL, largely due to his low pace, but he’s more than capable in the KHL. When you give him the puck to rush up the ice on his own, it’s essentially a free zone entry nearly every time. He’s so naturally shifty and deceptive, with constant head fakes and the endless repertoire of skilled moves at his disposal making him unpredictable, forcing opponents to either stay back or get beat, and either way, Michkov’s done his job.

He’s good at positioning himself between defenders and keeping the puck a safe distance away from opposing sticks with quick puck movements, keeping the puck close to bait poke-checks before extending his reach. These rushes usually end with him cutting to the middle and taking a shot through the remaining defenders from the high slot, or if he doesn’t see a lane, handing it off to a teammate at the blue line. I’d like to see him try more often to use these rushes to set up plays at 5v5 rather than just shooting most times and forfeiting possession, but either way, he creates chances.

But even if he’s not able to drive transition on his own, he can connect plays together well, and he’s good at creating and maintaining open space for his team or himself. Surveying the ice, moving laterally and adjusting his speed to manipulate defenders or preserve a good gap and remain open on the rush, either drawing defenders further from the puck-carrier or making himself a suitable passing option.

Skating

Michkov is a great skater in terms of agility and quickness, but he lacks a high-end top speed. He has quick feet and good first steps, he uses crossovers to gain momentum and generate speed quickly, then combines quick short strides with more crossovers, adding a level of natural deception to his movement. He can turn on a dime, pivot quickly, and has good form to his cutbacks; and his edgework is great; he loves to open up his hips and use heel-to-heel turns to spin off pressure, accelerate quickly, or fake out opponents, allowing himself more time and space to work with.

He’s able to change speed quickly and effortlessly, and adapt his speed to the play with ease, slowing down to remain a passing target in open space, or matching opponents’ speed when needed to retain a favorable gap. But the lack of high speed may hurt him at higher levels as the pace of play ramps up.

Projection

Projecting to the NHL is where a lot of the holes in Michkov’s game start to present themselves, and as you dig deeper, you find more questions than answers.

For starters, he doesn’t play with much pace. He can be slow on reads sometimes, but more commonly, as I touched on before, he’s slow in his decision-making. To me, this is perhaps the most glaring issue in Michkov’s game, and it leads to many more. Now, away from the puck it’s mostly fine, he reacts quickly, executes his routes without hesitation and reads play around him efficiently; but with the puck, it’s a different story.

He’ll carry the puck for what feels like minutes at a time, and pass up on countless good passing lanes while he does, and I don’t believe that he doesn’t see them, he just won’t pick one. If he finally does pick one, the lane’s already closed because even then, he took too long to choose it. And if he doesn’t, it’ll typically end with either a low percentage shot, or a frantic attempt to force a pass through traffic, resulting in a turnover. He’ll regularly just slow down and glide around with his feet far apart while he looks for his next play, and this seems to be a crutch for him, but again, he’s indecisive; he needs to execute decisions quickly, or be far less reliant on it, unless he wants to get crunched.

He’s overly reliant on time and space that he’s just not going to have in the NHL. This all works great at lower levels, which makes a lot of sense as to why he’s always been so dominant against junior competition, but he seems to have stagnated a bit in this aspect, and when you take that into account, his future in the NHL suddenly becomes a lot more blurry. If he can figure out how to consistently make decisions at a higher pace, then I’m not too concerned about the other issues; but that’s a big if.

I have seen an ability to adapt to a higher pace game like with Sochi in the KHL, the decision-making is still behind, but it’s a bit better, which is promising, but whether or not he’ll be able to adapt to NHL pace is another question. I do think he can, he adapted pretty seamlessly to higher pace with Sochi, and I think he’ll only get better over time. I think as soon as he can’t get away with the slow play, it’ll be gone. I’ve noticed his pace of play change from game to game depending on the situation. When the other team is more passive, he’ll play as slow as they’ll let him, but if the game’s fast, he still plays his game no problem, just with more pace to it, and he makes decisions a bit more quickly and with more confidence. I’d like to see him bring a higher pace no matter the situation, but I do believe it will come.

I’ve been impressed with the physical side of his game, especially when it comes to offensive puck retrievals, but it’s also a bit terrifying with how unafraid he is. He’s stronger than he looks, he throws his shoulder into opponents to win tight races for the puck, plays inside contact pretty well, uses his body well for smart pick plays to buy time for his team, and his puck protection mechanics are legitimately good, but there’s a question of NHL translatability.

He can handle physical battles decently at lower levels, but he’ll probably need to bulk up a fair bit if he intends to play this way down the road, and his style of play will get him into trouble if he’s not able to. He’s usually pretty strong on his feet, but he can still get outmuscled fairly easily, he skates with his head down way too often, relies on puck protection with his body, and walks himself into bad situations where he’ll get levelled in the NHL. I think bulking up, gaining more strength, is something that he should focus on if he wants to keep playing the way that he does.

Shot selection is another area of Michkov’s projection that’s a bit murky, and while I think he’s far from the worst case of poor shot selection out there, he is a frustrating one. I don’t think most of the shots that he takes are necessarily terrible, the issue is that he has the skill, and often the space, to create much better looks than he takes. He’s hesitant to take pucks to the inside sometimes, and just ends up taking long shots from the perimeter that are relatively easy to handle. His shot makes him a threat from anywhere, but he’s such a talented goal-scorer in tight that it’s frustrating to see him not really try to create better opportunities, when I know he can do things like this:

When he finds himself low in the offensive zone with possession, he opts to shoot from along or behind the goal line nearly every time, and usually just misses entirely. He’s scored many goals that way at the junior level, and his shot is definitely good enough to make it work, so it’s understandable that he wants to attempt it, but I’d like to just get in his ear a bit and tell him not to try and force it. When he has the amount of space that he so often has, just look for a better option.

I fully expect Michkov to be all over the place on draft boards for the rest of the year, because it largely comes down to whether or not you believe he can overcome these issues. It may end up being a bad bet to make, but as I’ve said, I do think he can. Personally, I value his processing of the game and the dynamic qualities in his game over all, and it could very well blow up in my face in a few years, but I believe in him figuring it out, at least at the time of writing this.

I do believe there exists a top line, dynamic game-changing offensive player in Michkov, but it’s far from a sure thing; there’s a lot of risk involved and it should be no surprise that he’s falling down draft lists. And to be clear, no, it has nothing to do with Russia or his KHL contract; I feel like I have to mention that. I see the KHL contract as a good thing, I think rushing him to the NHL is the worst thing you could do for him, so it’s good that he’ll take more time to mature and work on his game in Russia before coming over.

This report may have come across as overly negative, but in spite of everything I’ve said, I’m a big fan of Michkov. He’s found success at every level he’s played at, and I don’t see that changing. The awareness, vision, processing of play, shooting and off-puck instincts, playmaking potential, and the combination of skills make up a really enticing package. I’ll be keeping a close eye on him for the next few years, and I’m very interested to see where he ends up.

Latest Update

January 19, 2023


stats from InStat and EliteProspects

Prospect report written by Gray Matter. If you would like to follow Gray on Twitter, his handle is @grismatter.

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Scouting Report: Luca Cagnoni

Photo Credit: Megan Connelly / Portland Winterhawks

Luca Cagnoni is a 2023 NHL Draft eligible defenseman, who hails from Burnaby, British Columbia. Cagnoni plays for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. 

Cagnoni was not selected in a WHL draft, but was listed and signed by the Portland Winterhawks in March of 2020. He had been playing for the Burnaby Winter Club U18 team (CSSHL U18) and had been in the Burnaby Winter Club program throughout this youth. 

In the Smaht Scouting preliminary rankings, Cagnoni was ranked #25. Leading up to the months before Cagnoni’s draft year season kicked off, I watched quite a bit of Cagnoni tape and immediately saw the package of tools in his tool belt and immediately starting thinking that if he could put all of the tools together that he could be a truly dynamic puck moving defenseman. I don’t want to spoil the rest of the report, but he has put the tools together and has been a great defenseman for Portland this year.

Player Profile

D.O.B – December 21, 2004
Nationality – Canadian
Draft Eligibility – 2023
Height –5’10″
Weight –172 lbs
Position – Defense
Handedness – Left

Cagnoni’s Style Of Play

Offense

As you can expect given Cagnoni’s puck moving tendencies, he likes to pinch up quite a bit throughout each game. It doesn’t matter if Cagnoni has the puck, regardless he will pinch up. When in possession of the puck at the point and he sees open ice leading to the slot, he takes it. When he doesn’t have the puck, sees a teammate skating with the puck and an attacker bearing down on him, Cagnoni will skate into open ice to provide an outlet lane. Once in possession, he looks to drive into the slot and then feather passes to open teammates. Should an attacker come skating him to shut him down, he will use his handling, reach and shiftiness to manipulate attackers to one side, then pivot out and quickly find a tight passing lane to exploit. For instance, check out this primary assist that he had against Victoria in which he skated up to the attacker and kept the puck in front of the attacker, then peeled away and passed through a very tight lane to a teammate at net front. 

As I just mentioned in the above section, Cagnoni is a dynamic puck moving defenseman. We will discuss in more detail later in on the transitional play section, but Cagnoni’s ability to move up the ice at a quick pace with possession of the puck has led a lot of scoring chances for the Portland Winterhawks. When you watch Portland games, Cagnoni more often than not is the F1. Right after skating into the zone, he will look to force his way into high pressure situations. He wants to attack the middle of the ice and draws the attack immediately when he skates to the perimeter line. In situations in which he is taking on multiple attackers, he overcommits and tries to shift the puck around the pressure. Sometimes he works the half-wall boards when taking on a few attackers, but he will end up getting trapped more often than not. In those particular situations, the defensive unit has the upper hand and can start to isolate Cagnoni from outlet lanes. In those situations Cagnoni will try to bail himself out with a cross ice pass, but it will be through a tight lane and those passes more often then not are well-tracked by the opponent and intercepted. 

Instead of trying to immediately engage multiple attackers, Cagnoni should either look to delay and wait for outlet options or dump the puck into the corner and hope that a teammate in stride will be able to keep his speed in order to win the puck. 

When facing one attacker, he can get good separation when stick-handling around attackers in the offensive zone when he is skating towards medium danger. For instance, check out Cagnoni shifting the puck around Carson Lambos. Shifts the puck around Lambos, has good reach that allows him to extend the puck out, secure and then drives to the net. 

Cagnoni’s puck distribution is also well-developed. When he skates into pressure and looks to complete a pass, he tends to use whatever lane is given to him. With that said, he will resort to passing underneath the attacker’s stick when he has no other lane to exploit. When the pressure is far more relaxed, he can wire quick passes from the blue line to a teammate positioned cross ice in a back door shooting position. He loves to key up one-timer opportunities for his teammates in back door situations.

When his center wins a face-off draw in the offensive zone and he captures possession of the puck immediately after the face-off victory, Cagnoni isn’t looking to hang around with the puck for long. As soon as he sees a teammate find open space down low, he looks to feather a pass in. Sometimes, he will put a bit too much power behind those passes and it’ll be difficult for his teammate to secure, but it’s great to see him look to get the puck to open teammates down low quickly. 

Cagnoni’s shot is definitely an area that is still in development. He struggles at elevating his shot. For the most part when shooting from the perimeter or the blue line, he ends up firing a lot of low shots. Shots that the goaltender can easily track and make a clean save on. When he tries going glove high with his shot, his shot ending up right at the goaltender’s glove. Since Cagnoni does struggle with shot elevation, when he does look to shoot from range, he ends up targeting situations in which there is a lot of traffic at net front, so he can get a shot on net in which the goaltender will struggle with tracking. For instance, check out Cagnoni’s wrist shot low blocker side goal that he scored against Kamloops with traffic.

Defense

Carter Sotheran didn’t come up in the offensive zone, but I do need to bring him up now. I truly love the Luca Cagnoni – Carter Sotheran pairing. For Sotheran, he is used as more of a defensive defenseman in his role. Given how elusive Cagnoni can be in transition and in the offensive zone, there are plenty of shifts in which Cagnoni is slightly out of position and thus the Winterhawks need to call upon a defensive defenseman with great east-west speed who can shut down the opposition rush well. I just love the pairing because it’s allows Cagnoni to showcase his exceptional transitional play and Portland still knows that Cagnoni has a reliable defensive partner to back him up. With all of that said, there are plenty of shifts in which Sotheran handles the bulk of the board battles on both sides (left and right) behind the red line since he is bit stronger with his physicality than Cagnoni. That allows Cagnoni to patrol the slot and puts him in a prime position to kick off the rush by establishing an open outlet passing lane.

While Sotheran does a good job of closing out gaps and routinely will handle board battles for the defensive unit, Cagnoni does an excellent job of closing out gaps himself. He does a good job of staying toe to toe with the attacker who is trying to shift the puck around in the corner. When the attacker pivots, Cagnoni pivots and remains in position with the attacker. Cagnoni’s pressure will be a bit laid back when working the low danger boards. He’s not in your face. He is there at a distance and stays in tow. When he is skating neck and neck with attackers, you can expect that he will lift up his stick to irritate attackers and cause puck disruption. Once he grabs a hold of the puck after shaking the attackers off of the puck, he quickly completes an outlet pass. 

While he does do a good job at stick lifting to cause puck disruption, he doesn’t have a true active stick. When defending against the rush, he isn’t assertive with his active stick until the rush gets into medium danger. He follows along till the attack gets in medium danger and then extends his stick out to take away space. But, I’d like to see him far more assertive when defending and develop an active stick. An active stick would allow him to manipulate oppositional puck movement and ultimate would allow him to close out gaps quicker. 

When Sotheran is defending against the puck carrying attacker who is driving the rush, Cagnoni does a great job at implementing tight back check pressure on the non puck carrying attacker who is skating through centered ice. Cagnoni will also lift his stick and extend it towards the attacker’s stick to make it a challenge for the attacker to grab a hold of the puck when an attacker passes them the puck. Even when the attacker can grab a hold of the puck, Cagnoni is right on the attacker and giving him absolutely no room. 

Cagnoni isn’t a physical defenseman, but he will engage in hip and shoulder checks from time to time. He will hip check to get the advantage in loose puck board battles in his own zone and complete shoulder checks at open ice to neutralize oppositional rush attempts. 

When he picks up possession of a loose puck behind the red line, he usually slows the pace down and jump starts the pace when the attacker comes in range. But, when the attacker comes into range, sometimes he will coast before deploying crossovers and thus doesn’t get the immediate acceleration that he needs to create separation. Instead of coasting initially, I’d like to see him activate once drawing the attacker in. 

While we do see instances in which Cagnoni struggles to activate quickly when the attack is closing in. He has excellent reach and will use it to steer the puck around heavy traffic. But, not only does he have really good reach, but he is also quite good at manipulating the attacker in and then using his reach to push the puck away from the attacker and then skate up the defensive zone. After manipulating the attacker and skating into space, he will then deliver a quick feed to a teammate in the neutral zone. In the clip below from a November 19th contest against Kamloops, he draws the attacker into the position of the loose puck by changing his pace when closing in on the loose puck. He lures the attacker to a certain spot by changing his pace and quickly uses his reach to get the puck away from pressure. 

Cagnoni’s reach and manipulation allows him to be rather crafty when pressure is closing in on him. But, he also is a great problem solver. When Cagnoni acquires loose pucks and the pressure is amounting, he will usually decide to shift further back into his own zone. Draws the pressure in and also draws passing options by allowing his teammates an opportunity to establish open ice. If he isn’t changing his pace, he usually is doubling back with speed and looking to find a different lane to use.

Cagnoni’s problem solving isn’t just evident when turning back from pressure to regroup or doubling back and quickly using a different lane. There are plenty of instances in which Cagnoni draws heavy pressure and has to get crafty to get the puck away from danger. You will see him complete backhand shovel passes to a teammate with open ice when two attackers were closing in on him. He quickly identified his open teammate, the pressure and the lane to use. In addition, he deciphers what type of pass would be the most optimal. Cagnoni will also complete drop passes when running into pressure and he has a teammate skating in from behind. Plus, he does a great job of identifying passing lanes that he can use underneath attacker’s sticks and quickly taking that lane.

When Cagnoni doesn’t have possession of the puck, he is constantly looking to use his straight line speed to get him aligned with his puck carrying attacker in order to provide an outlet lane. 

Transitional Play

Cagnoni will be very assertive with his positioning when he spots a vulnerable attacker who has their back turned to him. He will use his speed to get in position, skate right behind the attacker and extend his stick out to the attacker’s stick to cause puck disruption. Cagnoni might struggle to net possession of the puck afterwards as the puck peels further away, but his ability to strip the puck away could lead to his teammates grabbing a hold of possession. 

As I mentioned in the defensive section, Cagnoni doesn’t have an active stick, but I have to imagine that he was adopt one over time. Even though he doesn’t have an active stick, he does an excellent job maintaining good positional alignment on puck carriers. When he is aligned with attackers, he can use his stick lifting to make up for the active stick. 

Cagnoni thrives when in possession of the puck in the neutral zone. His distribution and his speed make him tough to shut down. Cagnoni builds up acceleration through his crossovers and will rotate from those crossovers to straight line skate extensions. But, his edges and crossovers allow him to shift skating lanes on the fly as he looks to adjust his positioning in comparison to the opposition. 

My favorite shifts when watching Cagnoni are the shifts in which he looks to complete a give and go zone entry. While on the move through the neutral zone and he sees a winger right on the blue line, he will feed a pass to his teammate. His teammate becomes the F1 and Cagnoni grabs open ice in medium danger. That allows his teammate to create a scoring chance as Cagnoni opens the passing lane for him to utilize and it shows you how Cagnoni can manipulate oppositional pressure by dictating who they should be focused on.

Cagnoni shows off his problem solving trait quite a bit when moving the puck from zone to zone. Should he walk into a tight pressured situation, he will button hook and double back and regroup. In some cases he will use his crossovers to pick up speed and use another skating lane in, but he loves to use his crossovers to gain just the amount of separation he needs to send a pass to an open teammate. 

But, Cagnoni won’t back off if the pressure isn’t tightening up. If the pressure is more relaxed, he does a good job at using his mobility to pivot and find an open teammate to deliver a pass to. 

In situations in which he picked up the loose puck in the neutral zone, he doesn’t hold onto the puck for long because he expects that if he didn’t see an attacker skating with him to the puck that one is coming. So, he quickly delivers a pass to the closest open option. 

Skating

I’ve talked about Cagnoni’s skating throughout the report, so I’m going to use this section as more of a recap.

Cagnoni possesses a great forward stride extension with length that allows him get to loose pucks. His crossovers allow him to build up acceleration nicely and he will lean on his edges to retain speed when shifting lanes in the neutral zone. 

Cagnoni does need to work a bit on activating after slowing down the tempo in his own zone and wanting to pick up speed to skate away from pressure. Sometimes when activating after shifting from skating backwards to skating forwards, his activation is slightly delayed and that will lead to more contested puck battles.

Projection

If you liked Olen Zellweger in his draft year, you are going to be a fan of Luca Cagnoni. Everything that I liked in Olen, I see the same in Cagnoni. 

The mobility, the speed, the creativity, the distribution and the defensive positioning. 

Cagnoni’s ability to assess and deliver positive results consistently off the rush is going to pay off at the NHL level. 

I see a top 4 NHL defenseman in Cagnoni.  

Latest Update

January 17, 2023


stats from InStat and EliteProspects

Prospect report written by Josh Tessler. If you would like to follow Josh on Twitter, his handle is @JoshTessler_.

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Scouting Report: Nate Danielson

Photo Credit: Jeremy Champagne / Brandon Wheat Kings

Nate Danielson is a 2023 NHL Draft prospect, who hails from Red Deer, Alberta and plays for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. Danielson was selected in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft by Brandon and made his WHL debut during the 2020-2021 season. Prior to joining the Wheat Kings, he was playing U18 hockey for the Red Deer Chiefs AAA club and for Northern Alberta X-Treme Prep.

Last season, Danielson was a point per game player with 57 points in 53 games. At the time of writing this report (January 8, 2023), Danielson had tallied 49 points in 38 games. At the midway point in the season, Danielson isn’t far off from matching his point total from last season.

Player Profile

D.O.B – September 27, 2004
Nationality – Canadian
Draft Eligibility – 2023
Height –6’1″
Weight –185 lbs
Position – Center
Handedness – Right

Danielson’s Style Of Play

Offense

When he skates into the zone as the F1 and looks to pass to a teammate in the slot as he is driving along the half-wall, but can’t find a quality lane to use because of pressure, he will look to pass back to the perimeter / point. Sometimes he will wait at the point for a teammate to find open ice at the point and then Danielson will look to complete a lateral feed. When Danielson is skating with the puck along the half-wall and he nets enough separation from the attacker who is covering him and blocking lanes to the slot, Danielson will bring the puck to the corner and look to complete a pass to a teammate closer to net front. Usually Danielson is looking to complete a pass before pressure truly tightens up because he will struggle with stick-handling around pressure in tight situations. Instead, when the attack closes in, he does a good job of utilizing whatever space he has. He will complete passes underneath the attacker’s stick to teammates in the slot or between the attacker’s skates. Danielson isn’t indecisive. As soon as he identifies space to use, he attempts a pass. Doesn’t waste time because he knows that the gap won’t be available for long.

While Danielson struggles to stick-handle around tight pressure, he does a good job of shoveling the puck away from attackers and then utilizing his speed and reach to regain control of the puck quickly. So, in tight loose puck battles at open ice, Danielson can leverage those tools to not only win possession, but then create quite a bit of separation for himself.

When skating behind the rush and looking to create puck disruption, he will look to stop the rush from exiting the zone by lifting his stick. He has excellent reach that he can rely on when lifting his stick, so that he doesn’t always have to be neck and neck with an attacker to cause puck disruption. He can be slightly further back and still manage to dismantle the rush.

When skating after oppositional puck movement deep in the offensive zone, he builds up quite a bit of speed on the forecheck with his crossovers, but then ends up coasting. Coasting limits Danielson’s ability to be physical along the boards. Instead of completing a hip or shoulder check to silence puck movement, the attacker has plenty of time and space to complete an outlet pass. Should the puck carrier look to move laterally behind the red line, Danielson will struggle with aligning himself to the puck carrier and that largely can be attributed to Danielson’s shortened stride length when skating east – west. 

In situations in which Danielson doesn’t have possession of the puck but his team is running the cycle, should his defenseman pinch up, he drops back and covers for the defenseman at the point. When his teammates have the puck at the point, Danielson positions himself in the low slot to screen the opposing goaltender and give his teammates a passing option to high danger. Danielson does a good job of constantly moving his feet and finding open ice when they cycle is moving around the offensive zone. He quickly identifies where his teammates are, where the pressure is and re-positions himself into open ice.

Danielson’s shot is well-developed. His shot selection is quite good. He doesn’t usually take shots from low danger unless he has no other option on the table. If he has a passing lane at his fingertips, he doesn’t debate about whether or not he takes it or not. He takes it. Aside from his shot selection, he has had quite a bit of success from range with his wrist shot this season, especially with the attack closing in on him. In situations in which Danielson can’t get a clean shot off right away due to the positioning of the opposing defenseman. He will look to coast towards the corner and manipulate the defenseman’s positioning. The defenseman shifts over and has created a quality shooting lane for Danielson. Danielson knows that he can’t use a wrist shot as the wind-up will delay his shot, so he fires a top shelf shot blocker side (far side).  Danielson’s ability to move attackers with his own positioning allows him to be a consistent producer at 5v5 in WHL play.

Danielson also does a good job of tracking oppositional puck movements / outlet passing. He will track the trajectory and skate into passes. Danielson has a few goals this season that have come off of interceptions. Once he has possession of the puck, he will skate to net front and manipulate / shift the goaltender over to create a gap for him to exploit. For example, check out this goal that he scored against Kamloops from back in October.

Here is another goal that he scores after netting the puck via an interception at open ice.

Defense

Danielson’s defensive play is a bit inconsistent. There are a lot of shifts in which he is the last skater back into the zone. He will coast back into the defensive zone. But, there are plenty of shifts in which he will be impactful on the back check. The situations in which Danielson is the last skater back into the defensive zone usually happens when Brandon has driven the rush up the ice, cycled the puck in the offensive zone and then turned over possession. Instead of using his straight line speed to hustle back on the back check, he spots that 3-4 teammates are headed back into the defensive zone at a quick pace and then decides to coasts. Danielson doesn’t leave his defensemen in a lurch. If he identifies that teammates are headed back, he shortens his stride and then coasts, but only to put himself in open ice at the defensive zone blue line. By acquiring open ice at the defensive zone blue line, he opens up a passing option for the teammate who captures possession of the puck. Danielson can then grab a hold of the puck and use his straight line speed to carry the puck back up the ice. The shifts in which Danielson is more impactful defensively occurs when his teammates aren’t in position to face the rush. If Danielson is closer to the defensive zone, he will hustle back. When he is facing the rush in the defensive zone, he does a good job of taking away space for attackers at the point to force ill-advised shots, blocked shots and turnovers in possession. Should pucks come loose, Danielson is quick on his feet, he will capture possession and drive the rush up the ice. Danielson also does a good job of taking up space in the slot and force puck carrying attackers to take medium danger shots versus high danger shots when the attackers are in the slot with the puck. He also does job of defending behind the red line and will put pressure on an attacker behind the red line who is trying to corral loose pucks. The attacker is in a rather vulnerable spot given that he doesn’t have a lot of time to secure the puck with Danielson closing in on him. 

As mentioned earlier, Danielson does a great job of establishing open ice to create outlet passing lanes. Once he has possession of the puck and traffic picks up, he does a good job of shaking out of pressure by pivoting quickly.

But, he doesn’t just look to pivot away from pressure. If he has pressure closing in on him and he spots a teammate who is further up in the defensive zone and open then he will look to complete an outlet pass to them. Danielson doesn’t have the handling to shake free, so he makes up for that with well-timed passes to his teammates using whatever space he has in front of him. But, Danielson doesn’t just look to pass when dealing with traffic. If pressure is a bit more relaxed and he spots an open teammate closer to the blue line, he will attempt a pass to that teammate. 

If the pressure is rather relaxed and teammates are skating aligned to Danielson’s positioning, that’s when he breaks out his lengthy straight line extensions and drives the puck out of the zone.

Transitional Play

While he does struggle with handling in close quarters, Danielson does do a good job of securing the puck when pressure is skating towards him. He shifts the puck to his backhand or forehand (depending on if the attacker is approaching on the left side or the right side) and doesn’t expose the puck to the attacker. Should pressure close in on him head on, Danielson does identifies space that he can use to pass to an open teammate (underneath the stick of the attacker or between the attacker’s skates) and completes the pass which open space is present. Danielson is quick with his decision making and as mentioned earlier he doesn’t dilly dally. 

From a defensive perspective, when it appears that there is an odd man rush brewing, he uses his straight line skate extensions to put himself in position to cover an open attacker. But, in particular, the open attacker who is closer to the slot. 

If Danielson is at the point and an oppositional rush breaks out, he quickly puts himself in gear to skate back into the neutral zone so he can face the rush head on. Also, in situations in which one of Danielson’s defensemen coughs up possession of the puck at the point and he is slightly further in the offensive zone, he will use his speed to put himself in a position to cover for his defenseman. 

But, in general, as we discussed in the defensive section, Danielson doesn’t always skate back into the neutral zone at speed. He will look to be the last skater back into the defensive zone and provide his defensemen with a passing lane to exploit in order to get the puck back into the neutral zone quickly. 

Skating

Danielson crossovers allow him to generate great activation. When driving the rush down the half-wall, he will us his crossovers to generate separation for himself down low. He will also use his crossovers to carve out open ice for himself when the F1 is looking to complete a pass to the slot. Danielson’s crossovers provide him with enough speed to skate by puck watching attackers, catch them off guard and create passing lanes to the backdoor. After activating his speed, he uses lengthy skate extensions to maintain his speed and that comes in handy when he is looking to fly through the neutral zone with possession of the puck. 

While Danielson does have a lengthy stride extension that he can use to maintain speed, there are plenty of times in which he fails to deploy those extensions and ends up coasting. By coasting, he loses all of his speed and has to activate once again. Sometimes that works to his benefit as he can delay puck movement to confuse the attack, but it does hurt him on the forecheck from a physicality perspective. Occasionally, he will end up coasting off puck after deploying crossovers at open ice and that makes it difficult for his teammates to gauge whether or not they can hit Danielson in stride with a well-timed pass.

The last thing that I wanted to touch on from a skating perspective is a habit that I’ve seen Danielson use frequently. When keeping himself aligned with his teammate to keep a passing lane alive in transition, sometimes he will keep his skate extended too long to slow himself down because he is scared about picking up too much speed and losing the alignment / lateral passing lane. If his teammate were to deliver a pass to him while Danielson is holding his non-plant foot in place for too long, it could lead to either Danielson falling forward and / or lead to Danielson struggling to use his reach effectively to capture possession of the puck. It also hurts his ability to quickly activate speed once he captures possession of the puck. 

Projection

While Danielson’s development is still in progress, he brings quite a bit of quality tools to the table like his ability to generate quality speed in transition, his manipulation tactics to open up space for himself and quick decision making under pressure. Those tools allow him extremely effective at the WHL level and are going to come in handy once again at the NHL level. I have no doubt that Danielson is going to be an effective NHLer in a middle six role. The vision that Danielson has is going to lead to a lot of quality scoring chances in NHL play. He is going to be able to put pucks into high danger areas consistently because of how quick he is to identify space to use when traffic becomes daunting. Should he run out of options, he has a lethal shot that he can use from range. 

At the end of the day, whoever takes Danielson is getting a player with an extremely safe floor and a second line ceiling. 

Latest Update

January 9, 2023


stats from InStat and EliteProspects

Prospect report written by Josh Tessler. If you would like to follow Josh on Twitter, his handle is @JoshTessler_.

Looking for other scouting reports? Check out the Prospects tab for our other scouting reports.

Need a scouting report on a particular prospect, contact us today!

Scouting Report: Connor Bedard

Photo Credit: Keith Hershmiller / Regina Pats

Connor Bedard is the top prospect in the 2023 NHL Draft on the Smaht Scouting Preliminary Rankings.

He has spent the last three seasons, including this one with the Regina Pats of the WHL. The North Vancouver native was selected by Regina first overall in the 2020 bantam draft following two spectacular seasons with the West Vancouver Hockey Academy, where the hype all began.

Last season with Regina, Bedard put up very impressive numbers, amassing 100 points (51 G, 49 A) in 62 contests. This was good for fourth in league scoring as well as fourth in points per game at 1.61. In competition with the top of his own age group last season (U18 and U20 competitions), Bedard has more than proven his offensive talent putting up 10 goals and 15 points in 11 games across both tournaments.

This season, at the time of writing this (December 30, 2022), Bedard has absolutely torched the WHL competition, with 27 goals and 64 points across 28 games, and I can’t see him wavering much at all from his current production.

Bedard is a prospect whose impact will be felt immediately, and in an immensely positive way. His uncanny release, and ability to read and feed off his teammates is what allows him to create so many positive offensive chances and put up the numbers that we have become accustomed to see from him. Below I’ll break down his play in all three zones, as well as look at his skating.

Player Profile

D.O.B – July 17, 2005
Nationality – Canadian
Draft Eligibility – 2023
Height –5’10”
Weight –185 lbs
Position – Center
Handedness – Right

Bedard’s Style of Play

Offense

Connor Bedard is a generational offensive talent. Simple as that. He overwhelms opponents with his speed, pace, and ability to put defenders on their heels, and can finish any play off with his lightning quick release. In the offensive zone, one thing I really gravitate to with Bedard is his ability to read off his linemates. He is great at pushing the pace and drawing in defenders, and has no problem being the playmaker when he sees fit. He also loves to shoot the puck. Every time he winds up, he puts everything he has into his shots. Bedard has a knack for finding and creating open ice for himself, which pairs beautifully with his release. He can curl and drag the puck in tight to his skates and doesn’t lose any power on his shots. This opens far more shooting lanes and increases deception for opposing goalies. Bedard’s play on the forecheck is a work in progress, which will naturally improve as he adds muscle and fills out his top half. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and isn’t shy of engaging in puck battles. When taking on bigger opponents he often gets rubbed out of the play.

Bedard is great at drawing in attention when carrying the puck. This frees up his teammates and creates many quality scoring chances. Here he pulls in all four defenders forcing them to collapse their box. This opens up his teammate for an uncontested grade A chance.

One of my favorite Bedard clips from last summers (2022) World Junior Hockey Championship. He had just turned 17….

Defense

Bedard is not very active when it comes to the defensive side of the game. In many of my viewings I see a lot of coasting, and really no hurry to track back into the play in his own end. When he his defending, I feel he is often quick to transition the play the other way and is often thinking ahead to how the play will develop leading to offense. Similar to someone like Connor McDavid, Bedard has the skill and hockey sense to develop his consistency and play in his own end, it wasn’t until McDavid’s fourth year in the NHL that he really honed in on this aspect of his game. Given Bedard’s generational offensive ability, this won’t hinder his draft stock.

Play in Transition

When defending in transition, Bedard is a passenger. He hovers up high and is looking to transition the play into offense. It’s not often that we see Bedard pressuring and pursuing the opposing puck carrier, but rather deferring to teammates. He is effective in the neutral zone lifting sticks of off-puck players in attempt to disrupt zone entries, and when eager to do so, Bedard has a great stick defending zone entries.

When transitioning the play from defense to offense, Bedard is a magician. He’s got all sorts of tricks in his hat. He can beat you 1 on 1 with his skill using quick agile movements or shoulder fakes. He can feed off his teammates and never has any trouble finding open ice for himself. When carrying the puck up ice, Bedard does a great job scanning and assessing his options. What’s so impressive is that while he’s doing that, he can still separate himself from defenders and create space using a plethora of different dekes and deception tactics.

Projection

Connor Bedard is an extremely gifted generational offensive talent. Whichever team is lucky enough to have the lottery balls fall their way will be sprinting to the podium on June 28th to draft Bedard. Bedard’s innate scoring ability is one that we haven’t seen in along time, and I could see Bedard as a challenger for the 50-goal mark in most seasons he is not hampered by injury. Whichever team ultimately selects Bedard won’t be challenging for a Stanley Cup in the next couple years, and the continuous losing may spark a commitment to the defensive side of the game for him, like we saw with Connor McDavid a few seasons back.

Latest Update

December 30, 2022


stats from InStat and EliteProspects

Prospect report written by Ben Jordan. If you would like to follow Ben on Twitter, his handle is @BJordanNHL.

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Need a scouting report on a particular prospect, contact us today!

Scouting Report: Adam Fantilli

Photo Credit: Michigan Photography

Adam Fantilli is the second ranked player on Smaht’s preliminary rankings and is currently the third leading scorer in the NCAA both in total points and in points per game. 

Fantilli took the road less traveled as the Toronto native ventured south of the border to play for the Chicago Steel the previous two seasons so that he could play college hockey for the University of Michigan in the United States during his draft eligible season. 

Last year Fantilli was in the top eight in the USHL scoring on a per game basis and was second on the Steel with 71 points which trailed only Jackson Blake on the Steel by three points despite playing seven less games. 

Coming into the year Fantilli was widely regarded as a possible top 5 pick, but by quantitative and qualitative analysis he continues to perform closer to the first overall ranked player than the other players in the top five. The 6’2 pivot has had a torrid start to his collegiate career and will hopefully continue to impress at the World Juniors where he’ll play a significant role for Team Canada. 

Player Profile

D.O.B – October 12, 2004
Nationality– Canadian
Draft Eligibility – 2023
Height –6’2″
Weight –187 lbs
Position – Center
Handedness – Left

Fantilli’s Style of Play

Offense

Adam Fantilli has every tool that an NHL team would dream of having with their top overall selection. He’s got the physical tools of size, strength, speed and lateral mobility. He has amazing puck skill with the ability to do it at full speed and in small area situations. He can protect the puck, put his shoulder down and power through a defender, or put it under a defender’s stick and put them through the spin cycle.

His vision is high-end with the ability to find lateral teammates and move defenders out of passing lanes to open up new scoring opportunities. He has a heavy wrist shot and a dynamite one-timer.  The power play could run through Fantilli or he could be the trigger man. 

My favorite aspect of Fantilli’s offensive game this year has been his puck skill and play creation. His ability to press up into a defender and then put the puck under the defenseman’s stick here and then the laser beam of a shot for a low danger goal is one of my favorite highlights from his season.

I believe one of his best traits as a hockey player is that Fantilli almost always instantly gets his head up to scan to the dangerous areas of the ice after he gets by a defender to thread a medium/high danger pass. Rarely does he make a move past a defender where his first thought isn’t to take advantage of the odd-man situation and put pressure on the defenders in front of him.

Fantilli’s puck skill isn’t just used in one-on-one situations. He’ll often problem solve complex situations by utilizing his puck skill to split defenders or to situate himself in a position where he can get by a defender and draw a supporting defender off a teammate which is where Fantilli goes almost immediately after seeing the situation develop.

The clip below you see Fantilli split two defenders and then go by a third defender by putting the puck inside and then under the stick outside before Gretzky turning out of the pressure to scan and hit an open teammate. The level of confidence to attempt a play like this is commendable, but to pull it off seamlessly is what makes Fantilli one of this draft’s truly special talents.

When Fantilli is at the top of his game he looks like an NHL player going to play in the beer league for a night. When he has the puck on his stick he makes it look like there isn’t a player in the NCAA who is going to be able to stop him and he does what he pleases while leaving defenders in the dust or made into highlight reel clips.

He invites pressure onto him before making high-end, precise passes. Whether it’s a no-look back pass below the goal line, or drawing a defender on him on the PP to open up a passing lane cross ice, Fantilli will often welcome defensive pressure to free up the spaces around him so he can hit open teammates moving towards the net or for an exit/entry. 

There really isn’t much to pick apart in his offensive game this year. There are times he can take a backseat to Mackie Samoskevich or Seamus Casey/Luke Hughes when they activate. The only real issue I see is nit-picky but he can have a little bit of an inversion complex on offensive zone entries. What I mean by this is that when he’s carrying the puck in the defensive zone or through the defensive blue line a lot of his best options to pass are in front of him and if he doesn’t see them then he knows he can reset and get better options out in front of him. When any player enters an offensive zone entry the play to be made will be coming laterally or from behind the player with the puck and out of their direct line of vision. There are multiple ways to counteract this issue, but the most conservative way is to dump the puck deep. When Fantilli can’t pre-scan before hitting the entry he will sometimes play too conservatively and dump the puck when he has great secondary options if he were to slow his pace down on the entry or open up upon the entry. 

Overall, he’s a dynamic offensive talent. When Fantilli has the puck on his stick he is one of the most fun players to watch in this draft class. He moves well off the puck to put himself in supportive positions and in positions to score. 

Defensive Game

Adam Fantilli is a player that I’ve had to blend the last two years together to really get a full read on his defensive game. This past year at Michigan, Fantilli is taking faceoff draws but then goes and plays a traditional winger’s role in the defensive zone and forecheck. He’s playing the points in the defensive zone, but his forechecking responsibility does vary but oftentimes he’s the F1/F2 role. 

Last year and coming into this year I thought Fantilli was one of the best two-way players coming into the 2023 draft. It wasn’t uncommon for him to have shifts like the one below where he utterly dominated a team all 200ft in the USHL.

This year I still see the same aggressive and hard-on-pucks style of defense from Fantilli. However I do think there have been a few instances where he’s been beat off the boards against smaller or quicker players as well a few times he’s flown the zone during inopportune times. While Mackie Samoskevich (#11) makes the most egregious error during this play: Fantilli gets beat on the wall to start the play (#19) by a very slick move by Ryan Healey. He then peels off very wide and gets above the puck and doesn’t move back to recover to the dangerous area cross ice path that Mackie abandons. 

Overall, he has a very active stick and is very good at separating players from the puck on the forecheck and along the boards. I wish I got to see him play a more traditional center role this year to better evaluate and project his defensive role for the NHL, but the tools are all there for a player who should be able to play down the middle in the NHL in a defensive capacity. 

What the Data Says

Adam Fantilli has had a very efficient microstat dataset across my three game tracking of him so far. He’s involved in 37% of Michigan’s successful offensive zone transitions. While this eludes the usual 40% marker I’m looking for; I think it’s important to note that Fantilli is playing with Mackie Samoskevich and either Seamus Case or Luke Hughes on every shift. With an aggressive activation strategy utilized by Michigan’s defenseman, Fantilli finds himself competing for transition opportunities. He’s taken 70% of his shot attempts from dangerous areas of the ice, and 17% of his passes are to the dangerous areas of the ice as well. He’s moderately involved in defensive zone transitions and very involved in creating forechecking turnover opportunities. His team has a 64% Corsi while he’s on the ice.

The only concerning part for me is that two of the three games Fantilli played in he only had two shot attempts 5v5. I’d like to see him take another step and get himself to shooting areas instead of looking to facilitate play around the zone. 

Projection 

I think Adam Fantilli has cemented himself as the #2 pick in the 2023 draft barring an extreme extenuating circumstance. I think there’s an argument to be made that Fantilli could be the number 1 pick in the 2023 draft for some NHL teams. I think his 200ft game and his ability to play through the middle with his size and speed could come into play for an NHL team trying to decide who to pick at #1.

I think as a player Fantilli projects as a top 6 center and most likely a top line center for a team that’s picking that high in the draft. I believe there’s still room for him to grow in terms of creating more opportunities for himself to score, and his playmaking/creating ability is already high-end. I think his defensive game will need some refinement but his motor and his time with the Steel has shown a player able to play a 200ft game.

Latest Update

December 26, 2022


stats from InStat and EliteProspects

Prospect report written by Austin Garrett. If you would like to follow Austin on Twitter, his handle is @BMaster716.

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Need a scouting report on a particular prospect, contact us today!

Scouting Profile: Leo Carlsson

Photo Credit: Örebro

Leo Carlsson is the top European prospect in the 2023 NHL Draft on the Smaht Scouting Preliminary Rankings. 

He has spent the last two seasons mainly playing in the SHL for Örebro. Carlsson has been in the Örebro system since 2020. Before Örebro, he was playing U16 and U18 hockey for Färjestad (his local club as Carlsson grew up in Karlstad, Sweden which is where Färjestad is based).

In his DY-1 campaign, he spent 14 games at the U20 level for Örebro and lit up the lamp. He tallied 27 points in 14 games. Carlsson was tied for first with Liam Öhgren for points per game at 1.93. Unstoppable. His performance at the U20 level proved that he was ready for the next challenge. Full-time SHL play and he is getting that this season. 

Carlsson is a prospect who can be a cornerstone player in a few years. His combination of speed and size can make him difficult to beat in every zone. In the next four sections, I’ll break down his play in all three zones and his skating.

Player Profile

D.O.B – December 26, 2004
Nationality – Swedish
Draft Eligibility – 2023
Height –6’3″
Weight –194 lbs
Position – Center/Wing
Handedness – Left

Carlsson’s Style Of Play

Offense

Carlsson’s forechecking is an area of his game that has extremely good promise, but is still in development. Carlsson’s position will be shifted throughout games. There are some shifts in which  he seems to be used as a center and some shifts in which he is being used on the wing. Since he is flipping back and forth, he seems to be a little unsure of what his role is supposed to be on the forecheck. He isn’t sure if he is supposed to be an outlet option should one of his teammates win possession of the puck in a loose puck battle or if he should be the one laying down checks behind the red line in loose puck battles. So, for the most part, Carlsson tends to play more of the center role on the forecheck. He keeps his feet moving down low to key up outlet passing lane options for his teammates to utilize. While Carlsson does end up adopting more of the center role, he does do a great job leveraging his speed to get himself into position to get the inside track on loose pucks when none of his teammates are anywhere near the puck. He will also look to leverage his upper body strength to push past attackers should it be a very tight contested battle in which Carlsson has to use his frame to get himself into position to win the puck. In addition to leveraging his speed and size to get the inside track on puck battles, he has the reach to take away passing lanes by aligning his stick blade with the attacker’s stick blade and trapping them. He also has the reach to stick lift and cause puck disruption when skating just slightly behind the attacker.

When he wins possession in loose puck battles, he doesn’t like to hold onto the puck for too long. Looks for options down low in the slot and wires passes to them. He knows that he can’t hold onto the puck for a while because he has pressure in his rearview mirror. So, he wires the pass to the high danger area.

Carlsson does an excellent job of creating space for himself in heavy traffic situations with puck manipulation. He shifts the puck towards the attacker and then cradles it quickly to the other side. Then he skates into open ice and can put a quality shot on net or pass the puck to an open teammate.

Sometimes he will look to curl the puck between his skates to put himself in a situation where he can try a backhand shot on net from an angle that is a bit more open versus if he had the puck out in front of him. Skates around the attacker and then can put a quality shot on net. 

Not only is his handling leading to quality opportunities for him, but he also does an excellent job of securing the puck while dealing with tight shoulder to shoulder pressure. But, not only can he maintain possession of the puck, he can also fire shots on net with pressure pushing into him.

When it comes to Carlsson cycling the puck, he runs the cycle extremely well no matter where he is in the offensive zone. Should he have the puck behind the red line, he looks to deliver quick feeds to the slot to net scoring chances. Carlsson has excellent vision and he identifies cross ice passing lanes in which he has to pass underneath the stick of an attacker while on the move. 

Usually when Carlsson carries the puck in the offensive zone, he stops at the point to wait for the F2 and F3 to skate into the zone. That allows him to survey the ice and where the attackers are in position to his teammates. When he spots that his teammate is skating to net front, if he doesn’t have any other great options, he will aim to get the puck to his teammate as soon as his teammate is at net front. Carlsson is wired to create high danger chances. 

When he doesn’t have possession of the puck but his teammates do, he will go up to the low slot and post up for deflections and tip-in opportunities. That has paid off in international play.

Should his teammates lose control of the puck, he usually falls back and plays conservatively as his teammates are slightly closer to the puck. 

The only area (aside from Carlsson becoming slightly more assertive and physical) in the offensive zone that needs further development is his shot. Carlsson struggles to connect on his one-timer shots. When he looks to shoot the one-timer, the stick blade isn’t connecting with the puck. He is mistiming when his stick blade should make contact with the puck. In addition, when on the move, a lot of his shots are going wide. His plant skate isn’t lining up towards the net and that doesn’t allow him to be accurate with his shot when on the move. But, this is addressable. I’m not worried about his shot. 

Defense

His positioning will alter. Some shifts he takes on the center role and some shifts he takes on the winger role. All-in-all, I like his defending quite a bit. He takes up space and draws oppositional puck movement into low danger. He does a good job assessing vulnerability and calling an audible to switch from defending like a center to defending like a winger. If he sees that an attacker and has the puck on his stick and he is the closest skater, he will use an active stick and trap them in low danger along the boards.

As stated above, sometimes Carlsson will defend like a winger and position himself at the perimeter to shut down puck movement from the point. He does a good job using his size and an active stick to swallow up space at open ice. He will extend his stick blade to match where the attacker has positioned his stick blade at open ice to prevent the attacker from getting a shot on net.

When oppositional puck movement is a bit far away from his positioning, he has good speed that he can leverage to get back in a hurry on the back check with his straight line strides. 

In general, he stands close by his teammates when they are actively engaged for puck. He provides them with an outlet passing lane that they can exploit to quickly get the puck away from traffic. Once he gets the puck from the outlet pass, he quickly distributes the puck to a teammate near the blue line.

Carlsson is highly effective at mop up duty (loose puck recovery). He grabs onto loose pucks should his wingers struggle (in situations in which he wasn’t in position to provide an outlet lane) with capturing the puck during a tight battle. 

Carlsson is a very tactical passer. If he has a tight lane and a teammate in view, he will take the lane and take it quickly. Carlsson is very good at distribution in tight lanes when pressure closes in on him as he looks to skate out of his own zone with the puck. He can shift the puck from forehand to backhand to secure the puck once the attack moves in tight and then he will complete a backhand saucer feed to a teammate in the neutral zone.

Even though sometimes he looks for the quick one touch outlet pass to a teammate, there are shifts in which Carlsson carries the puck out of the zone himself. Carlsson is quite good at pushing the puck past the defenseman who is putting pressure on him near the blue line after securing loose pucks along the half-wall. Once he pushes the puck past the attacker, he then picks the puck back up and uses his quality speed to push himself through the neutral zone. When he needs to push the puck away from pressure as he skates out of the zone, he will extend his reach and push the puck wide to secure it. If he knows that the traffic that he just dodged can get right back on him quickly, he will quickly and cleanly execute a pass to a teammate in the neutral zone and hit them in stride. While he can navigate the puck around traffic efficiently, sometimes the pressure can be overbearing. Carlsson evaluates traffic well and will double back to reset when there is absolutely no breathing room.  

Transitional Play

If he is skating behind the rush at open ice, but not too far away from the puck carrying attacker, he will stick lift attackers to cause puck control disruption. If he is facing the rush, he will extend his stick blade out and try to knock the attacker off of the puck. In situations where Carlsson is at a bit of a distance, he does an excellent job of taking away space by manipulating the attacker with his stick blade placement. He can dictate where they end up and then he can trap them along the half-wall. By that point, he is in range to pick the attacker’s pocket, pivot out and wire a pass to a teammate who has a bit more room than he does. 

Usually, Carlsson is very conservative with his play against the opposition’s puck movement. He will drop back and fill in for a defenseman who engaged in a puck battle and isn’t in position. That allows him to get open in the neutral zone, assess the puck movement, track passes, skate into the puck and grab a hold of the puck. He will then drive the puck back into the offensive zone.

But, he is also very conservative with his own puck movement. If he sees that he is face daunting pressure with no skating lane to use, he will complete a drop pass to his defenseman. That allows play to reset, the defenseman grabs control and enters the offensive zone with the puck. 

When he is in possession of the puck in the neutral zone and spots an open teammate near the offensive zone blue line, he will pass to those teammates. Carlsson is tactical. He is constantly looking for options to get the puck into the offensive zone fast and he will consistently distribute accurate passes to his teammates even when under immense pressure. Carlsson will pass underneath the attacker’s stick when he identifies a teammate in range.

Skating

Overall, Carlsson has a good blend of speed and size. He constantly stays well aligned to puck movement. Carlsson has quick feet and can react to a pivot on a dime. When he first looks to generate speed when going after a loose puck in the neutral zone, he’ll use a crossover or two to get momentum and keep the momentum alive with lengthy stride extensions. The speed that he nets allows him to win puck battles shift-in shift-out. His quick feet allows him to react to a big change in puck movement. He will pivot, complete a crossover or two and use his straight line stride extensions to power him to loose pucks. 

Carlsson doesn’t just do a good job of generating the speed necessary to get his hands on the puck. But, he also does a good job of surveying his opponent’s speed and matching it in situations where he is far back. He knows that he won’t be able to get to the puck based on his positioning. But, he does know that he can generate enough speed to get into a position where he can trap the attacker once the attacker nets possession of the loose puck. 

When he gets onto North American ice, with his speed, if he develops his physical play, he is going to be a pain for his attackers. He is going to be able to close out gaps and complete shoulder checks to cause change in possession routinely. 

Projection

It’s been a long report. I’ll be short here. I promise. 

Carlsson is a potential cornerstone player. He has all the tools that teams look for in an impact player. A player that teams can count on no matter what the situation. He constantly looks for ways to move the puck up the ice and into high danger. There is one heck of a player in Leo Carlsson. 

Latest Update

December 21, 2022


stats from InStat and EliteProspects

Prospect report written by Josh Tessler. If you would like to follow Josh on Twitter, his handle is @JoshTessler_.

Looking for other scouting reports? Check out the Prospects tab for our other scouting reports.

Need a scouting report on a particular prospect, contact us today!

Smaht Talk: Preliminary Rankings

Smaht Scouting’s Josh Tessler, Austin Garret and Jordan Malette discussed players that were ranked higher and lower on the Preliminary Smaht Scouting 2023 NHL Draft Rankings versus consensus. Towards the end of the episode, the three of them answered mailbag questions.

If you would like to listen to this episode, you can find an embedded link from SoundCloud below. Our podcast can also be found on iTunesSpotify and Google Podcasts.

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

Smaht Talk: Who You Taking?

Smaht Scouting’s Josh Tessler, Austin Garret and Jordan Malette discussed players that are close in ranking (from a consensus standpoint) and which players they would be pushing for over others. In addition, they discussed whether or not Adam Fantilli could unseat Connor Bedard as the #1 prospect in the class.

If you would like to listen to this episode, you can find an embedded link from SoundCloud below. Our podcast can also be found on iTunesSpotify and Google Podcasts.