It’s almost time for the 2023 NHL draft, to get ready let’s take a look into the clouded crystal ball and make some predictions on what the first round on Wednesday night could be looking like. Purposefully putting this out there a few days early, in case the Penguins decide to make a weekend move to trade the pick so that we can at least get a mock draft out while the gettin’ is good.
1. Chicago Blackhawks— Connor Bedard, C, Regina (WHL): By far the easiest pick and projection.
2. Anaheim Ducks — Adam Fantilli, C, Michigan (NCAA): No reason to get cute here, Fantilli won the Hobey Baker award as college hockey’s best player as a true freshman in 2022-23. Then he tacked on gold medals at the World Championships and World Juniors in one of the best pre-draft years ever.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets — Leo Carlsson, C, Orebro (SWE): Columbus has had a NHL team for a quarter of a century and never truly had a top flight franchise center to build around (the early days of Ryan Johansen are maybe as good as it gets?). They’ll hope the 6’3” Carlsson can finally break that spell, and from most accounts he has a pretty good chance to be a top-of-the-lineup type of quality center for a long time.
4. San Jose Sharks — Will Smith, C, USA U-18 (NTDP): Will Smith don’t have to cuss in his mock drafts to get clicks, but I do. So f...Oh, uhh sorry about that. Smith is a high-end offense talent who stood out as the best of another great crop from the US team. He’s creative and a great piece to add to the puzzle as the Sharks will look to get jiggy wit it and slap the taste out of their opponent’s mouths for years to come with the new fresh prince of the Bay Area.
5. Montreal Canadiens — Matvei Michkov, RW, SKA St. Petersburg (RUS): Montreal throws the first “wow” of the night when they take the draft’s biggest wildcard. Michkov is the super, super talented Russian player who comes with some questions and issues. Michkov is signed through 2026 to stay in the KHL, he’s on the smaller side and has some questions about attitude. But that can all be over-looked with as talented and game-breaking a player as he is. If his name was “Matt Morris” and he was from Minnesota, he’d be at least the No 2. pick. But he’s not and in an interesting and unique circumstance. Montreal gets the chance at a huge win on this roll of the dice.
6. Arizona Coyotes - David Reinbacher, D, Kloten (SUI): Arizona pounces to select the top defender in the class. Reinbacher had an impressive season competing in a men’s league, is right handed, moves well, has good size. The Coyotes need help everywhere, but especially along the blueline in the future. Reinbacher provides that in a major way.
7. Philadelphia Flyers — Ryan Leonard, RW, USA U-18 (NTDP): Leonard seems like what the Flyers wish they were — gritty, skilled, competitive, hard-working but also talented. He’s a heart-and-soul type that NHL decision makers have fallen in love with. I don’t think he quite has the skill and overall special qualities of, say, a Tkachuk brother, but Leonard isn’t too far off from that profile of player, or so Philadelphia will hope.
8. Washington Capitals — Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (SWE-2): Dvorsky is among the top playmaking centers in the draft. He’s got great vision and skill and looks like he’s already pro ready in terms of his 6’1”, 201 pound frame. Solid lower top-10 type of pick for a quality player with not a lot of holes in his game for the Capitals to add to the mix.
9. Detroit Red Wings — Tom Willander, D, Rogle Jr. (SWE-JR): The Red Wings and Swedish defenders, it just fits. Willander was one of the biggest risers in the past year, he’s said to think the game extremely well while also moving well and is an always desirable right shot. Players with that type of profile and pedigree always get drafted early on.
10. St. Louis Blues — Oliver Moore, C, USA U-18 (NTDP): Moore is one of the top skaters in the draft, he can absolutely fly. He had a really strong season to show himself as a potential top-10 pick option. The Blues will hope he can live up to some Dylan Larkin type style comparisons.
11. Vancouver Canucks — Nate Danielson, C, Brandon (WHL): The Canucks stay somewhat local and add a player with a little bit of everything. Danielson is a high-character center with good compete and stood out on a bad junior team as still being able to score. Basically a steady and quality player, which it seems like Vancouver could really use.
12. Arizona Coyotes (from Ottawa Senators) — Gabriel Perreault, RW, USA U-18 (NTDP): This is the player I’d really like to be around at 14 for the Penguins, but don’t find it likely to happen. Perreault has some serious Jake Guentzel vibes as far as being a smallish player who always has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Perreault is arguably an even better puckhandler and passer as well.
13. Buffalo Sabres — Zach Benson, LW, Winnipeg (WHL): Benson was a top scorer in the WHL and linemates with Sabres prospect Matthew Savoie. He’s small but has a tremendous motor and good two-way play. This is a great fit and solid value for Buffalo if they can get the opportunity to add the talents of Benson.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins — Matthew Wood, RW, Connecticut (NCAA): If the Pens don’t trade the pick, why not add a 6’4” player with great hands and a tremendous shot? Best case you hope he becomes a Tage Thompson-type somewhere down the line. Worst case, a large and extremely talented forward should carry value and be attractive in the future as potential trade bait. Either way, at this point of the draft I would take this as an encouraging pick for Pittsburgh - who desperately need to add to the skill of their young players. Wood would ratchet the quality up in a major way.
15. Nashville Predators — Eduard Sale, LW, Brno (CZREP): One thing incoming GM Barry Trotz said was he wants to take chance skill. Sale gives them that, with questionable compete and consistency but adding home run potential with his ability to score.
16. Calgary Flames — Colby Barlow, LW, Owen Sound (OHL): Coming off a 46-goal season in the OHL, Barlow will make some team excited about his future. We’ll say that’s Calgary.
17. Detroit Red Wings (from New York Islanders via Vancouver Canucks) — Daniil But, LW, Yaroslavl Jr. (RUS-JR): The Wings pounce to add a 6’5” big rig who can play the puck and use his frame effectively.
18. Winnipeg Jets — Brayden Yager, C, Moose Jaw (WHL): Yager possesses a great shot and is considered a good three-zone player. He will need to add some strength and answer questions about his skating but has a lot of tools to work with.
19. Chicago Blackhawks (from Tampa Bay Lightning) — Axel Sandin Pellikka, D, Skelleftea Jr. (SWE-JR): Chicago starts building around Bedard by adding a smooth-skating defenseman with offensive upside.
20. Seattle Kraken — Samuel Honzek, LW, Vancouver (WHL): Great size at 6’4”, 186 pounds and showcased a lot of ability in the WHL this season. Might have the ceiling of a second line player but also has a very high floor where he should be having a long career. Not an exciting pick, but a very sensible and good one, which fits for Ron Francis.
21. Minnesota Wild — Otto Stenberg, C, Frolunda Jr. (SWE): Reports are tying a center to Minnesota, given needs and the likely players around. Stenberg is a quality all-around player and safe option for Bill Guerin and the Wild to bring into the fold.
22. Philadelphia Flyers (from Los Angeles Kings via Columbus Blue Jackets) — Lukas Dragicevic, D, Tri-City (WHL): The Flyers take advantage of not too many defensemen going off the board by this point to add a quality player with upside here.
23. New York Rangers — Dmitri Simashev, D, Yaroslavl Jr. (RUS-JR): As a 6’4”, 200 pound player who can skate, Simashev could/should go as many as 10 picks higher if not for the Russian factor.
24. Nashville Predators (from Edmonton Oilers) — Andrew Cristall, LW, Kelowna (WHL): Sticking from the theme above, the Preds take a big swing on a high risk, high reward player who will add a lot of skill and production if it all works out.
25. St. Louis Blues (from Toronto Maple Leafs) — David Edstrom, C, Frolunda Jr. (SWE-JR): The Blues have so many picks, it’s assumed they will trade at least one but I’m not going to attempt the fruitless nature of draft trades on top of the impossibility of predicting the picks. Anyways, Edstrom has been flying up the boards (he didn’t even make the top 96 mid-season list from Bob McKenzie) because he’s 6’3” and has worked his way up to playing in the top league in Sweden.
26. San Jose Sharks (from New Jersey Devils) — Quentin Musty, LW, Sudbury (OHL): The Sharks use their second pick of the night on a big, skilled, rugged winger who has a lot of skill and was once the No. 1 pick in the OHL draft. Musty hasn’t quite lived up to that billing so early, but he has shown improvement and justification for why he was projected to be a top young player.
27. Colorado Avalanche — Gavin Brindley, C, Michigan (NCAA): Brindley is an every-situation player who does everything well. Feels like Colorado always has about 4-5 forwards in their middle lines that are just like this.
28. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Boston Bruins via Washington Capitals) — Charlie Stramel, C, Wisconsin (NCAA): Stramel didn’t have an impressive draft year, but he’s massive at 6’3, 212 pounds and was well-regarded earlier in the draft process. He’s worth a flyer deep into the first to hope his immense athleticism shows up and makes him a difference-maker on the ice as he develops.
29. St. Louis Blues (from Dallas Stars via New York Rangers) — Oliver Bonk, D, London (OHL): The Blues use their third pick of the night to add a big, mobile defender. I mean they’ve got to trade one of these, right?
30. Carolina Hurricanes — Calum Ritchie, C, Oshawa (OHL): Ritchie had a point-per-game season in the OHL and has good size at 6’2, 185. Just seems like a typical, responsible, good Carolina type of guy to me. Not flashy, but gets the job done.
31. Montreal Canadiens (from Florida Panthers): Etienne Morin, D, Moncton (QMJHL): Fittingly enough, the lone Quebec junior player gets tagged to be drafted by the Canadiens.
32. Vegas Golden Knights — Michael Hrabal, G, Omaha (USHL): The champs finish out the mock with the top goalie in the class, a 6’6” monster with a bright future.