Following Monday’s 2023 NHL Draft Lottery, the Chicago Blackhawks are now on the clock for the 2023 NHL Draft. This year’s class is one of the deepest in recent memory, with elite star power at the top and plenty of hidden gems to find in the later rounds.
Here’s how I’m projecting the Top 10 picks to look ahead of the June 4-10 combine.
1. Chicago Blackhawks: Connor Bedard, C, Regina Pats (WHL)
The term “generational talent” gets thrown around far too often in draft circles. However, Connor Bedard absolutely fits that title. The 5’9” center scored 71 goals and 72 assists in 57 games for Regina this past season. To put those numbers into perspective, Connor McDavid scored 120 points in 47 games (44 goals, 76 assists) in his draft eligible year.
Bedard is a supremely talented skater with a deceptive, quick release on his shot. His hockey senses are off the charts, allowing him to constantly find open ice for himself and his teammates. Though he won’t be able to carry the Blackhawks to the playoffs next season on his own, Bedard certainly accelerates the rebuild.
2. Anaheim Ducks: Adam Fantilli, C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
Despite having the best odds for the top pick in the draft lottery. Anaheim slid down to pick second overall. However, getting Adam Fantilli is a nice consolation prize.
Fantilli was the third freshman ever to win the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in men’s college hockey, joining Paul Kariya (1993) and Jack Eichel (2015). He led all skaters in points with 65 (30 goals, 35 assists) and helped carry Michigan to a Frozen Four appearance before losing to eventual champion Quinnipiac.
In most years, Fantilli would be the top selection, but Bedard holds a big enough edge to say at number one. It’s hard to see a scenario where Anaheim doesn’t sprint to the podium to draft him, even if the league makes them sit on the clock a bit to build “suspense.” Expect Fantilli on the Ducks’ opening night roster next season.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets: Leo Carlsson, C/W, Örebro HK (SHL)
Sliding down to third overall with two future superstars at the top of the draft is so on-brand that it hurts my soul, even without being a Blue Jackets fan. Columbus got the raw end of the deal here and ended up with the third selection.
Leo Carlsson is still a great talent with positional flexibility. He’s the type of player Columbus GM Jarmo Kekäläinen covets. Carlsson plays a strong two-way game, and if he’s not NHL-ready for next season, he’s darn close.
There’s been some chatter about Will Smith surpassing Carlsson in the eyes of some scouts around the NHL, but I think Carlsson’s all-around game will result in the earlier selection.
4. San Jose Sharks: Will Smith, C, USNTDP
The top U.S.-born player on the board, Will Smith would provide a needed offensive jolt for the Sharks’ lineup. Smith is committed to Boston College for next season where he’ll join NTDP teammates Ryan Leonard and Gabe Perreault, who also project as first round picks.
Smith is the total package offensively, and there’s very little about his game that concerns me. Some scouts and draft experts have said he doesn’t play a physical enough game or that his skating ability is average. For a player who is so constantly able to find himself in the right position on the ice and play with good pace, I don’t see these “issues” as major worries.
Will Smith (2023) was out there doing his thang again last night.
This end-to-end goal brings him up to 18 goals and 47 points in 26 games for the USNTDP.
We like Will Smith. pic.twitter.com/BmREzaHmeW
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) December 11, 2022
5. Montreal Canadiens: David Reinbacher, D, EHC Kloten (Swiss League)
With a good group of young forwards already in the system, Montreal zigs while other teams are zagging with this selection. Don’t get me wrong, David Reinbacher is the top defenseman in this class. He’s coming off one of the most productive draft-eligible seasons in NLA history and the best ever by a defenseman, with three goals and 19 assists in 46 games.
Reinbacher would be a bit “off the board” at fifth overall, but I can’t see them taking Matvei Michkov with this pick. Going a bit safer and addressing a position of need within the organization, Montreal gets another solid European prospect a year after taking Juraj Slafkovský first overall.
6. Arizona Coyotes: Matvei Michkov, RW, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
If it wasn’t for his contract keeping him in Russia through the 2025-26 season, Michkov could be heading to Anaheim at second overall. He’s that talented offensively and may have a higher ceiling than Fantilli. However, knowing he won’t be playing in the NHL for at least three years may scare off some teams at the top of the board.
On the other hand, the Coyotes are in no rush to bring Michkov over and can afford to wait a bit longer for his services. Michkov is worth the wait, too. He’s the best pure goal scorer in this class, as shown by his 12 goal outburst at the 2021 U18 World Juniors, where he was named tournament MVP.
7. Philadelphia Flyers: Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (Sweden-2)
Dalibor Dvorsky strikes me as a classic Flyers draft pick. At 6’1”, 201, Dvorsky is one of the bigger centers available at this spot, and he’ll endear himself to Philly fans with his ability to win battles along the wall and play with a physical element to his game. He’s also got a great shot when he lets it rip.
Dalibor Dvorsky strikes from the point to bring Slovakia level with Canada! #2023NHLDraft
— Elite Prospects (@eliteprospects) April 30, 2023
Dvorsky would likely stay in Europe for one more season before coming to North America, but he projects as a solid top-six forward upon arrival.
8. Washington Capitals: Oliver Moore, C, USNTDP
With the exception of Bedard, Oliver Moore is the best skater in the 2023 Class. He has outstanding top speed and elite edgework to create time and space in the attacking zone. Moore also won’t be outworked anywhere on the ice and uses his body well to protect the puck.
— Austin (@BMaster716) August 8, 2022
Moore is committed to the University of Minnesota and would give Washington an answer up the middle, making up a solid 1-2 punch with Hendrix Lapierre.
9. Detroit Red Wings: Daniil But, LW, Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)
With the first of their two first round pick, I see Detroit rolling the dice on Daniil But. He has incredible size and reach at 6’5”, 203lbs, and his best asset is his ability to put the puck in the net. But also has good hands in close and is a solid playmaker.
Detroit has invested in their goaltending, defense, and center groups over the last few drafts, so taking a winger here makes sense. But would be a great fit, especially if he can work on developing his skating stride.
10. St. Louis Blues: Brayden Yager, C, Moose Jaw (WHL)
Rounding out the top 10, Brayden Yager is one of the hardest players to predict across the first round board. Before this past season, he was mocked to go as high as a top five selection. However, he’s slid down most boards into more of a mid-first round pick.
Still, there’s a lot to like about Yager. He has a superb compete level and excellent technique on his shot. Yager is a bit undersized at 166lbs, but there’s plenty of time to fill out his frame. While listed as a center, his NHL fit may be best on the wing. Either way, he’d be a quality addition to the Blues’ prospect pool.
Read more about the 2023 NHL Draft.