June 28th, draft night in Nashville, where dreams come true. These kids have battled and trained for 17 years to get to this point where they become a professional. This draft projects to be the deepest since 2015 when we saw the most recent generational talent Connor McDavid get drafted. He and 23 of the remaining 29 first-round picks that year currently have an NHL job. Here is my mock draft for the first 16 picks of the 2023 NHL Draft.
1. Chicago Blackhawks - C, Connor Bedard
This selection should come as a surprise to nobody. The long-awaited generational talent from the Regina Pats has arrived. He is the best prospect since Connor McDavid and for good reason. Bedard finished with 71 goals & 143 points in 57 games this season. His ability to score from anywhere and accurately place it where he wants makes his shot his best trait. The puck is seemingly on a string when he has it on his stick, and his shifty skating allows him to score clutch goals as he did in overtime of the World Junior Championships vs Slovakia. The Blackhawks are blessed as they see one franchise center leave and the new one comes in.
2. Anaheim Ducks - C, Adam Fantilli
While the Ducks are upset about dropping a spot and losing out on Bedard, Fanitlli is the best consolation prize since that same 2015 Draft in Jack Eichel. The Michigan Wolverine finished the season with 30 goals and 65 points in 36 games. Fantilli has a big frame and outstanding hockey IQ that keeps defenders second-guessing whether he'll burn you with his shot or a creative pass to the open man. Fantilli & Zegras will form a nice one-two punch down the center of the ice in Anaheim for years to come.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets - C, Leo Carlsson
Columbus finds their number one center here in the big Swede. Carlsson might be the most NHL-ready forward outside of Bedard in the entire draft. He played against men in the SHL last season with ten goals and 25 points in 44 games. Carlsson has a decent shot, but he's best known for his stick handling and seeing the whole ice before making a play. He's got incredible drive and uses his body to get in the dirty areas. With the recent moves of adding win-now defensemen, taking a pro-ready Carlsson to center Gaudreau and Laine will lead to headaches for NHL goalies.
4. San Jose Sharks - W, Matvei Michkov
The fall finally ends here for what projected to be the clear two behind Bedard. This fall was due to his three years remaining on his KHL contract, but that fits the Sharks' future perfectly. The Sharks just committed to their rebuild and won't need Michkov until his contract in the KHL has expired. Michkov has an incredible shot. He finds the open space and gets shots through traffic. Let's not forget this beauty Michican goal he scored. Michkov is a crazy manipulator on the ice. Allowing defenders to get close to him and think they can strip the puck, but dekes them out and creates a dangerous scoring chance. The Sharks get the steal of the draft here.
5. Montreal Canadiens - C, Will Smith
The Canadiens management team will sprint to the podium to announce this pick if Smith falls to them at five. Montreal has been looking for an offensive centreman to complement Suzuki; well here he is. Smith had 51 goals and 127 points in 60 games for the USNTDP this season. Second best season out of that program behind only Jack Hughes. Ever heard of him? He's got unreal hands and deking that make defenders look silly. He's a great puck distributor who can drive a line on his own at the next level.
6. Arizona Coyotes - C, Dalibor Dvorsky
The Coyotes strengthen their center core even further with this pick. Last year they drafted two first-round centers, Logan Cooley and Connor Geekie. Dvorsky has a quick release and some decent passing. I'd like to see him use his big body more effectively and improve his skating. Dvorsky had six goals and 14 points in 38 games in the SHL. If I'm being honest, I don't love Dvorsky as a prospect, but I do see the future NHL potential.
7. Philadelphia Flyers - W, Ryan Leonard
Leonard is your prototypical Flyers player. He's a power sniper who uses his big body to win battles in the corners and can rip the puck. Leonard facilitates the offence by being a dominant puck retriever and finding the open man for a scoring chance. He's a speedy winger that helps in the defensive zone and facilitates the breakout. Leonard finished the season with 51 goals and 94 points in 57 games. Philadelphia is in the beginning stages of their rebuild, and Leonard is a great player to lead that group.
8. Washington Capitals - D, David Reinbacher
Now I know Caps fans are disappointed to see Michkov go before their selection, but they snagged the best defensemen in the draft. Reinbacher reminds me a lot of Moritz Seider. A physical, big-bodied defensive defenseman that shot up the draft rankings in their draft year. He's a patient passer, but the defensively is where he shines. If my prediction is correct and Reinbacher turns out to be close to Seider's level of play, the Capitals got a steal here at eight.
9. Detroit Red Wings - W, Colby Barlow
A little off the board here but; anything can happen when Stevey Y is on the clock. Detroit lacks an elite shooter, and Barlow is the best sniper remaining. The Owen Sound Attack Captain scored 46 goals and had 79 points. The combination of fast skating and accurate shot make him a massive threat off the rush. Barlow brings some much-needed leadership to the Red Wings as they navigate through this rebuild.
10. St. Louis Blues - D, Axel Sandin-Pellikka
For the Blues, I'm drafting for need rather than the best player available. The defensemen in the Blues prospect cupboards are bare. ASP had two goals and five points in 22 games in the SHL, but he shined at the World Juniors. He scored twice and finished with 11 points in seven games. ASP is the best skater of all the defensemen in this draft and uses it to his advantage to avoid defenders. His passing and puck-handling make him the best offensive defenseman in this draft.
11. Vancouver Canucks - C, Oliver Moore
One of the Canucks targets this draft is a speedy defensive centreman, and lucky for them, one fell into their lap. Moore is the best skater in this draft class. His quick acceleration helps him create separation on breakaways and allows him to beat defenders to loose pucks. Moore had 31 goals and 75 points in 61 games despite being on the USNTDP's second line. His impressive back-checking and two-way ability makes Moore the perfect pick here for the Canucks.
12. Arizona Coyotes - W, Zach Benson
Originally I had a defenseman going here after the Dvorsky pick at six, but with the addition of Sean Durzi, I expect the Coyotes to focus on their forward core. Benson is one of the most creative players in this draft but his stock to a hit due to his size. The 5'9 winger of the Winnipeg Ice recorded 36 goals and 98 points in the 60 games this season. The most impressive trait Benson has is his motor ability. He doesn't quit on the play and never stops skating. His creativity on the ice has made him one of the top playmakers in this draft. Benson reunites with his former Ice linemate and last year's Coyotes first-round pick, Connor Geekie.
13. Buffalo Sabres - C/W, Matthew Wood
The Sabres are familiar with big shooting centremen and get themselves another one here in Wood. The 6'3 forward usually has more goals than assists, but this year at the University of Connecticut, he finished with 11 goals and 34 points in 30 games. He's got a wicked snipe and shows flashes of his playmaking ability. Wood needs to improve his skating, but once it improves, he'll be a scary one-two punch behind Tage Thompson.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins - C, Nate Danielson
Pittsburgh had to go with the best player available as they ranked dead last as the worst prospect pool in the entire league. The Brandon Wheat King had 33 goals and 78 points in 68 games this season. Danielson might be the most well-rounded player in this draft. He's a speedy skater with a decent shot and dangles but is better known as a playmaker. Danielson is a decent prospect as he's good at everything, but nothing in his game really stood out as elite.
15. Nashville Predators - D, Dmitri Simashev
This pick makes almost too much sense for the direction of the Predators. New GM Barry Trotz asked for a high-ceiling guy, that is Simashev. He's an unbelievable skater with shifty moves and dangles for a defenseman. He's got outstanding vision and always makes the right pass. His shot will need to improve, but he's an elite puck distributor. Simashev will be another name on the long list of elite Predators defensemen.
16. Calgary Flames - C, Brayden Yager
The Flames address the center ice position as two of their top three centers informing the team they won't be returning next season. Yager is a good skater with breakaway speed. He's most known for his quick and accurate shot, but he refined his playmaking this season, finishing with 50 assists and 78 points in 67 games for the Moose Jaw Warriors. Yager has the two-way ability that will help the penalty kill at the next level. Calgary should be excited about their future and Yager bombs.
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