With the world juniors finally finished, we can officially look ahead to the 2023 NHL draft - and it's going to be a fun one. Not only will the festivities be held in Nashville, but the crop of players available looks to be an incredibly strong one, with several phenoms at the top. So yeah, it's a tank year if your team is rebuilding.
Now, it is of course very early and things will no doubt change as the 2022-23 campaign takes hold, but we do have some recent info on these kids thanks to the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament and in a couple of cases, the world juniors.
At first blush, it looks like a great year for the WHL and the player at the top is indeed Connor Bedard. With Matvei Michkov locked into a KHL contract until 2026, it's very hard to see Bedard getting dethroned. There doesn't appear to be a ton of high-end defensemen right now, but of course that could change over time. In terms of goaltenders, I don't see anyone elite right now, but there are options that look like at least second-rounders. I've slotted in Scott Ratzlaff here, but Carson Bjarnason and Carsen Musser are two intriguing names as well. And to be honest, there's still a lot to learn about this draft class (it's August, people).
So without further ado, here is my way-too-early top 40 for the 2023 draft. This will hopefully give you a sense of what the top end looks like. And it does look intriguing.
1. Connor Bedard, C, Regina (WHL): The most amazing thing about Bedard is how almost every shot he takes is perfect (and deadly). He can produce offense out of nothing and sting defenders who give him even the slightest opening in the offensive zone. I also loved how physical and feisty he played at the world juniors in Edmonton. For a smaller guy, he threw his weight around.
2. Adam Fantilli, C, University of Michigan (NCAA): Bedard and Michkov are both smaller stars, but Fantilli has the size (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) and the awesome speed to be a force, even though he'll be one of the younger players in college hockey this season. A big-time producer, Fantilli was MVP of the USHL playoffs in 2021.
3. Matvei Michkov, RW, SKA-St. Petersburg (KHL): In terms of talent, Michkov rivals Bedard: We've seen his amazing talents at international tournaments before and the kid has vision like few others. But his contract will keep him from the NHL for years and that adds some intrigue to the top end of the draft: Will a bad team want to wait that long for him to arrive?
4. Brayden Yager, C, Moose Jaw (WHL): A wicked shooter with a hard, accurate release, Yager has also added to his playmaking arsenal in recent years. He was a goal-per-gamer for Canada at the Hlinka-Gretzky and nearly a point-per-gamer last season with Moose Jaw, where the Warriors have consistently churned out NHL prospects.
5. Matthew Wood, LW, UConn (NCAA): The latest player to absolutely burn up the BCHL, Wood had an outstanding season in Victoria with 85 points in 46 games for the Grizzlies. At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Wood has great size and the hands to be a nightmare for defenders in the offensive zone. He'll have a great chance to be an impact freshman with the NCAA Huskies.
6. Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (Swe.): Hockey sense and skill are the first things that come to mind with Dvorsky, who was part of the great 2021 Slovakian Hlinka-Gretzky squad. This summer's world juniors were a bit tougher on him and the lack of Juraj Slafkovsky, Filip Mesar and Simon Nemec no doubt played a role there. But the talent is certainly there with Dvorsky.
7. Cam Allen, D, Guelph (OHL): The No. 1 blueliner in the draft right now, Allen really impressed NHL scouts who were watching his older teammates last season with the Storm. Allen is a total-package defenseman who captained Canada's gold-medal squad at the Hlinka-Gretzky this summer and came out of the tournament with seven points in five games.
8. Charlie Stramel, C, University of Wisconsin (NCAA): Big, mean and skilled, Stramel is an NTDP product who missed a lot of last season due to injury. He made the world junior team this summer, but only played one game, though keep in mind; he's still young. Going to Wisconsin will be a big challenge and Stramel's draft stock could vary wildly this season.
9. Zach Benson, LW, Winnipeg (WHL): Part of a buzzsaw offense in Winnipeg last season, Benson did more than his part and was also great at this summer's Hlinka-Gretzky with seven points in five games for Canada. He's light and just 5-foot-10, but Benson can both score and dish - and the big, bad WHL hasn't been able to stop him yet.
10. Cal Ritchie, C, Oshawa (OHL): Canada's leading scorer at the Hlinka-Gretzky with 10 points in five games, Ritchie had a fantastic rookie season with Generals, where he certainly didn't play like a freshman. His combination of size and skill is always in fashion and it wouldn't be surprising if he was the first OHL forward - maybe even the first OHLer - off the board.
11. Nate Danielson, D, Brandon (WHL)
12. Eduard Sale, LW, Kometo Brno (Cze.)
13. Colby Barlow, RW, Owen Sound (OHL)
14. Kasper Halttunen, RW, HIFK (Fin.)
15. Will Smith, C, NTDP (USHL)
16. Otto Stenberg, C, Frolunda (Swe.)
17. Ryan Leonard, C, NTDP (USHL)
18. Quentin Musty, LW, Sudbury (OHL)
19. Leo Carlsson, RW, Orebro (Swe.)
20. Oliver Moore, C, NTDP (USHL)
21. Riley Heidt, C, Prince George (WHL)
22. Andrew Cristall, LW, Kelowna (WHL)
23. Zeb Forsfjall, LW, Skelleftea (Swe.)
24. Theo Lindstein, D, Brynas (Swe.)
25. Mikhail Gulyayev, D, Omsk (Rus.)
26. Hunter Brzustewicz, D, Kitchener (OHL)
27. Maxim Strbak, D, Jokerit (Fin.)
28. Gavin Brindley, RW, University of Michigan (NCAA)
29. William Whitelaw, RW, Youngstown (USHL)
30. Koehn Ziemmer, RW, Prince George (WHL)
31. Gabe Perreault, LW, NTDP (USHL)
32. Ethan Gauthier, RW, Sherbrooke (QMJHL)
33. Alex Weiermair, C, NTDP (USHL)
34. Lukas Dragicevic, D, Tri-City (WHL)
35. Tanner Molendyk, D, Saskatoon (WHL)
36. Noel Nordh, LW, Brynas (Swe.)
37. Jakub Dvorak, D, Liberec (Cze.)
38. Ondrej Molnar, LW, Nitra (Svk.)
39. Gavin McCarty, D, Muskegon (USHL)
40. Scott Ratzlaff, G, Seattle (WHL)