It’s never too early to get some discussion going about prospects and the NHL draft. I requested some questions and you all delivered. Let’s get to it.
Gabe Foley: Biggest 2023 sleeper right now? That is, who is a player you’ve taken a big liking to early that you don't expect to get a lot of public love?
Axel Sandin-Pellikka might be the guy that most interests me and hasn’t been getting a ton of love. I wouldn’t say he’s a true sleeper because I know of a few people with him fairly high up their boards, but he isn’t the kind of player that's garnered a ton of public discussion.
He defends the rush effectively, closes gaps, understands when to engage physically and knows when to poke the puck free and break the stride of an attacker. Sandin-Pellikka reads the opposing rush at a high level and cuts plays off before they become dangerous. He also does an excellent job of passing the puck under pressure in his own zone, evading the forecheck.
My biggest questions with the young Swede come from where his creativity offensively winds up. He seems to flash playmaking and skill at times, but it is without any semblance of consistency.
If Sandin-Pellikka can round his puck skill and passing ability in the offensive zone into something that more resembles a pro-style offensive threat from the blueline, a Mattias Ekholm-style defender could be what he turns into.
Jay Forster: How big of a monster is Denton Mateychuk gonna be in the NHL this season?
I’d say he’s in for a pretty big one. I expect a decent jump in production from the Columbus Blue Jackets' first-rounder. He was a point-per-game defender last year and with some talent around him maturing as well as his own development, he should be able to juice those numbers.
Although I expect a jump to around 85 points, it will be his defensive play and coverage in his own end that I will be most intrigued by. Can the undersized, incredibly mobile blueliner continue to grow as a defender? Can he leverage his skating and agility in eliminating space and taking clean looks away from his opponents? Can Mateychuk find a way to play a sound two-way game while maintaining his creativity and prowess in his own end? Those will be the bigger things to watch.
Nolan Bianchi: Is this the year I finally get drafted?
No, probably not. Second place at the Detroit Lions media combine isn’t good enough to get you an NHL gig. Sorry, pal.
Matt Nelson: Dmitri Simashev, Jakub Dvorak, Maxim Strbak. In what order do they finish on your board by the end of the season?
This is an interesting question. Ranking the three right now, I probably have them in the exact order you have them in (Simashev, Dvorak, Strbak) with only Simashev being in a clear divide in my mind thus far. As for how they finish on my board come season’s end, that’s a question for 'Seven-months-from-now-Tony'.
Simashev is a smart defender who makes the simple and effective plays. He’s certainly not the kind of defender that will wow you on a regular basis but he will be a stable rearguard who understands the defensive side of the game.
Dvorak is the wildcard of the trio. He is massive at 6-foot-5 and over 200 pounds and shows some interesting if inconsistent offensive ability while playing a physical game in his own zone. He clears the net well and can crush a guy along the boards. He also has a tendency to leave his post defensively or activate on an ill-timed pinch. If he can clean it up, he could be something fun.
Strbak on the other hand has some more offensive prowess than the other two. His mobility is an asset that he uses regularly, and he does a good job of handling pressure and evading forecheckers to open himself up from space. His move to the USHL may wind up being the best thing for his game as he heads into his draft year. The offensive numbers may get him noticed.
Josh Tessler (via Instagram): The consensus on Colby Barlow has been all over the place. Where do you see him fitting into the draft this year?
Barlow is an interesting prospect. There's no doubt that he's a hard-working winger who is always going to engage physically on the forecheck. His puck skill from in tight is a big plus, and he has a knack for deflecting pucks around the crease. He already does a lot of the dirty work that players his age generally shy away from. He seems to be sound defensively for a winger and understands where he needs to be supporting teammates.
The biggest question with Barlow is whether he is skilled enough and plays at a high-enough pace with the puck on his stick to create much offense beyond being a triggerman on the power play or cleaning up some messes around the net.
He plays frantic hockey at times, and while that generally looks like hard-working hockey, it doesn’t always tend to work out for him. He needs to become a bit more comfortable with being a playmaker than a guy who is just getting to scoring areas himself as well.
Barlow has the in-tight skill to be an effective net-front/side-of-the-net guy on the power play. His shot is good but isn’t great and he does truly work hard to get to spots and work the cycle. His forechecking is active, which can create offensive zone turnovers.
The inconsistent and ineffective play in space with the puck on his stick can be an issue at times. His teammates don’t always help him when it comes to doing much with the passes he makes either, so that has to be taken into consideration.
If he can become a bit more involved as a passer and do something with his high-work rate, he can be a very intriguing prospect. He’s currently in the 15 to 25 range on my board, but there’s a long way to go and the change in his ranking could be fairly large with the flaws he has.