As a way to familiarize you with a variety of NHL draft prospects, each month, I will bring you a themed ‘Team of the Month’ for the 2023 NHL draft. Much like any all-star team, we will have three forward slots, two defenders and a goalie who will get some love and recognition.
This month features players who haven’t been on the early season radar. This group of guys is ranked outside of the first round on most public draft lists for a variety of reasons. The start of the year is often the time when the preconceived thoughts on players are hard to shake, and it’s not until the new year that most analysts begin to shift their pre-season feelings.
By season’s end, any number of these players could work their way up boards and into the first round of the NHL draft. For now, though, they remain under the radar. These are the 2023 NHL draft sleepers.
LW: Bradley Nadeau, Penticton Vees (BCHL)
As with most BCHL stars, the hype for Nadeau’s game will likely come in the second half of the season when his point totals begin to become absurd. Currently running at an over two-points-per-game pace with 42 in 20 games, Nadeau is playing with his brother Josh and 2003-born Dovar Tinling and tearing the league apart for the undefeated 20-win Penticton Vees.
It’s no secret that the Canadian forward shouldn’t be playing in the BCHL based purely on talent, but with Nadeau having chosen the NCAA path – committed to the University of Maine – he is making the BCHL look silly. He is an effective off-puck threat, slipping into space and presenting himself as an option at all times. Nadeau is a true dual-threat attacker who makes everyone’s life easier. He needs to get quicker and stronger, but his mindset and skill will make him a worthy bet in the 2023 draft.
C: Gracyn Sawchyn, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
At 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, Gracyn Sawchyn is an interesting blend of showcasing traits of a skilled playmaker while also bringing some underrated pest-like tendencies. He isn’t the biggest or most skilled player on the ice, but he plays with a confidence that allows him to make a play even when it seems like it’s dead.
He flashes nifty mitts and crafty offensive thinking. Sawchyn can be a driver of play offensively when given the chance to do so. He excels in space, working the puck to teammates and then presenting himself for a return pass after dashing into space. He plays unafraid, throwing hits on bigger players, playing below the faceoff dots with the puck and doing what he can to get to high-danger areas on shot attempts. He could be a sneaky Day 2 pick in the draft.
RW: Alex Ciernik, Sodertalje (Allsvenskan/J20 Nationell)
The young Slovak forward who plays in Sweden has been highly productive against junior-aged players and deserves a bigger run against men at the Allsvenskan level. He is the most highly regarded player on the All-Sleeper Squad, sneaking into the back end on a few public boards, but his talent warrants the conversation of how much closer to fellow Slovak forward Dalibor Dvorsky when it comes to the country's top draft-eligible player.
Ciernik is one of the fastest and more agile skaters in the draft class, using his skating ability to evade pressure and burst into open ice. His shot is quite good but isn’t elite while his playmaking ability is silky smooth at times. The young Slovak forward passes across his body or against his skating path to change the angle the goalie has to take on the shooter quickly. The 5-foot-10 winger is engaged away from the puck, hunting loose pucks in the offensive zone and creating second and third-chance opportunities whenever available. Ciernik’s east-west game is entertaining and should fit into the top six of an NHL squad down the line.
Right: David Reinbacher, EHC Kloten (Swiss National League)
The young Austrian defender has only been ranked on one public board thus far, and although it was quite high, he has been off the radar for most of the draft world. Reinbacher has the size and mobility that projects to the next level, but there are a ton of questions when it comes to refinement. He plays at the Swiss pro level, and he’s scoring at a solid clip thanks to power-play time, with 11 points through 20 games.
Reinbacher is a solid defender who uses his length and mobility when defending the rush but struggles at times when hemmed into his end. He has room to fill out his frame and build up his strength because that will help him along the boards and in puck battles. If he can do that, there is a promising young rearguard here. The tools are all there, and it’s just a matter of physical development and taking steps to play higher-competition hockey in the coming years.
Left: Dmitri Simashev, Loko Yaroslavl Jr. (MHL)
The production isn’t there, but the talent is evident when you watch Simachev’s game tape. Although he is currently injured, Simashev has been quietly one of the better prospects in Russia, splitting time between the KHL and MHL. The young Russian is a powerful skater who can bolt up ice when the opportunity presents itself. His shiftiness along the blueline is impressive, evading opposing players trying to pinch him off at the point by faking one way and cutting back and driving down the wall or into the slot.
Simashev uses his 6-foot-4 frame to establish body position and secure the puck while defending, cutting the opposing attacker along the boards after forcing them to the outside. He is at his best in space but can get mixed up a bit when playing against men in the KHL while held in his own zone. Although he projects as a defensive-transition blueliner, Simashev has so many tools from agile skating to deceptively high-end puck skills that his production should take a step, particularly at the MHL level.
Trey Augustine, USA Hockey National Team Development Program (USHL)
The NTDP goaltenders rarely get their credit when their name isn’t Spencer Knight, but Augustine has been quite good in net for a U-18 squad that rarely loses games. The team has only lost once all season with Augustine in net, a shootout loss against Youngstown in which he allowed two goals on 34 shots.
Augustine isn’t the biggest goaltender at 6-foot-1, but he has done a very good job of staying square to the shooters and tracking the puck without having to pull his feet out of position to do so. His athleticism has been on display as well throughout the year. In comparison to Carter Musser, the NTDP’s other primary netminder who has just one less start than Augustine, the .928 save percentage that Augustine is currently rocking is almost 45 points higher than his netminding partner. Augustine has been fantastic.