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Rising Stars: A Closer Look at the 2023 NHL Draft's First-Round Draftees

(Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

As fans from across the globe gathered in anticipation of the 2023 NHL Draft, Nashville embraced its role as a gracious host, showcasing its hospitality and unwavering enthusiasm for hockey.

With the city's unique blend of Southern charm and hockey fervor, the 2023 NHL Draft in Nashville became a momentous event, shaping the dreams and aspirations of the next generation of NHL superstars. According to ESPN, this year’s draft was the most-viewed draft ever, averaging over 681,000 viewers.

1. Connor Bedard - Chicago Blackhawks

As a shock to nobody, Connor Bedard was drafted first overall in this year’s NHL Draft. Bedard has been the most talked about draftee for months and has even been called a “generational player” by many. He’s been compared to the likes of Connor McDavid and David Pastarnak and is being held to extremely high expectations - and for good reasons. This past season, Bedard had 71 goals and 72 assists in just 57 regular season games with the Regina Pats of the WHL. Bedard also put up 23 points in seven games for Canada at the 2023 World Junior Championship.

Bedard has a phenomenal hockey IQ that sets him up for success and differentiates him from other players his age. He is also a highly skilled puck handler and creative passer, which allows him to outsmart his opponents. Bedard’s downside is his 5-foot-10 frame, which leads many scouts and analysts to wonder if he can withstand the physicality of the NHL.

All in all, Chicago fans should be excited to see what Bedard can do in the NHL and for their franchise.

2. Leo Carlsson - Anaheim Ducks

Leo Carlsson is an overall impressive player and was ranked as the number-one international skater by many scouting reports. He spent the last season playing with Orebro in the SHL, where he put up 25 points in 44 regular-season games. Carlsson also excelled under the pressure of the playoffs and accumulated another nine points in 13 games.

One of Carlsson’s most notable skills is that he is an excellent playmaker. He has top-notch spatial awareness and knows his passing options before he even receives the puck, meaning he can quickly make plays. Carlsson can also stickhandle very well and hold defenders off, all while still moving the puck.

Although Carlsson was a left winger in the SHL, his playmaking skills, high hockey IQ, and other experience at center give him the traits to be a top line-center for the Ducks. He should be able to mesh well with Trevor Zegras and Mason McTavish.

3. Adam Fantilli - Columbus Blue Jackets

Adam Fantilli was arguably the most complete player at this year’s draft and is expected to shine in Columbus. Fantilli played at the University of Michigan last year, where he led the NCAA with 65 points in 36 games, averaging 1.81 points per game. His impressive performance in the NCAA led him to win many awards, including the Tim Taylor National Rookie of the Year award and the Hobey Baker Award, which is given annually to the best player in college hockey. Fantilli is only the third player ever to win the Hobey Baker as a freshman.

Fantilli is a 200-foot player who thrives offensively. He has a powerful wrist shot and can make incredible passes and offensive plays while using his 6-foot-2 frame to take out his opponents. Fantilli is also incredible on the penalty kill, causing turnovers and creating shorthanded scoring chances.

After deciding not to return to Michigan for another year, it will be exciting to see what Fantilli can do for Columbus this upcoming season.

4. Will Smith - San Jose Sharks

Will Smith is a player with tremendous offensive talent and one of the brightest skaters for the U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP). Smith had 20 points in seven games at the 2023 IIHF World Under-18 Championship and was also the MVP of the tournament. He is committed to play at Boston College next year.

Smith’s game is very well-rounded and features an incredible wrist shot. Aside from scoring, he is also a high-end passer who finds open areas of the ice to support his teammates when he isn’t in possession of the puck. Additionally, Smith’s skill set gives him the ability to help on special teams, especially with the penalty kill.

Smith is an exciting addition to San Jose’s talented group of young prospects, and after a year or two at Boston College, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him join the Sharks’ top line.

5. David Reinbacher - Montreal Canadiens

David Reinbacher is a talented player who spent last season with HC Kloten in Switzerland. He recorded 22 points in 46 games with HC Kloten, but only had three goals. Reinbacher also represented Austria at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship and the 2023 IIHF World Championship.

Reinbacher uses his 6-foot-2 frame well. As a result, he is a very competitive defenseman. He uses his strength to cause turnovers and can deliver big hits on his opponents. He also has puck awareness in the defensive zone and is able to pass pucks to his teammates or launch the puck down the ice himself.

Reinbacher could use work on creating scoring chances for himself, but he seems to be a good fit for the Canadiens organization, particularly on the power play. He could potentially pair well with Canadiens’ prospect Lane Hutson who was the NCAA’s top defenseman last year.

6. Dmitriy Simashev - Arizona Coyotes

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Dmitriy Simashev is a defenseman who uses his size well and is a good skater with surprising speed. Many scouting reports had him as a top pick and considered him to be the best defenseman in the draft.

Simashev is very good at defending opponents and eliminating their options to move the puck. He is also not afraid to get physical and use his large body to check opponents into the boards. Simashev’s biggest flaw is that his offensive work needs help. In 33 games in the MHL last season, he only recorded one goal and 11 assists.

With time and the proper development, Simashev could be a top defenseman for the Coyotes.

7. Matvei Michkov - Philadelphia Flyers

Matvei Michkov recorded nine goals and 11 assists over 27 games during his season last year with Sochi in the KHL. He averaged 0.67 points per game, which was the highest point average for a first-time draft-eligible player in KHL history.

Michkov has an extremely high hockey IQ and can develop plays quickly and efficiently. His playmaking skills have been compared to that of New York Rangers’ forward Artemi Panarin. Michkov’s quick moves make it hard for defensive players to stop him despite not being the fastest skater.

Michkov is signed with St. Petersburg of the KHL for three more years, so the earliest he could play for the Flyers organization is Spring 2026.

8. Ryan Leonard - Washington Capitals

Ryan Leonard is a very competitive winger who recorded 94 points in 57 games for the NTDP last season. Leonard also scored the overtime goal to let the United States win the gold medal at the 2023 U18 World Championship. Leonard is committed to play at Boston College next season.

Leonard is a very versatile player, and his skills are well-rounded. He is a very strong skater who plays with a lot of grit and is not afraid to get physical with opponents. Leonard’s game is also quite simple, and he does not try to overcomplicate plays.

9. Nate Danielson - Detroit Red Wings

Nate Danielson captained the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL last year and was their top penalty-killer. He had 33 goals and 45 assists in 78 games and also led the team in faceoff wins at 52.6%.

Danielson is a dynamic skater who has good puck-handling skills and is overall fairly well-rounded. He is quick on his feet and uses his 6-foot-2 body to win battles for the puck and stay on top of opponents.

10. Dalibor Dvorsky - St. Louis Blues

Dalibor Dvorsky is a two-way center with a good hockey IQ and impressive offensive skills. His skill set allows him to be an excellent playmaker and set his teammates up successfully.

Dvorsky has an impressive wrist shot that works well for him. At the 2023 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, Dvorsky put up eight goals and five assists in just seven games. While his skating speed could use some improvement, Dvorksy was one of the youngest players at the draft, so the Blues have the time to mold him into the player they need.

11. Tom Willander - Vancouver Canucks

Tom Willander played last season in the Swedish junior league, where he put up 25 points in 39 games. He also represented Sweden at the 2023 IIHF World Under-18 Championship and accumulated another eight points to help Sweden win the silver medal.

The biggest asset Willander brings to the table is, by far, his skating. He is quick and has large strides that allow him to powerfully move up and down the ice. Although Willander is not a phenomenal scorer, he is good at moving the puck out of the defensive zone and creating scoring chances for his teammates.

Willander is committed to play at Boston University next year, but he is just the type of defenseman the Canucks needed to add to their prospect pool.

12. Daniil But - Arizona Coyotes

Daniil But is a winger who is smart with the puck and can make good plays. He played last season with Loko Yaroslavl in the MHL, where he had 15 goals and 11 assists in 26 regular-season games.

He isn’t the best playmaker; however, he has a strong shot that is best utilized from a distance and makes him a good scorer. He is not the fastest skater in this year’s draft by far, but he has found a way to move his 6-foot-5 frame up the ice in a powerful manner that keeps him involved in the play.

But is expected to play next year for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL.

13. Zach Benson - Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres got a steal when they drafted Zach Benson 13th overall. Benson was a standout player for the Winnipeg Ice in the WHL last season and had 36 goals and 62 assists, combining for a total of 98 points in 60 games. He averaged 1.63 points per game.

Benson has an extremely high hockey IQ and is a dual-threat player who can pass and shoot but also scores in difficult areas of the ice. Despite his small stature, Benson is ready to get physical and battle for the puck. Last year, he had 20 power-play points and six shorthanded goals in the regular season.

Benson should fit in well with other recent draft picks by the Sabres and be a nice addition to their power-play unit.

14. Brayden Yager - Pittsburgh Penguins

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Brayden Yager is an all-around good player who has showcased his skills in the WHL recently. Yager had 78 points in 67 regular-season games for the Moose Jaw Warriors last year. He was also named CHL Rookie of the Year his first season with Moose Jaw and won the Brad Hornung Memorial Trophy for the most sportsmanlike player in the WHL.

Yager is a two-way center that has a fantastic, accurate shot. Aside from having a great shot, Yager is also successful on the forecheck and is not afraid to battle for pucks. Overall, Yager is quick on his feet, and with the right development, he can evolve into a top-6 player.

15. Matthew Wood - Nashville Predators

Matthew Wood is a skilled player that is gifted offensively. Last year during his freshman year at the University of Connecticut, Wood led UConn in scoring, finishing with 34 points.

Wood is an excellent stick handler who consistently creates space to get the perfect pass or shot off, all while outsmarting defenders. Wood’s major drawback is his skating, and many scouts are worried that he might lack the pace to play at the NHL level.

16. Samuel Honzek - Calgary Flames

Samuel Honzek accumulated 23 goals and 33 assists in 43 games during his debut season in the WHL. Although he did not get to play in as many games this year after suffering an injury in the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship, Honzek still showed that he can play at an elite level.

Honzek is a very versatile player who has a good amount of strength and a high hockey IQ. He also has the skills and vision that allow him to set up teammates and is a relatively good playmaker. Using his 6-foot-3 frame, Honzek wins puck battles and is excellent on the penalty kill.

Honzek brings much-needed size to Calgary’s prospect pool, and it will be interesting to see what he can add to their team.

17. Axel Sandin-Pellikka - Detroit Red Wings

Axel Sandin-Pellikka is a good skater with undeniable skill. Last season, he played in the Swedish junior league, where he recorded 16 goals and 20 assists in 31 games.

Sandin-Pellikka is an excellent puck mover who can creatively get rid of the puck and make plays. While he lacks the size of a typical NHL defenseman, Sandin-Pellikka does use the strength he has to deliver heavy hits on his opponents and stay involved in the game.

18. Colby Barlow - Winnipeg Jets

Colby Barlow had great offensive success last season in the OHL. He captained the Owen Sound Attack and led the team with 79 points in 59 games. Barlow also won the Bobby Smith Trophy, which is given to the OHL’s scholastic player of the year.

Barlow is a strong skater who can powerfully move pucks up and down the ice. He also excels offensively and has good puck-handling skills. Barlow isn’t the most outstanding playmaker, but his shot is notable, and he creates enough scoring chances for himself that it makes up for it.

19. Oliver Moore - Chicago Blackhawks

Oliver Moore was considered to be the fastest skater in this year’s draft by many scouts. He also put up an impressive 75 points in 61 games with the NTDP last season.

Moore has gifted hands and can set up his teammates for scoring opportunities. He is also adept at taking quick shots after receiving the puck. Like other later draft picks, Moore lacks size and isn’t the most physical player, however, he has a strong work ethic. Many analysts compare his play to that of Detroit Red Wings Dylan Larkin.

Moore is committed to play next season at the University of Minnesota.

20. Eduard Sale - Seattle Kraken

Eduard Sale played last season in the Czech Republic’s top men’s professional league, where he was named rookie of the year and had 14 points in 43 games. Sale also had six points in seven games at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship to help Czech secure the silver medal.

Sale is a good playmaker who also creates ample scoring chances for himself and his teammates. He is also a fairly good skater who uses his 6-foot-2 frame to keep defenders at bay. Sale needs to work on keeping his game consistent, but overall he is a good addition to Seattle’s prospect pool.

21. Charlie Stramel - Minnesota Wild

Although the Wisconsin Badgers team did not perform at its usual caliber last season, Charlie Stramel played well.

Stramel is a good playmaker who can create opportunities, but isn’t necessarily a top goal-scorer himself. He is a very physical player who dishes out heavy hits against the boards, which adds to his skating speed. With the right development, Stramel can add much-needed physicality and toughness to the Wild organization.

22. Oliver Bonk - Philadelphia Flyers

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Oliver Bonk had 40 points in 67 regular-season games for the London Knights last season and excelled in the OHL playoffs tallying another 11 assists in 21 games.

Standing at 6-foot-2, Bonk is a well-rounded and talented defenseman who uses his height and strength to play physically. Although he is not a premium goal scorer, Bonk moves pucks well and makes successful passes to give his teammates scoring opportunities.

23. Gabriel Perreault - New York Rangers

Gabriel Perreault is an incredible offensive player who accumulated 132 points in 63 games, setting the record for the most points in a single season in NTDP program history. He is committed to play next year at Boston College.

Perreault has an elite hockey sense and is a dual-threat player. He has the ability to shoot and score himself, but also manages to make unique passes to help his teammates score. Perreault is a smaller forward, but can withstand physicality from larger players while also dishing out his fair share of hits to create turnovers.

24. Tanner Molendyk - Nashville Predators

Tanner Molendyk totaled impressive skating time this season with the Saskatoon Blades. He recorded 37 points in 67 regular-season games with the Blades and had a plus-31 rating.

Molendyk is a good two-way defenseman who is a strong skater and has a quickness that allows him to move the puck out of the defensive zone. His offensive skills are also on point, and he showcases his playmaking skills by creating plays quickly. If Molendyk can add a bit more muscle to his 5-foot-10 frame, he should, without a doubt, find success in Nashville.

25. Otto Stenberg - St. Louis Blues

Otto Stenberg played last season in the Swedish junior league, where he had 11 goals and 15 assists in 29 games. He also led Sweden in points at the 2023 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, with 16 points in seven games.

Stenberg skates well and is a gritty player who seems to be a two-way forward. He is more of a shooter than a passer and uses his excellent shot to score from the faceoff dot. Stenberg can pull off impressive moves on the ice and is an overall good puck handler.

26. Quentin Musty - San Jose Sharks

Quentin Musty is a phenomenal puck handler who can effortlessly travel up and down the ice to create scoring chances. Last season, he had 26 goals and 52 assists in 53 regular-season games with the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL.

Musty is a good offensive player with a knack for making passes and a good shot that is quick enough to trick defenders. He uses his 6-foot-2 body to give checks against the board and is not afraid to deliver hits in order to win puck battles.

Musty adds the size that the Sharks desperately need, but he needs to work on the consistency of his game in order to reach the top of an NHL lineup.

27. Calum Ritchie - Colorado Avalanche

Calum Ritchie played last season with the Oshawa Generals and put up a point per game, finishing the year with 24 goals and 35 assists. He also won 53% of the faceoffs he took.

Ritchie is a fairly well-rounded skater who can play at elite levels offensively and defensively. When given a chance to score, Ritchie does not disappoint, but he is also a phenomenal passer. Similar to other draftees selected before him, Ritchie needs to work on game-to-game consistency.

28. Easton Cowan - Toronto Maple Leafs

Easton Cowan surprised many scouts and analysts when he was drafted 28th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Cowan had 53 points in 68 regular-season games for the London Knights and excelled in the OHL playoffs, adding another 21 points in 20 games.

Cowan is a feisty skater who plays with energy and is actively involved in the game. He has a good foundation and hockey sense, and with the proper development, Cowan has the potential to turn into an interesting prospect for Toronto.

29. Theo Lindstein - St. Louis Blues

Although Theo Lindstein did not put up many points in the SHL last season, he did play 32 games which set a record for the most games played by an undrafted under-19 defenseman. Lindstein also represented Sweden at the 2023 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, where he recorded five points and helped the team secure a silver medal.

Lindstein is a strong skater who can powerfully and effectively move the puck up the ice. While he is not offensively minded, Lindstein can defend well and rarely turns the puck over.

30. Bradly Nadeau - Carolina Hurricanes

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Bradly Nadeau had a phenomenal season last year. He led the BCHL with 113 points averaging 2.09 points per game, and had ten game-winning goals. Nadeau was also awarded the Vern Dye Memorial Trophy, which is given to the BCHL’s most valuable player.

Nadeau is a good skater with surprising speed, but his best asset is probably his shot. He has a quick and scarily accurate one-timer, making him a pure goal-scorer.

Nadeau is committed to play at the University of Maine next season, where he will join his older brother Joshua. After a season or two more of development at Maine, Nadeau has the potential to break into Carolina’s stacked group of forwards.

31. Mikhail Gulyayev - Colorado Avalanche

Mikhail Gulyayev is a good puck handler with offensive talent. He spent most of the season in Russia’s junior league, putting up 25 points in 22 games.

Gulyayev is a mobile defenseman who is quick on his feet and can skate easily and quickly. He has a good hockey sense, making him skilled at running power plays and as a playmaker. However, his smaller stature has many scouts wondering if he can defend at the NHL level.

Gulyayev is on contract with the KHL in Russia through the 2024-2025 season, so he won’t be playing in North America for at least two years.

32. David Edstrom - Vegas Golden Knights

David Edstrom was the last player selected in the first round of this year’s draft and is similar to many of the Golden Knights' current players. Edstrom played in the Swedish junior league last season and had 15 goals and 13 assists in 28 games.

Edstrom is a well-rounded player who can score independently or create chances for his teammates. He is also a strong stick handler who can use his 6-foot-3 body along the boards to win puck battles.

The 2023 NHL Draft introduced a new wave of talent into the league, and as these prospects embark on their professional journeys, they carry the hopes and expectations of their respective teams and fan bases.

The NHL's future looks bright with these talented individuals ready to make their mark on the sport, and hockey enthusiasts eagerly await their debut on the grandest stage of all.

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