Grading Every Team’s 2023 NHL Entry Draft

The 2023 NHL Entry Draft has reached its conclusion, and this Draft saw some of the deepest NHL-caliber talent that the league has seen.

Grading drafts are no easy thing, and there will be a lot happening throughout the course of these franchises and picks. One can look back at this Draft in five years to see how each of these picks did, but here is every team’s grade at the Draft:

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins: C-

First round picks: none

Day 2 picks: Christopher Pelosi (C), Beckett Hendrickson (LW), Ryan Walsh (C), Casper Nässén (RW), Kristian Kostadinski (D)

Don Sweeney’s Draft history has not been strong, and, as of late, they haven’t had high picks. Pelosi, Hendrickson, and Walsh are not game breakers, but they all showed flashes of NHL potential. Pelosi had a great season with the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede, combining his shooting skills with his hand-eye coordination and physicality, though it remains to be seen how he transitions into the NCAA with the Quinnipiac Bobcats. Hendrickson was an under-the-radar player with the U.S. U18 team, and can handle his own with his passing skills and lane creation in all three zones. Walsh was also a top scorer in the USHL with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. They also have some tall guys from Sweden in Nässén (6′ 4″) and Kostadinski (6′ 5″), but again, don’t expect much given that the Bruins’ first pick was selected 92nd overall.

Buffalo Sabres: A-

First round picks: Zach Benson (LW)

Day 2 picks: Anton Wahlberg (C), Maxim Štrbák (D), Gavin McCarthy (D), Ethan Miedema (LW), Scott Ratzlaff (G), Sean Keohane (D), Norwin Panocha (D)

Another year, another home run Draft by Kevyn Adams and the Sabres. They picked three guys ranked in the top 50 in the draft prospect rankings in Benson, Wahlberg, and Štrbák, and another top 100 prospect in McCarthy. They weren’t looking at size in the first round; they were looking at speed and skill, which Benson provides, along with his elite vision and passing skills. The team is positioned better with someone like him. Wahlberg and Štrbák are great value picks in the second round–Wahlberg has been progressing in the SHL, to go with his big frame, and Štrbák is a two-way guy who played some of his best hockey with the USHL. McCarthy is a local boy from the CDP of Clarence Center, which is right by Buffalo, and it can be argued that he would have gone higher in the Draft had he not suffered an injury in the middle of his season with the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks, as he brings a flashy puck game and eliminated off-puck threats defensively. And lastly, while Ratzlaff is not the biggest goaltender in the Draft (6′ 0″), he is one of the most athletic goalies in this year’s class. Buffalo hauled in more depth in one of the best prospect systems in the NHL, especially on the defensive side.

Detroit Red Wings: B

First round picks: Nate Danielson (C), Axel Sandin Pellikka (D)

Day 2 picks: Trey Augustine (G), Andrew Gibson (D), Brady Cleveland (D), Noah Dower Nilsson (C), Larry Keena (D), Jack Phelan (D), Kevin Bicker (F), Rudy Guimond (G), Emmitt Finnie (F)

Steve Yzerman was riding the safe path throughout the Draft, choosing the best player available, especially with their first three picks in Danielson, Sandin Pellikka, and Augustine. Danielson is a safe pick who doesn’t have elite traits, but can generate rushes on the offense and build speed on the puck, doing the little things well. Sandin Pellikka is an exciting prospect given that he has such nice puck-moving abilities and playmaking with first power play upside. Augustine is one of the better goaltenders in the Draft, and he and his post-sealing ability, strength off post pushes, and net awareness are a nice addition for depth behind goalie of the future Sebastian Cossa. They may have reached a bit to snag both Gibson and Cleveland, but they are both good defenders, and Dower Nilsson is on the cusp of reaching his full potential, with his impressive playmaking. The Red Wings have more options on their system, but they didn’t go after anyone game-breaking, and there is a legitimate concern if they passed on chances on someone like Zach Benson or Gabriel Perreault. Nonetheless, it’s still a good class.

Florida Panthers: C+

First round picks: none

Day 2 picks: Gracyn Sawchyn (C), Albert Wikman (D), Olof Glifford (G), Luke Coughlin (D), Stepan Zvyagin (F)

Bill Zito and the Panthers didn’t have a lot of picks in this year’s Draft, but there is a lot to like about Sawchyn, who rose through the Draft ranks. He doesn’t have a complex game, though he rushes after the puck, and if he can’t win the foot race, he’ll win the ensuing puck battle, then passes to a teammate. His hands are among the best in this class, which will help give him a chance because he is the kind of guy that can make the most out of situations. There is a lot of room for growth in his game, and he has “steal of the Draft” potential. Wikman was a nice pickup at the fourth round, with the foundation of his game being his skating in which he reads the plays, looking to disrupt them. Coughlin is a solid late-rounder that many expected to go earlier, and even though he’s not the biggest defenseman, he launches himself to opponents, and can find good lanes to fire the puck. Glifford also has the tools and size NHL teams look for in goalies, too. The later picks help bring depth to their prospect pool, but that’s about it.

Montreal Canadiens: B

First round picks: David Reinbacher (D)

Day 2 picks: Jacob Fowler (G), Florian Xhekaj (LW), Bogdan Konyushkov (D), Quentin Miller (G), Sam Harris (LW), Yevgeni Volokhin (G), Filip Eriksson (F), Luke Mittelstadt (D)

The Montreal Canadiens have one of the more intriguing draft classes, though it’s one to keep a close eye on. While they did pass on some highly talented forwards, they did take the best defenseman available in Reinbacher, and, despite the angry fan reaction, he is what Montreal needs: A right-shot defenseman. They have the bulk of the depth on the left side of the blueline, but not so much on the right. He provides the team with a nice defensive game, matching the speed of puck carriers and takes away the middle of the ice. Fowler has all the tools to be a successful goalie, including his lateral movement, but he has work to do to get stronger, not to mention Monteral taking two other goalies in the Draft in Miller and Volokhin. The drafting of Florian Xhekaj reunites him with his brother, Arber, which is a cool story. Their last selection, Mittelstadt, is an offensive defenseman who turned it on with the NCAA’s Minnesota Golden Gophers, showing his comfort in the offensive zone, and he was someone that teams would have been going after if Montreal didn’t select him. Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes didn’t go after high-end prospects, but they were addressing team needs.

Ottawa Senators: D

First round picks: none

Day 2 picks: Hoyt Stanley (D), Matthew Andonovski (D), Owen Beckner (C), Vladimir Nikitin (G), Nicholas VanTassell (C)

There wasn’t a lot that Pierre Dorion and co. can do with such low picks. They didn’t make their first selection until pick no. 108, and they were betting on size, with all their selections being at least 6′ 2″. Stanley is their most notable selection, showing his mobility and maneuverability through the ice on breakout passing and end-to-end carries, but it’s fair to wonder if any of the guys Ottawa selected will be NHLers. Who knows if these selections will make the prospect system better, but one can argue about them going after someone who they can develop. While they have done well in the Draft in recent years, it was going to be hard for them to get an impact player this year, which is the only reason why they didn’t get less than a D.

Tampa Bay Lightning: C+

First round picks: none

Day 2 picks: Ethan Gauthier (RW), Jayson Shaugabay (C), Warren Clark (D), Jack Harvey (F), Ethan Hay (C)

Like the Senators, the Lightning didn’t have a lot of picks, but Julien BriseBois made some nice swings with what he had. Gauthier is a nice, hard-nosed winger who makes a living at the front of the net, and can also win board battles. Shaugabay can create advantages for his team by way of his playmaking and stick handling. Harvey is smooth with his hands, too. While these guys may not be the tallest group in Tampa’s draft class, even though Clark is the tallest at 6′ 3″, these guys have skill with them. While their long-term future at the prospect pool doesn’t look that bright, they did well at the Draft.

Toronto Maple Leafs: D-

First round picks: Easton Cowan (C)

Day 2 picks: Hudson Malinoski (C), Noah Chadwick (D)

Like the two teams before them, the Maple Leafs barely had any picks, and it’s hard to do it when Brendan Shanahan and Brad Treliving have just three picks to work with. However, they went off the board with the Cowan selection with pick no. 28 in the first round. His performance in the OHL playoffs was great for his London Knights, creating opportunities by speeding past his opponents. He’s an intelligent forward, but, even though there is room for him to grow, he was a borderline top 100 prospect heading into the Draft. Plus, after this pick, they had to wait until the fifth round to make their next selection in Malinoski, where there are questions about his NHL potential despite his play with the AJHL’s Brooks Bandits. Toronto doesn’t have high enough picks to get a meaningful impact on their prospect pool.

Metropolitan Division

Carolina Hurricanes: B

First round picks: Bradly Nadeau (C)

Day 2 picks: Felix Unger Sörum (F), Jayden Perron (F), Alexander Rykov (RW), Stanislav Yarovoi (F), Charles-Alexis Legault (D), Ruslan Khazheyev (G), Timur Mukhanov (C), Michael Emerson (F), Yegor Velmakin (G)

The Hurricanes don’t really care much about size, and this Draft reflected exactly that. Six of their nine prospects were 6′ 0″ or shorter, but Don Waddell was going after skill, not size, and given their track record on that, it has paid off, especially with Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis. Nadeau is one of the best shooters in this Draft class, and the power he creates with his shot is awe-striking. He is also coming off one of the best Junior A seasons with the BCHL’s Penticton Vees, and he looks to carry that momentum over with the NCAA’s Maine Black Bears. Unger Sörum is a creative playmaker who can play on both sides of the ice, and it shows in transition.

He is also a shifty puck-handler too. Perron is one of the best passers in the Draft, and, despite him being 5′ 9″, he is a dangerous stickhandler who can turn a defensive giveaway into a scoring chance for himself or a teammate. Rykov, despite limited action with Chelmet Chelyabinsk of the VHL, is an intriguing player who can pass with a purpose on the rush and shield pucks on the walls. Legault was a defensive stalwart during the Quinnipiac Bobcats’ national championship run in the NCAA, playing with a tight gap in the neutral zone. Mukhanov is an above-average skater, but he can skate past most of his opponents down the wing off the rush, removing space from the opposition. The Canes have a solid class as they focused on skill, but also high-compete players.

Columbus Blue Jackets: A+

First round picks: Adam Fantilli (C)

Day 2 picks: Gavin Brindley (RW), William Whitelaw (C), Andrew Strathmann (D), Luca Pinelli (C), Melvin Strahl (G), Oiva Keskinen (F), Tyler Peddle (F)

This Draft was a slam dunk for Jarmo Kekäläinen and the Blue Jackets. They got their next superstar center in Fantilli, who will be a franchise-altering player for them. He can attack through the neutral zone, bursting through defensive formations. Every touch for him is an opportunity at driving to the net, and he is physical. While the bulk of the attention will be brought to him, Kekäläinen did get guys who can impress the rest of the way. Brindley is Fantilli’s linemate with the NCAA’s Michigan Wolverines and he is one of the best undersized players in the Draft. He is a high-motor player who excels defensively, and a tenacious forechecker who is reliable defensively. The two are also good friends, and it helps that they have chemistry together.

Whitelaw and Strathmann helped the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms to a championship, with Whitelaw bringing in a scoring touch along with a potent set of releases and efficient puck distribution, and Strathmann seeing offensive opportunities and getting to the right place at the right time to pass the puck to his guys, to go with his one-on-one moves. Pinelli is a great value pick and a fun player to watch, as he plays with a pace and drives between the dots. They also traded to get the last pick in the Draft to select Peddle, who, even if he had a tough second half of the 2022-23 season with the QMJHL’s Drummondville Voltigeurs, had a lot of interest in being a fairly high pick, and he has the speed, physicality, and motor to play a defensive role at the higher levels.

New Jersey Devils: C-

First round picks: none

Day 2 picks: Lenni Hämeenaho (F), Cam Squires (RW), Chase Cheslock (D), Cole Brown (RW), Daniil Karpovich (D)

This is where a recurring theme starts to settle in by this point: Teams with few early picks have a harder time making an impact in the Draft. The Devils’ most intriguing pick is Hämeenaho, who played the entire season in the Liiga, the top ice hockey league in Finland, and he is a very smart off-puck player on both ends of the ice, anticipating possible passing lanes and rebounds. After him, the Devils had picks in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds. Cheslock is a stay-at-home defenseman who makes it harder for his opponents to get shots away at the net-front, and Karpovich is an effective two-way defenseman with size, reach, and mobility, with his game built on his physicality. However, with these late-round picks, it’s hard to build a lot without getting lucky, but Tom Fitzgerald doesn’t really need to have a good Draft considering the last few Drafts for the team were so good, where they landed Nico Hischier, Jack and Luke Hughes, Jesper Bratt, Dawson Mercer, Šimon Nemec and Alex Holtz.

New York Islanders: C

First round picks: none

Day 2 picks: Danny Nelson (F), Jesse Nurmi (LW), Justin Gill, (C), Zach Schultz, (D), Dennis Good Bogg (D)

Lou Lamoriello and the Islanders don’t have a lot of picks in terms of quality. Though Lamoriello was focusing on role players, the picks he selected fit that category but are not flashy enough. Danny Nelson at pick no. 49 is solid value, however. He doesn’t just pursue the puck carrier; he gets them into pressure and goes for a pass breakup, along with his knack for getting open inside space. He will play for the NCAA’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish in 2024-25, the same program that Islanders captain Anders Lee played for in his collegiate career. Nurmi brings skill with him and there is some belief in him. They also have solid but low-upside defenders in Schultz and Good Bogg, though Schultz, despite being at his best when defending the rush, should improve on his skating. Though it’s a necessity to have depth down the lineup, none of these picks will really catch the attention of a lot of people around the NHL.

New York Rangers: B-

First round picks: Gabriel Perreault (RW)

Day 2 picks: Drew Fortescue (D), Rasmus Larsson (D), Dylan Roobroeck (C), Ty Hendricks (LW)

Chris Drury and the Rangers landed one of the better great value picks in Perreault. He has great hands and sees the ice very well, and when a forechecker gets near him when he has the puck, he finds a teammate in motion with space, but he still has to work on his skating. After that, the Rangers had just four Day 2 picks and it’s not known if any of these guys will truly be difference makers at the NHL level. Fortescue, however, has a knack for finding teammates with short touch plays, mostly on the end boards, and can turn a steal into a clean zone exit with medium-range feeds. Roobroeck uses the middle with the puck, has playmaking skills, and is confident on the backhand. Larsson’s size is intriguing as well, but the Rangers’ grade is mostly because of Perreault.

Philadelphia Flyers: A+

First round picks: Matvei Michkov (RW), Oliver Bonk (D)

Day 2 picks: Carson Bjarnason (G), Yegor Zavragin (G), Denver Barkey (C), Cole Knuble (C), Alex Čiernik (F), Carter Sotheran (D), Ryan MacPherson (C), Matteo Mann (D)

What an outstanding Draft by Danny Brière and the Flyers. They landed high-quality players when they fell later than everyone was expecting. And landing someone who can be a difference-maker in Michkov will change the direction of the franchise. There is no doubt he will be a superstar in the NHL. His puck skills are at the top of the Draft, in part of his offensive creativity, his puck-handling, his hands, and his attitude, and his maneuverability around defensive pressure is next-level, not to mention his stellar playmaking. While there is the risk that comes with his contract status with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, the rewards are seismic.

They also got one of the top defensive defensemen in Bonk, who can backtrack ahead of offensive turnovers, sealing off entries from his opponents and forces them to dump the puck around him, and then seals the puck from them on the back wall. Bjarnason and Zavragin are two of the better goalies in the Draft in the second and third round, respectively, and Bjarnason has plenty of development time in him. His legs are his strength, as he takes away the bottom half of the net. Barkey and Knuble are not the tallest players in the Draft, but they have skill. Barkey attacks opposing defenders, creates space for his teammates, and knows where and how to position himself in getting the puck on his stick in the dangerous areas.

Cole Knuble, the son of former Flyer Mike Knuble, is a give-and-go player, and is a threat from anywhere in the offensive zone, whether it be passing in both open-ice or and down low, or scoring from range, or his finishing. Čiernik is a fast forward, speeding through the neutral zone with crossover-heavy rush patterns. Sotheran and Mann are big defensemen with lots of development time ahead of them. Philadelphia put a lot of work in getting their pieces for the future in a wide array of positions on their rebuild.

Pittsburgh Penguins: C+

First round picks: Brayden Yager (C)

Day 2 picks: Emil Pieniniemi (D), Mikhail Ye. Ilyin (F), Cooper Foster (C), Emil Järventie (F), Kalle Kangas (D)

There are a lot of needs on the Penguins. Kyle Dubas is looking to get one last Stanley Cup from the core three of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang, but there is also the concern about the long-term future of the team.

Dubas did start well in addressing depth down the middle by taking Yager in the first round. He can shoot the puck any which way, whether it be two-touch, catch-and-release, or one-timers, taking every puck to his shooting pocket, looking for the next play. Beyond him, the Penguins don’t have a lot of picks that can do a lot of damage at the NHL level, though Pieniniemi and Järventie are worth the Day 2 picks. Pieniniemi can log in big minutes and contribute on special teams, and in the neutral zone, he pinches aggressively and lures opponents to the boards before imposing his physical will.

Järventie is quick and can anticipate openings off the rush, with his mix of stickhandling, shooting, and some playmaking. Ilyin protects the puck with his physical skills and waits for support, not giving up on plays while rarely forcing bad ones, and drives to the inside to support his guys. Foster is another playmaker who scans the ice before passing. Lastly, Kangas is a towering defenseman with good mobility. There’s still a long way to go with the Penguins’ prospect system, but Yager can be a significant X-factor for the team in the future.

Washington Capitals: B+

First round picks: Ryan Leonard (C)

Day 2 picks: Andrew Cristall (LW), Patrick Thomas (C), Cam Allen (D), Brett Hyland (LW), Antoine Keller (G)

It’s about all the upside for what Brian MacLellan is going after. He has made significant adds to the prospect pool. Leonard fits the team’s identity, and his game resembles that of Tom Wilson’s. Leonard is dangerous with the puck in the offensive zone, and can find guys in the dangerous spots. He’s an above-average skater, though he can get all these tools off the rush, which makes him that more versatile. Cristall is one of the more dynamic wingers in this Draft class, adding flash to every play. He starts them, builds them, and then puts the finishing touches to them, though he has to overcome his skating concerns.

Allen had a rough Draft year with the OHL’s Guelph Storm, but there is still the belief that he can bounce back this coming season with them. He is a minute-muncher who was once viewed previously as a top 10 prospect in this year’s Draft class, and is a mobile two-way defenseman, timing his close-out just right, leading with his stick to knock the puck away, executes one-timed passes through seams, and can carry the puck through breakouts. If he can clean up some of his decision-making, he can be a great value pick. Hyland has one-on-one skill, flash, and can beat players off the backhand. Washington still needs to fill out their shallow prospect system, but they got two of the better offensive talents in this Draft.

Central Division

Arizona Coyotes: B+

First round picks: Dmitri Simashev (D), Daniil But (LW)

Day 2 picks: Michael Hrabal (G), Jonathan Castagna (C), Noel Nordh (LW), Tanner Ludtke (F), Vadim Moroz (F), Terrell Goldsmith (D), Melker Thelin (G), Justin Kipkie (D), Samu Bau (F), Carsen Musser (G)

The Coyotes made the surprising decision to pass on Matvei Michkov, but Bill Armstrong still had 12 picks in the Draft, with seven of them inside the top 100, and he spent them well. Drafting two Russians with their first top picks at the top 12 is high-risk for many reasons, with one of them being that the team is in the middle of a rebuild that seemingly has no end. But if both Simashev and But, both of whom are teammates within the Lokomotiv Yaroslav organization in the KHL, reach their highest potential, the rewards are high, but that’s still a big if.

Simashev gaps up early in space and can match opponents’ speed with ease, and his defensive range can help him recover if he’s lost. But is coordinated with the puck, and his ability in hauling in hard passes and turning them into nifty stickhandles is remarkable, especially for someone his size (6′ 5″). The Coyotes also got the best goalie in the Draft in Hrabal, where his size (6′ 7″) is the clear advantage on the competition. When he has a tough challenge ahead of him, he fights well for sight lines and rarely loses track of the puck. Castagna has nifty hands that can keep up with his skating, where his inside-outside handles and him targeting the backs of defenders make him a constant threat in closing a gap.

Nordh is a smart offensive forward, and he can take the puck from the boards to the middle, mostly with smart, small-area passing plays, and can contribute on the power play and penalty kill. Ludtke is a consistent off-puck player, supporting the plays, dispossessing opponents, and can sneak into space to use the slot for his wristers, while also bringing playmaking and physicality. Moroz reloads ahead of turnovers, hunts for the puck on the forecheck, and attacks the middle of the ice, and his frame extends his team’s offensive zone time. Kipkie starts from the neutral zone, staying behind his opponent, reaches to deflect pucks, and loads up for one-timers.

Bau is effective at finding space at receiving passes and at driving to the net, but also provides defense with his reach and intensity. Lastly, Musser uses his size and frame (6′ 4″) effectively, taking a narrow stance on edge rushes, and moves better than expected for a goalie his size. There’s always the talk if size was a big motivator for the Coyotes, but with a class of 12 players, all have some potential to reach. The rewards are high if they hit.

Chicago Blackhawks: A++

First round picks: Connor Bedard (C), Oliver Moore (C)

Day 2 picks: Adam Gajan (G), Roman Kantserov (F), Martin Mišiak (C), Nick Lardis (RW), Jiří Felcman (C), Alex Pharand (RW), Marcel Marcel (LW), Milton Oscarson (C), Janne Peltonen (D)

Kyle Davidson and the Blackhawks could not have drawn up their Draft any better than they did. They landed a generational talent in Bedard and the fastest skater in the Draft in Moore, both of whom are centers who can provide a ton of value. Bedard’s standout skills include his shooting, handling, and his dynamo on the rush. His curl-and-drag shot will be a thing of beauty in the years to come in the NHL, constantly attacking defenders in ways a select few NHLers can do. While many will compare him to Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby, he’s more of an Auston Matthews type.

Moore always works to win races, be the first one to loose pucks, and can create. His anticipation allows him to process plays steps ahead of the others on the ice. They also got one of the top goalies in Gajan, whose 6′ 3″ frame complements with the strength and quickness of his pushes from post to post, along with his flexibility. Betting on skill with Kantserov can pay dividends, knowing that he can make plays on the first touch, identifying the pressure and then immediately beating it with a stickhandling move, and then gets his teammates involved on the rush offense. Mišiak was a beast in the USHL with the Youngstown Phantoms. He is a hard forechecker, forces opponents to rush their plays on breakouts, generating turnovers.

Lardis is a high-end skater and shooter, and finds ways to put the puck at the back of the net, knowing how to set up his shots, where and how to move, and what speed to get his stick on a pass. And Pharand plays a disciplined game, with energy on the backcheck, physicality on the forecheck, defensive zone positioning, and off-puck routes in the offensive zone, and can overwhelm opponents along the boards. In total, the Blackhawks got six top 100 prospects on the board and made upside picks with their later selections. They were looking for a home run Draft, and they blasted it out of the ballpark.

Colorado Avalanche: B

First round picks: Calum Ritchie (C), Mikhail Gulyayev (D)

Day 2 picks: Nikita Ishimnikov (D), Jeremy Hanzel (D), Maroš Jedlička (LW)

The name of the game for Joe Sakic and Chris MacFarland is “Quality, not quantity.” While they had just five picks, they made the most out of their first round selections in getting Ritchie and Gulyayev. Ritchie is an underrated selection, given that he played through injury this past season with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, but in the offensive zone, he supports the puck carrier, connects on plays, knows the gaps in defensive coverages, where to position off-puck, and controls his skating to get to the right places at the right times. Gulyayev is a speedy skater, sprinting past opponents with as clean of a stride as people have seen.

He’s most comfortable on the defensive end, gapping up early, attacking puck carriers, and using his stick to take away the middle of the ice. However, the Avalanche didn’t pick again until the fifth round, where they chose Ishimnikov, a big defenseman who uses his 6′ 5″ frame to his advantage. Hanzel can use the inside to set up entries with two-line passes through opponents, even when opponents pressure him. But having just three picks in Day 2, unless they get lucky, isn’t going to do much to move the needle more after a strong first round.

Dallas Stars: C

First round picks: none

Day 2 picks: Tristan Bertucci (D), Brad Gardiner (C), Aram Minnetian (D), Arno Tiefensee (G), Angus MacDonnell (C), Sebastian Bradshaw (LW)

The Stars have consistently been a team to watch on Draft nights, but Jim Nill didn’t have a lot of draft capital to strengthen an otherwise loaded prospect pool this year. Bertucci has decent offensive value, though he’s mostly a shutdown defenseman with a transition game. He plays a physical style, getting on check early, and tying up sticks around the net. Gardiner’s style of play fits the Stars’ system. He works best off the puck, supporting plays down low, winning the position battle, and finds the open teammate and then gets to the right spot for the return feed, along with an NHL shot.

Minnetian generates advantages for his guys, whether it be by being an additional option or drawing defensive attention to create more space. He prefers the give-and-go game, connecting with a teammate in the slot. Tiefensee could be a sleeper goalie in the fifth round, and there can be something about MacDonnell’s game. There aren’t a lot of impact players from this year’s Draft class for Dallas, but Bertucci is a top 100 pick.

Minnesota Wild: B

First round picks: Charlie Stramel (C)

Day 2 picks: Rasmus Kumpulainen (C), Riley Heidt (C), Aaron Pionk (D), Kalem Parker (D), Jimmy Clark (LW)

There is something to like about what Billy Guerin did in this year’s Draft. He landed a home-state kid in Stramel, who plays an NHL-style game. He’s a small-area passer who drives plays in sustained offensive zone pressure with a touch in tight, and fights for deflections, rebounds, and loose pucks. He has more to put, but there are nice qualities in his game. Minnesota also got two nice pickups in the second round in Kumpulainen and Heidt, who have high-end qualities to them.

Kumpulainen is a big-bodied two-way center, and has a nice touch and nice stick handles. He facilitates his linemates and provides an off-puck scoring threat. Heidt is one of the better passers in the Draft, and he doesn’t pass up an opportunity to sneak up a shot. His physical play creates space in the small area, which allows him to shake off defensive pressure to attack the inside. Aaron Pionk, the brother of Neal Pionk, shows promise as a physical shutdown defender, and he had a great season with the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks. He tightens gaps in the neutral zone to force opponents wide, and then he goes for the defensive stop.

Parker is another defensive defenseman who can close space early when he has support, forcing dump-ins and keeping forwards on the outside. He’s not one to shy away from offensive chances, leading the rush with the give-and-go. Clark is another USHL standout, creating openings for his teammates with fake shots and look-offs before getting pucks through traffic as shown in his time with the Green Bay Gamblers. The Wild are banking in on upside, which has risk to it, but has high-reward potential.

Nashville Predators: B+

First round picks: Matthew Wood (LW), Tanner Molendyk (D)

Day 2 picks: Felix Nilsson (C), Kalan Lind (F), Jesse Kiiskinen (RW), Dylan MacKinnon (D), Joseph Willis (C), Juha Jatkola (G), Sutter Muzzatti (F), Austin Roest (RW), Aiden Fink (RW)

In David Poile’s last ever NHL Draft, he and Barry Trotz got both quality and quantity. In their hometown Draft, they started off with getting a big, scoring winger in Wood. He keeps the distance between his feet and hands to the front, shooting off either foot and in motion. He shows changing ability, whether it be receiving a pass, fighting for pressure, passing to someone, or toe-dragging around a stick. He has to improve on skating, though. Molendyk is a big, aggressive defender who is one of the better skaters in the Draft. When he goes full speed, he changes directions with sudden outside cuts and tight skating. His stick checks are also precise, and his hits are heavy. Nilsson has good two-way capabilities, combining a strong vision and awareness of his surroundings and passing skills. His passing is his strong suit, especially from the boards to the middle.

Kalan Lind, the brother of Kole Lind, is one of the most physical players in the Draft, as he takes every chance he can get in a big hit. He also ties up opponents behind the net, then sets picks to generate breakouts, and can start passing plays and takes defenders’ sticks away. Kiiskinen has a motor that keeps on going, never gives up on the forecheck, and is a hard-working defensive player. MacKinnon defends by adapting to the movements of the rushes of other opponents, closing on them, and taking space away with his stick. He also pivots to meet the opposing rush to gap the attack quicker. Willis is one of the smarter players among the Day 2 picks, which he uses to get his teammates on prime scoring opportunities. His off-puck instincts, along with his motor, allow him to thrive in his own end.

Jatkola had 40 appearances in Finland’s top league, the Liiga, with KalPa, and showed out well. He knows when to stay in the frame and reserves the bold movements where he can force shooters to commit to mistakes. Poile’s last pick, Fink, can beat goalies with an array of wristers, set up passing plays in transition, fool defenders with nice skating patterns, and drive to the net for rebounds. The value is clearly there in the draft selections.

St. Louis Blues: A

First round picks: Dalibor Dvorský (C), Otto Stenberg (C), Theo Lindstein (D)

Day 2 picks: Quinton Burns (D), Juraj Pekarcik (LW), Jakub Štancl (LW), Paul Fischer (D), Matthew Mayich (D), Nikita Susuyev (F)

Doug Armstrong could have easily moved one of his three first round picks, but he and the Blues are banking on the future. With the first selection, they went for one of the hardest working centers in Dvorský, who always attacks the inside, with and without the puck. He finds his teammates quickly, and can keep the puck under pressure. There is top-six center potential in him. Stenberg could be a top-six winger if he hits, as he is a creative hip-pocket handler. He never shies away from an opportunity to put a defender on a spin cycle. When not on the rush, he attacks the inside, cutting laterally.

Lindstein is a bounce-back candidate after a disappointing season with Brynäs IF of the SHL. He is a mature defensive defenseman who makes safe and effective decisions, holding a good gap and is quick to the boards with aggression, and joins the attack with nice decisions on the puck. But beyond the first round, the Blues also made some nice additions. Burns is one of the more physical defensemen in the Draft, showing he can handle long minutes and tough assignments.

He boxes out opponents from the front of the net, and his mobility shuts off passing lanes. Pekarcik was a late riser in the Draft, and his size and upside back that up. He is smart with the puck, seeing when a play is closed and when he needs to switch or defer to a different option. Štancle and Fischer are depth picks, though Fischer was a stout defender for Team USA when his guys won U18 gold. He leverages his frame in taking out guys coming in on the rush. The Blues added depth, especially on the higher end of the spectrum.

Winnipeg Jets: B

First round picks: Colby Barlow (LW)

Day 2 picks: Zach Nehring (RW), Jacob Julien (C), Thomas Millic (G), Conner Levis (C)

Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Jets didn’t have a lot of picks, so they couldn’t make a bigger impact on the prospect system, especially since they had just one pick inside the first two rounds. But Barlow may be a great add to the team. He can take a puck anywhere and get it to the back of the net with his array of shots. His sense of anticipation is a strength, and always times his arrivals to make himself a passing option for his linemates. He will be a long-term asset, and if he becomes a top-six scorer for them, the Jets can look back at this Draft with smiles on their faces.

Nehring is a project pick, and he can make sense in several ways. He swoops in to establish better body positioning, initiates contact, and gets under sticks as he shields defenders off the puck, where he is most effective at. Millic may be an undersized goalie, but he proved himself as a WHL champion with the Seattle Thunderbirds and a title with Team Canada in the World Juniors. He doesn’t aggressively challenge to take away space, but uses his speed and footwork to keep up with where the play is headed. Levis, who had a strong WHL season with the Kamloops Blazers, is an off-boards playmaker, turning puck battles into grade-A offensive chances for his team. He builds the offense in transition, passing the puck before he goes for the return pass, beating defenders off pressure. Some nice late value adds.

Pacific Division

Anaheim Ducks: A-

First round picks: Leo Carlsson (C)

Day 2 picks: Nico Myatovic (RW), Carey Terrance (C), Damian Clara (G), Coulson Pitre (RW), Yegor Sidorov (LW), Konnor Smith (D), Rodwin Dionicio (D), Vojtěch Port (D)

Pat Verbeek kicked things off for his Draft with the Ducks with a shock, going with Carlsson over Adam Fantilli. But he seems to be an organizational fit as a top center or wing who can play on a highly skilled core. Carlsson can register gaps in defensive coverage, know where his passing options are, and keep pace with offensive and defensive rotations. He drives to the inside, working at a high-octane off-puck pace, willing to take hits to get around the net. There is also a big-time potential in all of their second and third round picks. Myatovic reads gaps, attacks the space, and pulls the trigger with an NHL-like wrister and two-touch skill. When he is gapped in tight, he waits for help, and can turn hard passes into scorching wristers and picks off the corners.

Terrance can either drive solo off the rush or do a give-and-go. In the case of the former, he dangles past defenders, goes full speed ahead, and then skates to the net. In the latter, he takes the middle and passes wide before turning on the jets, and creates lanes off-puck. Clara has a massive 6′ 6″ frame, making strong pushes, and has great skating ability for a large goalie. He’s smart when it comes to setting his feet quick on unfolding opportunities, setting his feet early, focusing on the shooter and his release.

Pitre is a hard-hitting forward, fighting for body positioning, and never gives up on a play. He’s a playmaker, using the physicality before sliding a backhander to the slot. Sidorov goes around the pressure with moves off either side, mostly to cut to the inside for a scoring chance. A sudden release and blasting one-timers with the pass make him a threat to score. Dionicio looks to generate chances with every touch of the puck. With fakes, pace changes, and stickhandles, he draws opponents before finding the open teammate. Port is also a solid blueliner, creating plays in faking out opponents and jumping ahead of his forwards for a lead pass or driving the offense. Nice job by the Ducks to advance their rebuild forward.

Calgary Flames: B

First round picks: Sam Honzek (C)

Day 2 picks: Étienne Morin (D), Aidar Suniyev (LW), Jay Lipinski (F), Yegor Yegorov (G), Axel Hurtig (D)

Craig Conroy’s first NHL Draft as the Flames’ general manager turned out pretty well. He landed one of the hardest-working forwards in Honzek, who has big upside, and it won’t take long for him to make an impact on Calgary’s roster. The 6′ 4″ Slovak protects the puck with ease, positioning his body to generate offense. Instead of forcing the plays, he fakes cutbacks one way before going the other, and mixing edges with in-motion handling to go around defenders. Morin is a very physical offensive defenseman, throwing the body all game long.

He can shoot off the point, can execute breakout passes nicely, even through several forecheckers, and double cuts to evade the pressure. Suniyev had a monster year with the BCHL’s Penticton Vees, and is another big-bodied scorer who can protect the puck really well, especially with how he shields it and keeps his balance along the boards. Lipinski is another mobile big body with skill. He can skate around the perimeter heel-to-heel, separate from opponents with cutbacks, and mixes stickhandles with passing to hook pucks back into space. Given where the Flames are at, it’s a good Draft for them. They’re doing a retool on the fly, but it’s a solid class to kickstart Conroy’s GM career.

Edmonton Oilers: D+

First round picks: none

Day 2 picks: Beau Akey (D), Nathaniel Day (G), Matt Copponi (C)

With just three picks in the Draft, Ken Holland couldn’t do much to improve what has already been a drained-up prospect pool. The Oilers did address some needs at the NHL level, but not by much. At least they landed a solid defender in Akey, who was the understudy to Brandt Clarke with the OHL’s Barrie Colts this past season. He observes attackers’ movements and pushes them outside, pinches opponents in the offensive zone before they break out, and can anticipate guys on the rush and uses his stick to poke pucks away. Day shows patience in different scoring opportunities.

He rarely makes the first move, and pays attention to the detail in getting his feet to stay on angle, even when the play speeds up. The Copponi pick in the seventh round can be a steal. He was a key player with the NCAA’s Merrimack Warriors, emphasizing being in the right place at the right time, offering himself as an outlet to a defenseman in transition. However, lack of volume for Edmonton didn’t allow them to have a stronger Draft.

Los Angeles Kings: C+

First round picks: none

Day 2 picks: Jakub Dvořák (D), Koehn Zimmer (RW), Hampton Sulkynsky (G), Matthew Mania (D), Ryan Conmy (RW)

The Kings landed one of the better defensemen in Dvořák, who can cover the puck with his size and height. He has the skating and physical play, and is willing to use his frame to seal the puck away from his opponents. He and Ziemmer are two of the hardest players to play against. Ziemmer can get shots around defenders, and can pump fake and toe-drag to get the extra space for the release. He spins off checks and gets open for rebounds and tip-ins. He also throws reverse hits with the puck.

Sulkynsky was a top goalie in the Minnesota high school ranks, with a 1.47 goals against average and a .941 save percentage in 30 games with Warroad High in 2022-23. Mania has a lot of creativity to his game, looking to get the better option in faking out his opponents. He starts rushes with give-and-go’s after getting the puck off the boards, and breaks down defenders at the point before he sets up teammates at the slot. Lastly, Conmy is a player who can be the heart and soul of a team coming out of the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers. While it’s not the best class for Rob Blake and the Kings, they did get nice value out of it.

San Jose Sharks: A+

First round picks: Will Smith (C), Quentin Musty (LW)

Day 2 picks: Kasper Halttunen (RW), Brandon Svoboda (C), Luca Cagnoni (D), Axel Landén (D), Eric Pohlkamp (D), David Klee (F), Yegor Rimashevsky (F)

Mike Grier did most of his work last trade deadline in getting quality defensive prospects, and followed up with a really nice Draft. Smith at the fourth pick was a no-brainer, as he’s one of the more gifted puck-handlers in the Draft, and is a human highlight reel when on the ice. He can turn the bland into something special, like a reception on the breakout or a puck retrieval from the boards. Musty was someone people believed would be a top 10 prospect. He’s not shy about leveraging every part of it to rid his opponents of the puck, wreaking havoc on the boards and at the net-front, with a top-notch vision and a passing skill to connect on layered feeds. The Sharks also got bigger, with Halttunen and Svoboda being hauled in at the Draft.

Both are 6′ 3″, and Halttunen has a heavy shot, especially on the one-timer from the left half wall on the power play, the handling skills, the reach, and a physical power forward game. Svoboda battles at the net-front, gets open on the ice, and works hard on the forecheck, with great defense and exciting passing. He pulls off complex plays with his vision and confidence, and his wrister on the outside leg is one to watch. Halttunen has more offensive upside, while Svoboda is a more defensive guy. Cagnoni dissects the forecheck, going one way, shifts the other, finds an open teammate, and then gains traction to become a passing option.

He builds his puck touches off the previous ones, and controls the game in the offensive zone. Landén is an active defender, engages in puck battles and gains leverage with body positioning, pinning players along the boards. He finds the best passing lane in the offensive zone and can execute breakout passes in reading the pressure. Pohlkamp has a big impact in shots and hits. When on the power play, he builds the play before drawing the pressure towards him, passing, then getting to another spot before unloading a one-timer. He also times his poke checks well. It’s all about the upside for San Jose.

Seattle Kraken: B+

First round picks: Eduard Šalé (RW)

Day 2 picks: Carson Rehkopf (C), Oscar Fisker Mølgaard (C), Lukas Dragicevic (D), Caden Price (D), Andrei Loshko (RW), Kaden Hammell (D), Visa Vedenpää (G), Zeb Forsfjäll (C), Zaccharya Wisdom (RW)

Like the Sharks, it’s about the upside for Ron Francis and the Kraken, and they got nice skill in their third ever NHL Entry Draft. Šalé’s stock fell at the Draft, as consistency was an issue, but he is still a skilled passer who can get the puck through layers to go tape-to-tape with his linemates, and, as a shooter, can fire the puck in stride and hammer one-timers off either faceoff circle. Rehkopf has a fast wrister, controlling his speed to get the attack going and getting into the space. He knows when opponents will switch on coverages. One thing he has to improve on is his skating.

Fisker Mølgaard is a defensive-minded center who knows who the primary and secondary threats are, positions himself to take away passing lanes, skates through opponents’ releases to block shots, and can keep up with defensive rotations. Dragicevic had the most points among defensemen coming out of the three CHL leagues with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans. He uses opponents as screens with curl-and-drag shots, and his best sequences are on the breakout, with give-and-go’s before firing away. Price and Loshko were great mid-round picks. Price is a two-way defenseman who can generate opportunities for his guys at every corner. He reads his opponents going into defensive zone retrieval, shakes off the first forechecker, identifies the best play, and connects with a well-timed pass.

Loshko keeps the puck in his control as much as possible, looking for the simplest plays on the ice, and completes them with a smooth touch. He can push back against defenders with his 6′ 1″ frame going into the danger zone. Forsfjäll is a two-way center who can kill penalties. Defensively, he cleans things up with his skating and motor in cutting off passing lanes, putting pressure on the backcheck, and positioning on the defensive zone. And Wisdom can get to the net when given time and space. He reads his opponents’ momentum and dekes them, passing through the skates, and looking for contact to win puck battles. While these picks come with risks, they all come with high upside.

Vancouver Canucks: B-

First round picks: Tom Willander (D)

Day 2 picks: Hunter Brzustewicz (D), Sawyer Mynio (D), Ty Mueller (F), Vilmer Alriksson (LW), Matthew Perkins (C), Aiden Celebrini (D)

Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin wanted to address the Canucks’ defense, and they did so. They started off with one of the better pure defenders in Tom Willander, whose value comes from high-end skating and motor. He uses his posture and footwork in getting attackers away from the middle and breaking up plays along the boards. Add that he is strong and physical, and relentlessly competes for every puck, and has the quickness to recover the puck.

Brzustewicz is another great skater who has the puck-handling and fakes in his game, attacking the space in firing at the net, and fakes defenders to get shots and passing lanes. Mynio is another good value pick, and he’s a capable rush defender, shutting off the opposition in forcing the attackers to the outside and matching their footwork. He switches from one puck carrier to another, and locks onto them, eliminating them from the play. Mueller is a surprise pick, but he’s a jack-of-all-trades forward, bringing a bit of everything to the table. He’s a capable two-way forward, has instincts away from the puck, and is swift with his feet.

Perkins’ awareness of where his teammates are allows him to connect plays rapidly in outpacing the opposition in transition. His poise also allows him to hold the puck to let his teammates loose before getting at the right place to get a pass back. Lastly, Celebrini has the tools of a defensive defenseman: Mobility and physicality. He closes the space of attackers in the neutral zone, and engages in them in the defensive end, looks for threats and shuts off the lanes with his stick. There aren’t a lot of high-value picks, but they addressed organizational needs without significantly adding to the upside of their shallow prospect system.

Vegas Golden Knights: B-

First round picks: David Edstrom (C)

Day 2 picks: Mathieu Cataford (RW), Arttu Kärki (D), Tuomas Uronen (F)

The Stanley Cup champions got some nice value in the Draft, starting with the Edstrom pick. If they don’t trade him like they did with the rest of their first rounders except for Brendan Brisson, he could be a great middle-six two-way forward with size and skill for the franchise. He is a nice passer, both in the offensive zone and on the breakout, and supports defensemen on the down low, reading the passing lanes, and covering space when handling puck battles.

Cataford has the tools to be a great value pick. He can win puck battles on the forecheck, move it quickly to his teammates in the slot, make nifty plays in transition, break out in the offensive zone, and slide the puck through holes in transition. Kärki is a dual-threat defenseman with above average shooting and the ability to make plays off the rush. He has manipulative handling skills and is a nice skater with nice mobility at the point. Uronen builds his game around his hockey senses and skills.

He sees the play in advance, takes the smart routes both with and without the puck and manages it well during in-zone play. He drives to the inside, doesn’t take needless cycles, and generates plays from below the goal line. While this Draft isn’t the best of the best for George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon, it’s a nice one regardless.

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