The Hockey Prospecting Top 32 (2023)

Introducing the final Hockey Prospecting rankings of the top 32 for the 2023 draft! The rankings factor in the probabilities from the model, but also age, runway left to improve (i.e., how much time do they have to make the big jumps prior to certain age milestones indicative of impactful NHLers), league-specific patterns/anomalies and reputation/rank with reliable resources. These are not scouting reports or a ranking of where we think players will actually be drafted. Rather, our rankings provide a glimpse into who we see making the NHL and becoming stars in the NHL, based on 30 years of history and distinct pattern detection.

Let me start by saying, analytically, this is one of the deepest top end drafts we’ve ever seen. Generally, there’s not a generational talent in a draft, this one potentially has two. Generally, the really high model favorites only last until the first few picks. This year, you make it to around the early teens before things start to fall off. As well, there’s a number of “above average” producers that would find themselves at the backend of the Top 32 in almost any other year. There’s lots of these that didn’t quite make the cut that I’ve added as honorable mentions.

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1. Connor Bedard, C, WHL

Bedard has been billed as a generational talent by many since he was about 15 and he lives up to the hype. Bedard looks every bit the part of the next generational talent for the NHL.

We haven’t seen a generational Canadian CHL product like him since Connor McDavid. Before that it was Sidney Crosby. Before that it was Mario Lemieux. Before that it was Wayne Gretzky. Point is the list of guys that look like this is not long and are some of the best NHL players of their respective generations (and of all time). Bedard will be the next one these.

The way he looks in the model is of a player that always hits as a star, always hits as a point-per-game+ superstar in fact (even if you expand out to include players from all leagues that look just like this).

He is on the smaller side and it might take him a bit to find how to make it work in the NHL (like Jack Hughes). But I would not be surprised at all if Bedard manages to put up 70+ points over an 82 game pace in his very first year. In his prime, I would expect he will be a 110 to 140 point per game player.

He’s ready to go and will be in the NHL next year.

He’s #1 on our board and every other board in the world.

2. Adam Fantilli, C, NCAA

Fantilli is an incredible consolation prize in the Bedard draft. Similar to the Penguins getting Malkin after Ovechkin in 2004 or the Sabres getting Eichel after McDavid in 2015. His production in the NCAA as a freshman in his first eligible draft year was absolutely sensational.

The only NCAA products that managed something similar in their DY, when you era adjust it all, are Paul Kariya and Jack Eichel. Add to it Fantilli’s incredible pre-draft year in the USHL last year. Fantilli is just a small step back from matching Bedard’s generational profile. He profiles like Eric Lindros, Pat Lafontaine and Alexandre Daigle. The Ducks should be counting their blessings they have this type of talent available to them at the 2nd overall pick, doesn’t normally go that way.

3. Matvei Michkov, W, KHL/VHL

The only reasons Michkov is not number 1 or 2 on this list is how incredible Bedard and Fantilli look in their own right, and Michkov likely won’t be able to come over to North America and his NHL club for at least 3 years. By the model, but also by what scouts and draft folks say about him, Michkov is one of the finest European prospects we’ve ever seen.

His production in the MHL and KHL over his pre-draft year and draft year are off the charts. He, in fact, has the same generational profile as Connor Bedard. Again, every player that has ever had this type of equivalency numbers in their pre-draft year and draft year has turned into a superstar in the NHL.

So you have to wait on him for a while. Hopefully no more than 3 years. But he wants to be in the NHL, he’ll come at some point when he’s able and when he makes his way over here you should expect something in the ball park of Malkin, Ovechkin, Kaprizov, production-wise.

4. Zach Benson, W, WHL

Benson has a terrific profile in the model. Young late Spring born forward who moved from a 20s equivalency in his pre-draft year to one in the 40s in his draft year. Most rankings have him going in the 6-10 range.

Benson is exactly the type of profile that pops big and years later many wonder why why he wasn’t drafted in the top 5. Comparables include Marc Savard, Mitch Marner, Joe Thornton, Nikita Kucherov and Quinton Byfield.

5. Will Smith, C, US NTDP

The Fresh Prince of Massachusetts. An incredible talent from the US National Development program. His equivalency in his pre-draft year and draft year were exceptional (beating out Matthews’ record setting National Development program totals). The age with Smith is appetizing too. He’s not a Summer-born guy, like Bedard, but born in mid-March, there’s lots of runway left there. Marian Hossa is one of very few comparables in the model.

Might he be the 2nd player ever to jump straight from the US National Development program right to the NHL (Jack Hughes was the first). The sky high, rarely seen equivalency, the reputation and likelihood he goes in the top 5… it’s a possibility. I’ll say that. Unless he goes to Arizona. Then he’ll go to college for a bit, no question.

6. Leo Carlsson, C/W, SHL

Carlsson finds himself in an interesting group. He had production that was off the charts for the J20 in his pre-draft year. He then moved on to the SHL in hi DY and put up some pretty substantial production, in line with top Swedish players that have come through the SHL in their draft year.

One interesting thing is he didn’t really move on to another tier in his draft year from his pre-draft year. His equivalency, when you’ve put everything on the same level playing field, was in a similar realm YoY. This is not very common to have a player in a 30s equivalency in their pre-draft year and draft year, and is why the star probability is what it is. However this rarely happens coming through the pro Euro track.

The last one that somewhat resembles this was Alexander Ovechkin in 2004 (who was actually playing in the KHL in his pre draft year and draft year). He’s not going to be Ovechkin (I’ll hedge that he’ll be worse than possibly the greatest goal scorer of all time). The model suggests a 30% star probability but Carlsson’s reputation is that of a top 3 pick and given that success is already coming in a Pro Euro league… I’m higher on him than what the model says.

Add to it, the SHL is the league that is most likely to beats out the odds in the model and produces highly productive NHLers that don’t show extraordinary in the model (e.g., Kopitar, Raymond, Klefbom).

7. Andrew Cristall, W, WHL

This is where you start to see my list really start to differ from most other lists. Cristall perhaps isn’t the greatest skater and has some things to work on but offensively he is elite. He has great hands and offensive vision and his profile in the model is that of a player who hits as a star about half the time and almost always makes the NHL. These guys often go in the top 5. In this draft there’s rumours that Cristall might not go until the late teens (hopefully 16th).

8. Mikhail Gulyayev, D, KHL/VHL/MHL

Gulyayev has an INCREDIBLE profile in the model and can skate like the wind. A crazy productive offensive dman who looks very similar to Evan Bouchard and Brandt Clarke but he’s of the younger variety too. But he’s 5’10”, Russian (given the current climate and hesitancy towards Russian prospects doesn’t help) and has some stuff to fix up.

For reference, if you look at all drafted dmen over the past 30+ years that played in a junior Euro league (and showed best there)… Gulyayev has by far the highest equivalency of any of them. And he had a 99th percentile equivalency in his pre-draft year.

Remember last year… there was a tiny dman that had crazy production that we suggested should go high in the 1st round. Didn’t go until nearly the 3rd round. And put together one of the best offensive seasons at the NCAA level that we’ve ever seen and now is on everybody’s radar. And the year before that a tiny dman was taken in the 2nd round out of the WHL because … he was small and didn’t play a lot in his draft year (but put up incredible numbers in the small game sample he did play in). By his D+1 it was very obvious he should have been a 1st ruond pick. Gulyayev could potentially be the next Lane Hutson, Olen Zellweger variety. He in fact profiles slightly ahead of where both were in their DYs. I am all in on this one!

9. David Reinbacher, D, Swiss NL

Reinbacher comes with a notable 97th percentile equivalency DY, and he did so on the Pro Euro circuit, through the Swiss league. The repuation for Reinbacher is also very high, with many convinced he’ll be the first dman selected in this very deep 2023 draft. He also has good size and there doesn’t seem to be any grave concerns about his overall game.

A notable pre-draft year in one of the ~50 leagues that Hockey Prospecting tracks could have potentially pushed him into a spot in the top 5. But in a draft as deep as this, I feel comfortable to have him at #9.

10. Dalibor Dvorsky, C/W, Allsvenskan/J20

Dvorsky is a very unique case in the model and one that I think has massive boom/bust (or replacement level NHLer potential). The Slovakian Dvorsky has been playing in Sweden the past few years. In his pre-draft year in 2021-22, he played mostly in the J20 and saw results indicative of a top 5, top 10 pick.

In his draft year, he played mostly in the Allsvenskan (Tier 2 Sweden Pro league) and was not very productive at all. But he also had a small segment back in the J20 where the production was very high. The way the model works is, pending a high enough game sample, I choose universally where they showed best. In this case, Dvorsky showed best in the J20. Coupled with his age and high reputation, he shows well in the model.

Is it concerning that he didn’t produce much at the Allsvenskan level? It is concerning. But could also suggest that the very-young June born Dvorsky wasn’t ready for pro hockey yet. There’s another European that looked very similar and had similar circumstances.

Nikita Kucherov played in the KHL in his draft year and saw little ice-time and little production. But he also played in the MHL (the equivalent of the J20 in Russia) and saw top 5% DY production. He is also nearly the identical relative age to Dvorsky. It wouldn’t be for another 3-4 years before Kucherov started to make his mark in the NHL and boy has he left a mark now. Could Dvorsky be anything close to a Kucherov talent?I’ll take that risk at #10 not any earlier though in this draft.

11. Lukas Dragicevic, D, WHL

Good size, top level pre-draft year and draft year normalized production for a dman. Usually a player like Dragicevic would be much higher on a yearly Hockey Prospecting top 32 but this draft is so deep and his reputation isn’t superb (there’s defensive deficiencies not many have him ranked inside the top 20). But dmen that look like this make the NHL basically every time (Ryan Murphy missed it ever so slightly) and they often turn into stars.

At a minimum, you can make this pick and assume he’ll find his way into the NHL. As a ceiling, you could have an elite offensive dman that can run a 1st PP unit.

12. Gabe Perreault, W, US NTDP

I appeared to have gotten burnt with Gabe’s older brother, Jacob. I had him ranked high and looks like I might miss there. But I’m willing to give it another shot because in his own draft year, Gabe Perreault looks very good in the model and there’s lots to like there.

Another product of the US National Development program, he and Will smith were running wild all year. Perreault ended up with a jaw dropping equivalency of 51! He’s young (born in May) and isn’t tall but he’s not small either, a nice average height. The things missing from having Perreault ranked higher are a consensus mid-teens ranking on draft boards as well as not having a notable pre-DY season.

The ones that have these monster draft years but don’t have it backed by a really substantial pre-draft year (20+ equivalency) don’t tend to hit as stars as often as the ones who have the same draft year production with the big pre-draft year as well.

13. Quentin Musty, W, OHL

Musty has a lot of intriguing things about him. Good size, his consensus ranking is in the early teens, really young (born in July). Model-wise, he’s already surpassed the 30 equivalency threshold in his draft year (always a great sign for such a younger player because of the runway he has left to progress to another level). 1st round comparables that are of a similar size – Vilardi, Glass, Dubois, Bennett, Huberdeau, E. Kane, Turris, Van Riemsdyk with few misses (Dal Colle is one).

14. Axel Sandin Pellikka, D, SHL/J20

Model-wise, Pellikka, in this particular draft, is probably somebody who would slide down to the 20s. However, the reputation as one of the best D prospects in the entire 2023 class gets him bumped up 6 to 10 spots. In the model he actually profiles very similar to another Sandin (Rasmus). They have near identical birthdays as well. Rasmus saw rapid development and heavy jumps in production soon after being drafted. Perhaps that’s in line for Pellikka over the coming years as well.

15. Ryan Leonard, C, US NTDP

Leonard is another player boosted up the rankings due to their reputation (consensus rankings have him as a top 10 talent). Model-wise, like Pellikka, he would likely find himself in the 20s. But the scouts love him and he might even go top 5. In the model, he has an equivalency in the late 30’s, nearly crossing over to a 40 equivalency (which would have boosted his probabilities up if he had crossed over).

Add to it, at this spot we’re now through the really high model tiers of the model and there’s a number of players that start to look similar in the model (older birthdates with good but not extraordinary D-1 and DY production). Given Leonard’s stellar reputation I wouldn’t have an issue with Leonard being the first taken from this next tier of very similar prospects.

16. Riley Heidt, F, WHL

17. Matthew Wood, C/W, NCAA

18. Oliver Moore, C, US NTDP

19. Colby Barlow, W, OHL

20. Samuel Honzek, C, WHL

21. Gavin Brindley, W, NCAA

22. Eduard Sale, W, Czechia

23. Timur Mukhanov, C, VHL/MHL

24. Brayden Yager, C, WHL

25. Nate Danielson, C, WHL

26. Daniil But, W, KHL/MHL

27. Luca Cagnoni, D, WHL

28. Etienne Morin, D, QMJHL

29. Koehn Ziemmer, W, WHL

30. Roman Kantserov, F, MHL

31. Tristan Bertucci, D, OHL

32. Yegor Klimovich, F, MHL

Honorable Mentions: Daniil Karpovich, Magomed Sharakanov, Mazden Leslie, Hunter Brzustewicz, Caden Price, Kasper Halttunen, Jayson Shaugabay, Noah Dower Nilsson, Gracyn Sawchyn, Calum Ritchie, Bradly Nadeau

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  1. Reasons for Benson being above Smith? Is it the lack of convincing comps for Smith? In my keeper draft this year, I think choosing between the 2 will be my dilemma. Any insight helps!

  2. How do you weight star% to NHL%? This list doesn’t follow either of the two in descending order. Do you create a weighted average of the two to determine the ranking? Is it based on their NHLe from that year?

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