I truly don’t know why you guys were so excited about my mini 2022 draft preview. I’m just going to assume you were all bored.
It’s one of the most popular articles I’ve posted on my own personal website and still, nearly a week later, is hitting impressive numbers. The draft is over two years away, but that hasn’t stopped you guys from looking ahead. So, thank you.
Some people tweeted me asking why so-and-so wasn’t included. First, it wasn’t a ranking, and I didn’t want to just name drop 20-30 players without much context. But, more often than not, it was because people were asking about guys that were eligible for the 2023 draft.
So let’s talk about the 2023 selection today.
The WHL was gifted with one of the most top-heavy drafts in the league’s existence: Connor Bedard, Brayden Yager and Riley Heidt. You’ve likely heard of Bedard’s name for the past 2-3 years by now, and for good reason. Bedard recently became the first WHL player to earn exceptional status and is set to take the Regina Pats to Western League supremacy. He’s just 14, but Bedard had 43 goals and 84 points in just 36 games against U-18 competition, good for first in league scoring. His shot is so dangerous, whether it’s a far-range slap shot or an in-tight wrist shot. Bedard has a quick release and his superb skating allows him to create his own scoring chances with minimal difficulty – simply put, he’s the best recreation of Connor McDavid that British Columbia has ever come up with, and he’s special.
For Yager – who wasn’t too far off of earning exceptional status behind Bedard – some scouts think he could be the better prospect when all is said and done. It’s too early to know how true that will become, but Yager is special. Watching him dangle Shane Wright – granted exceptional status for the 2019 OHL draft – before putting on one of the most impressive rookie seasons we’ve ever seen – with ease at the PEP high-performance camp last year was incredible.
To finish off the tremendous trio, Heidt has an incredible skillset that allows him to get creative with the puck and take risks with a high degree of success. Heidt, like Yager, applied for exceptional status to no avail. Heidt makes everyone around him better thanks to his reputation stout playmaker and he’s willing to take risks (with a high degree of success) to make a play happen with the puck. Heidt will be a future star in Prince George, but 2020-21 will be about Heidt taking his game to a whole new level and show that he doesn’t need top talent around him to be a star.
Moving east, Adam Fantilli made a name for himself as one of minor midget’s best players as an underaged forward in 2018-19 and carried on to rip up the American prep scene this season. Had Fantilli not committed to the USHL’s Chicago Steel, he would have easily gone No. 1 in the OHL draft. Why? Obviously, with 15-year-olds, there’s still a ton of development left to go, but Fantilli is a physically dominant forward at 6-foot-2 and uses his strong frame to win puck battles essentially anywhere on the ice and fight off physical defenders. If he’s this far advanced at this age, who knows where he’ll be in another three years after putting a beating on other junior prospects?
Taking a flight overseas, it’s been a while since there’s been as much hype surrounding a Russian prospect Matvei Michkov – not even Andrei Svechnikov was this elusive. Born in late 2004, Michkov obliterated the Youth Olympic Games with nine goals and 14 points in just four games, the best in tournament history (Svechnikov had 10 points in 2016, for example). His 109 points in just 26 games in the Russian U-16 league gave him a 16-point advantage over Vladimir Khomutov for the scoring lead and second all-time behind Yegor Filin’s 136 points in 2014-15. When scouts are saying Michkov’s game – built around speed and pure skill – is a hybrid of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, you can’t get much better praise than that. A future 100-point forward in the NHL? Absolutely. Don’t be shocked if he goes No. 2 behind Bedard.
I tweeted earlier today how Slovakia’s national team has a potential to see a spike again thanks to some high-quality prospects coming through the system and at this point, Ondrej Molnar looks like a threat to go in the top five of the 2023 selection process. Small but speedy, Molnar’s 55 points put him first among U-15 forwards in the U-18 Slovakian league and second all-time behind Jozef Balej’s 56-point output (in five more games) in 1996-97. Molnar is a high-risk, high-reward goal-scorer that can take full control of a shift and often comes out with around 10 shots a game. Sure, the competition in Slovakia doesn’t match up with what we see in North America, but you can’t ignore what he has produced at this point.
Sticking in Slovakia, depending on who you talk to, Samuel Sisik and Daniel Alexander Jencko can both be considered the top Slovakian prospect. Sisik had 50 points in the Finnish U-16 league for the fourth-best output from a U-15 player in league history. Granted, his 1.67 points-per-game average is below all other forwards in the top 10, but for a Slovakian player to enter the Finnish system and put a beating on other kids his age isn’t something you can just ignore. In Jencko’s case, he had four fewer points than Molnar in 13 fewer games, in the U-18 league, on top of putting up 30 points in 13 games in the U-16 league. It’ll be interesting to see if Jencko ends up moving elsewhere in Europe to continue his development because he has nothing left to prove in his own nation – he’s ready to take on the continent’s top prospects.
The next David Pastrnak? Dominik Petr sure hopes so. A member of the famed Vitkovice system, Petr’s 98 points over two U-16 seasons is good for seventh among U-15 forwards, but he was one of the best players in the league when he was just 13. Petr’s stats hold up, but his ability to steal the puck off an opponent, go end-to-end and rush to be one of the first players back in his own one makes him such a tough player to play against. Like Slovakia, the Czech Republic needs help to ensure the nation has a good long-term future and there’s already enough hype around Petr to give fans some hope.
I put a lot of stock in the World Selects Invitational because, for the most part, it’s a way of pitting the best prospects in any individual age group early on. At the 2019 U-14 tournament, Nurmi led the tournament with 12 goals and 23 points (even though all eyes were on top 2024 prospect Aron Kiviharju) and was generally the best two-way forward in the tournament. At 13, Nurmi was already putting up impressive numbers in the U-16 league and eventually made the jump to the U-18 level this season, with his 18 points putting him behind Jesse Puljujarvi, Urho Vaakanainen and Patrik Laine among all-time best seasons by a U-15 player. The best part, he played the fewest number of games, so imagine what he could have done with more than 22 games under his belt.
Russia has had a tough time over the past two decades developing defensemen, but some Russian scouts are excited about Mikhail Gulyayev already – even comparing him to Mikhail Sergachev. Gulyayev is a confident puck-moving defenseman that plays a physical game and moves so well on his feet. Gulyayev’s 37-point, 1.37 PPG season with Omsk and Novosibirsk was the best by a U-15 defenseman in the Russian league ever and it’s clear he’s ready to tackle U-18 opponents in the near future.
I gave Calum Ritchie big praise in late April as the top 2021 OHL draft prospect and assuming he lives up to his full potential, NHL teams will be excited about him two years after that. Ritchie was dominant against kids a year older than him this season in short action and had no issue beating up on his own age group. Ritchie is a confident skater that goes above and beyond to get the puck where he wants it and doesn’t turn down any 1-on-1 challenge.
It’s still far too early to have a reasonable draft ranking for 2023, but with names like Kalan Lind, Nate Danielson, Quentin Musty, Noah Erliden, Luke Misa, Etienne Morin, Cam Squires and Koehn Ziemmer, the 2023 draft won’t have a shortage of high-end talent. Of course, there’s still enough time for things to drastically change and have someone shoot up the ranks or another fall down drastically, but there’s a reason why scouts have their eyes on 2023 already.
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