For the first time in a long time there’s a generational player available in the 2023 NHL Draft.
One of the rare byproducts of a season that has gone off the rails for the Ducks is that they are in contention to draft Connor Bedard, a 17-year-old who plays for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.
Bedard wowed the scouts at the World Juniors and is the most anticipated draft eligible player since Connor McDavid in 2015.
The Ducks are on their bye week right now and once they return to action the race to the bottom of the standings will be a focal point, not only in Anaheim but in half a dozen other markets around the NHL, which also have their eye on Bedard.
In the NHL, finishing last overall does not guarantee the first overall pick in the draft because of the presence of the draft lottery. But the odds of getting the first pick are significantly higher if you happen to have the worst record in the league.
The other quality that sets the 2023 draft apart from others is there is depth beyond Bedard. Up to five players eligible in this year’s draft could have been candidates to go first overall last year. With that in mind, here’s an early look at what the top of the 2023 draft looks like. One of these six might land with the Ducks.
Input for what follows comes from TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button, a former NHL general manager who spent years scouting players in the Dallas Stars organization.
Connor Bedard, C, Regina Pats (WHL), 5-foot-10, 185 pounds
Ranking: No. 1 (Everyone).
Stat line: 42 goals, 43 assists, in 34 games.
Button’s view: “To narrow down one thing about Connor Bedard – what stands out the most – would diminish Connor Bedard. As brilliant as he is, the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts.
“What impressed me the most about him? Pick a day. Pick a game. He scores that fantastic overtime goal against Slovakia. He was in his 54th second of a shift. What impresses you more? The goal or the staying power?
“As (Regina GM) John Paddock told me last spring, he’s been in the spotlight since he was 12 years old. There’s not a spotlight too bright for him.”
Adam Fantilli, C, University of Michigan, 6-foot-2, 187 pounds
Ranking: No. 2 in most of the major scouting services. No. 3 at Sportsnet.
Stat line: 16 goals, 24 assists in 22 games.
Button’s view: “He is absolutely shredding it, shredding NCAA hockey as a freshman. He’s been phenomenal.
“It should come as no surprise. He’s got high-end skill. He’s got a physical maturity to him which has allowed him to step into the NCAA and really make a significant impact. You combine all those things and it shouldn’t be a surprise he’s excelling at the level he is.
“Fantilli might be a little bit better scorer. (Leo) Carlsson might be a little bit better playmaker. Whatever you want – you want the goal scorer, you want more of a playmaker – they’re both really good players.”
Leo Carlsson, F, Orebro HK (SHL), 6-foot-3, 194 pounds
Ranking: No. 2 (Sportsnet), No. 3 (TSN, The Hockey News), No. 4 (Dobber Prospects).
Stat line: Five goals, 13 assists in 31 SHL games
Button’s view: “He’s grown a lot in the last 12, 16 months. He was more of a long, lean player. Now that physical maturation has taken place. He’s heavier, weightier. I think he’s still adjusting to some of his size and strength gains.
“He’s forceful and competitive. When you’re looking at a 6-2 1/2, 6-3 centerman that can play the way Adam and Leo play, please stand up, NHL team, and say who doesn’t want a 6-2 ½, 6-3 centerman.
“When you look at those two, somebody has to make a choice. Take Adam or we take Leo? I can’t discern much difference between the two of them in terms of what their impact will be in the NHL.”
Eduard Sale, F, HC Kometa Brno (Czech Republic), 6-foot-1, 168 pounds
Ranking: No. 4 (Button, TSN), No. 7 (The Hockey News), No. 7 (Dobber Prospects). No. 20 (Sportsnet)
Stat line: Three goals, five assists in 34 games.
Button’s view: “He reminds me – in terms of his thinking and playmaking and abilities – of (Calgary’s) Jonathan Huberdeau. That type of a thinker, that type of a playmaker.
“It may not show up in the points, but I’ve watched him excel in his age group, playing a year younger than his age group. Last year at the U18 tournament, he was a year younger than everybody and he was outstanding. At the Hlinka Gretzky tournament this past summer – which is his age group – he was outstanding. He might not be rated incredibly high but the kid has got all kinds of ability. I think the kid has got the chance to be a star.”
Will Smith, C, USNTDP, 6-feet, 172 pounds
Ranking: No. 5 (The Hockey News), No. 6 (TSN), No. 7 (Sportsnet)
Stat line: 28 goals, 41 assists in 36 games (U.S. National U18 Team).
Button’s view: “He is so deceptive. He knows that there are four opportunities and if you are defending three of them, he’s going to find the one where he can take advantage. Good at making you think he’s going to do one thing and he may be opening up something completely different. He’s got that innate ability to survey the landscape and then understand that’s where I’m going.
“There’s got to be lots of deception when you’re a war general. You might want your foe to think you are attacking them on one flank and you want to give everything for them to believe that. That’s how Will plays hockey. He plays hockey with what I would call a battlefield mentality.”
Matvei Michkov, F, HK Sochi, 5-foot-10, 148 pounds
Ranking: No. 4 (McKenzie, TSN), No. 5 (Button, TSN), No. 3 (Dobber Prospects), No. 4 (Sportsnet).
Stat line: Four goals, two assists in 14 games (HK Sochi).
Button’s view: “He is a wild card. To me, he is the ultimate wild card.
“Out of sight, out of mind doesn’t mean he’s not a good prospect. But he has been out of sight and maybe not out of mind but not top of mind. No (NHL) decision-maker is watching him play (in person). It’s hard to ask a team to really really push and say we’re taking this guy when your key decision makers aren’t seeing him. It’s hard to do. I’m not saying you can’t do it.
“When I say Carlsson, Fantilli – you can watch them at the World Junior. You can watch Fantilli play at Michigan. You can go over to Europe and watch Carlsson play. You can factor in Eduard Sale. But there’s no chance to go and say, ‘Let’s go watch Michkov now.’”