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The 2023 NHL Entry Draft is almost upon us which means it’s time for our annual mock draft.  As is tradition, we’ve picked the entire first round.  In addition, we’ve also picked Montreal’s next four selections after the top round.

Joining me to pick the draft this past Thursday (June 22nd) were HW writers Norm Szcyrek and Kevin Leveille.  Montreal’s selections were made on a consensus basis while picks for the rest of the first round were made on an alternating basis; the writer for each pick is noted in the write-up.

#1 – Chicago Blackhawks – Connor Bedard, C, Regina (WHL)

(Norm) Another elite-level Connor is about to join the NHL.  Bedard has been touted as “The Next One” since he was fifteen, dominating every minor league and tournament over the past three seasons.  Bedard has exceptional level skills in shooting, playmaking, hockey sense, and puck handling.  The World Junior Championships is the barometer used to gauge every draft-eligible player, and Bedard was outstanding in that tournament. He was the key reason that team took home gold, although Habs prospect Joshua Roy was also a key contributor.  Bedard has a couple of areas to improve upon, such as his defensive game and breakaway speed, but neither are glaring weaknesses.  The Blackhawks will be very fortunate to select Bedard, and he will form the centerpiece of their rebuild.

#2 – Anaheim Ducks – Adam Fantilli, C, Michigan (NCAA)

(Kevin) Anaheim toys with the idea of taking Michkov, but the big talented centre that is matching numbers put up by Jack Eichel and Paul Kariya can place Trevor Zegras in his proper chair of being the long-term 2C for the Ducks. That proves to be too much to pass up and they take Fantilli. The reigning Hobey Baker winner is big, ultra-skilled, and fast. He’d easily be the top selection in some other year’s draft, if not for generational Bedard. Anaheim will love this guy.

#3 – Columbus Blue Jackets – Leo Carlsson, C, Orebro (SHL)

(Brian) There are times when team needs and BPA come together.  That’s what happens here as Columbus has been in dire need of a true top-line, two-way centre for a long time.  Carlsson can be that player for them.  Having played and produced in the pros already in Sweden, he’s someone that could have a shot at cracking their lineup right away which is notable with the Blue Jackets shifting toward more of a win-now approach.

#4 – San Jose Sharks – Matvei Michkov, RW, Sochi (KHL)

(Norm) Very much like Bedard, Michkov has been dominating minor league hockey since the age of fifteen. The U18 tournament in 2021 was an eye-opener for many scouts watching Michkov, as he had more goals and points than Bedard.  During that same season, he broke the scoring records held by Nikita Kucherov in the Russian top junior league.  Michkov has elite-level scoring abilities and puck handling, with a shot selection that is already NHL-ready.  His acceleration is very good, but his overall speed needs improvement. His size is less than ideal, but his hockey sense and anticipation help him avoid contact most of the time.  Michkov’s playmaking improved greatly after his transfer from the SKA team this season. Like other junior-aged players, his defensive attention is often lacking, since he is always thinking about his next scoring opportunity.

#5 – Montreal Canadiens – Will Smith, C, US NTDP (USHL)

The connection here is obvious with Smith having been coached in the past by Habs GM Kent Hughes.  However, more importantly, he’d check a lot of boxes for the Canadiens.  In Nick Suzuki, they have a two-way middleman but he’s not a high-end offensive threat.  Smith, as one of the more dynamic offensive players in this draft class, could become that down the road.  Montreal wants to play more up-tempo and aggressively under Martin St. Louis, Smith would certainly fit that style.

#6 – Arizona Coyotes – Ryan Leonard, RW, US NTDP (USHL)

(Kevin) With a glaring need on the blue line and an NHL-ready prospect like Reinbacher available, this pick may surprise a few. However, Leonard’s high-energy game adds a different aspect to the Yotes’ attack as he’ll be able to join Logan Cooley, Nick Schmaltz, and Clayton Keller on what could be a pretty darn skilled forward group real soon. The fact that the Yotes have another pick at 12 is an important factor that made the swing on Leonard over the safety of Reinbacher too tempting to pass up.

#7 – Philadelphia Flyers – David Reinbacher, D, Kloten (NLA)

(Brian) At a time when the Flyers are looking to load up on talent, taking a safer player like Reinbacher might seem like a bit of a contrarian direction.  However, new GM Daniel Briere is in the process of dismantling Philadelphia’s back end and they don’t have anyone in their system that’s capable of logging heavy minutes on the top pairing while still being able to chip in offensively.  He might not be the most talented player but Reinbacher has a chance to be a foundational piece for Philly.  That’ll be hard to pass up on.

#8 – Washington Capitals – Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (Allsvenskan)

(Norm) Washington lost a lot of man games to injuries this past season, and that revealed the squad’s centre depth is glaringly weak.  Selecting Dvorsky will go a long way toward shoring up that slot.  Dalibor is one of the best two-way centres in this draft class. He has a pro-size frame now and should gain more strength over the next few years.  Dvorsky ranks very high in puck handling, playmaking, and vision, to go along with a high compete level.  He often dominates in the corners and retrieves pucks or breaks up plays in the neutral zone.  Dvorsky’s shot is very underrated, as he has a lot of power and accuracy in it.  His acceleration and speed are a work in progress, but he should be able to improve those enough to become at least average at the NHL level.

#9 – Detroit Red Wings – Zach Benson, LW, Winnipeg (WHL)

(Kevin) Yzerman has never shied away from selecting what he believes to be the BPA. In this case, he gets the last of a top nine that really sets itself apart in this draft. In Benson, the Wings get a small but ultra-talented player who has the second-best vision in the draft after Bedard. Benson was also second to Bedard in scoring in the entire WHL, so the Red Wings are getting a crazy high ceiling with a ninth selection in this draft. Honestly, I think getting Benson at nine is a steal for Detroit.

#10 – St. Louis Blues – Gabe Perreault, LW, US NTDP (USHL)

(Brian) As the Blues embark on at least some sort of short-term retooling, they’ll need to increase their offensive talent to complement the likes of Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou.  Perreault certainly fits that bill following a year with the NTDP that saw him break their all-time scoring record.  Skating is holding him back from being closer to the top of this draft class but a player who can light it up like Perreault can is going to have a chance to be a productive NHLer for many years.

#11 – Vancouver Canucks – Axel Sandin-Pellikka, D, Skelleftea (SWE J-20)

(Norm) An outstanding but undersized skater, Sandin-Pellikka is a possession-driving player from the backend. Axel’s skating is excellent, with four-way mobility and agility.  Because of those skills, he often leads the rush to set up scoring chances.  On the power play, he’s very good at creating offence, although his point shot needs work to deliver more velocity.  Partly due to his under six feet size, his defensive game requires work. He does have the intelligence to do well at gap control on defence. If he can make those improvements to his defensive abilities then he has top-pairing potential at the pros. He will require at least a couple of years to develop more physically to prepare for the NHL level.

#12 – Arizona Coyotes – Colby Barlow, RW, Owen Sound (OHL)

(Kevin) So, the plan to make it to twelve and grab one of the top two defenders backfired. Instead, they continue to build what is shaping up to be a formidable top six if they can keep Keller on their team, wherever that ends up being. In Barlow, the Coyotes gain a strong leader with an awesome shot and improved speed. If Leonard was selected for his high ceiling, the Yotes switched here and picked a player with a high floor, but a ceiling that is described as limited and believed to be as a 30-goal scorer. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t become an important winger that finishes plays by Cooley or Keller down the road.

#13 – Buffalo Sabres – Matthew Wood, LW, UConn (NCAA)

(Brian) The Sabres are building a good mixture of skill and size and Wood checks both of those boxes.  He’s a high-end scoring threat and piled up the points with the Huskies despite being one of the youngest players in college hockey.  Skating is an area of concern to the point where it should drop him out of the top ten but he has a chance to be a successful power forward and a nice complementary piece for the Sabres.

#14 – Pittsburgh Penguins – Oliver Moore, C, US NTDP (USHL)

(Norm) The Penguins’ pair of superstar centres can’t keep their production up forever. A youth injunction with a very speedy centre could help a lot.  Moore is the fastest skater in this draft, with elite-level acceleration and speed.  If Will Smith were not a centre on the US National Development Team this season, Oliver would have been their top option and produced better offensive numbers.  Moore is no slouch on offence, with an excellent shot, hockey sense, and compete level.  His playmaking has been questioned at times this season, and some scouts are uncertain he will be a top-line centre.  His defensive game is sound, and his skating and hockey IQ allow him to anticipate plays and break them up before they get underway.  His coaches love the consistency Oliver brings to every game.  I predict Moore will become a top-six winger who can also fill in at centre when necessary.

#15 – Nashville Predators – Andrew Cristall, LW, Kelowna (WHL)

(Kevin) Incoming GM Barry Trotz told his scouts to take swings for skill and that’s exactly what they get here. This pick reminds me an awful lot of the pick the Habs made when they got to pick at #15 and they drafted a smaller winger. The Predators take the huge home run swing and doing so this late in the round gives Cristall the proper chip on his shoulder to make them look like geniuses for doing so.

#16 – Calgary Flames – Brayden Yager, C, Moose Jaw (WHL)

(Brian) There is about to be an exodus of firepower in Calgary as the Flames appear to be set to move out several veterans.  They don’t have the deepest of systems and someone like Yager, one of the better shooters in this draft, should appeal to them.  The fact he plays centre also should help.  There’s some work to be done to become a more refined offensive player but if he can do that, he could be a top-six middleman which would be great value for Calgary at this stage.

#17 – Detroit Red Wings – Nate Danielson, C, Brandon (WHL)

(Norm) Although I can also see the Red Wings going with a defenceman with their second first-round selection, the possibility of a top-six centre at this slot will be too tempting to pass up.  Danielson has great size and skating abilities, along with a good collection of offensive skills, shot, playmaking, and hockey sense.  On his junior team, he was a leader and point driver. The depth of this draft may keep him out of the top ten, but he likely would have been selected near that top echelon in any other NHL draft. During this past season, he has shown inconsistent results, but as the only shining star on a weak team, may have been guilty of trying to do too much.  He too often tried high-risk passes that were usually ineffective.  If he does not improve in these areas, he may end up moving to the wing as a pro which is still a position he should become very efficient at.

#18 – Winnipeg Jets – Samuel Honzek, LW, Vancouver (WHL)

(Kevin) Some teams just have a type, don’t they? The Jets pick Honzek as a big winger that can skate well despite some acceleration issues. He was impressive in his first season in North America as his ability to play in traffic stood out on the smaller ice surface. He’ll have to show more consistency to make it, but it’s not a stretch to say that there was much adaptation going on for the big lanky body as he adjusted to life on this side of the pond.

#19 – Chicago Blackhawks – Daniil But, LW, Yaroslavl (MHL)

(Brian) This is a wild card selection and Chicago, a team that’s engaging in a longer-term rebuild, can get away with taking the risk.  Skilled players with size are hard to come by and that’s what But is.  He’s also more of a finesse player than a pure power forward which is where the wild card element comes in.  If he fills out and becomes more physical, he could be the perfect complementary winger for Bedard.  But it’s going to take a while to get there.  The Blackhawks can afford to wait.

#20 – Seattle Kraken – Dmitri Simashev, D, Yaroslavl (MHL)

(Norm) The Kraken have a huge need for depth on defence. With their regular season success, they can afford some patience to wait for Simashev. Dimitri has great size and elite-level skating skills, with a good all-around toolbox.  His skating helps give him very good gap control. Simashev spent most of the season in the Russian junior league but did get a limited amount of ice time in a dozen and a half KHL games too.  His offensive numbers were not much to look at, but he did finish the regular season very strong, then produced six points in ten playoff games.  Despite his big size, his point shot is weak, so there is room for improvement.  As with all the Russian prospects in this draft, the lack of attending tournaments limits scouts to many views of Simashev, which may have dropped his spot in the rankings. He’s likely to need at least three years of development before being ready to make the jump to the NHL.

#21 – Minnesota Wild – Calum Ritchie, C, Oshawa (OHL)

(Kevin) The Wild select BPA as opposed to team need here as they select the playmaking centre from the OHL. In Ritchie, the Wild find themselves with a player whose main knock against him is being “too unselfish”. While he could still work on his skating and strength, his qualities are his IQ (at both ends of the rink), his playmaking skills, and his compete level. That last one is a huge one for me when considering he already boasts enough size to ensure a high floor, which is a definite trademark of the Minnesota Wild’s scouting tendencies.

#22 – Philadelphia Flyers – Eduard Sale, RW, Kometa Brno (Czech U20)

(Brian) After going with a safer pick in Reinbacher earlier, the Flyers flip the script with Sale’s selection.  Widely viewed as a possible top-ten pick heading into the season, his stock has dipped considerably since then.  It isn’t due to a lack of skill but rather his inconsistency and a lack of effort.  Those don’t sit well with scouts.  But talent-wise, Sale is among the top options in the draft.  If he’s able to turn those weaknesses around, he will become a steal in this class.  With an extra pick, Philadelphia might be open to taking that risk.

#23 – New York Rangers – Kasper Halttunen, RW, HIFK (Liiga)

(Norm) A big, talented right winger that moved up the rankings later in the season. The Rangers also have a big need for depth on RW, and Halttunen may make the jump sooner than later.  He has a pro-size body now and scored at a goal per game clip for his junior club.  His heavy shot and aggressive nature in the offensive zone make him a legitimate threat to score.  Kasper was the captain of his U18 team, which helps illustrate his leadership.  He does need time to develop his defensive game, but getting more ice time in the top Finnish men’s league should help him in that area.  It’s likely he will take the next two seasons developing his game in Finland before making the move to the NHL.

#24 – Nashville Predators – Quentin Musty, LW, Sudbury (OHL)

(Kevin) After going small and high ceiling with Cristall, the Preds follow it up nine selections later with another big swing in selecting Musty. Interestingly, Musty is likely a good complement to Cristall as the latter wants the puck on his stick to create plays whereas Musty is a very north-south big body that will create plays by attacking the middle of the ice. While both are listed as left wingers, it’s conceivable that Musty, who at times struggles with reading the plays coming at him, could be moved to his off-wing to take advantage of his heavy shot in traffic.

#25 – St. Louis Blues – Tom Willander, D, Rogle (SWE J20)

(Brian) Every year when we do these, there’s a pick at some point where I’m making a selection simply to get a guy off the board even though I think there’s no chance he’ll actually be available at that point.  Willander is that guy this year.  His stock has gone up considerably this season as one of the better skating defenders who has a strong defensive game.  That’s a high floor that will be of interest to teams, as will the fact that he’s a right-shot defender.  Personally, I think he’s going to go at the back of the lottery but if he’s on the board at this point, St. Louis will be thrilled to get him.

#26 – San Jose Sharks – Oliver Bonk, D, London (OHL)

(Norm) The son of former Hab Radek Bonk, Oliver is a mobile defender with good offensive tools.  His skating and acceleration are already top-notch, and he adds good agility and edgework to his game.  Despite being a right shot, he was often paired on the left side with Habs’ right-handed prospect Logan Mailloux. This pairing was kept together for much of the first half of his OHL rookie season.  What was unusual was his goal-scoring dropped off from ten goals to zero when Bonk was moved away from Mailloux.  Despite that stagnation, Bonk has a high compete level and strong hockey sense which will help take him far.  He’s got the potential to become a top-four pairing defenceman at the pro level, and will likely take around 2 1/2 to 3 years before breaking into the NHL.

#27 – Colorado Avalanche – Theo Lindstein, D, Brynas (SWE J20)

(Kevin) While this certainly was not a consensus pick, the Avalanche are in a particular situation with the cap, and I think it made sense for them. As shown by their trade for Ryan Johansen (which happened after this mock), the Avs need to shore up their forward group considering they are losing both Gabriel Landeskog (injury) and J.T Compher (UFA). Even if they don’t trade from their outstanding blue line depth to do so, they likely compromise themselves with the cap. This means they’ll have to let some of that talent go down the road. At 27, they aren’t picking to fill a hole now but to complement the talent they’ll keep down the road. In that regard, Lindstein, who is known for his smooth skating and high IQ both with and away from the puck, would be a perfect partner for either Cale Makar or Bowen Byram down the road.

#28 – Toronto Maple Leafs – Ethan Gauthier, RW, Sherbrooke (QMJHL)

(Brian) With the way that Toronto is built now and presumptively will be for the foreseeable future, top-end skill isn’t the issue.  But finding complementary pieces that can move up and down the lineup and be the missing link on a line is.  Gauthier is one of those players.  He’s probably not going to be a top-end scorer in the NHL but his two-way game is good enough to project him killing penalties, giving him a chance to be a key middle-six piece.  On the Maple Leafs, that’s the exact type of player they should be looking to add.

#29 – St. Louis Blues – Michael Hrabal, G, Omaha (USHL)

(Norm) After taking a forward with their first pick, the Blues decide to be the first team to pick a goalie in this draft. Hrabal is a huge netminder at 6’6, who is very athletic and mobile with very good anticipation.  He has excellent rebound control with a quick glove hand.  His positioning requires a little more work, but his leg work is quick allowing him to recover from an initial save. Michael has a starting-level pedigree, with the potential of the same role in the NHL.  With goaltenders typically taking longer to develop, and Hrabal committed to playing for the University of Massachusetts this fall after spending a season in the USHL, St. Louis will see a player who wants to develop as quickly as possible.  Michael was outstanding for the Czech team at the U18 tournament. It’s uncommon for European players to head to play NCAA college hockey, but when they do it shows an extra level of commitment to becoming a pro.

#30 – Carolina Hurricanes – Riley Heidt, C, Prince George (WHL)

(Kevin) I selfishly almost didn’t make this selection simply because I wanted Heidt for the Habs at 31. However, the needs of the Hurricanes are clear, and they are on offence. In Heidt, the Canes find a player that makes their playing style too as Heidt is aggressive on the forecheck and has a motor that just doesn’t stop. He’s strong defensively and his excellent at controlling the puck and creating plays even when at top speed. A perfect fit for Carolina.

#31 – Colorado Avalanche – David Edstrom, C, Frolunda (SWE J20)

Edstrom is a diligent two-way centre, who is one of Sweden’s best defensively-skilled forwards in this draft.  At 6’3, he already possesses pro size, but at 185 pounds still requires time to bulk up before arriving in the NHL.  He has excellent hockey sense, to break up a play in the defensive/neutral zone or anticipate a play before his opposition.  His passing ability is also excellent, to go along with high faceoff skills in the dot. His skating is still a work in progress, particularly with his acceleration. Scouts believe this can be corrected with some focused training. When he arrives in North America to play, we expect he will only require about a half-season in the minors to acclimatize to the game played over here. After then, he will easily adapt to a fourth-line role with his first call-up and should rise up the depth charts from there.

Editor’s Note: This pick was originally made back when the selection belonged to Montreal prior to the Alex Newhook trade.

#32 – Vegas Golden Knights – Mikhail Gulyayev, D, Omskie Yastreby (MHL)

(Brian) Being an undersized defenceman doesn’t help Gulyayev’s stock.  Neither does his birth certificate.  But Gulyayev has a lot of raw upside offensively if he can put it all together.  His skating is already top-notch and we’ve seen undersized blueliners have some success in recent years.  He’s a few years away from being NHL-ready but as a back-of-the-round dart throw, this would be a worthwhile gamble for Vegas as there’s top-three upside if he’s able to properly develop.

#69 – Montreal Canadiens – Juraj Pekarcik, LW, Nitra (Slovakia)

The Habs dip into the Slovakian talent pool again to select this very young and talented forward.  Pekarcik was eligible for this draft by only three days, which means he was one of the youngest players to evaluate. As such, his game is still at a very raw stage of development, but he has decent size with the potential to grow physically as well as grow his skillset.  He did not produce much offence in the Slovak men’s league, but was outstanding at the U18 tournament while playing beside Dvorsky. He has good puck-handling skills and hockey sense. Pekarcik’s compete level is very high, and his consistency helps him be very efficient in all three zones.  His skating is good but has a few technical kinks that need to be focussed on to overcome.  That is very common for a younger underdeveloped hockey player and is not a red flag for him reaching his full potential.  Juraj is at least three to four seasons away from making the jump to the pro leagues in North America. If he decides to arrive sooner, then he will need that extra time in the AHL to round out his game.  It’s likely he will become a middle-six player at the NHL level.

#101 – Montreal Canadiens – Damian Clara, G, Farjestad (SWE J20)

Montreal could certainly pick one of the higher-ranked goalies earlier in the draft (either with 69 or if they wind up with another pick from a trade down in the first round) and call that their goalie selection.  Even if they did that, this pick could still make sense.  The Habs are firm believers in tall long-term projects between the pipes and that description fits Clara perfectly.  Assuming he’s picked, he’ll be the first-ever Italian-born NHL draftee and he’s 6’6.  Of course, goalies that size are raw and need a lot of refinement but when Montreal picks these players, they’re looking at four or five years down the road, not today.  Clara certainly fits the ‘type’ they’ve picked before.

#110 – Montreal Canadiens – Tyler Peddle, LW, Drummondville (QMJHL)

Peddle is a pain to play against as he’s described as a player that rarely quits on a play. This is an important element when getting to the deeper rounds. He’s also a player that engages physically and has a great shot. He’ll need time to work on his skating and his ability to read plays but has the potential to become an excellent grinding forward that tires the opposition and chips in offensively.

#128 – Montreal Canadiens – Jordan Tourigny, D, Shawinigan (QMJHL)

With strong skating becoming more and more important on the back end, Tourigny starts to stand out.  In transition, can be fun to watch.  The issue so far is that his defensive game needs a lot of work and while he’s not as undersized as his brother (who’s also a Montreal prospect), he’s on the smaller size with a thin frame so he can be overmatched on the boards and in net-front battles.  There are going to be flaws with anyone picked at this stage of the draft so teams will be deciding if it’s right to go with a more well-rounded player or one with one high-end talent that needs work elsewhere.  Tourigny is in the latter category.

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