June 27, 2023

Scout Survey: Sizing up what’s about to happen at the 2023 NHL Draft

The 2023 NHL Draft is upon us.

And with that, we thought it’d be a good time to get a gauge on how the cast and crew at FCHockey was feeling about what’s about to unfold.

We polled seven of FCHockey’s scouts — Austin Broad, Miroslav Simurka, Jake Janso, Brandon Holmes, Joey Fortin Boulay, Rasmus Tornqvist, and Erik Sjolund — to gauge their thoughts on a variety of topics heading into Wednesday’s opening round, and who they’ll willing to go on the record as shooting up, tumbling down, and who they’ll stake their reputation on, amongst other topics.

Welcome to our pre-draft Scout Survey.

2023 NHL Draft Guide A

Put on your GM hat. How will the first five picks in the 2023 NHL Draft play out?

Broad: Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson, Matvei Michkov, and Will Smith. This one seems relatively straight forward, I think the first three are set in stone, and SJ just starting their rebuild will have the timetable they need in order to take the risk with Michkov and wait for him to come over to NA.

Simurka: Bedard, Fantilli, Carlsson, Smith, Michkov is going to be the order one through five. But if I would be a Columbus or San Jose GM I would take the risk and take Michkov.

Janso: Bedard, Carlsson, Fantilli, Michkov, then Smith. No. 1 should be all but guaranteed at this point. The recent rumblings around the Anaheim Ducks potentially looking at Carlsson at No. 2 instead of Fantilli have me second-guessing the second pick a bit more. I, personally, would lean Fantilli here but I can see the interest in choosing the mature yet skilled Swede. He may compliment the raw talent Anaheim already possesses and act as more of an anchor forward to their young lines. Whoever isn’t chosen at No. 2 will most likely go right after. Michkov has the talent and upside to go anywhere after 1 but there are reasons to be hesitant. I can see the San Jose Sharks banking on the upside as they may be in the best position to give him the necessary time. At 5, I can see Ryan Leonard or Smith going but I believe the Montreal Canadiens will lean towards the skilled pivot in Smith.

Holmes: Bedard to the Chicago Blackhawks and Fantilli to Anaheim feel like the free squares. At No. 3 overall, I like Carlsson for the Columbus Blue Jackets, as he can step into their lineup right away and play with their win-now additions from the last 12 months. San Jose I’m pairing with Will Smith at No. 4 overall to be the future of their team down the middle. Montreal is the hardest one for me at fifth overall. Michkov is the obvious elephant in the room for this whole top five, but I’ll conservatively lean towards Leonard for the Canadiens at No. 5 to add another power forward element to their forward group.

Fortin Boulay: Bedard to Chicago, Fantilli to Anaheim, no surprises here. Carlsson goes third to Columbus since they want a center. With the fourth pick, San Jose goes with Michkov here, as they’re nowhere close to being competitive soon and still need a few more years of rebuilding. That’s just enough time for a well-developed Michkov to come to the NHL and dominate on his entry-level contract. Montreal then selects Smith with the fifth pick, a dynamic center behind Nick Suzuki.

Tornqvist: The first two are pretty much set in stone with Bedard going first and Fantilli right after. Three could go a number of ways, but I think Columbus will surprise and go with Smith. They are in desperate need of a center. San Jose will go with Michkov, and will try to be competitive by the time they get him over on an entry-level deal. Montreal will then be more than delighted Carlsson has fallen in their lap at No. 5.

Sjolund: I think the likely scenario is that Bedard, Fantilli and Carlsson go one after the other. The big storyline of the draft is which team takes a gamble on Michkov. I think San Jose will go the safer route and choose Smith so Montreal has the decision to make. In my opinion they should sprint to the podium and pick the Russian.

Who is your surprise pick in the top-10?

Broad: Colby Barlow. I think Barlow should be a sure-fire top-10 in my opinion. He has the size, scoring ability and play style that warrant a top-10 pick but doesn’t appear to have the momentum amongst the scouting community. I liken him to Jack Quinn going in the top-10; it was a shock at the time but realistically shouldn’t have been.

Simurka: I do not expect a big shock in the top-10. There are enough players with top-10 potential that will land in the teens because of high quality of the top of this draft. I can imagine a team do not consider ‘The Russian effect’ and take Dmitri Simashev or Daniil But in top-10. That would be surprising but still very reasonable pick in my opinion.

Janso: I honestly don’t think there will be a true surprise in the top-10, but if there was going to be one, I think a team may swing on Simashev. He’s the prototypical big yet mobile defenseman that has no clear weakness. He brings a lot to the table and has already shown the ability to transition his talent to the KHL level.

Holmes: I’ve harped on Simashev all year, and he checks all the boxes for what I could see an NHL team really falling for in the top-10 on draft day. A 6-foot-4 defensemen that can move the way he does don’t come around often, wouldn’t shock me at all to see a team pull the trigger on him in the top-10.

Fortin Boulay: A player who wouldn’t surprise me if selected in the top-10 is Matthew Wood. His blend of size and offensive skills will attract some teams to take him higher than he should be picked, as other teams would wait a bit because of his lack of pace.

Tornqvist: Gabriel Perreault. After his historic season I think someone will take a shot at him inside the top-10, although personally I have him ranked outside of it based on his skating and defensive work.

Sjolund: There are a couple of the lower ranked players that could attract some interest inside the top-10. For me it is probably Simashev. A Fantastic skater and the best defensive defenseman in the draft in my opinion. The main question marks surrounding him are the lack of offensive output and the Russian factor but as a surprise pick, he is my choice.

Who will be the first ‘oh boy, that might be a reach’ pick?

Broad: But. I think But has all the makings of a really good NHLer, but lately big skilled guys have been getting drafted way higher than they should have been. But could be a solid second rounder, but I think someone jumps the gun early and drafts him in round one, thinking he can be the next ‘unicorn’ in the NHL.

Simurka: I could say But but, that would be too easy as I already mentioned him in previous answer. So I will go with Alex Ciernik early in the second round.

Janso: This will probably be But for me. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great prospect with a lot of tools. But I think his obvious size advantage and subtle skill will have teams targeting him a bit earlier than I’d like. He’s a great end of first round or early second round pick, but earlier than 20th will be questionable.

Holmes: Samuel Honzek fits the bill for me. He’s a very toolsy player with a lot to like for scouts, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him snatched up in the top-15, but I’ve been a little unsure if I see a true impact, top-six forward there or just a really strong complementary piece.

Fortin Boulay: Wood would have been a good choice here, but I will go with Tom Willander here. He’s a great defenseman who skates and moves the puck very well, but I don’t think he’s worthy of a top 10-12 selection as some predict since I don’t see enough offense in him. His probable high selection is simply due to the lack of high upside defensemen in this draft.

Tornqvist: Ethan Gauthier. I think someone will draft him in the top-20, with better offensive prospects still available.

Sjolund: Montreal are reportedly considering Leonard at No. 5 even if Michkov is available. In this scenario Leonard is a reach for me. I think he is a great prospect who most likely will become a good NHL player, but personally I wouldn’t pick him if players like Michkov and Zachary Benson were still available.

Who will be the first goaltender off the board?

Broad: Michael Hrabal.

Simurka: Hrabal.

Janso: Hrabal seems like the choice teams would go with. I think Trey Augustine deserves consideration here but the massive stature of Hrabal may give him the advantage.

Holmes: Hrabal feels like the obvious answer here, but I also wouldn’t discount the chances of Augustine being the first goalie off the board as well. Augustine is an NTDP product who has also had international success, there’s a track record there that NHL teams are going to view favorably on.

Fortin Boulay: Most probably Hrabal, but I’ll go with Jacob Fowler after his performance in the USHL this season, winning the goalie of the year award and playoffs MVP. The first goalie will be selected in the early second round, since only three goalies were selected in the first round in the last three years, and I don’t think any of this year’s goalies has a comparable pedigree of these three.

Tornqvist: I think someone is going to take a shot at Hrabal in the second round, mainly because of his fram​​e, even though he’s probably not the best goalie available in the draft.

Sjolund: Hrabal. I’ll take a shot in the dark and say he goes to the Detroit Red Wings with one of their second rounders. Detroit has five picks in the first two rounds and why not use one of the picks on the towering Czech goalie to complement Sebastian Cossa in their prospect pool?

Which player from your region ranked outside the first round do you think will shock as a first rounder?

Broad: Beau Akey. He has the skating and two-way awareness to be a legitimate top-four blueliner in the NHL. We all know defensemen go earlier in the draft because of the positional value and I can see him going earlier than expected.

Simurka: You can make arguments for Jakub Dvorak as he is huge, mobile defenseman that already plays pro but I think he is only going to be third-pair defenseman in the NHL so I do not think he will be gone in the first round. Also a nod for Juraj Pekarcik who was great at the U18s, but there are too many players who are either a safer pick or have higher ceiling.

Janso: For me, it’s Roman Kantserov. I love the way this kid plays, he’s a pest with tremendous playmaking ability. He’s not afraid to get to the dirty areas and play always seems to revolve around him when he’s on the ice. He’s on the smaller side and can be shaky in his own end but I’d be targeting him early in the second round, potentially even the first!

Holmes: A player not very commonly ranked in the first round that I could see slipping his way in is Danny Nelson. Nelson is a big center who closed the season on a very hot note and had a strong U18s for Team USA, could absolutely see a team liking him towards the end of the first round.

Fortin Boulay: He’s not projected very far from the first round, but I think some teams may be intrigued by taking Etienne Morin in the first round, even before Gauthier. His ability to see the ice and initiate his team’s offense, plus his puck-rushing skills and his play in the offensive zone may charm a few teams.

Tornqvist: To be honest, I don’t think there’s anyone out of Finland that I have ranked outside of the first round that could make the jump to the first round. Kasper Halttunen’s rank has dropped significantly compared to the beginning of the season in most rankings I’ve seen, so he will probably surprise some people when he’s picked in the first round though.

Sjolund: There are a couple that are ranked just outside that could sneak in to the first round, but they wouldn’t shock me. A fun pick here is Felix Nilsson. A very smart two-way forward with great vision and compete level. He is also a skilled puck handler in tight areas. I think there is still a lot of potential to extract. He currently plays as a center but might move out to the wing at the highest level.

Which prospect has the biggest ‘boom or bust’ potential from your region?

Broad: Hunter Brzustewicz. His offensive ceiling is amongst the highest I can remember. If he hits he could be an offensive force from the back end. However his defensive game is very far behind, if he can’t figure that aspect of his game it could be the difference between him being an effective NHLer or a tweener.

Simurka: The easiest question so far. It is Eduard Sale. He can be top-six, double threat winger or not make NHL at all.

Janso: There are a couple of names that come to mind but I think Michkov definitely fits. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, if everything clicks and breaks right for him Michkov could be the best offensive player to come out of this draft. He has all the offensive tools to be an absolute force with the puck but there are plenty of concerns both with his game and his situation that add to the risk factor. He could never really find his footing in the NHL, or we could be looking at Nikita Kucherov 2.0.

Holmes: Gulyayev comes to mind immediately. The kid oozes with high-end talent and skill and has dominated the Russian junior level to this point. If he booms, he could be a high-end offensive defenseman whose game as often reminded me of a Roman Josi-lite, but we’re still not sure if his game will translate to higher levels of play and whether or not he’ll be able to overcome some shortcomings in his own zone.

Fortin Boulay: There’s not a ton of candidates from the QMJHL this season, but I will go with Luke Coughlin here. He began the season injured and wasn’t on the first powerplay wave with his team for most part of the season, but his elite skating, puck rushing skills and high IQ could get him drafted. He could have a breakout year next season.

Tornqvist: Emil Jarventie. If he’s able to refine his package in a way that’ll allow him to use his offensive strengths in the NHL, he could be a steal after the third round — if he’s still available. If he isn’t able to translate his offensive strengths to the pro-level as effectively as needed, you’re probably not going to get anything out of him further down the lineup.

Sjolund: I think I will go with Noah Dower Nilsson. A very skilled forward who plays with a lot of flair. There are games where he is just electric and one of the biggest offensive threats on the ice, but he also tends to disappear from games when he faces more aggressive defenders. If he manages to play the way he is capable of with less time and space he could become a highlight reel player.

Which overager from your region are you most curious about?

Broad: Rodwin Dionicio. He’s arguably the most exciting offensive defenseman in the OHL. His two-way game improved by leaps and bounds once he was traded from Niagara. I think he’s worth a gamble and should get drafted this year, and be a very intriguing prospect for whoever does take him.

Simurka: Maros Jedlicka is an double overage, he had another solid season in the Slovak league and seems to attract attention of some NHL teams.

Janso: Ilya Kvochko has really intrigued me this season. Last year in his draft year, I wasn’t convinced of his game and didn’t see a player I’d be confident in drafting. However, he has grown his play and really honed in on being a methodical playmaker with the same faceoff mastery he previously displayed. He’s worth a pick this year for sure.

Holmes: I’m fascinated to see if Gabriel Szturc hears his name called on Thursday. Szturc had a really successful D+1 season this year for Kelowna, scoring well beyond point-per-game pace and was key piece for Czechia’s silver medal squad at this year’s World Junior Championships. Szturc is a really intelligent center who I think presents a lot of value in the middle rounds of this year’s draft.

Fortin Boulay: Daniil Bourosh. Been passed on at last year’s draft and then followed with a 40 goals season. A great forechecker and goal scorer, he may lack footspeed but he improved it significantly this season. I think he projects fairly well as a middle-six/bottom-six role and chip in some goals from time to time.

Tornqvist: Juha Jatkola. Put together a stellar first full pro-season for KalPa, and even got to make his international men’s debut for Finland. Also impressed in the playoffs, although he did sustain an unlucky injury in his third game which cut his playoffs short.

Sjolund: Oskar Asplund. A two-way defenseman of smaller stature with a strong offensive game. He plays with a lot of confidence, and he likes to start attacks with a good first pass or by carrying the puck up the ice. He is a late 2003 birthday who had a strong season for Almtuna in Hockeyallsvenskan this season which earned him a SHL contract for next season. It will be interesting to see if some organization is willing to use a late round pick on him this time around.

Who is the prospect ranked outside of the first round in your region you’re willing to stake your reputation on?

Broad: Nick Lardis. He was electrifying after getting traded to Hamilton. I am certain that that was no fluke and that’s the player he really is. I think he is going to a very good NHLer. He quickly became a favourite of mine, and the more I watched him the more certain I became of him. I think he could end up being in the discussion for best OHLer of the 2023 class in the future.

Simurka: Pekarcik. He has the tools to become a middle-six forward.

Janso: For me, it’s Roman Kantserov. I love the way this kid plays, he’s a pest with tremendous playmaking ability. He’s not afraid to get to the dirty areas and play always seems to revolve around him when he’s on the ice. He’s on the smaller side and can be shaky in his own end but I’d be targeting him early in the second round, potentially even the first!

Holmes: I’m going to go with Theo Lindstein. Some scouts really soured on Lindstein throughout the year and he wasn’t a common pick in the first round on many draft boards, but I remain a believer in his overall package. I’ll take my chances on a smooth-skating defenseman with already nearly 50 games of pro experience under his belt.

Fortin Boulay: Cam Squires. He would project more as a depth guy now, but he owns an impressive mix of skill, smarts and compete that can lead to some opportunities at the pro level. He was almost a point-per-game at 17 years old this year with arguably the worst team in the QMJHL. He’s a player to watch in the Quebec league next season.

Tornqvist: I’ve got to go with Lenni Hameenaho on this one. He’s probably not going to be a dynamic offensive player, but with him you pretty much know what you’re going to get. A reliable player with good puck skills, who’s not afraid to go to the dirty areas. I think his game will translate fairly well to North America, since he usually makes quick decisions with the puck and likes to play along the boards..

Sjolund: Since I picked Nilsson as the fun pick for the first round, I will go with the safer option this time. Willander is currently ranked 37th on our board and personally I am very high on him. His dynamic skating, his ability to roll out of pressure with puck control and his deceptive movements along the blueline are just some of the tools he possesses that make me believe he will become a solid NHL blueliner in the future.

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