February 20, 2023

The biggest risers in FCHockey’s Midterm ranking for the 2023 NHL Draft

The 2023 NHL Draft class is well on its way to rounding into form.

And as the European and North American junior seasons are now past the midway points of their seasons, FCHockey has revisited it’s projections by reshaping its Midterm ranking for the 2023 draft. The budding superstar that is Connor Bedard remains the undisputed No. 1. with a status well above the rest, but below him are some significant risers and fallers since Preliminary rankings were released in November.

Here are the biggest risers in FCHockey’s Midterm ranking for the 2023 draft:

Will Smith | C | 6’0″ | 172 lbs | USNTDP (USHL)
Preliminary ranking: 33
Midterm ranking: 6

Smith has been on an absolute tear this season with the NTDP, totalling 100 points (40 goals, 60 assists) through 53 games.

Whether it’s his puck distribution or finding the back of the net himself, Smith has been ever-present this season as he has clawed his way into the top-10. With concern over Matvei Michkov’s contract in the KHL, it will be interesting if Smith can find a way to jump the Russian dynamo come draft day in June.

“Smith’s Play since the beginning of the year has only been trending up, and he’s shown no sign of slowing down anytime soon,” FCHockey regional scout Douglas Larson said. “Many thought he’d be one of the better forwards on the NTDP this year, and he absolutely has, but his outstanding production and constant offense in every game has him at a whole new level. His playstyle is mainly focused on distributing the puck, and he’s so good at creating opportunities for teammates that lead to scoring chances night after night.”

Andrew Cristall | RW | 5’10” | 165 lbs | Kelowna (WHL)
Preliminary ranking: 22
Midterm ranking: 9

One of the top performers all season in the Western Hockey League, Andrew Cristall’s name has become more and more relevant in the hockey world over the past few months. Despite his diminutive stature, Cristall is lighting the league on fire as he’s projected to finish the season around the 100-point mark. He has jumped into the top-10 of our rankings and has the potential to jump a few spots higher come the final rankings.

“Cristall has always been one of the most skilled and creative in his age group but I’ve really been impressed with his ability to drive through contact and handle the increased attention that he gets as one of the top point producers in the league,” FCHockey’s chief regional scout Donesh Mazloum said. “He plays with an edge and despite his stature he never shies away from a battle. His ownership of the play and natural instincts as the focal point of any offence, will carry him far.”


Axel Sandin Pellikka | D | 5’11” | 181 lbs | Skelleftea (SHL)
Preliminary ranking: 59
Midterm ranking: 12

With his jump from 59 to 12, Axel Sandin Pellikka not only rises into the first-round debut into the top-15. Ranked as the highest defender in this year’s class, Sandin Pelikka is the cream of the crop among defensemen. Bouncing between the SHL and the J20 Nationell for Skelleftea, Sandin Pellikka has produced wherever he’s played. Sandin Pellikka, over a point-per-game in the J20, has proven he can play among grown men at the SHL level  where he has five points (two goals, three assists) through 22 games.

“He has taken huge steps in every aspect,” FCHockey regional scout Fredrik Haak said. “What really stands out is his confidence and vision when he is in control of the puck. Sandin Pellikka sees the ice like very few at his age, and he could execute almost every time by using his hockey IQ to solve tight situations. He plays with such high courage and still, plays a very advanced and risky game but with a high efficiency and very few mistakes. He is very skilled with his hands, and the passing game is at a high level already.”

Jayden Perron | C | 5’8″ | 157 lbs | Chicago (USHL)
Preliminary ranking: 41
Midterm ranking: 17

Regarded by many as the top draft-eligible player in the USHL, Jayden Perron’s stellar play this season has forced him into first-round consideration. Tied for fifth in scoring in the USHL with 47 points (18 goals, 29 assists) on a loaded Chicago Steel team, Perron has the capabilities to continue climbing the rankings as the Steel push for a Clark Cup.

“I went into the year not knowing what to expect from Perron, but up to this point, he’s done nothing but impressed me with his play,” Larson said. “His play in transition and overall offensive looks has been pretty consistent throughout the season so far. He’s an undersized guy with a ton of skill, a toolkit that can do damage creating for others or putting the puck in the net.”

Luca Pinelli | 5’9″ | 161 lbs | Ottawa (OHL)
Preliminary ranking: 93
Midterm ranking: 31

Easily the biggest riser in the midterm rankings jumping 62 spots, Luca Pinelli has put launched into first-round consideration from an original third-round projection. Pinelli is leading the Ottawa 67’s in scoring, with 53 points (22 goals, 32 assists) through 52 games, ahead of multiple teammates who have already been drafted. Standing at only 5’9”, his offensive production is what gives him the best opportunity to hear his name called on the first night of the NHL Draft.

“Pinelli has shot up the ranks because he has been amazing for the 67’s this season. He has shown the ability to be a potential play driver who can elevate the level of his linemates,” FCHockey chief Ontario scout Austin Broad said. “He isn’t the biggest player but has shown his skating ability and vision can allow him to get up and down the ice with the puck. If he adds strength, he can become more explosive with his first few steps and be more capable in the cycle game. This is the key for him going forward. His vision and puck skills have elevated him, if he can work on his few areas of concern, he has a shot to keep rising up the ranks.”

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