June 24, 2023

Ranking the top left wing options at the 2023 NHL Draft

While the 2023 NHL Draft lacks many high-end left wing options, Zachary Benson stands alone in the top 10 as the selection process’ top option.

Benson, No. 6 in FCHockey’s Final ranking for the 2023 draft, finishing second in scoring among draft-eligible prospects in the Western Hockey League this season, trailing only Connor Bedard. Despite his diminutive stature, Benson plays well on both ends of the ice, never sacrificing defense for offense.

Behind Benson, Eduard Sale may be the draft’s biggest ‘boom-or-bust’ selection, as he’s shown flashes of brilliance but fails to put it together each and every night.

While goal scoring may not be the forte of this crop of left wings, plenty can become middle-of-the-lineup players possessing a solid 200-foot game. With the proper development, there’s always the potential of a late bloomer who can average 30+ goals a season.

Here’s a look at the left wing position at the NHL Draft, in recent history:

  • 2022: 20 in the top 100, 31 in the top 200. 33 taken overall
  • 2021: 13 in the top 100, 30 in the top 200. 34 taken overall
  • 2020: 16 in the top 100, 31 in the top 200. 35 taken overall
  • 2019: 16 in the top 100, 31 in the top 200. 34 taken overall
  • 2018: 8 in the top 100, 24 in the top 200. 25 taken overall

And here’s a look at the top 10 candidates to go at the 2023 draft, as projected by FCHockey’s scouting staff:

2023 NHL Draft Guide A

Zachary Benson | Winnipeg (WHL) | 5’9″ | 163
60 GP | 36 G | 62 A | 98 P
FCHockey rank: 6

Benson is a dynamic offensive talent with fluid skating and exceptional puck skills. His speed and tenacity drive possession and enable him to handle high-traffic areas effectively. Despite needing improvements in stride length, lateral evasiveness, and finishing ability, his skating balance, hand-eye coordination, and vision are mature and efficient. As a detail-oriented player, Benson showcases his intelligence in offensive situations and while checking opponents. Although his physical profile may raise concerns, Benson’s elite competitiveness and ability to find open space make him a crucial player. His high pace, hockey IQ, and excellent puck control predict a successful career.

Scout’s quote: “Benson is one of my favorite players in the draft this year as I think few more positively impact the play in all three zones. He is one of the smartest and hardest-working players on any ice, and he shows the ability to consistently drag his team into the fight. He really maximizes the skillset of his linemates and everyone who gets put on his line seems to elevate their play.” – FCHockey Chief Western scout Donesh Mazloum

Eduard Sale | Brno (CZE) | 6’2″ | 174
43 GP | 7 G | 7 A | 14 P
FCHockey rank: 11

Sale, a highly skilled winger, is known for his impressive skating abilities, puck skills, and offensive IQ. His speed, agility, and stickhandling abilities make him a consistent threat on the ice, while his knack for finding open spaces enhances his value in both offensive and defensive zones. Areas for improvement include puck control, creating space, and winning board and corner battles. Sale’s abilities as a pass receiver and his excellent hand-eye coordination also set him apart. Despite occasional off-puck misreads, his overall potential and adaptability mark him as a compelling prospect for professional hockey.

Scout’s quote: “Sale has the tools to be a top-10 pick in the draft, but after this disappointing season his stock fell in the eyes of many scouts. He lacked consistency, compete level, and was not able to dominate as much as expected at the Under-18s. I still believe he will develop into a top-six winger.” – FCHockey chief European scout Miroslav Simurka

Colby Barlow | Owen Sound (OHL) | 6’0″ | 190
59 GP | 46 G | 33 A | 79 P
FCHockey rank: 13

Colby Barlow is a big-bodied scoring forward with an elite shot and a potent offensive toolkit. His powerful stride aids in transition and maintains puck control, while his excellent stickhandling abilities and strength allow him to win puck battles in tricky areas. His low skating stance provides balance, enabling him to get to high-danger areas on offense. While his foot-speed and acceleration need improvement, his offensive awareness and shooting skills could make him a top-six scoring forward at the NHL level. Despite some issues with consistency, an engaged Barlow could be a formidable scorer at the professional level, adaptable to various game situations.

Scout’s quote: “ I think he is the best player the OHL has in the 2023 draft class. He has the makings of a lethal power forward. His combination of size, physicality, and shot make him a force whenever he has the puck on his stick. There is not a lot to dislike in his game, especially because his consistency improved as the season went along.” – FCHockey chief Ontario scout Austin Broad

Andrew Cristall |Kelowna (WHL) | 5’10” | 167
54 GP | 39 G | 56 A | 95 P
FCHockey rank: 19

Andrew Cristall, an offensively skilled forward, impresses with his deceptive puckhandling, quick release, and precise shooting. Despite his smaller stature, he thrives in small-area battles and stays open for quick passes. His calmness and precision in tight spaces and ability to strategize under pressure are laudable. Despite this, concerns about his skating ability due to his inefficient stride and hunched posture persist. Further improvements needed include eliminating offensive cheating, reducing long shifts, and enhancing defensive consistency. Nevertheless, Cristall’s undeniable offensive prowess, adaptability, and high-risk, high-reward potential make him a tantalizing prospect.

Scout’s quote: “There are few prospects in this draft more polarizing than Cristall. On one hand, he is one of the most creative and unique offensive talents available. On the other, he is an undersized winger with a very awkward and clunky skating stride. His prolific production screams NHL superstar yet his physical profile points to a minor-leaguer. He’s a potential home run swing.”– Mazloum

Quentin Musty | Sudbury (OHL) | 6’2″ | 200
53 GP | 26 G | 52 A | 78 P
FCHockey rank: 20

Quentin Musty is an offensive winger who consistently creates scoring chances with his playmaking ability, excelling both off the rush and through the cycle. Despite needing to refine his all-around game, his offensive potential is undeniable, exhibiting a patient style, good reach, and strong communication. Musty’s combination of skills, versatility, and power play specialization, together with his ability to elevate his line’s five-on-five performance, make him an exciting prospect.

Scout’s quote: “Musty has the skill and offensive capability to be an elite scoring and playmaking threat. He’s a force with the puck on his stick, if you give him space, he will make you pay. I think he can make improvements in his two-way play, but there is no denying the offensive potential he has.” – Broad

Daniil But | Yaroslavl (RUS Jr.) | 6’3″ | 203
32 GP | 18 G | 14 A | 32 P
FCHockey rank: 31

Daniil But is a skilled power forward known for his puck protection and ability to drive possession. His large frame and soft hands allow him to effectively maneuver through the zone, while his strength and outside-in skill help him excel along the boards and force his way to the net. Despite having a heavy shot, he often telegraphs his intentions. He struggles with skating, especially acceleration, and needs to improve his stride. He projects as a middle-six winger with power play potential and scoring upside, but could benefit from increased involvement in defense and transition.

Scout’s quote: “Daniil But brings the ever-valuable combination of size and skill that all teams crave. He’s an adept puck protector who uses subtle skill and athletic power to pull the puck low into the zone and drive offense from there.” – FCHockey crossover scout Jake Janso

Bradly Nadeu | Penticton (BCHL) | 5’10″ | 161
54 GP | 45 G | 68 A | 113 P
FCHockey rank: 35

Bradly Nadeau is an exceptional player known for his situational IQ and agility. His quick turns, swift cuts, and positioning adjustments showcase his creative offensive abilities. Nadeau prefers to remain in motion, skillfully adapting his angles to win board battles. His patient puckhandling, supported by timing and deception, is impressive, as is his ability to maintain unpredictability in his passes and shot attempts. His main challenges are his first strides of acceleration and his overall size and strength. However, his deceptive shot and commanding power play presence make him difficult to anticipate, turning these potential weaknesses into strengths.

Scout’s quote: “You can’t argue with his production on the powerhouse program in the BCHL. He’s got a great quick give-and-go touch pass and an electric one-timer from the slot. Bradly is intelligent, adaptive, and plays certainly with more puck control and finesse than grind. Nadeau continuously stays in motion on the ice to make adjustments either with turns or to quickly accelerate into space. Even when he’s in defensive postures, he’s often in a glide or using one foot to sort of continue to propel himself forward.” – FCHockey regional scout Joel Henderson

Samuel Honzek | Vancouver (WHL) | 6’4″ | 186
43 GP | 23 G | 33 A |56 P
FCHockey rank: 36

Samuel Honzek is a versatile two-way forward with an offensive flair, possessing a natural ability in puck carrying, playmaking, and skating. His length allows him to generate turnovers, while his strength enables him to create scoring opportunities. His finesse in passing and overall hockey intelligence make him a formidable player on the ice. Despite occasional inconsistency and lack of agility in tight spaces, Honzek’s size, puck control, and commitment to both offensive and defensive ends of the game make him a potential top-six NHL winger. His size and attributes make him a worthy prospect, offering depth and talent for teams. However, refining his skills and working on his consistency could unlock his full potential.

Scout’s quote: “Honzek is one of the best forwards in this draft at splitting his stride under pressure to maintain possession in the offensive zone and through transition. He’s still learning how to be optimal offensively by using his size and reach to his advantage in more situations. If you are looking for potential though, he has quick processing, smooth hands, and the size to play a transferable puck protection game.” – Henderson

Timur Mukhanov | Omsk (RUS Jr.) | 5’7″ | 178
15 GP | 8 G | 9 A | 17 P
FCHockey rank: 41

Timur Mukhanov is a dynamic winger known for his exceptional mobility and high-energy play, utilizing his speed and puck handling skills to pressure defenders and navigate the attacking zone. He readily engages in challenging on-ice situations and disrupts opponents’ flow, demonstrating his offensive instincts. However, Mukhanov needs to enhance his playmaking abilities, specifically creating opportunities for linemates, and improve his defensive engagement. Despite the need to work on his shooting accuracy and physical strength, his deceptive movements, excellent vision, precision passing, fierce competitiveness, and unrelenting work ethic make him a standout player.

Scout’s quote: “Mukhanov is a gifted skater and puck handler who displays offensive creativity when allowed time and space. He can be a dangerous offensive threat, constantly moving the puck and repositioning to create chances.” – Janso

Carson Rehkopf | Kitchener (OHL) | 6’2″ | 193
68 GP | 30 G | 29 A | 59 P
FCHockey rank: 44

Carson Rehkopf is a powerful forward with a lethal wrist shot and aggressive style. Although not an elite playmaker, he facilitates offensive flow and leverages his intelligence and physicality to compensate for subpar skating skills. His ability to identify defensive gaps is advantageous for executing his precise shots. As a commendable forechecker, Rehkopf uses his size effectively to control play and thwart scoring opportunities. He thrives in high-danger areas, while his wrister and quick release consistently contribute from mid-ice. Despite occasional decision-making issues, Rehkopf’s speed, power, and shooting ability make him a noteworthy prospect. His potential versatility as a scoring winger or a contributing forechecking forward adds appeal to his game.

Scout’s quote: “Rehkopf is a big-bodied forward who knows how to get himself open in the offensive zone. His shot is one of the best in the OHL class. There is no denying that he is one of the most lethal scorers the league has to offer.” – Broad

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