June 28, 2023

Reactions to each pick in the first round of the 2023 NHL Draft

The 2023 NHL Draft wasn’t without its twists and turns, shocks and surprises, as the first round wrapped Wednesday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

The first 32 picks of the selection process are in the books, with plenty of elite talent coming off the board, and plenty of elite talent remaining available on Thursday for rounds two through seven.

Below were my live, gut reactions to each pick in first round as they came in throughout the night.

Let’s take a look at how I thought teams fared on Day 1 of the 2023 draft:

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

No surprises here as the Chicago Blackhawks make it official: Connor Bedard is a Blackhawk. Bedard will be the new face of hockey in Chicago as they look to rebuild a competing core around him with the likes of Frank Nazar and Kevin Korchinski.

2. Anaheim Ducks – Leo Carlsson, C/LW, Örebro HK (SHL)

Wow, our first major shocker of the draft: Leo Carlsson goes No., 2 to the Anaheim Ducks. There were whispers earlier in the day that Anaheim was leaning this way, but I wouldn’t really believe it until it happened. In Carlsson, the Ducks get a player I’ve been infatuated with since last season, a big-bodied, dynamic playmaking center who will be a top line player in Orange County alongside Trevor Zegras and Mason McTavish for years to come.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets – Adam Fantilli, C, University of Michigan (NCAA)

The Columbus Blue Jackets didn’t overthink this one as Adam Fantilli, the consensus No. 2 prospect, falls into their lap. A very popular comparable for Fantilli throughout the draft cycle was Rick Nash, and he ends up right in the spot where Nash used to score 30-40 goals a season. The Jackets now have the top line center they’ve been chasing for years now, as Fantilli will be poised to step between the likes of Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine.

4. San Jose Sharks – Will Smith, C, USNTDP U18 (NTDP)

The players we expected to go in the top four are now all gone, even if they didn’t go in the exact order we thought they would, as the San Jose Sharks grab the top American available with Will Smith. I love the pick for the Sharks, who were lacking a center in their organization with true first-line upside, as Smith fits that bill and is a major shot in the arm for the Sharks rebuild.

5. Montréal Canadiens – David Reinbacher, D, EHC Kloten (NLA)

The first defenseman goes off the board as the Montreal Canadiens opt for the Austrian-born David Reinbacher. Many Canadiens fans I know were pining for a high-end forward, but in Reinbacher Montreal gets a defenseman who I believe is very close to the NHL-ready. A very poised, mature, and steady right-shot defender who should be a nice complement alongside offensive wizard Lane Hutson.

6. Arizona Coyotes – Dmitri Simashev, D, Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)

The pick gave this writer actual goosebumps when it was made, as I’ve been vocal especially over this past week on how much I love Dmitri Simashev. Simashev, my personal No. 1 defenseman, is the top shutdown talent in the draft with a 6-foot-4 frame and can skates like the wind. I’m a big believer in his two-way upside and think he could develop into a top pairing defenseman for the Arizona Coyotes.

7. Philadelphia Flyers – Matvei Michkov, RW/LW, HK Sochi (KHL)

There it is, the big wild card in this top 10: Matvei Michkov is a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers nab a talent that may have been worth a No. 1 overall pick in many other classes if not for some extenuating circumstances. Philadelphia will have to wait to get him in their lineup, but when he does cross the pond, they’ll be adding an elite scoring talent who is arguably the top Russian prospect to come through the draft since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

8. Washington Capitals – Ryan Leonard, RW, USNTDP U18 (NTDP)

Ryan Leonard was expected to go in the top 10 by many, and the Washington Capitals clearly must have thought he would be gone by this point with no name plate on the back of his draft jersey. The Caps are adding a tenacious power winger who should be able to score plenty of goals in the nation’s capital, adding a premium piece for the next wave of Washington Capitals after the era of Ovechkin and Backstrom is over.

9. Detroit Red Wings – Nate Danielson, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

Well one thing’s for sure — never accuse Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman of being boring. Nate Danielson this high might be a bit too rich for some, but I really like the player; he’s a very well-rounded and mature player for his age, all of his tools grade out as pro caliber, and I believe he’ll be pushing for a full-time spot with the Detroit Red Wings as soon as the 2024-25 season.

10. St. Louis Blues – Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (Allsvenskan)

Dalibor Dvorsky was another player that I was fascinated to see where he ends up. The landing spot for the Slovak center is the St. Louis Blues, where he’ll be joining a youth movement alongside Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas, and recent 1st round picks Jake Neighbours and Jimmy Snuggerud. One name comes up a lot as a comparable for Dvorsky is Bo Horvat — the Blues are getting a mature two-way center that can really shoot the puck.

11. Vancouver Canucks – Tom Willander, D, Rogle BK J20 (J20 Nationell)

Many of us expected a center or a defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks at this spot, and they opt for Swedish blue liner Tom Willander. Willander isn’t a flashy pick, but he is what the Canucks have lacked for years now: a legitimate, smooth-skating, play-killing defenseman to play opposite of Quinn Hughes. However, I have to wonder at this point as we step outside the top 10, where is Zachary Benson going to end up?

12. Arizona Coyotes (via OTT) – Daniil But, LW, Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)

What’s better than one Loko Yaroslavl product? Apparently, it’s two, as the Coyotes select rangy winger Daniil But. But plays like a skilled small forward in the body of a hulking, 6-foot-5 power winger. The potential upside in his skill set is massive and he’ll be a fascinating project to monitor over the next few years.

13. Buffalo Sabres – Zachary Benson, LW, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)

I cannot state enough how much I love this pick for the Buffalo Sabres, as they land an elite talent in Benson who was among the top scorers in the CHL this season and already has natural chemistry with 2022 1st Round pick Matthew Savoie. Benson is skilled and highly-intelligent and should be a dynamic piece alongside Tage Thompson, John-Jason Peterka, Jack Quinn, and the rest of Buffalo’s growing arsenal of high-end offensive talent.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins – Brayden Yager, C, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)

The Pittsburgh Penguins kick off the Kyle Dubas era with the selection of Brayden Yager. I really love the fit for the Penguins, as it signals an awareness of needing to prepare for life after Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. In Yager, Pittsburgh adds one of the best shooters in the draft and a player that plays with great all-around smarts, and has the potential to be a top-six center at the pro level.

15. Nashville Predators – Matthew Wood, RW/C, University of Connecticut (NCAA)

The mandate was simple from new general manager Barry Trotz was to make swings on upside, and if that’s not Matthew Wood I don’t know what is. I really like the bet by the Nashville Predators, Wood was the youngest player in the NCAA this season and had a very successful season for UCONN. He’s a toolsy player who can shoot the puck, create offense, has a massive frame, and could be a impact piece in Nashville for many years to come.

16. Calgary Flames – Samuel Honzek, LW, Vancouver Giants (WHL)

The Calgary Flames opt for a player they got to see plenty of in the Western Hockey League with Samuel Honzek. Toolsy is the best way to describe Honzek, as he’s a big body who does just about everything well that you look for in a top-nine NHL forward. It’s a solid pick for the Flames, and it will be their job to develop along his solid base of tools to turn him into an impact player.

17. Detroit Red Wings (via NYI) – Axel Sandin Pellikka, D, Skellefteå AIK J20 (J20 Nationell)

There goes the top defenseman on FCHockey’s final board, as Axel Sandin Pellikka joins the Red Wings with Detroit’s second first rounder of the evening. I really love the fit for Sandin Pellikka in Detroit and what they’re building on the blue line there, as he’ll be able to slot in next to Simon Edvinsson and Moritz Seider in the future.

18. Winnipeg Jets – Colby Barlow, LW/RW, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)

The Winnipeg Jets step up and take Colby Barlow, and I thinkWinnipeg’s coaching staff is going to love this kid when he gets to the show. Everyone is looking for impact power wingers these days, and Barlow is a bear of a player who is strong on pucks and has a heavy shot, Barlow has the potential to be a fan favorite in short order in Winnipeg.

19. Chicago Blackhawks (via TB) – Oliver Moore, C, USNTDP U18 (NTDP)

I love this pick for Chicago. With their first selection, they grab the best shooter in the draft, and at their second selection they take the best skater in the draft. Oliver Moore is an incredibly speedy two-way center who can push the pace of play and make an impact at both ends of the ice, Bedard and Moore down the middle in Chicago is a heck of a start.

20. Seattle Kraken – Eduard Sale, RW/LW, HC Kometa Brno (Czechia)

The Seattle Kraken add one of the top pure offensive pieces in the draft with Czech winger Eduard Sale. I really like the swing on skill here by the Kraken. He needs to work on his best effort consistently and round out his all-around game, but there’s a ton to like there in his skill, speed, and playmaking ability. Sale could be an excellent fit alongside Matthew Beniers in a couple of years.

21. Minnesota Wild – Charlie Stramel, C, University of Wisconsin (NCAA)

The Minnesota Wild go for the towering American center Charlie Stramel with their first round pick. I’ll be honest — I’m not a big fan of this pick, as I simply thought there was a lot more upside on the board, especially at the center position. Stramel should play games in the NHL though; he’s got a big, heavy frame and is able to will his way into hard areas on the ice.

22. Philadelphia Flyers (via LA) – Oliver Bonk, D, London Knights (OHL)

The Flyers go for one of the best defenseman available with Oliver Bonk, a steady shutdown defenseman with NHL bloodlines. Bonk doesn’t have the highest ceiling compared to some of his peers, but is a naturally projectable player to pro hockey with his sound decisions, big-frame, and strong mobility for a player his size.

23. New York Rangers – Gabriel Perreault, LW, USNTDP U18 (NTDP)

Gabriel Perreault was a fascinating case to watch in this first round, as he broke USNTDP scoring records this season but fell to the early 20s and lands with the New York Rangers. The Rangers get a very naturally talented offensive player who sees the ice very well, and would be a natural line partner for their 2021 first rounder Brennan Othmann. Off the cuff, I think Perreault may actually remind a lot of Rangers fans of Mats Zuccarello.

24. Nashville Predators (via EDM) – Tanner Molendyk, D, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)

With their second first round pick, the hometown Predators select Tanner Molendyk, a two-way defender with elite mobility. I’m a big fan of this selection, as I wasn’t sure if Molendyk would be taken in the top 32 but I’m very happy to see him go this early. He fits the mold of the modern-day NHL defenseman, with advanced mobility and puck-moving traits as well as a steady defensive game.

25. St. Louis Blues (via TOR) – Otto Stenberg, C/LW, Frölunda HC J20 (J20 Nationell)

The Blues add another center with the selection of Otto Stenberg, a skilled two-way forward who was excellent for Sweden internationally over the past year. Though I would like to see the Blues add a defenseman, it’s a solid fit for St. Louis as Stenberg can play up and down a lineup and could be an impact top-six forward if he can bring his best game on a more consistent basis.

26. San Jose Sharks (via NJD) – Quentin Musty, LW, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)

With the pick the Sharks got in return for Timo Meier, they select a player with some similar traits in Quentin Musty. Musty was my best available player at this spot, so I’m naturally a big fan of this selection by San Jose. Musty is a competitive and tenacious pest with high-end skill and a lethal shot, and I believe has the makeup of a top-six forward at the NHL level.

27. Colorado Avalanche – Calum Ritchie, C, Oshawa Generals (OHL)

Calum Ritchie felt like he was bound to land in the first round somewhere, so it seemed like only a matter of time before his name was called. Ritchie played the year with a shoulder injury, which likely impacted his ability to consistently bring his best, but the Colorado Avalanche grab a player who has a lot of natural offensive tools with a strong shot, hockey sense, and slick hands.

28. Toronto Maple Leafs (via BOS) –  Easton Cowan, C/RW, London Knights (OHL)

Wow, big shocker as the Leafs opt for Easton Cowan out of London. This pick is off the board for many, but I heard whispers that Cowan may sneak his way into the end of the first round, he’s a very intelligent player who rose up draft boards late in the year. He sees the ice well and is a natural playmaker, time will tell if the Toronto Maple Leafs made the right decision here.

29. St. Louis Blues (via DAL) – Theo Lindstein, D, Brynäs IF (SHL)

There’s the defenseman I wanted the Blues to grab, as they opt for the steady and mobile Theo Lindstein. Lindstein fell on a lot of draft boards throughout the year, but I remain a believer in his tool kit. He skates well and can move puck effectively out of his own zone, and I think is a good bet for the Blues in this range.

30. Carolina Hurricanes – Bradly Nadeau, LW/C, Penticton Vees (BCHL)

Love to see Bradly Nadeau sneak his way into the first round. Nadeau was this year’s top Junior A prospect, dominating in the BCHL and has legitimate scoring upside with a lethal shot and strong offensive awareness. Getting to the end here, I’m hoping to see Gavin Brindley or Andrew Cristall go, but Nadeau is a nice bet for the Hurricanes and his game reminds me a bit of Ducks forward Troy Terry.

31. Colorado Avalanche (via FLA) – Mikhail Gulyayev, D, Omskie Yastreby (MHL)

Love this selection for the Avalanche, as they take who I feel was by far the best defenseman left on the board. Mikhail Gulyayev has a tantalizing offensive ceiling, for my money he’s one of the top offensive talents on the blue line in this class with high-end mobility and creativity. Roman Josi-lite is how I’ve described him at times, Colorado will need to be patient with him and work through some growing pains but the potential is immense.

32. Vegas Golden Knights –  David Edstrom, C, Frolunda HC J20 (J20 Nationell)

I like this as a speculative, cheeky pick by the Vegas Golden Knights. I’ve wondered if David Edstrom ends up being one of the players we look back on in a few years and wonder how he went so late. He’s a very well-rounded center with pro size, produced well in the Swedish juniors and put up points during his SHL stint, and closed the year with a very strong U18s for Sweden. Edstrom was one of the better options left at center, so I think this is solid value.

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