June 29, 2023

Seven storylines that caught attention during at the 2023 NHL Draft

The 2023 NHL Draft has come and gone, and there were no shortage of storylines to keep a keen eye on at both days of the selection process.

And while teams will now shift their focus to development camps, free agency and prepping for the 2023-24 season, we’re not done digesting what we’ve seen happen on the draft floor and stage at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

So before we move on from the draft, lets take a look back at the storylines that piqued interest during Wednesday and Thursday’s festivities.

In no particular order, here are our favorite storylines from the 2023 NHL Draft:

Matvei Michkov goes No. 7 to the Flyers

This is the storyline that most people were following when the draft opened on Wednesday, and I think it is still the most intriguing story of the 2023 draft. Matvei Michkov arguably a top-5 talent in the draft was garnering plenty of headlines throughout the process leading up to the draft. There were tons of reports about if he would fall, if teams were even going to get a chance to meet with him and even some people suggesting he was angling towards going to a certain team.

Now that is all said and done, the Philadelphia Flyers got one of the most talented players in the draft at No. 7, and general manager Danny Briere is showing that he is not afraid to take risks. While the rebuild just started, there is no denying that the Flyers have a potential franchise changing player in Michkov. Now the story will shift to following him over the next few seasons and seeing when Philadelphia will get him over to North America, and if Briere can build a roster that is ready to contend when Michkov does jump to the NHL.

The Blue Jackets had the most ‘fun’ draft class

Most people assumed the Anaheim Ducks were taking Adam Fantilli, but that started to change the day of round one when smoke around Leo Carlsson started to pop up. When the Ducks made Carlsson the official pick, it gave the Columbus Blue Jackets the option to select Fantilli. That marked the start of a very exciting draft in a crucial year for the Blue Jackets. They added Gavin Brindley in the second round (No. 34), William Whitelaw (No. 66) in the third round, and Luca Pinelli (No. 114) in the fourth round, among others.

Jarmo Kekalainen is under tremendous pressure in Columbus, but adding some exciting and high-upside prospects, along with a potential franchise center in Fantilli should re-ignite the fanbase. A lot of teams had solid drafts, but I think Columbus’ class is the most fun out of all 32 teams.

No OHLers in the top-15

Going into this draft it wasn’t a surprise that the Ontario Hockey League didn’t have a ton of elite prospects in this class, but it seemed almost certain that at least one OHLer would go earlier than the No. 18 pick — where Colby Barlow landed to the Winnipeg Jets. Granted the Western Hockey League and Europe had a strong presence atop this class, but given the OHL’s rep it is a bit of a surprise not one prospect would go top-15.

Barlow was always atop the list for 2023 draft eligibles from the Ontario circuit, and in most opinions was worth a pick in the 10-12 range. The Jets ended his slide, and the OHL’s slide. They’re getting a power forward who knows how to score and lead his teammates. It was very interesting to see the OHL go that long without a selection.

Dmitri Simashev is the first Russian off the board

This one ties in with the Michkov storyline a little, and Dmitri Simashev had a wide range of opinions on him heading into the draft. There were some that thought he could be the No. 1 defenseman in the class, while some thought he was more of a later first-round pick. When the Arizona Coyotes took him at No. 6 it was a bit of a shock for multiple reasons.

Simashev going sixth overall and being the first Russian taken in the 2023 class was an eyebrow-raiser, to say the least. The Coyotes took a big gamble by taking him sixth, but I really like their chances of it paying off. Simashev has some rare tools and could end up being a pillar on Arizona’s backend for years to come.

Blackhawks start their rebuild with a bang

The Chicago Blackhawks obviously won big when they won the lottery and got the right to draft Connor Bedard at No. 1, but they also hit a few more home runs in their 2023 class to set up an early foundation that will help their rebuild get off on the right foot. Aside from Bedard there is a chance that Chicago got a few pieces that will have large roles in their future.

Oliver Moore was a great selection at No. 19, and will be a very key piece in the future of the Blackhawks. The selections of Adam Gajan the second round (No. 35) and Nick Lardis in the third round (No. 67) are also value adds. Add inAlex Pharand (No. 99) and Marcel Marcel (No. 131), and its a fantastic job overall. It’s hard to criticize the job general manager Kyle Davidson and his scouting staff did at the 2023 draft in Nashville.

The Flames and new GM Craig Conroy play it safe

I want to start this off by saying I think the Samuel Honzek selection was a good one, and he will be a solid NHLer for the Calgary Flames down the road. There’s an understanding of going the safe route given the current situation in Calgary and its somewhat depleted prospect pool, but there was surprise newly anointed general manager Craig Conroy didn’t take a bigger swing and try to get a higher end prospect with his first pick at No. 16 overall.

There is no criticism here from me, but it is definitely something that piqued interest.

Lack of trade activity, especially early on

This is a less exciting storyline, but normally we see some big trades during the draft and this year that just was not the case. No team moved up or down during round one, and there wasn’t a ton of trade activity during day two either. The first round felt as though a lot of general managers liked the way Round 1 unfolded, and they did not want to deviate from taking their guy. But it was strange nonetheless to see a draft go by without a blockbuster trade.

Hopefully, for hockey fans, this means the opening of free agency will be hectic, but it appears the league’s executives valued their picks highly. And justifiably so. This class was pretty strong particularly in the opening round.

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