June 23, 2023

Top Americans are set to shape the top of 2023 NHL Draft

The quality and quantity of Americans selected in the first round of the NHL Draft has increased tremendously since the establishment of the National Team Development Program.

Since its inauguration back in 1996, at least three Americans have been chosen in the first round every year — with 2020 being the lone exception.

In 2016, a record 12 players representing the Stars and Stripes were selected in the first round, led by Auston Matthews at No. 1.

It won’t quite be that haul in 2023, but there’s no shortage of top talent, either.

Representing the NTDP at the 2023 draft is the quartet of Will Smith, Ryan Leonard, Gabriel Perreault, and Oliver Moore — all slotted in the top 32 of FCHockey’s Final ranking for the 2023 NHL Draft. The line of Smith, Leonard, and Perreault are all set to join forces at Boston College in the fall, and Moore is lined up to become the University of Minnesota’s top recruit.

Members of Team USA for the 2023 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, the four led the US to the gold medal with an overtime victory over Sweden.

Smith is the top-ranked American in this year’s draft, coming in at No. 5. Centering the NTDP’s top line, Smith was the engine that made the line go. A high-level playmaker, Smith is omnipresent in the offensive zone. His elite vision, awareness, and puckhandling in tight spaces make him a threat all over the ice.

“In a draft packed with high-end offensive talent, Smith is right there near the top of the list in both talent and excitement levels,” FCHockey regional scout Brandon Holmes says. “Smith is just a delight to watch play hockey with how skilled and creative he is, capable of changing games with just one puck touch as he can cut through coverage with slick one-on-one skill, finish chances with a snappy release on his shot, or distribute with his elite vision and offensive awareness.”

At the U18 Worlds, Smith led not just his team in production but the entire tournament, racking up 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in just seven games. His point production was second all-time only to Nikita Kucherov’s 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) in 2011. Smith managed to find the back of the net in all but one of Team USA’s games, including a hat-trick against Slovakia in the tournament’s semifinal.

Since the inception of the NTDP, there hasn’t been a player more productive than Perreault — in any single season — ever. In the USA’s second game of the U18s against Norway, Perreault surpassed Auston Matthews’ mark of 117 points, finishing the season with 132 points (53 goals, 79 assists).

Perreault comes from a hockey lineage, as his father Yanic Perreault played in 14 NHL seasons with six teams. His brother Jacob Perreault was a first-round pick (No. 27) of the Anaheim Ducks in 2020 and currently plays in the AHL. His sister, Liliane Perreault, is presently playing collegiately with Mercyhurst College.

“Perreault will be a fascinating player to watch on draft day, as his statistical profile suggests he’s among the top offensive talents available in this year’s draft,” Holmes says. “Perreault is a remarkably slick and cerebral forward who makes excellent reads with the puck on his stick, able to make plays in tight spaces and distribute to his teammates effortlessly with crisp tape-to-tape passes, making him a particularly potent threat on a line with a true scorer.”

Despite scoring more points than anyone who has donned the USA sweater in a single season, Perreault is FCHockey’s fourth-ranked American and No. 14.

Regardless of his accolades, there is some concern about Perreault’s future at the next level, as he’s a bit undersized at 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds. While Perreault is a well-rounded forward, he doesn’t excel in any one particular category. But what he does best is rake in the points, which will garner him a likely first-round selection.

Rounding out the top line for the NTDP is Ryan Leonard, coming in at No. 22. Leonard can be considered the thunder to Smith and Perreault’s lightning, and is at his best when he’s creating space for his linemates. His point production isn’t at the elite level of his linemates, but Smith and Perreault would likely credit Leonard for being a prominent factor in their record-setting seasons.

“Teams looking to add goal-scoring punch and high-end competitiveness should look no further than Leonard,” Holmes says. “Leonard appears to me as a player that NHL coaches are bound to fall in love with once he makes it to the big leagues. He’s a highly-competitive player who works hard to get himself into scoring areas of the ice, commits to both sides of the puck, and has a deadly release that allows him to score from range.”

Of all three, Leonard has undoubtedly scored the biggest goal of the season, finding the back of the net in overtime against Sweden in the to net gold at the U18s. Leonard plays with a high-RPM engine. He’ll never be seen stagnant on the ice, usually looking for someone to batter his body against.

Perhaps the most intriguing American-born prospect is Oliver Moore, however.

While the other three receive most of the attention, deservingly so, Moore has had a tremendously productive season, despite not having two other superstars on his line. Moore is the team’s top skater and one of the best in the draft class. He’ll lure defenders in one direction before crossing over, leaving the opposition chasing him from behind.

“Moore quickly became one of my personal favorites in the 2023 class throughout the year, as I find him to be the prototype for what you look for in a modern-day impact two-way forward at the NHL level,” Holmes outlines. “Moore is among the quickest players in this year’s class in terms of both foot speed and decision-making, allowing him to play with pace on both sides of the puck and keep opponents on their heels.”

Despite not having the production of his three teammates, Moore is the FCHockey’s second-highest-ranked American behind only Smith, at No. 9.

All four can expect to hear NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announce their names on Day 1 of the draft, with potential rivalries in store when joining the NHL ranks.

Depending how early each is selected come June 28, it could potentially shape the first round into a different path than initially thought.

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