Twelve months in the making. Over 800 games and isolated footage watched for over 700 hours spent scouting. All culminating in a list that won’t please everybody.
After investing more time in this draft year than I ever have before, I’m ready to bring you detailed reports on who I deem to be the top 100 prospects from this 2023 cohort, working my way down to the undisputed first overall pick over a two-part series that will have everything you need to follow along with the action in Nashville and know what kind of player our Habs will be getting. The Canadiens’ first pick of the fourth round is at 101st overall, so expect the guys at the very start of this list to be in the mix for that selection.
To give you an even better grasp on this class, I’ll be listing each player’s standout traits and their weaknesses, along with their closest comparables. The latter I’m not particularly fond of, given how unique players are and how early in their careers they are drafted (a lot of prospects have multiple pathways to the NHL, which can drastically change the likeness of their game to this or that NHLer), but from personal experience, readers love comparables, and you all deserve a treat after the season the Habs just had.
An initial disclaimer: this list isn’t a mock draft, nor a predictive ranking. It is based on my personal viewings and draft philosophy, which highly values smarts, skill and intensity (ideally in combination), and weighs upside more heavily than certainty.
This list also could not be possible without your ongoing support. After the fallout with Vox Media, we are all eternally grateful for your continued patronage and your unrivalled engagement in both our comments section and our podcasts. There is no fanbase like Montreal, and you are the most evident example of that fact.
With that being said, let’s start with pick 100 in my rankings.
#100 – Zeb Forsfjäll, C — Skellefteå AIK (SHL)
Size: 5’9, 168 pounds
Strengths: Motor, character, skating, hockey sense
Weaknesses: Below-average skill set, physical limitations
Comparable: Paul Byron
A pesky forward with some great edges, Forsfjäll is the type of player who wins his coaches’ trust easily, as his 17 games at the pro level as a 17-year-old clearly indicate. He pressures defenders back into danger, forces them into mistakes, then quickly darts between coverage to find space to work with. He is relentless in pursuit, calculated in his back-checks, and loves to jump on loose pucks. The concern with Forsfjäll is that his skill set doesn’t give itself too much more than a bottom-six role. The shot isn’t particularly strong or accurate, the hands are underwhelming, and the playmaking only occasionally reflects his intelligence. Still, the bottom six of an NHL lineup is just about where his floor is as well.
#99 – Yegor Zavragin, G — Mamonty Yugry (MHL)
Size: 6’2, 183 pounds
Strengths: Rebound control, glove hand, mobility
Weaknesses: Raw technique, puck-tracking
Comparable: Jack Campbell
A contorsionist by trade, Zavragin has promising tools and a raw toolkit. He has a knack for deflecting point shots away from danger and impressive agility for his 6’2 frame, but his puck-tracking holds him back. He loses sight of the puck and gets beat on surprise shots often. Still, his 2.49 GAA and .920 save percentage in the MHL this year are a direct result of what he does right. He’ll need more time than other goaltenders in this draft, but the payoff could be solid.
#98 – Ignat Lutfullin, RW/LW — SKA-Varyagi St. Petersburg (MHL)
Size: 6’0, 163 pounds
Strengths: Hands, hockey sense, playmaking
Weaknesses: Skating, board play, puck protection
Comparable: Jordan Weal
A crafty, hard-working winger with a solid foundation of intelligence and creativity, Lutfullin has some improvements left to do in many areas. A bet on him is a bet on what currently makes his game good — his playmaking ability and on-puck habits. His effort level might perhaps continue to compensate for the lack of technical ability in board battles as well as the deficiencies in his skating mechanics, which are currently the biggest areas of improvement for him, and maybe adding some bulk on his lanky frame could help, but it’s a longshot. Still, the smarts and skill are enticing.
#97 – Ryan Fine, RW/C — USNTDP (USHL)
Size: 5’9, 183 pounds
Strengths: Hands, motor, one-touch play
Weaknesses: Defensive value, physical limitations, skating
Comparable: Rocco Grimaldi
Fine is a great puckhandler with a myriad of moves in his arsenal. He ducks, weaves and shoulder-fakes his way into the offensive zone, loves to gain the middle on his backhand, and regularly finds soft ice off the puck. Forechecking-wise, he certainly tries hard; he rarely lets the opposing defence breathe, and applies intelligent pressure with his stick to force them up lanes that they’d rather avoid. He does have some glaring issues in his game, namely his inconsistent defensive play and, especially, his near-nonexistent physical strength, but the offensive value of a player with his level of skill is still worth a shot in the early fourth round.
#96 – Jan Sprynar, RW — Rimouski Océanic (QMJHL)
Size: 6’1, 176 pounds
Strengths: Shot, off-puck movement, physical game
Weaknesses: Skating, engagement, awareness
Comparable: Dale Weise
Sprynar’s standout ability is his shot. It’s got some power to it, and he can hit corners pretty regularly. He’s got some great off-puck habits as well in the offensive zone, allowing him to get lost in coverage and pop up unmarked. He engages players first in board battles, gets under their hands by dropping his weight to prevent them from getting the angle on him, and has a baseline of playmaking vision to pass his way out of trouble. The effort level is inconsistent and the skating is an issue, but he could be a good 20-goal scorer one day with value on a checking line.
#95 – Scott Ratzlaff, G — Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Size: 6’0, 174 pounds
Strengths: Mobility, aggression, awareness
Weaknesses: Rebound control, post coverage, size
Comparable: Devon Levi
I’ll preface this by saying that not every small goaltender’s size is a problem — but Ratzlaff’s is. Although you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more engaged, mobile and aggressive netminder, Ratzlaff does tend to bite off more than he can chew off the rush, making it hard for him to get from high to low quickly enough. He has enough raw skill and mental drive to work his way into my late third round, but he’ll need the right development team to tweak his game and make him a great netminder — not despite his size, but because of it.
#94 – Noel Nordh, LW/RW — Brynäs IF J20 (J20 Nationell)
Size: 6’2, 194 pounds
Strengths: Playmaking, inside play, puck protection
Weaknesses: Skating, awareness, defensive game
Comparable: Benoit Pouliot
Small ice play is where Nordh dominates. He isn’t the most North-South, drop-the-shoulder-and-drive-the-net type of winger, but when it comes to winning board battles and gaining the middle, and especially when he gets the step on a defender in transition, he is effective and hard to contain. Nordh plays great give-and-go sequences, finding gaps under sticks and between skates to slip pucks to his center regularly when pressured. If his skating can become a strength and if he learns to trust his feet more than his hands, watch out.
#93 – Noah Dower Nilsson, C — Frölunda HC (J20 Nationell)
Size: 6’0, 183 pounds
Strengths: Playmaking, hockey sense, stickhandling
Weaknesses: Skating, physical game, defensive involvement
Comparable: Sonny Milano
Pure skill and intelligence permeate Dower Nilsson’s on-puck game. Almost every viewing I’ve had of him, there were a couple of jaw-dropping passes through pressure, slick handling sequences or one-touch passing plays he initiated that got me excited. Unfortunately, his skating is about as bad as it gets. Poorly flexed knees and bad posture lead to poor lateral mobility, straight line speed and pivoting. This limits him severely off the rush and in defensive scenarios, and on top of that, he isn’t the strongest puck protector. He’s a boom-or-bust prospect, with the arrow leaning on the bust side, but the upside is worth a swing in the late third round.
#92 – Jakub Dvorak, D — Bili Tygri Liberec (Czech Extraliga)
Size: 6’5, 209 pounds
Strengths: Size, strength, shutdown ability
Weaknesses: Puck skills, awareness, skating
Comparable: Hal Gill
Dvorak is likely going to be a second-round pick, and the big reason for that is he’s, well, big. Other than his defensive game and physical dominance, Dvorak’s game is lackluster. A fairly simple glass-and-out defender, Dvorak just doesn’t seem very comfortable in possession, and rarely makes use of his wingspan to cut across opponents in transition. He lacks the foot speed and skill to have any real offensive impact, but boy can he defend. He uses his stick intelligently to block access to the slot, and doesn’t shy away from laying the body, whether it’s to put a forward on his rear or to block a shot. He’d be a top 10 pick in the 90s but, unfortunately for him, it’s 2023.
#91 – Coulson Pitre, C — Flint Firebirds (OHL)
Size: 6’1, 172 pounds
Strengths: Intensity, physical game, offensive versatility
Weaknesses: Transition play, skating, defensive consistency
Comparable: Barclay Goodrow
Want a pitbull? Pitre is the next best thing. Like a dog on a bone, Pitre chases defenders relentlessly, hitting and pushing everything that moves. He loves to get involved physically but doesn’t let that take him out of plays. He can punish you offensively in a variety of ways, whether that’s moving off the puck to jump on rebounds, hanging out high to shoot from distance, or playing quick passes to open teammates. His skating limits his game and he can sometimes make weird decisions in his own zone, but if you’re looking for intensity and character to hopefully get a complementary forward for some more skilled linemates, he’s your guy.
#90 – Luke Coughlin, D — Rimouski Océanic (QMJHL)
Size: 5’10 172 pounds
Strengths: Skating, offensive activation, transition play
Weaknesses: Defensive consistency, physical play
Comparable: Samuel Girard
Coughlin’s early-season injury put him a step behind other prospects in his draft class, and he took some time to get back into game shape, but the skating ability was undeniable from day one. Extremely fluid and quick on his edges, Coughlin loves to carry the puck and join the rush. He explodes out of his strides and makes short work of opposing forecheckers, sending them the wrong way consistently. Unfortunately for Coughlin, his defending is simply not good enough to compensate for his lack of size and strength, and his skill set isn’t Lane Hutson-esque. Still, he’s worth a shot based on his strengths and the small likelihood that he unlocks some offensive versatility down the line.
#89 – Nico Myatovic, LW — Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Size: 6’3, 181 pounds
Strengths: Hands, shot, defensive game
Weaknesses: Skating, playmaking, awareness
Comparable: Blake Coleman
Myatovic’s accurate shot and quick hands make his offensive game worth a shot, but he also offers a decent amount of defensive value. Solid on his skates and very reactive, he jumps into passing lanes with great timing and precision, and is exceptionally good at pestering puck-carriers until they lose the puck while being immune to the same treatment. He lacks the foot speed to be an NHLer as he stands, but some tweaks in his posture and ankle flexion should make him a more capable defender, and add some value to his transition game.
#88 – Francesco Dell’elce, D — St. Andrew’s College (CAHS)
Size: 6’0, 157 pounds
Strengths: Skating, shot, transition play
Weaknesses: strength, overall refinement
Comparable: Neal Pionk
Dell’elce’s play at the Canadian collegiate level is well beyond his peers; his transition game would work wonders at any Major-Junior level, his mobility and edgework are high-end, and he defends pretty well, too. However, what makes his profile so intriguing is how refined his shot is. Mechanically sound and surprisingly powerful, his release often beats netminders clean, even on wristers from the point. He is very raw, especially physically with that 157-pound frame, but the upside makes him worth the bet despite playing in a league that rarely sees draft-eligibles worth taking in the top three rounds.
#87 – Quinton Burns, D — Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Size: 6’1, 179 pounds
Strengths: Defensive game, physical play, transition ability
Weaknesses: Puck skills, offensive activation, skating
Comparable: Adam Larsson
Rarely will you see a shutdown defenceman with the transition ability that Burns displays. He doesn’t transition the puck with his feet — his skating is actually slightly sub-par — but rather with his passing. Calculated and measured passes through pressure make his wingers’ zone exits easy, and he has the intelligence to back them up if they lose the puck. He keeps up with opposing cycles well, has the poise to not exit the structure needlessly, and can lower the boom when needed. Burns has a unique skill set that helps keep pucks out of his zone but once they’re out, his teammates often are left to their own devices. Still, there’s value in Burns as a mid-third-rounder.
#86 – Alex Assadourian, LW — Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Size: 5’8, 168 pounds
Strengths: Skating, motor, vision
Weaknesses: Delay game, physicality, deception
Comparable: Conor Garland
Assadourian had a weird draft year. He started off in Sudbury, where he played a handful of games on defence and only scored three points in 32 games. After a move to Niagara led to him playing exclusively as a forward in the top six, his production rose to 33 points in 34 games on his new team. There, we saw how Assadourian’s motor and skill set could lend itself to a solid forechecking game. He wins pucks back with refined board battle mechanics, can make smart passes to the middle, and never gives opposing players time to breathe. He needs to learn when and how to hang onto pucks in order to have a chance as an NHLer, but if he does, he’ll be a very annoying player to face.
#85 – Tommaso De Luca, C/LW — Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
Size: 6’0, 187 pounds
Strengths: Hockey sense, hands, transition play
Weaknesses: Skating mechanics, defensive play
Comparable: Joel Farabee
With his high-end awareness and refined delay game, De Luca picks apart defences one fake at a time. His playmaking ability is solid, with a wide arsenal of passes in his tool bag and the intelligence to pick the right one for the situation. He vastly improved his game as the season went on, quickly becoming one of the Spokane Chiefs’ best players. The Italian-born Swiss international will be returning to HC Ambri-Piotta in the National League to play against pros next season and his production at that level will be more telling of the calibre of player his team will be getting. He has hands and smarts for days, and could be a steal if his skating improves.
#84 – Danny Nelson, LW/C — USNTDP (USHL)
Size: 6’3, 203 pounds
Strengths: Strength, shot, forechecking
Weaknesses: Awareness, delay game, passing
Comparable: Brock Nelson
A powerful frame and a heavy shot make Nelson a threat in possession of the puck. He moves away from it well, too, and can pressure opponents into unfavourable situations on the forecheck. I’m not the biggest fan of his decision-making and vision, as he tends to skate into trouble or miss easy outlet options, but overall, he has a highly sought-after profile and can affect the game in multiple ways. Nelson is likely going to go way higher than I have him ranked, but I have a hard time seeing him become anything more than a third-line checking forward.
#83 – Juraj Pekarcik, LW — HK Nitra (Slovakia)
Size: 6’2, 183 pounds
Strengths: Awareness, hands, intensity
Weaknesses: Skating mechanics, shot, defensive game
Comparable: Teuvo Teräväinen
Slick, smart and great in transition, Pekarcik has some projectable elements to his game that offer even more promise when paired with the fact that he is one of the youngest draft-eligibles in this crop. A 10-point performance at the U18 Worlds put his name on many NHL teams’ lists, and rightfully so. He puts defenders on their heels with great crossover usage and a high-pace game, but his skating mechanics need a fair bit of work. He stands upright, struggles to hit his outside edges consistently, and lacks knee bend. Some tweaking in his posture and stance could go a long way in making his flashes of transition brilliance more frequent.
#82 – Beckett Hendrickson, LW — USNTDP (USHL)
Size: 6’2, 172 pounds
Strengths: Playmaking, awareness, strength
Weaknesses: Defensive game, stickhandling, shot
Comparable: Michael McLeod
Hendrickson is one of the best passers in the draft. He consistently finds second or third passing lanes to hit and has the patience to wait for them to appear. He is among the best in his class at getting the puck off the boards after winning a battle and playing it to an open teammate in the middle of the ice. In the offensive zone, his passes are often directed at the slot, and usually connect. His strength also helps him protect pucks and wait for the right opportunity to pass them. Unfortunately, passing is all he has, puck-skills wise. When no lanes are open, he struggles to stickhandle his way out of pressure, and he shies away from shots more often than not. Still, the playmaking is superb and gives him more upside than most in this range.
#81 – Jordan Tourigny, D — Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
Size: 5’9, 150 pounds
Strengths: Mobility, intelligence, breakout game
Weaknesses: Defensive game, size, strength
Comparable: Victor Mete
Skating is the name of the game for Tourigny. What he lacks in muscle, he makes up for in escapability. He’s hard to catch — he can drop his weight and explode out of turns to evade pressure and build play up the ice. I usually love this style of defenceman (see: Lane Hutson in my top 25 last year) but they need to have a baseline of handling skill and playmaking ability to catch my attention. At the start of the year, I truly thought Tourigny had it, but as the year went on it became obvious that he lacked the true high-end offensive ability I was seeking, on top of having trouble keeping up physically with wingers off the rush and inside his own zone. Still, there are few better skaters among defencemen in this class, and if you develop his skill set even further, perhaps you can carve a power-play specialist out of Tourigny.
#80 – Gavyn Thoreson, LW — Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)
Size: 5’8, 183 pounds
Strengths: Intensity, physical game, playmaking
Weaknesses: Foot speed, shot
Comparable: Xavier Simoneau
I went for a non-NHL comparable with Thoreson — not because there are none, but because he reminds me too much of Xavier Simoneau to omit that comparison. For those who followed my early work at EOTP, you know how big of a compliment that is. He scored 97 points in 31 high school games and put up a point per game in the USHL — not too shabby. Insanely feisty and built like a tree stump, Thoreson is pound-for-pound the hardest player to push off the puck in this draft. I still believe that Simoneau’s playmaking and intelligence outshone Thoreson’s at the same age but the profiles are eerily similar. With some work on his shooting and some tweaks to his forward stride, Thoreson could become a thorn in the sides of NHL defenders with enough time.
#79 – Cole Knuble, C — Fargo Force (USHL)
Size: 5’11, 183 pounds
Strengths: Net-front game, small-area playmaking, intelligence
Weaknesses: Skating, strength, transition game
Comparable: James Van Riemsdyk
The only overager in my top 100, Knuble is a different beast than he was last year, and even back then he had earned himself a late-round mention in my rankings. Now much more willing to slow plays down, move laterally with the puck, and build play incrementally rather than forcing it down closed lanes, he has found a new gear, and a new niche: the blue paint. There aren’t many prospects in this draft who work the net-front like he does — establish body positioning, cut his man off from accessing the rebound, collect said rebound, shoot, fight for the second puck, rinse and repeat. He has grown his small-area game in leaps and bounds and is now well worth a pick in my top 80.
#78 – Lenni Hämeenaho, RW — Ässät Pori (Liiga)
Size: 5’11, 183 pounds
Strengths: Forechecking, pro habits, intelligence
Weaknesses: Skating, strength, skill set
Comparable: Casey Cizikas
Dependable is the word to describe Hämeenaho. He forechecks hard, establishes body position in front of the net, and has a bunch of little habits that compound and make the game easier for both himself and his teammates. He is also highly intelligent, making anticipatory reads regularly to either find open teammates or block passes to open opponents. He is likely to get drafted in the top two rounds, but I’m not sold on the puck skills ever translating to a top-six role. Still, his floor is high for a player in this range and will be higher once he improves his rough skating stride. That’s got to count for something.
#77 – Arttu Kärki, D — Tappara U20 (U20 SM-Sarja)
Size: 6’2, 176 pounds
Strengths: Offensive activation, shot, playmaking
Weaknesses: Defensive game, decision-making, board play
Comparable: Erik Gustafsson
Gifted offensively and lethal from the opposing blue line inwards, Kärki often plays like a fourth forward, hovering right behind the initial wave of offensive rushes and waiting for the right time to pounce. His shot is heavy and accurate, he moves well to open up new shooting lanes, and doesn’t default to throwing pucks on net needlessly. He has the playmaking ability and vision to connect on plays. The issue with Kärki is essentially everything else. His defending is a headache, he struggles to win puck battles, and can make some very, very strange decisions when defending the rush – namely pinching into empty space while opponents walk in for an odd-man rush. The offensive ceiling is tantalizing but he is about as raw a prospect as you can get.
#76 – Aiden Fink, RW — Brooks Bandits (AJHL)
Size: 5’9, 152 pounds
Strengths: Playmaking, intelligence, intensity
Weaknesses: Skating, physical play
Comparable: Draft-year Sean Farrell
Fink has an alluring combination of high-end playmaking skill, enough intelligence to get by in all three zones, slick hands, and the intensity to win pucks back for his team regularly. He made very short work of the AJHL with the powerhouse Brooks Bandits, earning 97 points in 54 games to win the league scoring title. His skating needs to come a good two or three steps forward before he can be considered an NHL-calibre prospect, but the skill level is enticing and the middle of the third round is right about when you start taking swings like these.
#75 – Mathieu Cataford, RW — Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Size: 5’11, 187 pounds
Strengths: Intelligence, forechecking, physical play
Weaknesses: Skating, skill set
Comparable: Jimmy Vesey
An intelligent off-puck mover with strong habits in all three zones, Cataford is highly dependable and consistent. He puts in the work on a nightly basis and has the strength to back up his effort level. He pesters opponents as they try to break out the puck and takes great routes to dump-ins to increase his chances of getting the puck. Unfortunately for Cataford, the hands don’t match the brain; his puck skills across the board are average and he doesn’t have that special something about his offensive game that particularly stands out. The habits are good, the intensity is great, and dependability is highly sought after in the NHL —that puts him more or less in this range of the draft.
#74 – Matthew Soto, RW — Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Size: 5’11, 168 pounds
Strengths: Dynamism, shot, awareness
Weaknesses: Physical play, raw game
Comparable: Rem Pitlick
Soto has hands for days, and does everything at max pace. He loves to push defenders back into their zone off the rush with inside cuts and crossover moves. He is at his most comfortable with the puck and makes quick work of OHL blue-liners with his changes of pace. His release is solid from in tight and he loves to shoot through screens to surprise netminders from mid-range. He plays an exciting but unrefined game, and his physical play is currently lacking. He has room to add weight to his frame and as he climbs the ranks and matures, his habits could improve to make him a dynamic middle-six winger.
#73 – Ondrej Molnár, LW — HK Nitra (Slovakia)
Size: 6’0, 176 pounds
Strengths: Transition habits, hands, playmaking
Weaknesses: Defensive game, awareness
Comparable: Evgenii Dadonov
While Molnár’s skating isn’t the most impressive in a vacuum, the way he approaches transitions more than compensates for it. He attacks opponents’ heels, forces them to bite first before moving the opposite way, and loves to dangle the carrot before snagging it away from defenders, leaving them reaching for a puck that is behind them before they know it. He has the hands to pull off that style of transition play, and can connect off the rush fairly well. His shot is about average, but he often finds himself in good spots. Overall, the game Molnár plays is fairly straightforward, but his defensive liabilities, overhandling due to poor scanning habits, and reported attitude problems could hold him back.
#72 – Roman Kantserov, RW — Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk (MHL)
Size: 5’9, 176 pounds
Strengths: Dynamism, hands, shot
Weaknesses: Defensive play, physicality
Comparable: Jack Roslovic
Kantserov loves to control play. Whether it’s by blowing past defenders on the wings, hanging onto pucks and waiting for support, or deking his way through the middle, his skill set is evident and serves the purpose of being the focal point of his line. He can shoot in tight or from mid-range, he uses his skating ability well to find space and create it, and makes a habit of invading defenders’ space to force them into battles they weren’t ready for. His lack of size is a setback, as he gets muscled off pucks at times, and his lack of reach also limits his defensive reliability, but he’s got skill for days.
#71 – Maxim Strbak, D — Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
Size: 6’2, 198 pounds
Strengths: Shutdown ability, strength, intelligence
Weaknesses: Puck skills, skating
Comparable: Dmitry Kulikov
Strbak has some surprising smarts for a shutdown defenceman — the occasional slip-pass through a check or quick outlet to a streaking winger are a testament to that. However, you’re drafting him for his defending first and foremost, make no mistake. A solid back-end presence with a wide reach, loads of composure in pressure situations and the awareness to pick apart opposing play-creation attempts, he regularly gets his stick on passes and shots, while also having enough strength to fend off even the biggest wingers in the USHL. He won’t score you many points, but his shutdown ability is up there with some of the best blue-liners in the class.
#70 – Tyler Peddle, C/LW — Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)
Size: 6’1, 190 pounds
Strengths: Shot, puck protection, board play
Weaknesses: Vision, playmaking, skating
Comparable: Kyle Okposo
A goal-scoring forward who leans heavily towards shooting the puck every chance he gets, Peddle’s release is powerful, accurate and deceptive — it is very difficult for netminders to predict where the puck is going before it leaves his stick. He also works the boards fairly well, can shield the puck from opponents on his way to the middle of the ice, and his off-puck movement to find pockets of space to shoot from is calculated and precise. He does struggle to hit his top speed quickly due to a heavier frame, and the lack of linemate support in Drummondville has led to some poor habits when it comes to scanning for open teammates and dishing the puck, but the tools he has make him a decent-value pickup in the early third round.
#69 – Kalan Lind, LW/C — Red Deer Rebels (WHL) (Habs pick here)
Size: 6’0, 154 pounds
Strengths: Intensity, physicality, defensive game
Weaknesses: Skating, vision, efficiency
Comparable: Sam Bennett
Lind plays with an edge; he’s got that grit and nastiness that teams seek, and consistently finds more and more creative ways to get under his opponents’ skin. He is surprisingly solid in his own zone, as well, making smart reads to cut off passes and getting involved physically at just the right times. His playmaking is probably the best of his puck skills, as he does a good job of finding small-area passes that alleviate pressure when he wins battles along the boards, but he lacks overall efficiency in his on-puck game. Rushed slot passes, poor shot selection, and a locked top hand make him more of a support-role player, but a pretty good one to have in your lineup.
#68 – Carson Rehkopf, LW — Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Size: 6’1, 194 pounds
Strengths: Shot, hands, offensive movement
Weaknesses: Consistency, defensive game, intensity
Comparable: Owen Tippett
A high-end shooter with a particularly powerful release, Rehkopf loves nothing more than to move off the puck and find space to work with. On his day, few prospects in this class can rival with his level of skill, but the inconsistencies are a big deterrent. His effort level varies wildly from game to game, his defensive reads aren’t dependable, and he can sometimes focus too much on finding space and not enough on creating it. Still, the top-six goal-scoring upside that his flashes of offensive brilliance carry make him a worthwile bet in the late second or early third rounds.
#67 – Aydar Suniev, LW — Penticton Vees (BCHL)
Size: 6’2, 205 pounds
Strengths: Playmaking, hockey sense, physicality
Weaknesses: Skating, defensive play
Comparable: Joel Armia
For a big guy, Suniev plays with a surprising amount of finesse. His playmaking is truly high-end; he hangs onto pucks through pressure to free up opponents before dishing them out, has a wide arsenal of passes in his tool bag, and can hit both short- and long-range targets accurately. He is also an absolute unit, making short work of the BCHL’s more physically raw players and making players bounce off of him effortlessly. He also has a high work rate, which partially makes up for his skating, but isn’t nearly enough to compensate for it fully. His skating is truly awful; probably the worst in my top 100. He’ll need a complete overhaul of his stride to stand a chance, but the playmaking and hockey sense combined with the physical dominance he displays give for a very alluring, high-upside skill set.
#66 – Andrew Strathmann, D — Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
Size: 5’11, 174 pounds
Strengths: Versatility, skating, physical play
Weaknesses: Inconsistency, defensive habits
Comparable: Jordan Harris
Strathmann was a difficult player to get a grasp on this year; it often seemed like I was watching a different player every night. One game, he’s playing a shutdown role and doing it well, and the next, he’s skating the puck up the ice, activating offensively, but making bad reads going the other way. The optimistic take on that fact is that he is extremely versatile, and can assume a wide variety of roles. The pessimistic take is that he is very inconsistent. One thing that’s consistent, though is his physical involvement. He hits hard and aggressively, taking players out of offensive situations entirely with a body check or a board pin. If he can put the pieces together, there’s upside as a middle-pairing blue-liner, but the raw habits and decision-making are enough to push him out of the top two rounds.
#65 – Joseph Willis, C — Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Size: 5’10, 165 pounds
Strengths: Defensive game, work rate, intelligence
Weaknesses: Offensive skill set, physical play
Comparable: Owen Beck
Willis has a lot of Owen Beck in his game; the defensive reliability and consistently solid positioning, the effort level in forechecking instances, and the high-end hockey sense make him one of the most dependable centres in this range of the draft. He compensates for his lack of size by often playing between checks. Exceptionally skilled at indentifying threats off the cycle, rarely does his player escape his grasp in the defensive zone. Although the puck skills aren’t all that impressive and he can get outmuscled in puck battles, there aren’t many prospects in this draft who boast his level of maturity and poise.
#64 – Theo Lindstein, D — Brynäs IF (SHL)
Size: 6’0, 176 pounds
Strengths: Defensive game, physicality, skating
Weaknesses: Decision-making, puck skills
Comparable: Brandon Carlo
As we enter the late second round, Lindstein begins to make sense as a classic contender’s pick. A relatively simple and straightforward defensive defenceman, Lindstein isn’t prone to bright offensive flashes nor glaring mistakes. He is more than content making the simple pass or dump out of trouble and handles rush defence well with his four-way mobility, stick positioning and physical disposition. His ceiling isn’t high, but his floor certainly is. There aren’t many scenarios that would see Lindstein not make the NHL in at least a bottom-pair capacity, though with his current mindset, he isn’t exploring enough new facets of his game to raise his offensive ceiling.
#63 – Carson Bjarnason, G — Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Size: 6’3, 181 pounds
Strengths: Composure, mobility, low shots
Weaknesses: Lack of urgency, technique, high shots
Comparable: Matt Murray
Poise is the name of the game for Bjarnason — sometimes to a fault. He has an eerie calmness about him in goal, which can sometimes lead to some easy-looking saves on high-danger shots, but can also occasionally make him struggle to see the danger developing in front of him. He also tends to end up on his rear a lot, which is likely a technical issue with either his stance or his movements. In terms of footwork, Bjarnason adjusts very well to angle changes and keeps up with streaking forwards well. He covers the bottom of the net particularly well, but due to the aforementioned balance issues, he can get caught low on high shots. He needs tweaking, but the standout composure could be developed into a Carey Price-like zen in goal, if accompanied by a switch flip into desperation mode when needed.
#62 – Martin Misiak, C — Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
Size: 6’2, 198 pounds
Strengths: Defensive game, strength, off-puck routes
Weaknesses: Awareness, hands
Comparable: Filip Chytil
First and foremost, Misiak is a utility player. Interceptions, forechecks, quick reads, and off-puck smarts make him a two-way force. His transition game lacks deception and manipulation, as he often takes the shortest point from Point A to Point B, but most of what he does away from the puck works wonders. Misiak also has a nose for the net and generates his fair share of rebounds with his shot, but struggles to connect plays directly with his passing. If a development team can get him to scan more frequently and efficiently while working on his skating routes with the puck, he’s got enough tools to be a really good middle-six centre.
#61 – Oliver Bonk, D — London Knights (OHL)
Size: 6’1, 176 pounds
Strengths: Shutdown ability, strength, shot power
Weaknesses: Skating, awareness, skill utilization
Comparable: Ben Chiarot
A pure shutdown blue-liner with a raw on-puck game, Bonk has a lot of the elements that teams value come playoff time. He’s big, he hits hard, he blocks shots, and he’s aggressive in front of his own net. Outside of that, however, Bonk is limited by poor usage of the tools he has. His shot is powerful, but he doesn’t change the angle of his shot or manipulate opponents out of its way. His hands are good in a vacuum, but he tends to panic with the puck and throw it up the boards when pressured in his own zone. Same thing for his playmaking — it lacks both the deception elements missing from his shot, and the composure elements missing from his stickhandling. He would need so much work to bring those elements up to par, that he’s likely just going to end up as a play-killer in the NHL, but he’s probably going to get picked way higher than I have him ranked.
#60 – Alexander Rykov, RW — Belye Medvedi Chelyabinsk (MHL)
Size: 5’11, 170 pounds
Strengths: Skating, puck skills, effort level
Weaknesses: Peripheral game, raw physical frame
Comparable: Vladislav Namestnikov
Rykov is about as versatile as they get. Solid defensively but also skilled and smart offensively, the winger loves to put defencemen on their heels by using his solid skating to push hard down the flanks. His playmaking is intelligent and calculated, knowing when to precipitate a pass into a lane that’s closing and when to delay it to wait for a lane to open. His shot is decent as well when he goes for it, and he blends his skating well into his handling moves to cut away from defenders along the boards. The main concern with Rykov is that he shies away from inside lanes way too often — probably due to some underdeveloped physical tools. Off the puck, his effort level makes up for it, but on the puck, he gets kept to the outside fairly easily. Still, the skill set makes him worth a late second-rounder with upside as a middle-six connector.
#59 – Aram Minnetian, D — USNTDP (USHL)
Size: 6’0, 170 pounds
Strengths: Skating, awareness, playmaking
Weaknesses: Retrievals, strength, in-zone defending
Comparable: Evan Bouchard
The only defenceman from the NTDP who actually caught my eye, Minnetian is a puck-mover at his core. He activates out of his own end with his skating, is comfortable playing give-and-gos in the neutral zone, and finishes his routes in the slot fairly often. He has the awareness, mobility, and straight-line speed to get back on counter-attacks as well, which makes him a decent rush defender. Although he struggles on retrievals — not due to skating but due to aggressive blue-line holds and poor routes to loose pucks — when he does get to the corner first, the puck is often out of his zone in a controlled manner. He solves problems rather than delegating them with his passing, which should continue to be a hallmark of his game. He’s raw, especially defensively and physically, but the upside is enticing.
#58 – Jacob Fowler, G — Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
Size: 6’3, 181 pounds
Strengths: Post-to-post, positioning, reactions
Weaknesses: Awareness, aggression, technique
Comparable: Pyotr Kochetkov
An explosive lateral push and quick, controlled switches in positioning make Fowler very difficult to beat cross-crease. He doesn’t bite early, either, relying on his quick reactions to help him get to difficult saves. Paradoxically, Fowler controls high-danger chances better than low-danger ones. Point shots can sometimes beat him with a simple screen, he can drop too low on wristers from the top of the circles, and his aggressive game can occasionally leave the blue paint vacant. He needs work, but Boston University has a knack for carving out solid NHL netminders, and his stint there should iron out some of his issues.
#57 – Easton Cowan, C — London Knights (OHL)
Size: 5’10, 170 pounds
Strengths: Intelligence, playmaking, motor
Weaknesses: Skating, shot, physicality
Comparable: Mats Zuccarello
Cowan’s playmaking is honestly unfair. His vision is high-end, he anticipates teammates’ routes and hits them in stride, and he always seems to know two or three steps in advance what’s going to unfold. He doesn’t have that dual-threat ability, with a shot that tends to flutter a ton due to poor posture and mechanics, but with vision like his, just give him a scoring winger and he’ll make it work. He also boasts a strong motor, rarely giving up on a forechecking opportunity and backchecking hard to give his defencemen a chance to apply pressure from the front. If his hands and feet were as good as his passing, he’d be much, much higher than 57th in my rankings.
#56 – Tanner Molendyk, D — Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
Size: 5’11, 176 pounds
Strengths: Skating, rush defending, breakout passing
Weaknesses: Offensive creativity, in-zone play, decision-making
Comparable: John Marino
The smoothest-skating defenceman in this draft, Molendyk glides all over the ice effortlessly, and this plays very heavily into his borderline elite ability to defend the rush. He is nearly impossible to outrace, and if you try to delay and cut inside, it only takes him one push to be within a stick length of the puck again. He is a very specialized player, however, meaning that the rest of his game outside of his skating and rush defending is lacklustre. Not the most creative or poised defender with the puck, Molendyk is better off being matched with a D partner who can pass the puck out of the defensive zone. The bet on his strengths carrying him to an NHL role is definitely worth it in this range.
#55 — Kasper Halttunen, RW — HIFK (Liiga)
Size: 6’3, 207 pounds
Strengths: Shot, physicality, off-puck movement
Weaknesses: Intelligence, skating, defensive game
Comparable: Adrian Kempe
Rarely will you see a prospect hit 15 shots in a game, but Halttunen does it frequently. Trigger-happy, and rightfully so with that cannon of a one-timer, Halttunen also brings a boatload of physicality to the table, throwing his weight around hard and often. He loves to back away from coverage off of faceoffs to find small pockets of ice from which to ready his stick and fire, but other than that, his awareness and vision are sub-par, his skating is bad, and his transition habits are worse. He needs a lot of work to gain some baseline skills that’ll allow him to showcase his release more efficiently, but if he does, 30 goals aren’t out of the question at the pro level.
#54 – Charlie Stramel, C/RW — U. of Wisconsin (NCAA)
Size: 6’3, 216 pounds
Strengths: Versatility, physical play, off-puck movement
Weaknesses: Skating, transition habits, lack of standout skill
Comparable: Nick Foligno
Stramel has the frame and the combativeness of an NHLer — he fights hard for pucks and cycles them well, he establishes body positioning well along the boards, and can occasionally make his way off the boards with a step to the inside. He has decent enough vision to understand where exactly to situate himself away from the puck in order to maximize space upon reception, but this ability was born out of necessity, not skill. Stramel lacks separation speed and needs time and space to make the most out of his puck touches. His skill set is about average across the board, so he can’t always beat opponents in tight with a deke, a pass, or a shot. He’s going to Wisconsin under new and promising coaching, though, which could help him develop some of the skills he currently lacks.
#53 – Cameron Allen, D — Guelph Storm (OHL)
Size: 5’11, 190 pounds
Strengths: Strength, skating, hands
Weaknesses: Decision-making, shot selection, defensive game
Comparable: Anthony DeAngelo
Allen gave me headaches almost every time I watched him. Once touted as the top defenceman from this class heading into this draft year, his play fell off massively — his decisions with the puck are now mind-blowingly bad, he refuses to change the angle on his shot when teeing up from the point, and he gives up turnover after turnover while also pinching aggressively, causing his team to get outnumbered off the rush on a regular basis. Still, the tools are exciting; he loves to throw his weight around and does it very well, his hands are quick and he blends head and shoulder fakes into his dekes, while his skating carries him up the ice with speed and power. Seventeen-year-old Allen must be hiding somewhere under these abysmal draft-year performances, and the hope of that version of him resurging is what keeps him inside my top 60.
#52 – Hunter Brzustewicz, D — Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Size: 6’0, 187 pounds
Strengths: Skating, rush defending, puck-moving ability
Weaknesses: Passiveness, inconsistency, in-zone defending
Comparable: Jeff Petry
Brzustewicz’s puck-moving ability will continue to be his bread and butter at every level he plays. Quick-thinking and deceptive with the puck on his stick, he loves to blend fakes and look-offs into his passes to throw defenders off his scent. On the breakout, he digs deep on his outside edges and punches out of turns with fluidity and power. If only Brzustewicz put up any semblance of consistency, he would have likely been a first-rounder; he is fairly passive in his defensive approach, as well, which doesn’t help him put together consistent results. He needs to develop a motor he can fall back on when his skills fail him, because if he does, he could be a formidable top-four offensive defenceman.
#51 – Lukas Dragicevic, D — Tri-City Americans (WHL)
Size: 6’2, 181 pounds
Strengths: Playmaking, stickhandling, offensive awareness
Weaknesses: Rush defending, skating, strength
Comparable: Tyson Barrie
Skilled offensively and smart in his decisions with the puck, Dragicevic’s tally of 75 points in 68 games on a middle-of-the-pack team in Tri-City speaks for itself. He knows how to create offence, especially once his teams settles in the offensive zone. If the puck goes the other way, however … ouch. He is the worst rush defender I’ve ever scouted. His backward stride is all sorts of wrong, his pivots are slow, and even when the winger coming down his side is as bad a skater as he is, he has no idea what to do to stop him. The offensive ceiling is sky-high, but the really, really bad defensive skating and decision-making cause Dragicevic to fall just outside my top 50.
Thanks for reading — follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting to keep up with the rest of my scouting work, and to stay updated as we count down my top 50 ahead of the 2023 NHL Draft!