Breaking down the top 2023 NHL Draft prospects

Estimated read time 9 min read

The NHL Central Scouting service released its initial watch list for the 2023 NHL Draft on Tuesday, giving a basic outline of which prospects to keep an eye out for this year.

The group organizes prospects into four categories. An “A” rating means you’re an early first-round candidate, a “B” is for those projected in the second and third round, while a “C” rating is for those projected for the later rounds. Players with an “LV” rating are reserved for injured players with limited or insufficient viewings.

Simple enough.

A total of 28 players were given “A” ratings, led by top prospects Connor Bedard, Matvei Michkov and Adam Fantilli. Most of these players appeared in our preliminary 2023 NHL Draft rankings list earlier this month.

With most leagues at least a full month into the season now, here’s a breakdown of the NHL CSS’ A-rated prospects:

Cameron Allen, D (Guelph, OHL)

Allen exploded out of the gate with Guelph before petering out a bit on the scoresheet in recent games. The Storm have had a terrible season, but Allen has been one of the team’s few bright spots. Allen has first-pairing potential in the NHL and will be one of the first defensemen taken.

Colby Barlow, LW (Owen Sound, OHL)

The Owen Sound Attack captain has picked up from where he left off last year, scoring seven goals in his first 10 games. Barlow is one of the better shooters in the draft, highlighted by six goals in a three-game stretch midway through October.

Connor Bedard, C (Regina, WHL)

The consensus No. 1 pick right now, Bedard has 10 goals and 21 points in 12 games to lead the CHL in scoring. It’s all status quo for the game’s next superstar.

Zach Benson, LW (Winnipeg, WHL)

It’s crazy how goals have been evenly distributed in Winnipeg this season, with five players scoring five or more. Benson has been electric, as expected, with six goals and 15 points. Benson will likely slot in as a scoring middle-six winger in the NHL.

Carson Bjarnason, G (Brandon, WHL)

The 2023 draft lacks high-quality goaltending prospects, but Bjarnason has become a name to watch this season. He holds a 6-2-1 record with a shutout and a .945 save percentage in nine games with Brandon. He also won the WHL Goaltender of the Week title earlier this month. Keep an eye on Bjarnason.

Daniil But, LW (Yaroslavl, MHL)

Sitting second in MHL U-18 scoring this season with 11 goals and 17 points in 15 games, But has quickly caught the attention of scouts this season. He has great size at 6-foot-4 but has the speed and skill you’d see more from a more undersized forward.

Leo Carlsson, C (Orebo, SHL)

A late 2004-born forward, Carlsson has earned profound love as a potential top-five prospect this year. Carlson has 10 points in 12 games in the top Swedish league, and mixed in with a 6-foot-3 frame, he’s turning heads. He’ll be a play driver in the NHL.

Nate Danielson, C (Brandon, WHL)

Danielson has continued to evolve his overall game this year, especially in his own zone. He’s as hardworking as they come down the middle, but some scouts hope to see him take his offensive game up a notch.

Dalibor Dvorsky, C (AIK, Allsvenskan)

After a successful stint in the Swedish U-20 league, AIK called him up midway through October, and he’s been fantastic with five points in his last four games. It’s hard to produce in the second Swedish league, but he’s doing an excellent job.

Adam Fantilli, C (Michigan, NCAA)

Fantilli has been an unstoppable force with Michigan this season, prompting some to wonder if he can steal the top spot away from Bedard. Fantilli has 15 points in six games while anchoring the NCAA’s most dangerous scoring line with Dylan Duke and Mackie Samoskevich. Fantilli is strong in just about every offensive aspect and will be a top-line center in the NHL.

Ethan Gauthier, RW (Sherbrooke, QMJHL)

Gauthier comes from a big hockey family, with his dad, Denis, playing 10 years in the NHL. Ethan’s cousin, Julien, has 96 games to his credit with the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes. Ethan has a chance to be a more impactful player than either of them as long as he can harness his two-way play.

Mikhail Gulyayev, D (Omsk, KHL)

Gulyayev has bounced around between the KHL, MHL and VHL this season, with his play in the MHL being notable. He loves to join in on the rush and plays an aggressive game for a defender standing at 5-foot-10.

Kasper Halttunen, RW (HIFK, Liiga)

Halttunen has bounced around between the top Finnish league and its junior counterpart, but there’s still a lot to like from him this season. The 6-foot-3 forward packs a ton of power in his game, and he has an inordinate feel for finding the back of the net.

Riley Heidt, C (Prince George, WHL)

Big things are expected for Heidt, who’s on pace for 80 points with Prince George this season. He’s doing a ton of heavy lifting for the Cougars this year, but he’s capable of driving plays and setting up teammates.

Samuel Honzek, LW (Vancouver, WHL)

Honzek’s first foray into North America has been successful, scoring six goals and 13 points in 11 games to lead the Giants. Honzek’s progression can be seen as a bit of a surprise after his time in Slovakia, but he’s already one of the biggest risers this season.

Michael Hrabal, G (Omaha, USHL)

Arguably the top goaltender in the class right now, Hrabal hasn’t lost a game in regulation through five starts with Omaha and has been impressive with the Czechia U-18 team, too. He has incredible size at 6-foot-6 and moves so well in the crease – a definite threat to become an NHL starter one day.

Ryan Leonard, RW (USNTDP)

Leonard currently leads all USNTDP players in goals with 12, showing just how dangerous of a scorer he can be. Projected to go midway through the first, Leonard could be a 25-30 goal scorer in the NHL one day.

Matvei Michkov, RW (SKA, VHL)

Almost guaranteed to go in the top three this year, Michkov missed the first month of the KHL season with an injury. Since returning, he’s up to five goals and seven points in five games in the second Russian league as he continues to find his groove. Michkov is incredibly dangerous as a scorer, but he’s inked to a KHL deal until 2026.

Oliver Moore, C (USNTDP)

As expected, Moore has been a difference-maker with the USNTDP with 15 points through 12 games. Moore can sometimes be a tough cookie to crack, and that’s a great thing. “Clever” is a term to describe Moore’s passing abilities, and in bursts, he doesn’t typically lose many puck races.

Gabriel Perreault, RW (USNTDP)

Projected to go late in the first round, Gabriel comes from a long hockey family that begins with his father, longtime faceoff specialist Yanic Perreault. Gabriel will represent the United States internationally, unlike his brother, Anaheim Ducks prospect Jacob Perreault, who has played for Canada at the U-17 level.

Calum Ritchie, C (Oshawa, OHL)

A potential top five selection, Ritchie has thrived with a point per game through nine outings this year. Ritchie had an explosive rookie season with the Oshawa Generals, and he’s been a human highlight reel in his second year. Ritchie is going to be a high-impact NHLer one day.

Eduard Sale, LW (Brno, Czechia)

It’s hard for U-18 players to get adequate opportunities in the top Czech league, but Sale is built differently. He already has six points in 13 games, giving him a pace of 24 points in a full campaign. That would be third all time for a U-18 Czech leaguer behind Jiri Hudler (46 points in 2001-02) and Petr Sykora (1993-94) and ahead of Milan Michalek, Martin Necas and Jiri Kulich, among others.

Axel Sandin Pellikka, D (Skelleftea, SHL)

Pellikka has been fantastic in U-20 play and has seven games to his credit in the SHL. His ice time has varied from 16-minute efforts to sitting on the bench for all 60, but Pellikka is showing promising signs early on in his career.

Will Smith, C (USNTDP)

Smith has had one of the best starts to a draft campaign out of anyone with nine goals and 25 points in 12 games with the USNTDP U-18 squad. The Boston College commit has a good release, attacks every play vigorously and comes out on top of a fair number of odd-man battles.

Otto Stenberg, C (Frolunda, Sweden U-20)

Like many other top Swedish prospects, Stenberg has bounced around between the different age groups this season, with varying levels of success. He absolutely embarrassed the U-18 league with seven points over two games, and he’s already one of Frolunda’s best U-20 players, too.

Charlie Stramel, C (Wisconsin, NCAA)

Stramel’s transition to the NCAA has been a bit slow with just two points through six games. Wisconsin hasn’t been that good, though, and he’ll get comfortable eventually.

Matthew Wood, RW (UConn, NCAA)

Wood went from being one of the CJHL’s most dangerous forwards in recent years to putting the rest of the NCAA on notice. The Connecticut forward has seven points in eight games, helping to make the school one of the most feared early on.

Brayden Yager, C (Moose Jaw, WHL)

On a team with NHL prospects Denton Mateychuk (Columbus), Cole Jordan (Calgary) and Jagger Firkus (Seattle), Yager has been the most impressive player on Moose Jaw. Yager was especially impressive at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup back in August, showcasing why he’s one of the best goal-scorers early on with a goal per game.

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