With the World Juniors Tournament now in the books, we can start to focus on the details of some of the draft eligible players from that tournament. Clearly Connor Bedard is on everyone's mind and rightfully so. The 17 year old was the best player and led team Canada to gold.
Bedard registered an amazing 9 goals and 14 assists, which is more than 3 points per game. Not only is that amazing, but the fact that he mainly did it against players that were 2 years older is the real projectable take away.
If there was a debate before, there isn't now. Connor Bedard is in a tier by himself and the gap is wider than we orginally thought.
Tier 1 - RW Connor Bedard
The next tier to me is more complicated as I go back and forth between these 3 players: C Adam Fantilli, C Leo Carlsson, and RW Matvei Michkov. I could easily make an arguement for any of them to be selected #2. Carlsson for me slightly out played Fantilli in the World Juniors, however I like Fantilli as a skater more than Carlsson. You can argue about Fantilli's NCAA stats, however Carlsson is playing and producing against men and experience at a higher level. In the end I expect Fantilli to go ahead of Carlsson because of the skating aspect.
Matvei Michkov is more talented of a scorer than both of them. He has an NHL shot and offensive IQ that is ahead of almost every prospect except for maybe Connor Bedard (yes, it can be debated). Michkov is going to score alot of goals and always seems to find the open ice to get a quick release up and over a goalies' shoulder. In mainly defensive leagues like the MHL / VHL he has 40 goals in just 40 games over the past year.
In the KHL, a step below the NHL yet still very competitive, Michkov has gone from the best team in the league (SKA) to the worst team (Sochi). He quickly netted 2 goals for Sochi which is quite amazing as they are by far the worst team and he gets no help. For an 18 year old (just turned 18 a month ago) this is unheard of.
You can argue all you want about the "Russian factor" and his contract status, but as a prospect Matvei Michkov is an absolute sniper from the dot and will wow crowds almost every night with his skill and scoring prowess. Take a look at the video below to see his hand skill:
Tier 2 (Selections 2-4): C Leo Carlsson, C Adam Fantilli, RW Matvei Michkov
My final "elite" tier is where it gets interesting because for me I see these 3 guys as dynamic franchise leading stars and around other sites you will sometimes find them much lower. Tier 3 (selections 5-7) is RW Zach Benson, C Dalibor Dvorsky, and C Will Smith.
Let's start with RW Zach Benson. I will admit, he is maybe my favorite player from the standpoint of this outlook: Whomever gets him in the 5-10 range is going to look back at everyone else laughing. I truly beleive this. We are talking about the best player on the best team in the WHL. His team has highly picked 1st round NHL players on it, however I believe without Benson the team would be an OK team.
The young 17 year old is likely never going to make it to 6ft. He is a Patrick Kane sized RW and like Kane can score and make creative passes with ease at the same stage. Benson is on pace for over a 100 points in the WHL. Not the OHL or Q, the WHL. Benson is someone I wouldn't even hesitate to take #4 or #5 in this draft.
Dalibor Dvorsky is more of the throw back player. Big, strong, high IQ, a little bit nasty, and always reliable in both ends of the ice. Out of all the top 10 players in this draft I think he may be one of the safer selections. Not a wow player with his skill or the fastest skater of the center prospects, however you can pencil him in as a legit top 2 center in the NHL with all that he brings. Toughness, ability to extend plays, puck possession, and 2 way ability make Dvorsky a lock for my top 7 picks.
Lastly in Tier 3 I have USHL star center Will Smith. He has dropped in the rankings a little bit of late, but make no mistake he is a fast player that can create when there appears to be no openings. I project Smith in that Matt Barzal type of center role. Listed at 6-0, more likely 5-11, Smith can go from slow to fast with a two stride burst of speed that should rival most NHL centers right now.
His hands are some of this classes' best as well. I've seen Smith thread some amazing passes to Ryan Leonard in stride right on the tape that few can make. Will he ever be an elite center? I'm not sure on that, but I do see him as a player that should be able to use his speed and skill to generate plenty of offense at the next level.
Those are my top 3 tiers at present for the 2023 draft. Clearly we are still a long ways away from Nashville, however I believe these players are already staking their claims as the top picks. The Blackhawks currently have two 1st round picks (their own, Tampa Bays') in a draft that could down as one of the all time great drafts.