2023 NHL Draft Ranking: The TLY Top 10
With any luck, this top 10 will eventually expand into a top 25. But I’ve written way too many words on this already. So we begin with the first 10 prospects on The Liberty Yell’s board.
I don’t want to add many more words to the count, so I’ll simply say this: there are a few names that I haven’t gotten to which I remain excited to write about and like them nearly (or just) as much as the names who actually made the top 10.
One last note about comparables: I don’t like doing “budget so and so.”
If I think Prospect X plays like a superstar in the league, I’ll just say it. Superstars are often the very best at whatever style of play they have.
There can be someone who does 80% of what Nikita Kucherov does without adding the extra 20%.
On the opposite note, if my comp for someone isn’t a star (they’re the most recognizable names, so I like using them)… that doesn’t mean they can’t be a star.
Maybe they’re the next one to take a certain play-style to its maximum level of effectiveness?
I don’t care about frames when making comparisons. I care about actions on the ice.
With all that said, enjoy the top 10:
Tier 1: The Franchise Changers.
- Connor Bedard
Shades Of: Patrick Kane
Connor Bedard has been the subject of fawning analysis and hype articles for a few years now, so I would almost feel stupid to belabor the point by adding my own points. There’s very little unique to be said about him.
Suffice it to say this: Bedard is the best straight-line attacker in this draft, and probably the best to come out of the last several drafts besides Jack Hughes. Most people see a “north-south” game as lacking finesse and relying on brute strength.
Bedard attacks with skill and a breakneck pace. He gets moving downhill constantly. He’s as much of a rush centric attacker as McDavid was, even if he doesn’t have his level of skating. He’s like a point guard in basketball, manufacturing driving lanes by beating his man then being just fast enough to get to the rim. Or in this case: the net.
Manipulation features heavily on his rushes. He’s an extremely shifty and deceptive skater, and possesses the ability to simply walk through defenders as if they don’t exist.
The shot is the calling card right now, which makes people want to modify the Patrick Kane comp by adding “with an Auston Matthews wrister.”
I don’t feel the need. For one thing, Kane could snipe in his day despite being known as a play maker. For another thing, I suspect play making will ultimately be Bedard’s most dangerous NHL weapon.
For that reason, I wouldn’t be shocked if he takes some time to figure out the NHL game.
So far, he’s created a fatal poison to all defenses that relies on three ingredients: the skating, the puck handling, and his Weapon-X in the shot.
Either way, I think we see a star out of Bedard at some point. I don’t see Crosby or McDavid.
It’s that third thing which, in my opinion, will mean adjustments are on the way.
Right now, Bedard’s shot is something that forces CHL defenders to over-commit defensively. CHL goalies aren’t good enough to track the varying angles of his release, even from less than ideal shooting spots. NHL goalies will be. He’ll still score from range. His shot is incredible.
But it’s a game of percentages. What happens if he only scores on 5% of outside attempts instead of 15%? Those attacks no longer constitute efficient offense.
Do the manipulations in his game become less effective if he isn’t a nuclear threat to score as soon as he enters the blue line? Possibly.
If that’s true, it will be Bedard’s play making that rules the day. And getting Patrick Kane’s re spawn at #1 overall is a worthy selection indeed.
2. Leo Carlsson
Shades Of: Mats Sundin, Evgeni Malkin
I’m of the opinion that Leo Carlsson is misunderstood. Everyone sees the lack of explosive speed, the size, and the hands… what they expect is a bruising power forward who plays a hard and heavy game off the cycle like Jordan Staal with more puck skills.
But Carlsson isn’t a power forward. He’s a puck carrier and a play maker. He’s an offensive force who would benefit from adding more power to his game as the years go by, but who has the mind and the hands to beat opponents while playing a smaller man’s game.
Some hold this discordant identity against Carlsson and rank him at the tail end of the Big 4. I see it the opposite way. Leo Carlsson has the potential to be the best player in the entire draft, because he has so many tools to work with.
Let’s start with the skating. Leo Carlsson isn’t a burner, but I’m convinced he gets to average speed levels. More to the point, he’s an extremely shifty and deceptive skater. He’s comfortable in crossover patterns, and he throws in a ton of little hesitations and fakes to make sure defenders are never confident in the lane that he’s going to take.
He can control the puck at his full speed and he’s got an arsenal of silky dangles that’s headlined by one of the smoothest toe drags I’ve ever seen.
He may not overwhelm rush defenders with his speed, but he’s insanely difficult to handle on the rush regardless. Even SHL opponents seem to have trouble containing him when he attempts to gain the zone.
Once you work through his deceptive skating and high-level puck handling, you still have to contend with an impressive level of strength and reach. When he wants to drive the net, it’s almost impossible to actually stop him.
And once he’s in the zone, there’s no letting up on the pressure. He’s constantly moving when he’s off the puck, either anticipating plays around the boards or making himself available as a passing option. And once he gets the puck, he’s one of the best passers in the entire draft.
At this stage, he’s not much of a distance shooter. But he has the hands and the bulk to get plenty of goals in the “dirty areas.”
And the shot isn’t bad. It’s pretty good, really. The next stage, besides adding even more power to his game, is to incorporate the shooting.
You want Leo Carlsson now, but you really want Leo Carlsson for what he can be in 2 years time.
It’s hard not to see Carlsson as the next big, powerful game-changing center with “little man” skills. There was Sundin. There was Malkin. Will Carlsson be next? I like his odds.
3. Matvei Michkov
Shades of: Kirill Kaprizov, David Pastrnak
Matvei Michkov is a hockey genius. Among the players in this draft, there are none who can reasonably claim to have a better sense of the game than him. And there are few who can dare to compare. I don’t care how you define intelligence or hockey sense. Whatever definition you use, Michkov oozes it.
Michkov’s finishing and goal scoring ability is surgical. Whatever way you can think of to score goals? Michkov can do it, and he’s even executed on things that you haven’t conceived.
When he gets in close to goalies, he finds holes that are truly microscopic. Holes that no goalie even thinks of closing because other shooters don’t find them.
There’s an element of security in the projectability of Michkov’s goal scoring because of how diverse his approach really is. If a hole doesn’t open at the NHL level, he will find another. He’ll always find another. That’s what he does.
At his core, Michkov is a problem solver with the puck. He plays hockey like most people play chess. Scoring goals is tantamount to capturing the king, and Michkov has an unending number of sequences and configurations to get to that same end.
And if you think you’re going to bully him as he climbs the ranks, you have another thing coming. Michkov is a perimeter lurker by hobby, sneaking into lanes to shoot from. But he’s a master of wall work and physical play by trade.
Statistically, he retrieved more pucks in the offensive zone than Ryan Leonard per 60 minutes of ice time. And that was while playing in the KHL.
His close quarters skill level is off the charts. His understanding of leverage and body mechanics is so advanced that “just hitting him” or “just bullying him” is missing the point entirely.
I wouldn’t call his wall play perfect. There’s even more mechanical ability to get out of him. He still relies a good bit on raw tenacity. Despite some of the rumors, he’s one of the highest compete players in this draft.
His defensive value is limited. Extremely so. Generally, I would favor the all around play of Fantilli.
But the offensive value here is just too high. Michkov is going to break open NHL games with his skill, and even the most hard-nosed head coach (like John Tortorella) will love his tenacity along the walls.
I see a lot of Kaprizov in Michkov, from his dynamic edge work to his strong base which he uses to play well above his weight on the walls. But I also see the ability to manifest into the perfect space at the perfect time with a world class shot, a la David Pastrnak.
4. Adam Fantilli
Shades of: Jack Eichel, Jonathan Toews
I fully expect Fantilli to go #2 on draft day, and I will fully support that decision for Anaheim. He happens to be the 4th listed on the big 4, but I believe you’re mostly splitting hairs between any of them.
His combination of skating and puck skills at his size is special. If you’re looking for the most physically talented player in the draft, then look no further than Fantilli. He pairs that physical supremacy with an unmatched motor.
His actual passing skills are excellent. He threads passes into space, and leads teammates into his dishes rather than trying too hard to find their tape. And his shooting skills are top notch.
I see the dynamic athleticism and puck carrying combo of Jack Eichel. The compete and towering personality mixed with the booming shot also makes Jonathan Toews an easy comparison.
The decision-making on the puck could stand to improve. It’s the only thing that prevents 100 point seasons, really. His decision-making off the puck is quite good, and if you pair that with his shooting abilities, 40 goal upside is there.
We’re talking about a dominant two-way 1C who puts up a point per game in the NHL over several years.
Tier 2: Safe Bets and Towering Ceilings
There are two considerations to get into Tier 2. The safety of the bet I’m making, and the potential reward. There are varying degrees of ceiling and of safety in Tier 2, but this is the place where both are considered.
Low ceiling players don’t make it here, but neither do high ceiling players who I genuinely think could find themselves out of the NHL and chilling with German Rubstov.
5. Zach Benson
Shades Of: Brad Marchand, Matthew Tkachuk
You hear a lot about size and skating with Benson. You hear a lot of nitpicking his athletic traits, and people wondering if the game he plays can translate. I couldn’t disagree more with that chatter.
Zach Benson’s game won’t just translate to the NHL. It was made for the NHL.
All of the glowing things I said about Matvei Michkov’s ability to play well above his weight? They’re also true of Zach Benson. I don’t care how big he is. I care what he does on the ice.
When he’s on the ice, he’s a force to be reckoned with. He forechecks with as much tenacity as Matt Tkachuk or Brad Marchand. He forces defenders into the walls, then steals the puck from them with masterful stick work.
Once he has the puck, he uses his top-of-class playmaking to find his teammates for scoring chances. Lots of scoring chances.
Benson’s game is a blend of unique brilliance and unique tenacity. He’s smarter than his competition, and he’s absolutely relentless in pursuit of whatever goal reaches his mind.
He doesn’t play the game of perimeter scorers like most small, skilled forwards. No. He plays with as much tenacity in his game as Brad Marchand or Matt Tkachuk. He runs headlong into fire, finds a way to get that puck, and then makes a world-class pass to a teammate.
He doesn’t quite have Marner’s skating, but he does have Marner’s vision and sublime stick work both offensively and defensively.
When Benson is ready for the NHL, I see a kid who can do everything you need to drive a line except carry the puck through multiple layers of defenders.
Find him someone who can skate, though, and he’ll make their jobs unfathomably easy.
6. Dalibor Dvorsky
Shades Of: William Karlsson, Nico Hischier
Dalibor Dvorsky is the best of both worlds in this category. The floor is high. But so is the ceiling. He’s a safe bet to play NHL games, but there’s also potential there for something so much greater.
Dvorsky is a master at puck protection. He’s also more than skilled enough to fake a defender out 1 on 1.
For the most part, though, he uses his size to his advantage, but he pairs that size with a freaky amount of poise whenever he has the puck on his stick. If this game fully translates and we get him to see lanes just a bit faster, that’s where the Nico Hischier dream becomes very real. This is the kind of kid who can dominate possession with a mixture of strength, smarts, and two-way skills.
If his ability to buy time doesn’t translate as much as hoped, it’s still very easy to see a highly-skilled 2C who can play the toughest defensive matchups that the other team has to offer. Vegas did a lot of damage with someone like that in William Karlsson.
I’m confident he can get to that level, but I’m also willing to dream about something even greater.
7. Will Smith
Shades Of: Artemi Panarin, Elias Pettersson
I go back and forth on Will Smith a lot. Just yesterday, I tweeted confidently that he was going to be the third highest ranked NTDP player on his line. And there’s an argument to be made.
Smith is infuriating, but he’s also electrifying when the puck is on his stick. He has an easy argument for being the best puck carrier of this class. He probably isn’t winning that argument, but he’s in the conversation.
I’m less impressed by his playmaking than most, because of the time it often takes him to see and exploit passing lanes. He very much relies on making defenders miss, sometimes multiple defenders, and causing the whole structure to collapse.
That’s hard to pull off at the NHL level. Advantages are generally a lot smaller and less obvious than that.
The ultimate saving grace for Smith is this: he’s a good size, he’s a fine skater, and his passing is undoubtedly a plus. To go with it, he’s one of the most electrifying puck handlers in a class full of handsy forwards.
There’s a lot of ways for him to allay my concerns. For one, decision making often improves once players leave the NTDP. Smith’s game will likely look drastically different once he’s in Boston College.
If he’s more efficient with his touches and more judicious about when to use his preternatural skill, I see a lot of Panarin here. I think that’s how he likely ends up, including the position of left wing. If he manages to stick at center and proves the “bad defense” allegations wrong, then it’s very easy to see Elias Pettersson.
8. David Reinbacher
Shades Of: Moritz Seider, Charlie McAvoy
David Reinbacher does everything you could want out of a defenseman except score a ton of points. There are a ton of high end NHL defenseman who look like that, from Mattias Ekholm to Miro Heiskanen. To more unsung names like Brett Pesce to Jonas Brodin.
I decided to go with the two who bring an extra element, though. Moritz Seider and Charlie McAvoy both don’t simply defend. They smash you with all the aggression of a hammer and lay you out on open ice. They don’t opt for poke checks when death by crushing hit is an option.
David Reinbacher is much the same way. He doesn’t just defend people. He smashes people whenever he gets the opportunity, and he doesn’t allow his aggression to come in the way of actually playing sound defense. He’s a play killer in the truest sense of the term.
His defensive value would stand up alone as making him a great option around 15, but I think he’s one of the 10 best players in this draft because of what he adds afterwards: value in transition.
Reinbacher is excellent at skating the puck up ice, possessing both the legs and the hands to do it. He does it often, wheeling pucks up ice himself whenever he’s given the opportunity.
And when the carry isn’t an option, he’s proven adept with his breakout passes. He flashes as an exceptionally accurate passer, with no problems hitting small windows. He began the year cautious for his team in the NL, but his puck moving exploded ever since he showcased it at the World Juniors.
The passing is the weakest part of his profile, besides the offensive creation. I like it a lot, still, because I see a clear development path. There isn’t new concepts to be learned with him. It’s mostly a question of application.
That’s the most common kind of player development, so I expect him to be a well above average passer in the NHL.
With those two elements, he projects as a top of the lineup defenseman who can dominate 5 on 5 play. Just draft some forwards who are good at offense, and watch them cook with Reinbacher on the ice to accompany them.
He won’t drive play offensively like a Quinn Hughes or a Cale Makar. But he doesn’t need to if he can control the run of play when hes on the ice.
9. Ryan Leonard
Shades Of: Brayden Point, Auston Matthews
Leonard gets a lot of attention for being the bully of his line. For this reason, he gets a ton of Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennet comps. Actually, it’s what makes me sour on him at times. His physicality isn’t the heavy appeal of his game.
He’s a way better skater than he gets credit for, especially with the puck. Zone exits and zone entries come as easily for him as jumping over the boards. He’s a play driver in this sense, but the playmaking holds him back from being a “one stop shop” for offense.
I think he’s a more dangerous transition player than Oliver Moore and the best on his team. At least in the sense that his transition play feels more translatable. Leonard brings more of a skating and skill combo than relying on one over the other.
I think he should terrify defenders on the rush as much as Brayden Point does when he reaches his prime.
He’s a hell of a shooter, too. And he has a library of ways to set up his own shot. This is where the Matthews connection comes in.
The best kind of physicality Leonard employs is the functional fighting for body positioning, which, combined with his shot creating prowess, is the basis of Matthews’ offensive game.
It’s pretty easy to project him as a guy who creates zone entries at will and gets a lot of goals on a ton of shots. Especially if he’s paired with an excellent playmaker.
Instead of being a true forecheck menace, Leonard is best when he uses his physicality in combination with his puck skills to make sure that the pucks he does retrieve along the walls get off the wall and into the middle of the ice.
Leonard doesn’t do a whole lot on the cycle. It’s where he could stand to improve the most. He resigns himself to find space to shoot, waiting for the chance to let it rip. It’s the one thing keeping him below Smith. His ceiling is just harder to get to.
But there’s an argument his ceiling is more rewarding than Smith. Especially if you’re an analytics believer. And the floor is very high.
At this point, I’d be more surprised if he wasn’t a quality top 6 guy than if he was a 40-plus goal scorer.
The dreamer thinks about what Leonard looks like if the playmaking ever comes fully around, and I’ll complete that sentence for you: insanely good.
Still, rounding out the playmaking seems like a tall order for me. It’s the only reason he’s 9 for me, but he has oodles of appeal without ever doing that.
If you’re a team who needs what Ryan Leonard is now, then draft him higher than this and dream about what he could become. It’s awesome.
10. Gabe Perreault
Shades Of: Nikita Kucherov, Martin Necas
I’m very glad that Gabe Perreault has received some helium since U18s, and has started floating around the top 10 for public lists. Despite the inherent risks in his profile, he deserves to be there.
Everyone is down on Gabe Perreault because he isn’t a “play driver.” That, to me, isn’t true at all. It’s a fundamental misconception of the term. A play driver isn’t synonymous with a puck carrier, which Perreault is not.
If there wasn’t already a better Tkachuk comp in this class, I’d also like it for Perreault.
Matthew Tkachuk has some of the most sterling play-driving results in the NHL, and he’s an average skater at best. He’s more aptly described as below average. Despite this, he drives play when he’s on the ice.
Tkachuk is an elite playmaker, one of the 5 or so best passers in the NHL. His passing is so excellent that he becomes a quarterback whenever he’s outside of the offensive zone. He’s always waiting to collect a puck, then thread a pass to a streaking teammate so they can use their legs to create off the rush.
Sam Bennett looks like he has the hard job. Or Duclair. Or Verhaege. Or whoever the hell he’s passing to. But they don’t. Truthfully, Tkachuk could do this with anyone who has the legs to carry a puck through the NZ. He finds lanes, and then gives the puck to others so they can skate those lanes.
Nikita Kucherov is a different player from Matt Tkachuk, but he does the exact same thing for the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s hard to number how many Brayden Point rushes actually came from the world’s greatest Kucherov pass.
And while Point is the ideal target, he can make it work with anyone from Brandon Hagel to Ross Colton. Anyone who can skate a straight line with above average speed can benefit from the Nikita Kucherov experience.
Gabe Perreault is that guy. His passing is so high end, his hockey sense and his hands are both so outrageous, that he can drive the run of play by using his teammates as his transporters.
His processing speed is off the charts, and the only person who sees the ice as clearly as Perrreault in this draft is Matvei Michkov.
To describe a more reasonable outcome for Perreault, I went with another player who uses this style of team-centric rush sequences: Martin Necas.
It’s a little funny given that Necas can skate circles around most any NHLer, but he often chooses not to.
Perreault is the mastermind of that great NTDP line’s flashy possession play.
The physical abilities lag behind. Severely.
Perreault will have to put on weight to even make the NHL. I believe he can and will. He’ll need some marginal skating improvements, but as I just outlined… Perreault turns his teammates into his transporters. He doesn’t need much to be playable.
There’s a road to becoming a truly special player in the NHL, and I think it’s flying under the radar.
Listen to The Liberty Yell #97: Burnt Orange, and the next one’s to wear it
Mandatory Credit: Joseph Wesiner / Icon Sportswire