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An early look at the loaded top 10 of the 2023 NHL Draft, and what it means for the Vancouver Canucks
By Noah Strang1 year ago
The Vancouver Canucks are in a tough position. After 26 games, they’re on pace for just 78.8 points, a number that will not get them anywhere close to the playoffs. While there is still time to make up ground, the bad news keeps coming for the Canucks.
Franchise goalie Thatcher Demko will be missing around six weeks with an injury. Winger Brock Boeser is seemingly going through the first part of what could be a messy divorce with the organization. And head coach Bruce Boudreau will likely be fired after one more extended losing streak.
On Saturday night, the Canucks put in another disappointing effort against the Arizona Coyotes. While they did manage to come away with two points, going to overtime against a bottom-feeder playing their 11th straight road game isn’t anything to get excited about.
At this point, the Canucks seem more likely to go on a slide towards the bottom of the standings than a run to the top. It seems as if the organization may finally be forced to face the harsh reality that this team needs major changes.
If there’s a sliver of good news among all of this despair, it’s that the upcoming 2023 NHL Entry Draft is filled with great prospects. If the Canucks do end up in the lottery, an outcome that seems overwhelmingly likely, they’ll get the chance to add one of these young stars.
Here are the top ten players in a loaded 2023 NHL Draft class.
1. Connor Bedard
Centre, 5’10”, 185 lbs, Regina Pats (WHL)
Bedard is the consensus number-one player in this draft and one of the best prospects the hockey world has seen in a number of years. A gifted goal scorer, he has an uncanny ability to change the angle on his shot, making it next to impossible for junior hockey goalies to stop him.
He’s on pace for 66 goals, 90 assists, and 156 points in just 66 WHL games this season. If he continues to score at this torrid rate, Bedard is only going to keep raising expectations.
While the Canucks would need some serious lottery luck to land Bedard, he’s the type of player that instantly changes the trajectory of whichever franchise he lands on.
2. Adam Fantilli
Centre, 6’3″, 192 lbs, Michigan (NCAA)
While Bedard is the crown jewel of this class, there are two other players that would challenge for the top spot in almost any other year. Adam Fantilli is one of those players, and he’s a great consolation prize for a team that misses out on the first-overall pick.
Fantilli is more physically mature than Bedard and has a larger frame. What’s really impressive about his game is his skating ability, especially for a player of his size. He moves around the ice with the speed and agility typical of a much smaller forward.
He’s playing on a stacked Michigan team against college competition this season and has managed to rack up 11 goals and 15 assists in 16 games.
3. Matvei Michkov
Right Wing, 5’10”, 159 lbs, SKA St Petersburgh (KHL/VHL)
For a while, there was serious debate as to if Michkov or Bedard was the better phenom. While Bedard has now separated himself a bit, Michkov is still a wonderful player in his own right.
He’s one of the biggest wildcards in this draft as it will take him 2-3 years to come to North America. It remains to be seen how teams will weigh this factor and how it will affect his draft position. Canucks fans will remember the 2019 NHL Draft when the team selected Vasily Podkolzin with the 10th overall selection after he was ranked in the top 3-5 all season long.
Michkov can put the puck in the back of the net. He’s an incredibly gifted offensive player that possesses both amazing puck skills and a deadly shot.
“The skill is terrific but the situation is one that leaves teams and people, ‘Okay, what are we getting and when are we getting him?” -Craig Button of TSN.
4. Leo Carlsson
Centre, 6’3″, 194 lbs, Orebro (SHL)
A dangerous two-way pivot with professional size, Carlsson is already playing in the top Swedish men’s league and finding success. He started off the year on fire but has now fallen back down to earth a bit. Still, playing against fully grown men isn’t an easy task for a first-time draft-eligible prospect and he routinely dominates competitions within his own age group.
With reports that he’s nearing 200 pounds, Carlsson has the size and skill to be effective on the smaller NHL ice. He can play the wing in a pinch and has the ability to beat defenders with his power and finesse alike.
5. Dalibor Dvorsky
Centre, 6’1″, 190 lbs, AIK (HockeyAllsvenskan)
Dvorsky has spent the majority of his games this year playing in the HockeyAllsvenskan league, the same as Canucks top prospect Jonathan Lekkerimaki. He’s outperformed the Canucks’ first-round pick despite being almost a full year younger.
Dvorsky vs Lekkerimaki 2022-23 stats
Dvorsky has the size and skill to get scouts excited but he hasn’t managed to put up that dominant production in a competitive league just yet. Still, his toolbox is full and he would be a great addition to any team’s prospect pool.
6. Brayden Yager
Centre / Left Wing, 6’0″, 165 lbs, Moose Jaw (WHL)
Yager is another WHL prospect that can also fill the box score. While he hasn’t been able to come close to matching Bedard’s production (who can?), he’s a strong prospect in his own right. A good skater, Yager can put pressure on the defence with a dangerous wrist shot.
He scored five goals in five games at the last Hlinka Gretzky Tournament, showing off the shot that makes him so dangerous.
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7. Eduard Sale
Left Wing, 6’1″, 168 lbs, Brno (Czech)
Another player from Europe who’s already playing and producing, against men, Eduard Sale has got three goals and three assists through 24 games in the top Czech league.
Another strong skater with great hands and a lethal shot, Sale is also a developed playmaker and has strong vision. It’s easy to envision him as a top-six scoring winger for years to come.
With a lot of top-nine wingers already on the roster and Lekkerimaki as a top prospect, the Canucks might not have as much need for a player in this archetype. However, Sale’s scoring ability will be too attractive to pass on if he slips a few spots.
8. Will Smith
Centre, 6’0″, 172 lbs, USNTDP
Smith is a player that is starting to creep up more draft boards. If he continues moving up at this pace, he could be challenging for a top-five slot by the time the drafts rolls around. He has 45 points in 24 United States Development Program games this year.
Smith is one of the better playmakers on this list and sets teammates up for scoring chances with well-placed passes. He has good vision and intelligence to know which passes to attempt and which to leave alone.
While his shot isn’t on the same level as some of the other snipers on this list, Smith can still score goals because of his craftiness and good hockey sense. You can often find him in the soft spot of the opponent’s defence.
9. Zach Benson
Centre / Left Wing, 5’10”, 150 lbs, Winnipeg (WHL)
Benson is an explosive offensive player that has all the tools needed to be a dynamo point producer in the NHL. The big question mark remains his size as he is under six feet and needs to add some weight.
Benson represents a classic conundrum for NHL teams that asks them to overlook physical deficiencies in favour of high-end skill. With the way that the NHL is moving, there is more and more space in the league for players like Benson.
An undersized winger may not be the most attractive addition for the Canucks, but Benson has a ceiling that few players in this draft class can touch.
10. Matthew Wood
Right Wing / Left Wing, 6’3″, 194 lbs, Connecticut (NCAA)
Last but not least, Matthew Wood is a big winger that can put the puck in the back of the net. His combination of size and goal-scoring output will get NHL teams interested when June rolls around.
Scouts speak highly of Wood’s shot as he’s shown the ability to score with a deadly wrist shot as well as be effective with a heavy one-timer. He’s the type of player that could feature on an NHL power play sooner rather than later.
What it all means for the Canucks
The 2023 NHL Draft has a bunch of top prospects that would go higher in most other years. Not only are there multiple franchise players at the top of the draft, but the class is also quite deep with impact players throughout the first 10-15 picks.
Unfortunately for the Canucks, this draft is very forward-heavy. The Canucks will definitely be looking to add a defenceman but if they have a top ten pick, the best player available will almost definitely be a forward. Management will need to get creative with some transactions to add that young stud blueliner the team desperately needs.
No matter if it’s Bedard, Carlsson, or someone else like Sale, the Canucks are likely going to be able to add a top prospect this summer. In a season where everything has seemingly gone wrong, this is one bright light at the end of the tunnel that Canucks fans can look forward to.
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