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Connor Bedard stays No.1 in TSN's Bob Mckenzie's 2023 NHL mid-season Draft Ranking

Connor Bedard Regina Pats Connor Bedard - Jonathan Kozub/Getty Images

Whatever faint hope may have existed for a battle atop the 2023 NHL draft board looks to be gone, gone, gone.

A goner courtesy of Connor.

“It’s Connor Bedard’s world,” one NHL head scout said, “all the other prospects are just living in it.”

“It’s Bedard at No. 1 and a wide chasm to everyone else,” said another NHL head scout.

And yet there is still so much sizzle, substance, and a lot to like about the 2023 NHL draft, which is being heralded by scouts for its strong quality and quantity of prospects for the entire first round and beyond.

The 17-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C., dominating the 2023 World Junior Championship in Halifax as Bedard did — nine goals and 23 points in seven games to lead Canada to the gold medal — quelled any and all talk of a legitimate mid-season challenge to his No. 1 status. Not that there was widespread anticipation or fervent belief of that necessarily happening.

After all, Bedard was the unanimous No. 1 in TSN’s Pre-Season NHL Draft Rankings last September and 2023 has for quite some time been billed as the Connor Bedard Draft. And the 5-foot-9 3/4 inch, 185-pound Regina Pats phenom winger reprised that unanimous standing in TSN’s Mid-Season 2023 NHL Draft Rankings survey of 10 NHL scouts.

And he did so with a most emphatic exclamation point at the WJC.

“I can definitely say I didn’t have to think about it for even a split second,” another NHL head scout said, with a laugh. “Easy call.”

Still, there was a sense heading into the WJC that 6-foot-2 University of Michigan freshman centre Adam Fantilli, who is from the Greater Toronto Area, and/or fast-starting 6-foot-3 Swedish centre Leo Carlsson might use that platform to put some heat on Bedard and at least give the scouts a little something to think about at No. 1.

No such luck.

It should be noted that Fantilli and Carlsson — both late 2004-born 18-year-olds to Bedard’s 2005 birthdate that doesn’t see him turn 18 until July 17 — were quite good for Canada and Sweden at the WJC. They are No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, on TSN’s Mid-Season list.

Bedard was just too electrifying, too dominant for Fantilli or Carlsson to close the gap. And it wasn’t that Bedard simply shot out the lights with his patented lethal Auston Matthews-like release/shot, he showed such much more dimension to his game with elite-level vision and wow-factor playmaking and passing.

Then there was his sublime sense of occasion and flair for the dramatic at a time when the glare of the spotlight was so bright and the pressure so intense.

“In that [quarter-final] game [Canada played] against Slovakia, I was out of my seat, standing, for the third period and overtime,” an NHL scout said. “I don’t recall ever doing that before. [Bedard] took me right out of my seat. I was just standing there, appreciating him. And that game-winning goal…”

The scout never finished the sentence. Not only did Bedard lift him out of his seat, but his dramatic one-man-band overtime winner also to beat three Slovak skaters and goaltender Adam Gajan left the scout speechless, too.

From a purely on-ice hockey perspective, it was unfortunate that the one prospect in the world who’s considered to perhaps be the biggest threat to Bedard’s mantle as No. 1 wasn’t even at the WJC. That, of course, would be Russian 18-year-old left-shot, right winger Matvei Michkov, who was ranked No. 2 on TSN’s Pre-Season Rankings but who fell to No. 4 on the Mid-Season list.

Michkov wasn’t there because Russia was prohibited by the International Ice Hockey Federation from participating in the WJC because of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The sanctions are as they should be. There’s no suggestion here that Russia should be allowed to compete in international hockey, certainly not as long as its war against Ukraine continues.

But in the admittedly narrow context of examining Bedard’s supremacy, it is the 5-foot-10, late 2004-born 18-year-old goal-scoring wizard Michkov who appears best suited, on the ice anyway, to give Bedard a real challenge as the best 2023 NHL draft prospect.

That is, if you can forget about all of the things you are not allowed to forget about in the real world — Russia at war with Ukraine and the associated sanctions; NHL GMs and head scouts not being able to travel to Russia to view Michkov live; not being able to see Michkov in the crucible of the World Juniors; and the fact Michkov has signed a contract (in the KHL) that is expected to keep him out of the NHL for at least three more seasons after this one.

But you can’t simply dismiss all of that and compare the two players in a vacuum. Michkov’s circumstances contribute to, and negatively impact, the evaluation of the player and where he’ll sit on NHL teams’ draft lists on June 28 in Nashville. That goes a long way towards explaining how and why Michkov went from No. 2 on TSN’s pre-season list to No. 4 at mid-season.

Not quite out of sight, out of mind, but you get the idea.

Michkov also missed the better part of two months in September/October when he was injured after a huge open-ice hit from former NHL defenceman Alexei Emelin in the KHL. He only played three games in the KHL with powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg before moving down to the second-tier VHL, where he scored 10 goals in 12 games. On Dec. 20, he was loaned for the balance of the season from SKA to Sochi, the worst team in the KHL. Michkov has four goals and six points in 13 games with Sochi.

Fantilli, Carlsson and Michkov form a triumvirate of blue-chip prospects who, for varying reasons, aren’t currently in Bedard’s stratosphere but who have separated themselves from the rest of the class in a strata of their own.

Of the 10 scouts surveyed, Fantilli received four No. 2 votes, compared to three each for Carlsson and Michkov. Fantilli had five third-place votes and one fourth-place vote; Carlsson had five third-place votes and two fourth-place votes; and Michkov had seven fourth-place votes. There’s not a lot separating the trio who all project as top-line NHLers.

No prospect, other than Bedard, Fantilli, Carlsson and Michkov, received a vote above No. 5.

“[Michkov] is the No. 2 guy behind Bedard in this draft, all day long for me,” an NHL head scout said. “But would you actually pick him at No. 2? When will he be taken? For a lot of teams, that could be a decision gets made by an owner instead of a GM or scout.”

How many years will an NHL team be prepared to wait for him? It appears to be a minimum of three. Could it be longer?

“What if he decides he never wants to play in the NHL?” asked one scout. “You would think he’ll eventually want to [play in the NHL] but is it guaranteed? In today’s world, you just don’t know for sure.”

But there are some NHL clubs whose patience with Russian star talent has been greatly rewarded.

Minnesota took Kirill Kaprizov in the 2015 draft and didn’t get him in the Wild lineup until five years later, but now he’s an NHL superstar and game changer.

Washington drafted Evgeny Kuznetsov in 2010 and waited four years for him to arrive in the NHL. St. Louis drafted Vladimir Tarasenko that same year and waited two-and-a-half seasons for him. The Caps and Blues both won Cups with those Russians playing instrumental roles, while the Wild have one of the NHL’s elite players in Kaprizov.

Of note, though, the Blues drafted Tarasenko 16th overall; the Caps took Kuznetsov 26th overall; and the Wild didn’t select Kaprizov until the fifth round. How far might Michkov slide before there’s a team willing to step up to take him?

“Well, isn’t that the question,” a scout replied. “Short answer is we don’t know. What I do think I know is some team is likely going to be gifted an extraordinary prospect at No. 4 or No. 5 or some number beyond that. To have a player that good, someone who should probably be talked about in the same breath as Bedard, go at No. 4 or 5 or some pick after that, well, from just from a really superficial hockey draft perspective, it would be a travesty. But it could happen. Whenever he’s taken, someone is going to fall into something quite special.”

“We’re not having any real debate right now about who’s No. 1,” another scout chimed in. “Fair enough, Bedard has been that good. But if Michkov had played in the World Juniors, would we maybe be debating it right now? We were certainly having that debate in Texas at the U-18 World Championships in 2021 and we were ready to have that debate after the first few games of the [first] 2022 WJC [in the bubble in Edmonton until the tourney got shut down due to COVID-19].”

In the spring of 2021 at the U-18 in Texas, double underager Bedard scored seven goals and 14 points in seven games for Canada; single underager Michkov had 12 goals and 16 points in seven games for Russia.

They were the dual talk of the hockey world then and it picked up again in Edmonton at the pandemic-shortened/postponed first try at the 2022 WJC, where Bedard had four goals and five points in two games and Michkov had three goals in two games.

“So, what I would say is this,” added the scout, “If there’s a better prospect in this draft than Bedard, it would be Michkov with the greatest chance of challenging him. We were having that conversation in 2021 and about to have it in 2022, but it’s much harder to have in 2023 because, with Michkov anyway, there are so many other considerations that have to be factored in.”

It’s a glorious year for a team to be picking in the top four of the draft. It’s why so many NHL teams are embracing “tank” mentality and far more concerned with NHL draft lottery odds than winning any games in this, the year of the Bedard Sweepstakes. And the draft riches extend beyond the Regina Pat.

One scout said that if Michkov, who missed being eligible for last year’s draft by about three-and-a-half months, had been included in the 2022 draft he would have most certainly gone first overall. Conversely, another scout opined that if 2022 first-overall pick to Montreal, Slovak winger Juraj Slafkovsky, were parachuted into this year’s draft, he would go no higher than No. 5 overall.

Speculative, to be sure, but it speaks to the level of excitement the scouts have for the upper echelon of the class of ‘23, especially compared to a year ago.

“The top four is special,” a scout said. “The Top 10 is very good, but relative to a lot of years, you can say the same thing about this year’s Top 20 or Top 30. I can go 40 deep and I still really like a lot of the prospects. So, yeah, it looks like a real strong group.”

Here’s a review of TSN’s Top 10 Mid-Season Draft Rankings, beyond Bedard, Fantilli, Carlsson and Michkov (for stats and more to go to

RK Player
1 Connor Bedard
2 Adam Fantilli
3 Leo Carlsson
4 Matvei Michkov
5 Zach Benson
6 Will Smith
7 Brayden Yager
8 Colby Barlow
9 Dalibor Dvorsky
10 Ryan Leonard
11 Oliver Moore
12 Eduard Sale
13 Calum Ritchie
14 Matthew Wood
15 Nate Danielson
16 Ethan Gauthier
17 Axel Sandin-Pellikka
18 Andrew Cristall
19 Samuel Honzek
20 David Reinbacher
21 Charlie Stramel
22 Riley Heidt
23 Gabriel Perreault
24 Mikhail Gulyayev
25 Daniil But
26 Quentin Musty
27 Lukas Dragicevic
28 Otto Stenberg
29 Kasper Halttunen
30 Oliver Bonk
31 Koehn Ziemmer
32 Michael Hrabal

33 Maxim Strbak
34 Danny Nelson
35 Dmitri Simashev
36 Bradly Nadeau
37 Kalan Lind
38 Caden Price
39 Cameron Allen
40 Theo Lindstein
41 Carson Rehkopf
42 Lenni Hameenaho
43 Gavin Brindley
44 Hunter Brzustewicz
45 Mathieu Cataford
46 Tom Willander
47 Carson Bjarnason
48 Noah Dower-Nilsson
49 Jesse Kiiskinen
50 Jayden Perron
51 Andrew Gibson
52 Jakub Dvorak
53 Ethan Miedema
54 Andrew Strathmann
55 Beau Akey
56 Adam Gajan
57 Trey Augustine
58 Tyler Peddle
59 Quinton Burns
60 Etienne Morin
61 Noel Nordh
62 Tanner Molendyk
63 Alex Ciernik
64 Aram Minnetian

65 Will Whitelaw
66 Brady Cleveland
67 Coulson Pitre
68 Ondrej Molnar
69 Paul Fischer
70 Jaden Lipinski
71 Luca Pinelli
72 Jakub Stancl
73 Brad Gardiner
74 Luca Cagnoni
75 Gavin McCarthy
76 Martin Misiak
77 Carey Terrance
78 Drew Fortescue
79 Rasmus Kumpulainen
80 Gracyn Sawchyn

HM Tristan Bertucci
HM Oscar Fisker Molgaard
HM Emil Jarventie
HM Roman Kantserov
HM Arttu Karki
HM Nick Lardis
HM Dylan MacKinnon
HM Matteo Mann
HM Nico Myatovic
HM Jesse Nurmi
HM Emil Pieniniemi
HM Yegor Rimashevsky
HM Aydar Suniev
HM Jordan Tourigny
HM Tuomas Uronen
HM Anton Wahlberg