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Sep 22, 2022

'Didn't have to overthink this' - Bedard tops McKenzie's pre-season draft ranking

From the moment he was granted exceptional status in 2020 and then burst onto the scene as a “double underager” at the 2021 Under-18 World Championship, the giddy anticipation has been that the 2023 NHL Draft would be the Connor Bedard Sweepstakes.

'Just a phenomenal scoring talent': McKenzie, Button explain what makes Bedard so good

VIDEO SIGN OUT

by Bob McKenzie

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Connor Bedard is No. 1 on TSN’s Pre-Season Rankings for the 2023 NHL Draft.

Ten out of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN have the Regina Pats’ 5-foot-10, 185-pound centre at No. 1 to start the 2022-23 season for the Class of ‘23.

Was there ever any doubt? In a word, no.

“Didn’t have to overthink this,” one scout said.

From the moment the North Vancouver, B.C., native was granted exceptional status in 2020 (to enter the Western Hockey League as a 15 year old) and then burst onto the scene as a “double underager” who scored seven goals in seven games at the IIHF Under-18 World Championship in 2021, the giddy anticipation has been that the 2023 NHL Draft would be the Connor Bedard Sweepstakes.

And here we are.

That isn’t to say there are not a lot of unanswered questions about Bedard.

Just how good is he? How good will he become? In the pantheon of great, young NHL superstar talent, where will he fit in?

Could he be a generational talent, for which the absurdly high bar that is Connor McDavid is now the measuring stick?

Does he have what it takes to be the next big scoring thing in the NHL, ascending to a universe that includes much bigger and physically dominant players such as Alexander Ovechkin and Auston Matthews?

And given how the 2022 NHL Draft unfolded — highly anticipated consensus No. 1 centre Shane Wright, the last player prior to Bedard to be granted exceptional status, falling to fourth overall on draft day — will Bedard even go first overall on June 28 in Nashville?

“Well,” said one NHL head scout, “I suppose anything is possible, but when you look at how [Bedard] shoots the puck, his innate ability to score goals and you project him as an elite goal scorer who could very well get 50 or 60 in the NHL, how does a team picking first overall pass on that?”

“Put it this way,” said another NHL head scout, “for Bedard to not go No. 1, he would have to have a disappointing season and some other prospect would have to have an incredible year. This year’s [draft] class is fantastic; it’s loaded with great players but I’m skeptical [anyone but Bedard will be No. 1 on Draft Day].”

But that’s why they play the games, as they say.

Another more practical consideration for long odds against anyone unseating Bedard atop the rankings at any point this season is that his most credible threat comes from left-shot right winger Matvei Michkov, who checks in at No. 2 on TSN’s Pre-Season Ranking.

There are a lot of similarities between the two. Both are 5-foot-10. Both are elite goal scorers who don’t seem to let the glare of the spotlight and insane expectations throw them off their game. Both have an enormous “wow” factor in all that they do.

But Michkov is Russian. A Russian who is under contract in the KHL until 2026 and, therefore, almost assuredly more than at least three years away from coming to the NHL.

“From a purely on-ice hockey perspective, it’s very close [between Bedard and Michkov],” another NHL head scout said.

“If you forget about all the stuff you can’t really forget about,” the scout said with a laugh, “it could and probably would be a really good race between the two of them to see who’ll be No. 1 this year.”

Ah, yes, the “stuff you can’t really forget about.”

Russia is continuing its unprovoked attack on Ukraine. The war has led to sanctions against Russian hockey. The upshot is Michkov can’t play in any IIHF events, including the 2023 World Junior Championship or the 2023 Men’s World Championship.

The vast majority of NHL scouts, outside of those are already based in Russia, will not be making trips this season to see Michkov or anyone else. NHL general managers who might otherwise go to Russia to see a potential No. 1 overall pick won’t be making that trip this season.

“Think about it for a moment,” an NHL scout said. “Will any elite prospect who would normally be in the conversation for No. 1 overall have less live viewings by more NHL scouts and GMs than Michkov this season? It’s unprecedented.”

So, too, is a potential top pick, a credible threat to compete for No. 1, to already be under contract in Russia for three years beyond this season. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Vladimir Tarasenko were in similar contract situations in their draft year, but neither was a contender to go first overall.

“Michkov may be the second-best prospect in the entire draft, maybe even the best, and given his contract status, I’m not even sure he’ll be taken in the top five picks in June,” said another NHL scout. “It’s a really talented draft class. If you’re picking in the top five, and the choice is between a gifted Russian who you have to wait on for three or more years and a gifted prospect who’s available to you right away…it’s going to be intriguing to see how it all plays out [for Michkov].”

For the moment, it’s a moot point.

Michkov is currently injured. He was rocked by a hit from former NHL defenceman Alexei Emelin in early August. Scouts will monitor any impact that may have.

The other factor in this equation is TSN’s No. 3 ranked Adam Fantilli, a University of Michigan freshman centre from Toronto who has already publicly stated he’s not conceding No. 1 overall to Bedard or anyone else.

Fantilli has something Bedard and Michkov don’t: size. At almost 6-foot-2, Fantilli is a talented big man in the middle who is both skillful and competitive. He’s an excellent skater who drives play, competes hard, does a lot of heavy lifting in the hard areas of the ice and is not without well-above-average offensive skills.

In TSN’s survey of scouts for the rankings, Bedard got all 10 first-place votes; six scouts had Michkov at No. 2 and four had him at No. 3 while four scouts had Fantilli at No. 2 and six had him at No. 3. The trio separated themselves from the rest of the field.

“With his size and skating ability, Fantilli can do some things [Bedard and Michkov] can’t, but as good as he is, he’s not an elite scorer like those other guys,” a scout said. “But let’s see what his [goal] numbers look like in the NCAA this season. It’s going to be a fun year with this class.”

The rest of TSN’s Pre-Season Top 10 for the 2023 NHL Draft is as follows:

4. Brayden Yager. The Moose Jaw Warrior centre has all the tools to be a well-rounded No. 1, at worst high-end No. 2, NHL centre who can impact the game in every way — offensively, defensively, goal scoring and playmaking. His hockey sense is viewed as elite, and he has no glaring weaknesses.

5. Leo Carlsson. The big Swedish forward, who has the versatility to play wing or centre, depending on the circumstances, has already earned some great early-season reviews for his play in Europe. He can score goals or make plays, and that offensive potential, along with a good-sized frame, nudges him into the top five to start this season.

6. Cal Ritchie. The Oshawa Generals centre has the size, skating and skill combination that project him to have a good chance to be a high-end No. 2 NHL centre and the upside to be a lower-case No. 1 pivot in the NHL. Carlsson and Ritchie couldn’t have been closer in the 5-6 slots.

7. Zach Benson. The Winnipeg Ice fireplug sub-6-foot winger is a high-energy, hard-driving, in-your-face player. He’s not a pretty skater but he more than gets there, and when he does, he has the ability to score, make plays, and be a disruptive influence.

8. Cam Allen. The Guelph Storm high-end two-way threat on the blueline is, remarkably, the only defenceman in TSN’s Top 16. He’s not quite 6 feet tall but plays with bite that makes him a more-than-capable defender. Allen’s forte is strong skating and puck skills, which allow him to contribute offensively in all three zones – especially when it comes to walking the offensive blueline and/or getting shots through to the goal. He captained Team Canada at the Hlinka-Gretzky U-18 tourney this summer.

9. Dalibor Dvorsky. The Slovak centre has the size, strength, skill and competitiveness to project as a solid two-way No. 2 NHL centre, equally adept at scoring goals and making plays.

10. Charlie Stramel. At 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, the American who is a freshman winger at the University of Wisconsin has that rare blend of size, skill and ability to physically punish. All the tools, in other words, to project as an NHL power forward.

 

The Top 16

Connor Bedard
1. Connor Bedard

Centre | Regina (WHL) | 5'10 | 183 lbs. | Jul. 17, 2005

2021-22 Statistics

  • GP
    62
  • G
    51
  • PTS
    100
  • +/-
    +42

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Franchise player who makes a significant offensive impact on the game. Brilliant processing ability -- given the slightest of opportunity, he takes advantage. Excellent skills highlighted by a shot that is deceptive, accurate and quick.

Matvei Michkov
2. Matvei Michkov

Right Wing | St. Petersburg (KHL) | 5'10 | 172 lbs. | Dec. 9, 2004

2021-22 Statistics

  • GP
    13
  • G
    2
  • PTS
    5
  • +/-
    +2

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Like a striker in soccer, Matvei is always probing for opportunity. When it appears, he's lightning quick in his attack. Terrific hands and ability to operate in tight spaces. Despite a diminutive stature, he is very difficult to deter.

Adam Fantilli
3. Adam Fantilli

Centre | Michigan (NCAA) | 6'1 1/2 | 191 lbs. | Oct. 12, 2004

2021-22 Statistics

  • GP
    54
  • G
    37
  • PTS
    74
  • +/-
    +13

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

A force of skill and will. Plays with an attack mentality and is focused on driving play inside the dots and to the net. Quick hands allow him to score from in tight, on the move or from distance. An intense scorer who is not easily denied.

Brayden Yager
4. Brayden Yager

Centre | Moose Jaw (WHL) | 5'10 1/2 | 162 lbs. | Jan. 5, 2005

2021-22 Statistics

  • GP
    63
  • G
    34
  • PTS
    59
  • +/-
    +18

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

A well-balanced offensive force who can score and make plays with equal adeptness. Plays with speed but also the mind of an FI driver who can gear up or down and negotiate the hairpin turns. Adds a well-rounded two-way game.

Leo Carlsson
5. Leo Carlsson

Centre/Left Wing | Orebro (SHL) | 6'1 | 172 lbs. | Dec. 26, 2004

2021-22 Statistics

  • GP
    35
  • G
    3
  • PTS
    9
  • +/-
    0

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Slick, smooth-skating centre who can seemingly glide past opponents with ease. Skating and puck skills are excellent, and he uses them to create offence in multiple ways. Dangerous deception and subtleties in his game.

Calum Ritchie
6. Cal Ritchie

Centre | Oshawa (OHL) | 6'1 | 184 lbs. | Jan. 21, 2005

2021-22 Statistics

  • GP
    65
  • G
    19
  • PTS
    45
  • +/-
    -7

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

A great blend of skill and size. Ritchie can overwhelm you by combining these qualities, forcing opponents to play at a disadvantage. Has excellent sense and feel for the game and is adaptable to the requirements of any situation.

Zach Benson
7. Zach Benson

Left Wing | Winnipeg (WHL) | 5'8 1/2 | 160 lbs. | May 12, 2005

2021-22 Statistics

  • GP
    58
  • G
    25
  • PTS
    63
  • +/-
    +40

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Brilliant imagination and creativity, combined with an excellent ability to be elusive, makes Benson a very challenging player for opponents. Plays to his strengths and forces opposing players to play on his terms. Excellent hands in tight.

Cam Allen
8. Cam Allen

Defence | Guelph (OHL) | 5'11 1/2 | 189 lbs. | Jan. 7, 2005

2021-22 Statistics

  • GP
    65
  • G
    13
  • PTS
    37
  • +/-
    +13

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

A very strong two-way defenceman who can play it any way you like it. No matter the type of game, he has all the qualities to excel and impact the action on the ice in a significant manner.

Dalibor Dvorsky
9. Dalibor Dvorsky

Centre | AIK (SWE-Als) | 6'1 | 190 lbs. | Jun. 15, 2005

2021-22 Statistics

  • GP
    17
  • G
    2
  • PTS
    3
  • +/-
    -2

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Skilled player with a competitive intensity to make a difference. Dvorsky has all the skills to play an offensive game but also possesses the power and focus to be a strong contributor throughout.

Charlie Stramel
10. Charlie Stramel

Centre | Wisconsin (NCAA) | 6'3 | 212 lbs. | Oct. 15, 2004

2021-22 Statistics

  • GP
    26
  • G
    10
  • PTS
    22
  • +/-
    +11

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Has a bull-like mentality in his approach to playing. Combine that with very good skill and he can have a big impact on the game. Stramel keeps opponents off balance by attacking in different ways and taking advantage of all his tools.

Nate Danielson
11. Nate Danielson

Centre | Brandon (WHL) | 6'0 1/2 | 179 lbs. | Sept. 27, 2004

2021-22 Statistics

  • GP
    53
  • G
    23
  • PTS
    57
  • +/-
    +18

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Strong two-way centre who has deceptive quickness in his skating and hands, which allows him to get the puck into advantageous positions to shoot or to pass. Has an intense approach to the details in the game and a desire to excel.

Ethan Gauthier
12. Ethan Gauthier

Centre | Sherbrooke (QMJHL) | 5'11 | 177 lbs. | Jan. 26, 2005

2021-22 Statistics

  • GP
    65
  • G
    18
  • PTS
    39
  • +/-
    +10

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Has the skill, brains, and intensity to impact the game in multiple ways and in all situations. He's interested in doing whatever needs to be done to give his team an advantage and stops at nothing to affect that outcome.

Eduard Sale
13. Eduard Sale

Left Wing | Brno (CZE) | 6'1 | 163 lbs. | Mar. 10, 2005

2021-22 Statistics

  • GP
    39
  • G
    42
  • PTS
    89
  • +/-
    -1

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

High-end skill with the skating, hands, IQ and determination to impact the game in significant ways. Has the 360-degree awareness to recognize all opportunities in the game and the skill and desire to take advantage. Loads of potential.

Otto Stenberg
14. Otto Stenberg

Right Wing | Frolunda (SWE J20) | 5'11 | 172 lbs. | May 29, 2005

2021-22 Statistics

  • GP
    38
  • G
    16
  • PTS
    35
  • +/-
    +3

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Smart, strong-skating winger who can play at high tempo and pace. Has a very strong shot with velocity and accuracy. He uses that shot to set up his playmaking and disguises it well to keeps goalies off balance.

Colby Barlow
15. Colby Barlow

Left Wing | Owen Sound (OHL) | 6'0 | 195 lbs. | Feb. 14, 2005

2021-22 Statistics

  • GP
    59
  • G
    30
  • PTS
    47
  • +/-
    +2

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

A blend of skill, power and determination. He's an “inside” player who drives the net and attacks defenders. He’s difficult to handle in one-on-one situations.

Kasper Halttunen
16. Kasper Halttunen

Right Wing | Jokerit (SM Liiga) | 6'3 | 207 lbs. | Jun. 5, 2005

2021-22 Statistics

  • GP
    41
  • G
    24
  • PTS
    38
  • +/-
    +10

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Has the elements of a modern-day power forward. He can beat you with his skill and utilizes his size to gain and hold advantages. Has a very good shot that can beat goalies from distance but can also drive the net and play in tight.

 

Honourable Mentions

 
Player Team Pos HT WT GP G
Mikhail Gulyayev Omsk (MHL) D 5'10 170 54 7 35
Will Smith USA U-18 (USHL) C 6'0 172 28 14 27
Maxim Strbak Jokerit (SM Liiga) D 6'2 183 39 1 8
Matthew Wood Connecticut (NCAA) RW 6'3 190 46 45 85