While this year’s United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) squad doesn’t have an individual prospect at the level of a Jack Hughes or an Auston Matthews headlining its class, centre Will Smith is making plenty of noise.

Committed to attend Boston College in 2023-24, Smith leads the USNTDP in scoring this season with 17 goals and 45 points in 24 games. He’s also climbed from No. 16 to No. 6 in TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s latest 2023 NHL Draft ranking.

“He’s one of those players that’s got a real subtle excellence to him,” Button said of Smith. “All of the sudden, he needs to go a little bit faster, and he does. He needs to make a pass, and he does. He needs to maneuver the puck into a shooting position, and he does. You better know where he is on the ice because if you don’t, chances are you’re about ready to get slayed.”

The USNTDP has churned out a number of star players over the years and has been well represented in recent drafts.

The program has produced five first-overall picks in Rick DiPietro (2000), Erik Johnson (2006), Patrick Kane (2007), Matthews (2016) and Hughes (2019), and had a record eight players selected in the first round of 2019. Six players heard their names called in the opening round in Montreal last year, led by centre Logan Cooley going third to the Arizona Coyotes.

While Smith has enjoyed a big rise up the draft rankings, he’s not the only USNTDP player to climb the list. Joining Smith in Button’s top 15 are centre Oliver Moore, who rises from No. 28 to No. 11, right winger Ryan Leonard at No. 13, and left winger Gabe Perreault, who jumps from No. 34 to No. 15.

Smith centres Perreault and Leonard to form the USNTDP’s top line, one that Button calls “the best line I’ve seen in hockey this year.”

“They’re excellent two-way players,” said Button of the trio. “They’re highly skilled, they can shoot the puck as well as [they] pass the puck. They’re all high, high IQ and they’ve all got a burning competitive fire.”

Perreault has 20 goals and 41 points this season while Leonard has 19 goals and 33 points.

Moore slots in as the second-line centre behind Smith, registering 14 goals and 31 points this season, and like the trio, he is also entrusted with killing penalties. Button compares him to a current Detroit Red Wings star.

“He just has so much game,” Button said of Moore. “He’s really good, he’s a Dylan Larkin type.”

While the four USNTDP players enjoyed some of the biggest rises on the list, it wasn’t the only notable movement.

No. 1 ranked prospect Connor Bedard stands alone at the top of the 2023 draft, but centres Adam Fantilli and Leo Carlsson jump into the No. 2 and 3 spots respectively, with Button proclaiming they’ve separated themselves from the rest of the field. 

Fantilli, who is currently enjoying a strong freshman season at the University of Michigan with 10 goals and 25 points in 14 games, has been on the radar for several years due to standout performances with the USHL’s Chicago Steel and internationally with Team Canada.

Carlsson has been putting up impressive numbers in Sweden as a draft-eligible player with two goals and 13 points in 20 games (0.65 PPG) for Orebro, pacing ahead of the likes of former top-five draft picks Elias Lindholm (0.625), Nicklas Backstrom (0.565) and Lucas Raymond (0.529).

“He’s one of those deceptive skaters,” said Button on Carlsson. “It’s effortless. It’s like he glides over the ice. He’s always coming down on you and his agility and quickness are fantastic. He can accelerate and speed up; he just keeps defenders right back on their heels.

“He can evaporate really quick on you. You think you have him and all of the sudden you’re chasing him. Great puck skills.”

On this side of the pond, a player that has been dazzling scouts and hockey fans this season is the No. 16 ranked player, Kelowna Rockets centre Andrew Cristall.

The 17-year-old is second in Western Hockey League scoring this season with 18 goals and 43 points, behind only Bedard who has 22 goals and 54 points.

Despite being one of the smaller players in the first round at just under 5-foot-9, Cristall has shown an ability to win puck battles.

“He has an exceptional brain and puck skills,” said Button. “Every time he has the puck, be ready because there’s going to be a scoring chance happening either for him or somebody else.

“He just makes plays all over the ice. He’s got a Mitch Marner-esque quality to him.”

 

Statistics updated through November 28

 

Craig's List: Nov. 30

 
RK Player Team POS HT WT GP G P
1 Connor Bedard Regina (WHL) C 5'9 ¾ 183 24 22 53
2 Adam Fantilli Michigan (NCAA) C 6'2 195 14 10 25
3 Leo Carlsson Örebro (SHL) C 6'3 198 20 2 13
4 Eduard Sale Brno (CZE) LW 6'2 174 21 3 6
5 Matvei Michkov St. Petersburg (KHL) RW 5'10 172 8 8 12
6 Will Smith USA NTDP (USHL) C 5'11 ¾ 178 24 17 45
7 Colby Barlow Owen Sound (OHL) LW 6'0 ¼ 193 20 17 31
8 Brayden Yager Moose Jaw (WHL) C 5'10 ½ 162 24 13 30
9 Zach Benson Winnipeg (WHL) LW 5'9 160 24 14 35
10 Dalibor Dvorsky AIK (SWE-Als) C 6'1 201 17 4 8
11 Oliver Moore USA NTDP (USHL) C 5'11 188 24 14 31
12 Ethan Gauthier Sherbrooke (QMJHL) C 5'11 ¼ 176 24 9 26
13 Ryan Leonard USA NTDP (USHL) RW 5'11 ½ 190 22 19 33
14 Gabe Perreault USA NTDP (USHL) LW 5'10 ¾ 165 24 20 41
15 Koehn Ziemmer Prince George (WHL) RW 6'0 ¼ 204 23 15 36
16 Andrew Cristall Kelowna (WHL) LW/RW 5'9 ½ 167 20 16 39
17 Cameron Allen Guelph (OHL) D 6'0 194 23 2 12
18 Riley Heidt Prince George (WHL) C 5'10 ½ 182 23 13 36
19 Calum Ritchie Oshawa (OHL) C/RW 6'1 ¾ 187 21 8 18
20 Mikhail Gulyayev Omsk (MHL) D 5'11 172 5 1 10
21 Nate Danielson Brandon (WHL) C 6'1 ¼ 185 53 23 57
22 Samuel Honzek Vancouver (WHL) LW 6'3 ½ 186 23 14 32
23 Otto Stenberg Frölunda (SWE J20) RW 5'11 ¼ 180 18 6 14
24 Kasper Halttunen HIFK (SM Liiga) RW 6'2 ¾ 207 9 7 12
25 Matthew Wood Connecticut (NCAA) RW 6'3 ½ 193 15 5 12
26 Tom Willander Rogle (SWE J20) D 6'1 ¼ 180 23 4 14
27 Axel Sandin-Pellikka Skelleftea (SWE J20) D 5'10 ¾ 176 20 13 26
28 Lukas Dragicevic Tri-City (WHL) D 6'1 192 23 8 32
29 Etienne Morin Moncton (QMJHL) D 5'11 ¾ 181 23 9 23
30 Bradley Nadeau Penticton (BCHL) RW/LW 5'10 161 23 24 48
31 Oliver Bonk London (OHL) D 6'2 174 21 5 17
32 Emil Jarventie Ilves (SM Liiga) LW 5'9 ½ 167 21 8 19
                 
33 Charlie Stramel Wisconsin (NCAA) C/RW 6'3 212 14 2 4
34 Roman Kantserov Magnitogorsk (MHL) RW 5'9 176 25 16 32
35 Jesse Kiiskanen Pelicans (SM Liiga Jr) RW 5'10 ¾ 178 19 13 30
36 Noah Dower-Nilsson Frölunda (SWE J20) LW 6'0 174 22 21 37
37 Danny Nelson USA NTDP (USHL) LW 6'3 202 23 11 22
38 Mathieu Cataford Halifax (QMJHL) C/RW 5'10 ¾ 188 24 16 36
39 Kalan Lind Red Deer (WHL) LW 6'0 ¼ 158 23 6 22
40 Andrew Strathman Tri-City (USHL) D 5'10 190 16 1 17
41 Tanner Moldendyk Saskatoon (WHL) D 5'10 ¾ 184 20 0 9
42 Quentin Musty Sudbury (OHL) C/LW 6'1 ¾ 200 20 7 25
43 Coulson Pitre Flint (OHL) RW 6'0 ½ 172 24 9 21
44 Beau Akey Barrie (OHL) D 5'11 ½ 170 20 4 13
45 Hunter Brzustewicz Kitchener (OHL) D 5'11 ¼ 188 21 1 17
46 Caden Price Kelowna (WHL) D 6'0 ¼ 186 20 2 13
47 Michael Hrabal Omaha (USHL) G 6'6 ¼ 209 12 2.87 .914
48 Carson Bjarnason Brandon (WHL) G 6'3 186 19 3.02 .912
49 Lenni Hameenaho Pori (SM Liiga) RW 5'11 ½ 173 25 3 10
50 Tuomas Uronen HIFK (SM Liiga Jr) RW 5'10 ¾ 183 19 9 21
51 Jordan Tourigny Shawinigan (QMJHL) D 5'10 ½ 165 25 4 15
52 Daniil But Yaroslavl (MHL) LW 6'5 203 16 12 20
53 Tyler Peddle Drummondville (QMJHL) LW 6'0 ½ 195 24 14 21
54 Ethan Miedema Windsor (OHL) LW 6'3 ¾ 206 22 7 20
55 Theo Lindstein Brynäs (SWE J20) D 6'0 ½ 180 11 2 7
56 Maxim Strabak Sioux Falls (USHL) D 6'1 ½ 205 17 3 10
57 Carson Rehkopf Kitchener (OHL) LW 6'1 ¼ 195 21 10 16
58 Noel Nordh Brynäs (SWE J20) LW 6'1 ½ 196 18 5 11
59 Aram Minnetian USA NTDP (USHL) D 5'11 192 24 3 14
60 Carey Terrance Erie (OHL) C 6'0 ¼ 175 21 10 17
61 Nick Lardis Peterborough (OHL) LW 5'10 ½ 165 24 11 17
62 Connor Levis Kamloops (WHL) C 6'1 ½ 189 20 5 20
63 Jakub Dvorak Liberec (CZE) D 6'5 202 23 0 2
64 Will Whitelaw Youngstown (USHL) C/RW 5'9 173 17 9 17