Craig's List: The real battle is at number two
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
|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|