Celebrini leads 'Big Three' atop McKenzie's pre-season draft ranking
It is by no means an absolute lock - there’s a whole race still to be run and it hasn’t even started yet - but it is fair to declare Macklin Celebrini as the obvious morning line favourite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NHL Draft.
Nine out of 10 NHL scouts surveyed to determine TSN’s Pre-Season Top 16 Rankings slotted the 17-year-old Boston University freshman from Vancouver at the top of their respective lists.
The only prospect other than Celebrini to garner a No. 1 vote was American goal-scoring winger Cole Eiserman, who is No. 2 on TSN’s Pre-Season list. In addition to his lone first-place vote, the USNTDP forward received five second-place votes and four third-place votes.
Russian forward Ivan Demidov of SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL is third on the TSN list, picking up four second-place votes (just one fewer than Eiserman), three third-place votes and three others outside of the top three.
This Canadian-American-Russian trio is effectively the unofficial Big Three going into the 2023-24 season for the 2024 draft that will be held in late June at an as yet undisclosed location.
All three are projected by the scouts to be first-line NHL players - the 5-foot-11 3/4, 189-pound Celebrini is a left-shot centre who can also play on the wing; the 5-foot-11 3/4, 197-pound Eiserman is a left-shot natural left winger; and the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Demidov has played both in the middle and on the wing, but is listed by NHL Central Scouting as a left-shot right winger.
Celebrini and Eiserman, both born in 2006, won’t turn 18 until next summer; Demidov is a late 2005 birthdate and will be 18 in December.
Celebrini, who underwent shoulder surgery last May, is expected to return to play for BU in mid to late October. He has all the tools one would look for in a point-producing No. 1 NHL centre — his skating, puck skills, smarts, competitiveness, playmaking and goal-scoring are pretty much elite level.
Eiserman, who will play this season for the U.S. U-18 National Development Team and is committed to the University of Minnesota for 2024-25, is viewed as the best natural goal-scorer in the entire draft class.
His shot is lethal – whether he’s snapping it from anywhere in the offensive zone or pounding one-timers on the power play. He lives for and loves to score goals. More than one scout joked that if Eiserman were the puck carrier on a 2-on-1 with Connor Bedard or Connor McDavid or take your pick of virtually anyone, Eiserman would be shooting the puck every time.
Celebrini and Eiserman are well familiar with each other. They played on the same team, and much of the time on the same line, for two seasons at Shattuck St. Mary’s prep school in Minnesota.
Playing for Shattuck’s U-18 varsity squad in the 2021-22 season, Celebrini had 50 goals and 117 points in 52 games while Eiserman had 56 goals and 86 points in 55 games.
A year earlier, playing for the U-14 Shattuck team, Eiserman led the way with 97 goals and 154 points in 50 games; Celebrini had 51 goals and 141 points in 50 games.
Last season, playing for the Chicago Steel of the USHL, Celebrini scored 46 goals and 86 points in 50 games, collecting USHL Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year honours. It was an unprecedented campaign for a 16 year old in the USHL.
Last season, playing games for both the USNTDP U-17 and U-18 teams, Eiserman shot out the lights. Playing with players his own age in U-17, Eiserman had 43 goals and 72 points in 42 games. Playing with players a year older on the U-18 team, he rifled 26 goals and 32 points in 20 games.
Demidov, meanwhile, as you would expect in Russia, has not put up quite as gaudy numbers - he has no goals and no points in limited minutes in his first four KHL games this season, though his 64 points in the Russian MHL last season is a record for a 17-year old - but the scouts say he should be mentioned as being in the same universe as Celebrini and Eiserman at the top of this year’s draft class.
As noted earlier, five scouts pegged Eiserman at No. 2; four scouts had Demidov there right behind Celebrini.
Demidov comes with a lot of the usual caveats as other top draft-eligible Russian prospects.
He’s under contract to his SKA St. Petersburg KHL team through the 2024-25 season. Not as long a commitment as 2023 Philadelphia Flyer first-round pick Matvei Michkov, whose contract run through 2025-26, but still worth noting.
Demidov started this season as the 13th forward with SKA but effectively beat out Michkov — last year’s Russian draft sensation — for a roster spot in St. Petersburg. Michkov was recently loaned to Sochi, where he’s expected to get more ice time. Scouts know evaluating Demidov, as was the case with Michkov, won’t be easy.
Russians can’t play in any of the elite IIHF competitions, including the World Junior Championship, and he’s not likely to get high quantity or quality of minutes played in the KHL.
Nevertheless, the scouting report on Demidov is that he plays a hard, smart, energetic, competitive two-way game and all his key attributes are viewed as above average to elite.
So while Celebrini is the undisputed No. 1 on TSN’s Pre-Season list, there are some nuances worth pointing out.
Starting, of course, with the lone scout surveyed by TSN who had Eiserman at No. 1 and Celebrini at No. 2.
“It’s razor thin between [Celebrini and Eiserman] and it would be easy to go in either direction because they’re both great prospects,” the scout said. “But when Eiserman got called up to the U-18 team last season, and he was so explosive there and scored so many goals against better competition, he just showed what a dynamic goal-scorer he’s going to be.”
Another scout who had Celebrini at No. 1 and Eiserman at No. 2 said it was basically a coin toss for him to give the Canadian the nod and that Eiserman is a legit contender for the top spot. One more scout echoed that sentiment.
And there was even one other who went so far as to say Demidov or perhaps someone from the cluster of prospects just below them could make things interesting for Celebrini, especially since he’ll be the youngest Division I player in the NCAA.
“That could cut both ways,” one scout added. “If he plays at the top of his game and puts up numbers [in college], he’ll solidify his hold on No. 1. But coming off the shoulder surgery, if he doesn’t light it up, it could open the door for Eiserman to challenge because we know Eiserman is going to score a lot of goals.”
So that’s four of 10 scouts who are giving someone other than Celebrini a potential path to the No. 1 spot.
Five others, however, gave Celebrini “notable frontrunner” status and one said he’s close to a “lock,” suggesting the crown is his to lose.
Which is, of course, why they play the games.
If the scouts are excited by the trio of potential first-line NHL forward talent available this year, they are also enthused by the sheer quantity, and relative quality, of defencemen on TSN’s Pre-Season Top 16.
The No. 4 and No. 5 spots on the list are held down by blueliners — respectively, Michigan State freshman Artyom Levshunov, a 6-foot-2, 199-pound Belarusian who put up some nice offensive numbers in the USHL last season; and London Knights 6-foot-2 3/4, 204-pound Sam Dickinson, a strong-skating two-way presence from the Greater Toronto Area. Levshunov is a right shot; Dickinson is a left shot.
While Celebrini, Eiserman and Demidov are, for now anyway and it is subject to change, projected to have first-line NHL potential, Levshunov and Dickinson are viewed more as potential No. 2s and/or No. 3s on the blueline as opposed to being No. 1s.
But there was such a dearth of defence prospects in last year’s draft that having two in the pre-season top five this year, plus five in the top 10 and eight in the top 16, is quite welcome.
“Lots of interesting D,” one scout said. “Maybe no [Victor] Hedmans or [Cale] Makars, but lots of good ones, quite a few right-shot D, too, which is nice.”
There are, however, a pair of talented forwards holding down the No. 6 and No. 7 spots on the TSN list.
Spokane Chiefs 5-foot-10 3/4, 170-pound left-shot slick offensive centre Berkly Catton — a Saskatoon product who went first overall in the 2021 WHL bantam draft — is at No. 6. He’s followed by skilled Finnish centre Konsta Helenius, a 5-10 3/4, 170-pounder who plays for head coach Olli Jokinen for Jukurit in the Liiga.
The third-ranked defenceman is Czechia’s 6-foot-2 1/2, 178-pound Adam Jiricek at No. 8, the younger brother of Columbus first-round pick David Jiricek. Adam is touted to have top-three or top-four NHL potential and plays a solid two-way game. He joins Levshunov and Dickinson as sort of a Big Three on the blueline in the 24 draft class. Jiricek is a right shot.
Perhaps the most flat-out intriguing prospect on TSN’s pre-season list is 6-foot-6, 203-pound Russian left-shot defenceman Anton Silayev. When TSN made its initial inquiries of the scouts on the Class of 2024, Silayev was nowhere to be found. But once the KHL started playing games in the last couple of weeks, scouts were scrambling to get a handle on the Russian behemoth who seemingly came out of nowhere to create seismic shock waves in the scouting community.
The scouting opinions on Silayev are all over the place. What we do know is that in his first four KHL outings he played close to 20 minutes per game and picked up four assists. Russian scouts immediately alerted their NHL teams to this larger-than-life surprise. Some teams have already done deep (video) dives on his KHL games — as well as looking back on what seem to be pretty non-descript scouting reports from last year — while others are just now coming to the Silayev party.
But there’s an incredible buzz about Silayev because, in an admittedly minute sample size, he does look like a prospect with all the tools to be a No. 1 NHL defenceman. But where on the pre-season list do you slot him, when some of the scouts we surveyed still haven’t watched him play and aren’t quite sure yet what to make of him?
Well, one scout said Silayev could eclipse Levshunov and Dickinson as the top D prospects in the draft, and he should be immediately pegged as a Top 5 pick. Some others said it’s way premature to even put him in the pre-season Top 10. But there were enough of our 10 scouts who believe he has tools that will allow him to challenge the Big D Three of Levshunov, Dickinson and Jiricek and, given his size, could already be eclipsing a gaggle of smaller, more one-dimensional offensive defencemen.
That would include, amongst others, 5-foot-9 1/4, 170-pound Finn Aron Kiviharju, who was pushed down to No. 10 on our list, effectively to make room for Silayev.
There are three more (Canadian) defenceman between 11 and 16 on our list — Calgary Hitmen 6-foot-1 3/4, 188-pound Carter Yakemchuk at No. 13; Saginaw Spirit 6-foot, 178-pound goal-scoring blueliner Zayne Parekh at No. 14; and Ottawa 67’s 6-foot, 183-pound Henry Mews at No. 16. All three are right-shot defencemen.
The Top 16
1. Macklin Celebrini, C - Boston University
|Chicago (USHL)||5'11 3/4||189||50||46||86|
2. Cole Eiserman, LW - USA NTDP
|USA NTDP (USHL)||5'11 3/4||197||32||28||44|
3. Ivan Demidov, RW - SKA St. Petersburg
|St. Petersburg (MHL)||5'11||170||41||19||62|
4. Artyom Levshunov, D - Michigan State
|Green Bay (USHL)||6'2||199||62||13||42|
5. Sam Dickinson, D - London
|London (OHL)||6'2 3/4||204||62||9||23|
6. Berkly Catton, C - Spokane
|Spokane (WHL)||5'10 3/4||170||63||23||55|
7. Konsta Helenius, RW - Jukurit
|Jukurit (SM Liiga)||5'10 3/4||170||33||3||11|
8. Adam Jiricek, D - Plzen
|Plzen (CZE U20)||6'2 1/2||178||41||12||29|
9. Anton Silayev, D - Nizhny Novgorod
|Nizhny Novgorod (MHL)||6'6||203||41||2||8|
10. Aron Kiviharju, D - HIFK
Aron Kiviharju Finland
|TPS (SM Liiga)||5'9 1/4||170||21||0||3|
11. Trevor Connelly, LW - Tri-City
12. Igor Chernyshov, LW - Moskva
13. Carter Yakemchuk, D - Calgary
|Calgary (WHL)||6'1 3/4||188||67||19||47|
14. Zayne Parekh, D - Saginaw
15. Michael Brandsegg-Nygard, RW - Mora
|Mora (SWE J20)||6'1||194||35||17||38|
16. Henry Mews, D - Ottawa
|Charlie Elick||Brandon (WHL)||D||6'3||190||56||3||11|
|Cole Hutson||USA NTDP (USHL)||D||5'10||159||32||4||25|
|Cayden Lindstrom||Medicine Hat (WHL)||C||6'5||205||61||19||42|
|Beckett Sennecke||Oshawa (OHL)||RW||6'2||181||61||20||55|