Mock Draft: The fun starts after No. 1 in Button's projection
TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button has Regina Pats centre Connor Bedard as a lock to go No. 1 when the Chicago Blackhawks step up to the podium on June 28 in Nashville, but the real intrigue starts with the Anaheim Ducks, who hold the second pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.
With young forwards Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish, and Troy Terry already in place, as well as defencemen Jamie Drysdale, Pavel Mintyukov and Olen Zellweger, the Ducks are not short on young talent.
Button has University of Michigan centre Adam Fantilli going to Anaheim in his mock draft and says that Fantilli could be the only player besides Bedard from the class who is ready to step into the NHL next season.
“Speed is such an important quality for a player and Adam Fantilli is one of the very best skaters in the draft,” said Button. “That type of speed and pace fits into the NHL perfectly.
“He’s shown a real ability to score. He’s a fast-skating, hard-driving scorer. That’s his game.”
Button also envisions a scenario where the Ducks could select Russian winger Matvei Michkov in this spot. He notes that Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek was the assistant GM in Tampa Bay when Nikita Kucherov went from second-round pick to league MVP, and that elite scorers like Michkov are always in demand.
“The timeline to be competitive should not preclude them from drafting somebody that may or may not come for three seasons,” said Button.
At No. 3, Button has the Columbus Blue Jackets filling a big need by drafting Orebro centre Leo Carlsson. Button sees Carlsson meshing well with sniper Patrik Laine down the road, but believes he needs one more year in Sweden before making the jump to the NHL.
“I think Leo Carlsson with his playmaking ability, much like Nicklas Backstrom did for Alexander Ovechkin, I think [he] can do that for Patrik Laine,” said Button.
At No. 4, Button has Michkov off to San Jose. The 18-year-old had nine goals and 20 points in 27 games in the KHL this season with HK Sochi. The Sharks are in the midst of a rebuild, with the No. 4 pick as their highest selection since drafting defenceman Brad Stuart third overall in 1998.
“If it’s San Jose, their timeline with an elite striker, they don’t need him now,” said Button. “This certainly would be an opportunity to build. You need talent to win and certainly he has that.”
Rounding out the top five is the first Canadian team on the board, the Montreal Canadiens.
After selecting Slovak winger Juraj Slafkovsky with the first-overall pick last year, Button has the team taking USNTDP centre Will Smith, adding him to the young core that also includes Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Kirby Dach.
“A top-notch two-way centre,” said Button of Smith. “I compare him to [New York Rangers centre] Mika Zibanejad. Will can do some many different things in the game and drive play in so many significant areas.”
The next Canadian team on the board is the Vancouver Canucks at No. 11. Button says if the Canucks are going to improve in the long term, they need to address their defence corps. He has them selecting Swedish defenceman Tom Willander.
“He’s a top-three defenceman, a right-shot defenceman,” said Button of Willander. “I think he’s robust. He’s got some [Charlie] McAvoy, Rasmus Andersson in him.”
After missing the playoffs this season, the Calgary Flames hold the 16th pick in the draft and Button has them taking two-way centre Nate Danielson from the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings. He compares Danielson to current Flames centre Elias Lindholm.
“To me, he’s got all the qualities you’re looking for in a player,” said Button of Danielson. “The middle of the ice, he can shoot the puck, power play, he can make plays, can really be a handful to play against because he’s really smart.”
The Winnipeg Jets hold the 18th overall selection and Button has them taking speedy centre Oliver Moore from the USNTDP. The Jets have taken a forward from the USNTDP the last two years, taking Chaz Lucius (2021) and Rutger McGroarty (2022).
“To me, he and Fantilli are the best skaters in the draft,” said Button of Moore. “He’s a disruptive force, he plays the game like Dylan Larkin. There will be more than enough offence in his game. The speed at which he plays, the pace and competitiveness [is] high.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs have a first-round pick this year for the first time since 2020 when they took Russian forward Rodion Amirov 15th overall. Button has the Maple Leafs selecting Sudbury Wolves winger Quentin Musty at No. 28.
“He can shoot the puck but he’s a playmaking winger,” said Button. “His playmaking to me on the power play is really good. He’s not somebody that’s going to lean into you in a physically rugged way, but he’s hard to push away. He gets to the scoring areas. He plays below the circles. He can make plays off the wall.”
For the second year in a row, the Canadiens have a second first-round pick to work with. Last year after taking Slafkovsky first, they selected fellow Slovak forward Filip Mesar with the 26th overall pick. Button has Swedish forward Anton Wahlberg of Malmo going to the Canadiens at No. 31.
“I just see so much progression in his game,” said Button. “He's got size, he’s rangy, can play in the middle of the ice, on the wing.
“He can play in the hard areas and the demanding areas from a physical point of view with the size.”
Craig Button's Final Mock Draft
|1||Chi||Connor Bedard||Regina (WHL)||C||5'9 ¾||185||57||71||143|
|2||Ana||Adam Fantilli||Michigan (NCAA)||C||6'2||195||36||30||65|
|3||CBJ||Leo Carlsson||Örebro (SHL)||C||6'2 ½||194||44||10||25|
|4||SJ||Matvei Michkov||St. Petersburg (KHL)||RW||5'10||172||30||9||20|
|5||Mtl||Will Smith||USA NTDP (USHL)||C||5'11 ¾||180||60||51||127|
|6||Ari||Matthew Wood||Connecticut (NCAA)||RW||6'4||197||35||11||34|
|7||Phi||Ryan Leonard||USA NTDP (USHL)||RW||5'11 ¾||190||57||51||94|
|8||Wsh||David Reinbacher||Kloten (SUI)||D||6'2 ¼||194||46||3||22|
|9||Det||Colby Barlow||Owen Sound (OHL)||LW||6'0 ½||195||59||46||79|
|10||StL||Axel Sandin Pellikka||Skelleftea (SWE J20)||D||5'11||180||31||16||36|
|11||Van||Tom Willander||Rogle (SWE J20)||D||6'1||180||39||4||25|
|12||Ari||Dalibor Dvorsky||AIK (SWE-Als)||C||6'1||200||38||6||14|
|13||Buf||Zach Benson||Winnipeg (WHL)||LW||5'9 ¾||170||60||36||98|
|14||Pit||Brayden Yager||Moose Jaw (WHL)||C||5'11||170||67||28||78|
|15||Nsh||Gabe Perreault||USA NTDP (USHL)||LW||5'10 ¾||163||63||53||132|
|16||Cgy||Nate Danielson||Brandon (WHL)||C||6'1 ½||186||68||33||78|
|17||Det||Otto Stenberg||Frölunda (SWE J20)||LW||5'11 ¼||180||29||11||26|
|18||Wpg||Oliver Moore||USA NTDP (USHL)||C||5'11||195||61||31||75|
|19||Chi||Samuel Honzek||Vancouver (WHL)||LW||6'3 ¼||195||43||23||56|
|20||Sea||Calum Ritchie||Oshawa (OHL)||C/RW||6'2||184||59||24||59|
|21||Min||Eduard Sale||Brno (CZE)||LW||6'1 ¾||175||43||7||14|
|22||Phi||Ethan Gauthier||Drummondville (QMJHL)||C||5'11 ½||183||66||30||69|
|23||NYR||Daniil But||Yaroslavl (MHL)||LW||6'5||203||26||15||26|
|24||Nsh||Dmitri Simashev||Yaroslavl (MHL)||D||6'4||200||29||1||10|
|25||StL||David Edstrom||Frölunda (SWE J20)||C||6'3||185||28||15||28|
|26||SJ||Michael Hrabal||Omaha (USHL)||G||6'6 ¾||215||29||3.00||.907|
|27||Col||Kasper Halttunen||HIFK (SM Liiga)||RW||6'3 ¼||215||18||18||24|
|28||Tor||Quentin Musty||Sudbury (OHL)||C/LW||6'1 ½||200||53||26||78|
|29||StL||Oliver Bonk||London (OHL)||D||6'1 ½||180||67||10||40|
|30||Car||Theo Lindstein||Brynäs (SWE J20)||D||6'0||185||32||1||2|
|31||Mtl||Anton Wahlberg||Malmo (SWE J20)||C/LW||6'3 ¼||192||32||14||27|
|32||VGK||Maxim Strbak||Sioux Falls (USHL)||D||6'1 ¼||198||42||5||19|