Regina Pats star Connor Bedard is the overwhelming favourite to go first overall in the 2023 NHL Draft, but a new face has rocketed into the No. 2 spot for TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button.

Czechia winger Eduard Sale lands at No. 2 in the preseason edition of Craig's List, beating out Russia’s Matvei Michkov and Canada’s Adam Fantilli. Sale came in at No. 13 on Bob McKenzie's preseason draft ranking

After a strong showing at the IIHF U18 world championship (nine points in six games) and the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August (six points in five games), Sale has carried that momentum into this season so far in the Czech league, with one goal and three points in four games with HC Kometa Brno. 

“Eduard possesses every single skill attribute that allows a player to impact a game in a significant way,” said Button. “He’s fast, quick, and agile when he needs to be. He’s got a brain that is advanced. He is two or three steps ahead. He’s so good at carving out space for himself and knowing how to take advantage of space, and making opponents think they have him under wraps.

“He’s as equally good a shooter as he is a passer.”

Rounding out the top three is SKA St. Petersburg forward Michkov, who could be the biggest wild card in the draft.

The fact that Michkov is locked into his KHL contract until the end of the 2025-26 season, plus the uncertainty created by the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, means NHL teams looking at Michkov could be waiting at least three years for him to come to North America.

Michkov returned to game action this week after recovering from a lower-body injury suffered in early August, but the enthusiasm for what he can do on the ice has not dampened.

With MHL's SKA St. Petersburg last season, he had 22 goals and 38 points in 22 games. At the 2021 U18s, he had 12 goals and 16 points in seven games in a silver medal-winning effort that landed him Best Forward and MVP honours. He led the Russians to gold at the 2021 Hlinka Gretzky Cup with eight goals and 13 points. He also had three goals in two games at the cancelled 2022 World Juniors in December.

“He's a striker,” said Button. “Like Lionel Messi.

"A very gifted, very talented player. But he's the wild card of all wild cards. The skill is terrific but the situation is one that leaves teams and people, 'Okay, what are we getting and when are we getting him?'"

Button sees the 2023 draft class as one full of quality players but has Bedard in a class of his own at the top, pegging the North Vancouver, B.C., product as a franchise player.

“I think that he changes the fortunes of a franchise for the better,” said Button. “I don’t see another player in his class.”

The phenom is already off to a quick start this season with three goals and four points in two games. He is also fresh off a gold medal-winning performance with Canada at the rescheduled summer World Juniors, where he had four goals and eight points in seven games.

Completing Button’s top five is University of Michigan centre Fantilli (No. 4) and Moose Jaw Warriors centre Brayden Yager (No. 5). 

Button has just two defencemen ranked in the first 25 picks on his list: Guelph Storm defenceman Cameron Allen (No. 11) and Mikhail Gulyayev of Omskie Yastreby (No. 13). 

Allen had 13 goals and 37 points in 65 games last season with the Storm, earning OHL Rookie of the Year honours. He also captained Canada to gold at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, with seven points in five games.

“There’s no scenario in the game where he can’t find himself as a contributing factor,” said Button of Allen. “He defends, plays offence, skates, shoots, plays physical and kills penalties.

“He’s the player that by the end of the year could be in the top five.”

In a first round that sees plenty of European representation from Russia, Sweden, Czechia and Slovakia, Button projects to see a Finn rise up the rankings throughout the season in Kasper Halttunen (No. 18).

Halttunen, a 6-foot-3, 207-pound right winger, has three goals and five points in four games with HIFK’s U20 squad so far this season. He also won bronze medals at the U18s and Hlinka Gretzky Cup. 

“He’s got a tremendous blend of skill, size and power,” said Button. “I think he’s in the formative stages of just getting comfortable as to what exactly his game is.”

 

The Top 32

 
RK Player Team POS HT WT GP G P
1 Connor Bedard Regina (WHL) C 5'9 ¾ 183 62 51 100
2 Eduard Sale Brno (CZE) LW 6'1 163 39 42 89
3 Matvei Michkov St. Petersburg (KHL) RW 5'10 172 22 22 38
4 Adam Fantilli Michigan (NCAA) C 6'2 195 54 37 74
5 Brayden Yager Moose Jaw (WHL) C 5'10 ½ 162 63 34 59
6 Leo Carlsson Örebro (SHL) C 6'2 186 14 10 27
7 Colby Barlow Owen Sound (OHL) LW 5'11 ¾ 195 59 30 47
8 Dalibor Dvorsky AIK (SWE-Als) C 6'1 190 33 20 40
9 Zach Benson Winnipeg (WHL) LW 5'8 ½ 160 58 25 63
10 Calum Ritchie Oshawa (OHL) C/RW 6'1 ¼ 184 65 19 45
11 Cameron Allen Guelph (OHL) D 5'11 ½ 189 65 13 37
12 Emil Jarventie Ilves (SM Liiga) LW 5'9 ½ 167 42 25 50
13 Mikhail Gulyayev Omsk (MHL) D 5'11 170 54 7 35
14 Ethan Gauthier Sherbrooke (QMJHL) C 5'10 ¾ 177 65 18 39
15 Charlie Stramel Wisconsin (NCAA) C/RW 6'3 212 26 10 22
16 Will Smith USA NTDP (USHL) C/RW 5'11 ¾ 178 63 31 64
17 Matthew Wood Connecticut (NCAA) RW 6'3 ½ 193 46 45 85
18 Kasper Halttunen HIFK (SM Liiga) RW 6'2 ¾ 207 41 24 38
19 Otto Stenberg Frölunda (SWE J20) RW 5'11 ¼ 180 38 16 35
20 Nate Danielson Brandon (WHL) C 6'0 ½ 179 53 23 57
21 Riley Heidt Prince George (WHL) C 5'10 185 65 21 58
22 Andrew Cristall Kelowna (WHL) C/LW 5'8 ¾ 164 61 28 69
23 Noel Nordh Brynäs (SWE J18) LW 6'1 ½ 196 38 20 44
24 Koehn Ziemmer Prince George (WHL) C/RW 5'11 ¾ 203 68 30 57
25 Kalan Lind Red Deer (WHL) LW 6'0 153 61 20 38
26 Caden Price Kelowna (WHL) D 6'0 181 47 2 21
27 Carson Rehkop Kitchener (OHL) C/LW 6'1 ½ 193 65 18 33
28 Oliver Moore USA NTDP (USHL) C 5'11 188 43 24 39
29 Andrew Strathman Tri-City (USHL) D 5'11 187 61 5 23
30 Etienne Morin Moncton (QMJHL) D 6'0 171 64 8 33
31 Jordan Tourigny Shawinigan (QMJHL) D 5'10 ½ 157 64 4 21
32 Oliver Bonk London (OHL) D 6'1 177 32 5 32