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
|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|