Craig's List: After impressive U18 showing, Sandin Pellikka vaults into Top 5
For TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button, Sweden’s Axel Sandin Pellikka is the best blueliner available in the 2023 NHL Draft.
Rising from No. 10 to No. 5 on Button’s latest list, Sandin Pellikka is fresh off winning best defenceman honours at the U18s in Switzerland after putting up 11 points in seven games to help Sweden earn silver. He was also named a top-3 player on Sweden and made the tournament All-Star team.
“He’s the best defenceman in the draft,” said Button. “And he’s just continuously showed me that. I watch the poise, the ability to control the game in every single zone, and seemingly do it with a calm and an ease that is eerily reminiscent of [Hockey Hall of Famer] Sergei Zubov.
“He’s not going to overwhelm you with his blazing skill or any blazing quality, but his brain is advanced, massively.”
The Gallivare, Sweden native played 22 games in the Swedish Hockey League this season with Skelleftea AIK where he had five points. In J20, he scored 16 goals with 36 points in 31 games.
He also skated for Sweden at the 2023 World Juniors, leading the Swedish defence in average ice time (19:54) as a 17-year-old.
Another defenceman making a rise up the rankings is Sandin Pellikka’s countryman Tom Willander, who jumps up from No. 16 to No. 8.
Willander had four goals and 25 points in 39 games with Rogle BK J20 this season. In seven games at the U18s, he scored three goals (tops among defencemen) and had eight points.
“He’s a different type of player [than Sandin Pellikka]. He’s more robust from a physical point of view,” said Button. “But he has the same qualities of initiative, competitiveness, and is good with the puck.
“He’s confident with the puck, he’s quick. When you watch a player that can carry a game, he’s an everywhere-on-the-ice player – defensive zone, offensive zone, in transition, penalty killing, power play, against the best players. “
Joining Willander in jumping into Button’s top 10 is Slovak centre Dalibor Dvorsky, who rises from No. 19 to No. 9.
Dvorsky didn’t put up big numbers playing in Sweden’s Allsvenskan with AIK, finishing the season with six goals and 14 points in 38 games. But the Zvolen, Slovakia native was far more productive playing against his peers. In 10 games playing in J20, he had 10 goals and 21 points.
Dvorsky also took his game up a notch at the U18s, scoring eight goals and 13 points in seven games and was named to the tournament All-Star team as Slovakia finished fourth.
While Button initially compared Dvorsky to Calgary Flames centre Mikael Backlund, he has since found a new comparable.
“He’s such a good two-way player,” said Button of Dvorsky. “Backlund has always been that really good defensive centre that chips in the 45 points but I think that Dvorsky might be more along the lines of Bo Horvat, more offence there.”
While this trio all made noticeable jumps, the biggest rise on this edition of Button’s list belongs to Swedish defenceman Theo Lindstein, who goes from No. 80 to No. 27.
Lindstein bounced between playing in the SHL and J20 this season with Brynas. In 32 SHL games, he had one goal and one assist. Button says Lindstein didn’t get a chance to develop enough while going up and down between leagues all season long.
“He reminds me of Devon Toews of the Colorado Avalanche,” Button said. “Great skater. He’s not going to be a big-time offensive player but he’s going to be a big part of the offence because of his skating, because of his play with the puck.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Kelowna Rockets forward Andrew Cristall drops from No. 9 on Button’s March list to outside the first round at No. 35.
While Cristall had a strong season offensively for Kelowna (39 goals and 95 points in 54 games) and had solid production at the U18s with six points in seven games, Button said there’s one area of Cristall’s game that needs improvement.
“The brain is there, the hands are there, he’s really, really good in that regard,” said Button. “I’ve wrestled with him because I like him, but he’s not big and he’s not quick. The quickness and the speed is going to have to be developed.”
Button also has two goaltenders in the first round of his list with Canada’s Carson Bjarnason moving up from No. 38 to No. 23 and Czechia’s Michael Hrabal leaping from No. 58 to No. 26.
Bjarnason went 21-19-5 with a .900 save percentage and 3.08 goals-against average in 47 games with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. At the U18s, he posted a .849 save percentage and 3.51 GAA in six games as Canada won bronze.
“When I watch Carson Bjarnason, I look back and all I see is [Dallas Stars’] Jake Oettinger,” said Button. “I see exactly the same thing, the intelligence, and the economy of movement. He has just a sense of that command in the net. And not a size thing, [more] like ‘I got this, I’m under control.’
“I think he is a clear-cut No. 1.”
Hrabal had a 9-13-4 record in 31 games with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers with a .908 save percentage and 2.86 GAA. In five games at the U18s for the Czechs, he had a .920 save percentage and 3.11 GAA, where he was named a top-3 player on the team. Button compares him to current Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom.
“[He’s got the] same exact physical stature, same kind of coordinated but still uncoordinated, putting it all together,” said Button. “But he’s got the quickness, he’s got the game in him. He’s going to need a little bit of time to refine some of that technical part of his game with his size but to me he’s got everything Jacob Markstrom had.”
Check out Craig Button's Top 100 player ranking below - a projection of each draft prospect's NHL potential in three-to-five years.
Craig's List - May 15
|1||Connor Bedard||Regina (WHL)||C||5'9 ¾||183||57||71||143|
|2||Adam Fantilli||Michigan (NCAA)||C||6'2||195||36||30||65|
|3||Leo Carlsson||Örebro (SHL)||C||6'3||198||44||10||25|
|4||Matvei Michkov||St. Petersburg (KHL)||RW||5'10||172||30||9||20|
|5||Axel Sandin-Pellikka||Skelleftea (SWE J20)||D||5'10 ¾||176||31||16||36|
|6||Will Smith||USA NTDP (USHL)||C||5'11 ¾||178||60||51||127|
|7||Eduard Sale||Brno (CZE)||LW||6'2||174||43||7||14|
|8||Tom Willander||Rogle (SWE J20)||D||6'1 ¼||180||39||4||25|
|9||Dalibor Dvorsky||AIK (SWE-Als)||C||6'1||201||38||6||14|
|10||Colby Barlow||Owen Sound (OHL)||LW||6'0 ¼||193||59||46||79|
|11||Matthew Wood||Connecticut (NCAA)||RW||6'3 ½||193||35||11||34|
|12||Ryan Leonard||USA NTDP (USHL)||RW||5'11 ½||190||57||51||94|
|13||Calum Ritchie||Oshawa (OHL)||C/RW||6'1 ¾||187||59||24||59|
|14||Zach Benson||Winnipeg (WHL)||LW||5'9||160||60||36||98|
|15||Gabe Perreault||USA NTDP (USHL)||LW||5'10 ¾||165||63||53||132|
|16||Oliver Moore||USA NTDP (USHL)||C||5'11||188||61||31||75|
|17||Ethan Gauthier||Sherbrooke (QMJHL)||C||5'11 ¼||176||66||30||69|
|18||Brayden Yager||Moose Jaw (WHL)||C||5'10 ½||162||67||28||78|
|19||Nate Danielson||Brandon (WHL)||C||6'1 ¼||185||68||33||78|
|20||Otto Stenberg||Frölunda (SWE J20)||LW||5'11 ¼||180||29||11||26|
|21||Samuel Honzek||Vancouver (WHL)||LW||6'3 ½||186||43||23||56|
|22||David Edstrom||Frölunda (SWE J20)||C||6'2 ¾||185||28||15||28|
|23||Carson Bjarnason||Brandon (WHL)||G||6'3||186||47||3.08||.900|
|24||David Reinbacher||Kloten (SUI)||D||6'2||185||46||3||22|
|25||Kasper Halttunen||HIFK (SM Liiga)||RW||6'2 ¾||207||18||18||24|
|26||Michael Hrabal||Omaha (USHL)||G||6'6 ¼||209||29||3.00||.907|
|27||Theo Lindstein||Brynäs (SWE J20)||D||6'0 ½||180||32||1||2|
|28||Danny Nelson||USA NTDP (USHL)||LW||6'3||202||62||21||47|
|29||Anton Wahlberg||Malmo (SWE J20)||C/LW||6'3 ¼||194||32||14||27|
|30||Daniil But||Yaroslavl (MHL)||LW||6'5||203||26||15||26|
|31||Quentin Musty||Sudbury (OHL)||C/LW||6'1 ¾||200||53||26||78|
|32||Koehn Ziemmer||Prince George (WHL)||RW||6'0 ¼||204||68||41||89|
|33||Trey Augustine||USA NTDP (USHL)||G||6'1||183||33||2.13||.926|
|34||Gavin Brindley||Michigan (NCAA)||C/RW||5'7 ½||158||40||12||38|
|35||Andrew Cristall||Kelowna (WHL)||LW/RW||5'9 ½||167||54||39||95|
|36||Aydar Suniev||Penticton (BCHL)||LW||6'1 ½||198||50||45||90|
|37||Mikhail Gulyayev||Omsk (MHL)||D||5'11||172||22||2||25|
|38||Roman Kantserov||Magnitogorsk (MHL)||RW||5'9||176||45||27||54|
|39||Gracyn Sawchyn||Seattle (WHL)||C||5'11||157||58||18||58|
|40||Oscar Fisker Molgaard||HV71 (SWE J20)||C||6'0||163||21||6||23|
|41||Lenni Hameenaho||Pori (SM Liiga)||RW||5'11 ½||173||51||9||21|
|42||Juraj Pecarcik||Nitra (SVK)||LW||6'0 ¾||183||16||9||20|
|43||Oliver Bonk||London (OHL)||D||6'2||174||67||10||40|
|44||Easton Cowan||London (OHL)||RW||5'10 ½||170||68||20||53|
|45||Bradley Nadeau||Penticton (BCHL)||RW/LW||5'10||161||54||45||113|
|46||Maxim Strbak||Sioux Falls (USHL)||D||6'1 ½||205||42||5||19|
|47||Mathieu Cataford||Halifax (QMJHL)||C/RW||5'10 ¾||188||68||31||75|
|48||Jakub Dvorak||Liberec (CZE)||D||6'5||202||24||0||2|
|49||Dmitri Simashev||Yaroslavl (MHL)||D||6'4||200||29||1||10|
|50||Denver Barkey||London (OHL)||C/LW||5'8 ½||155||61||22||59|
|51||Riley Heidt||Prince George (WHL)||C||5'10 ½||182||68||25||97|
|52||Jason Shaugabay||Warroad High (USHS)||RW||5'9 ¼||153||31||33||96|
|53||Felix Unger Sorum||Leksand (SWE J20)||RW||5'11 ¼||170||42||10||46|
|54||Will Whitelaw||Youngstown (USHL)||C/RW||5'9||173||62||36||61|
|55||Etienne Morin||Moncton (QMJHL)||D||5'11 ¾||181||67||21||72|
|56||Lukas Dragicevic||Tri-City (WHL)||D||6'1||192||68||15||75|
|57||Caden Price||Kelowna (WHL)||D||6'0 ¼||186||65||5||40|
|58||Tanner Moldendyk||Saskatoon (WHL)||D||5'10 ¾||184||67||9||37|
|59||Andrew Gibson||S.S. Marie (OHL)||D||6'2 ¾||196||45||7||21|
|60||Jesse Kiiskanen||Pelicans (SM Liiga Jr)||RW||5'10 ¾||178||31||20||43|
|61||Hunter Brzustewicz||Kitchener (OHL)||D||5'11 ¼||188||68||6||57|
|62||Emil Jarventie||Ilves (SM Liiga)||LW||5'9 ½||167||21||8||19|
|63||Coulson Pitre||Flint (OHL)||RW||6'0 ½||172||59||25||60|
|64||Ethan Miedema||Windsor (OHL)||LW||6'3 ¾||206||68||20||52|
|65||Nick Lardis||Hamilton (OHL)||LW||5'10 ½||165||69||37||65|
|66||Alex Ciernik||Sodertalje (SWE J20)||RW||5'9¾||163||18||9||21|
|67||Carson Rehkopf||Kitchener (OHL)||LW||6'1 ¼||195||68||30||59|
|68||Noah Dower-Nilsson||Frölunda (SWE J20)||LW||6'0||174||37||26||54|
|69||Rasmus Kumpulainen||Pelicans (SM Liiga Jr)||C||6'2||191||41||11||34|
|70||Charlie Stramel||Wisconsin (NCAA)||C/RW||6'3||212||33||5||12|
|71||Albert Wikman||Farjestad (SWE J20)||D||6'0 ½||191||43||2||12|
|72||Scott Ratzlaff||Seattle (WHL)||G||6'0 ½||175||34||2.15||.918|
|73||Axel Landen||HV71 (SWE J20)||D||6'1 ¼||185||44||10||16|
|74||Andrew Strathman||Tri-City (USHL)||D||5'10||190||48||3||36|
|75||Kalan Lind||Red Deer (WHL)||LW||6'0 ¼||158||43||16||44|
|76||Drew Fortescue||USA NTDP (USHL)||D||6'1||176||62||1||26|
|77||Aram Minnetian||USA NTDP (USHL)||D||5'11||192||62||7||31|
|78||Carey Terrance||Erie (OHL)||C||6'0 ¼||175||67||30||47|
|79||Adam Gajan||Chippewa (NAHL)||G||6'2 ½||167||30||2.51||.920|
|80||Jaden Lipinski||Vancouver (WHL)||C||6'3 ½||204||66||19||51|
|81||Nico Myatovic||Seattle (WHL)||LW||6'2 ¼||182||68||30||60|
|82||Carson Musser||USA NTDP (USHL)||G||6'4||215||28||3.07||.890|
|83||Luca Pinelli||Ottawa (OHL)||C||5'8 ½||165||67||29||63|
|84||Quinton Burns||Kingston (OHL)||D||6'1 ¼||180||54||2||29|
|85||Samuel Urban||Sioux City (USHL)||G||6'0 ¾||196||4||2.80||.918|
|86||Jayden Perron||Chicago (USHL)||RW||5'9||163||54||21||63|
|87||Cam Squires||Cape Breton (QMJHL)||RW||5'11 ½||165||67||30||64|
|88||Brad Gardiner||Ottawa (OHL)||C||6'0 ½||178||68||19||39|
|89||Paul Fischer||USA NTDP (USHL)||D||6'1||190||56||4||21|
|90||Zachary Schulz||USA NTDP (USHL)||D||6'1||195||52||1||10|
|91||Luke Mittelstadt||Minnesota (NCAA)||D||5'11||185||38||5||21|
|92||Rodwin Dionicio||Windsor (OHL)||D||6'1 ½||207||50||15||50|
|93||Michael Hagens||Chicago (USHL)||D||5'11||170||60||9||26|
|94||Beau Akey||Barrie (OHL)||D||5'11 ½||170||66||11||47|
|95||Luca Cagnoni||Portland (WHL)||D||5'9||180||67||17||64|
|96||Cameron Allen||Guelph (OHL)||D||6'0||194||62||5||25|
|97||Noel Nordh||Brynäs (SWE J20)||LW||6'1 ½||196||38||13||27|
|98||Tyler Peddle||Drummondville (QMJHL)||LW||6'0 ½||195||64||24||41|
|99||Connor Levis||Kamloops (WHL)||C||6'1 ½||189||68||27||67|
|100||Tristan Bertucci||Flint (OHL)||D||6'1 ½||172||63||11||50|