Scout’s Analysis: Top 40 prospects in 2023 and how to build a draft list

Scout’s Analysis: Top 40 prospects in 2023 and how to build a draft list

It’s time for my first official draft list at Sportsnet. But before we get started – a couple things to keep in mind:

1. I have created this list through my company The Pro Hockey Group Inc. All reports have been completed by myself without outside influence from the scouting community, coaches, managers, agents, or media members.

2. I have attempted to see as many of these prospects play live this season as possible, and backed up my viewing(s) through video scouting platforms.

3. Some prospects (in Russia for example) have only been scouted over video.

4. When preparing a mid-season list it is my belief that the players should be slotted based on the “best available” mantra. Meaning I do not allow contract status and world politics to affect my ranking at this time of year.

5. Over the course of the next several months this list will expand as I get more viewings in and increase my level of confidence with the entire draft class.

6. As I chart my direction towards my final list in June things are bound to change. My final list will take into consideration a prospect’s value in relation to his contract status, willingness to come to the NHL, etc.

7. Something to be aware of when viewing player cards is the fact prospect heights and weights have been adjusted in some cases. NHL Central Scouting “measures” the prospects in-season and there are some instances where the information is slow to be uploaded across multiple platforms.

8. This process and presentation is intended to mimic how I would come to build a list when employed by an NHL team. We’re giving you an inside look into how NHL teams build out their rankings.


Bedard is an elite talent. The kind of player who can carry a team on his back. If there was any doubt about how high his star has risen – his record setting World Junior Championship tournament put any doubts to rest.

He’s creative off the rush, quick to open space, reads the play exceptionally well, and absolutely loves to score goals. Michkov is the second most talented offensive player in this draft class. Despite his size, he battles hard around the crease. He never goes away.

Here’s a sample of what he brings to the table:

There was a time I felt he played too fast and didn’t allow plays to develop around him. That’s not the case. Fantilli is having an exceptional season at Michigan. He’s a tenacious combination of speed, skill, and relentless compete. He was outstanding for Team Canada at the WJC. He was used in a variety of roles and showed the scouting community he can play the wing as well as centre.

Carlsson is excelling at the pro level in Sweden and already has NHL size and strength. He’s a smooth skater who takes pucks to the net off the rush when he gets the edge. His ability to absorb contact and still make plays speaks to his strength and skill. Carlsson can play both centre and the wing, making him an even more attractive target at the top of the draft. In his most recent 10-game segment he scored two goals and two assists, averaged just over 12 minutes of ice time, and has been deployed at even strength and on the power-play for Orebro.

Smith is a dynamic scoring forward. He’s a fantastic skater who is difficult to check on and off the puck. One of the more impressive stats for Smith is the fact he has only scored four goals on the power-play, meaning he has 24 goals at even strength or worse this season. He’s a game breaker who can take over shifts.

I was splitting hairs between Benson and some other names for this slot until I viewed Zach on a recent trip (including the CHL Top Prospects Game). I’m hoping he gets even faster in transition as he adds strength, but Benson is a threat to create off the rush almost every time he has the puck on his stick. He sees the entire ice, has great puck touch, and a fantastic release.

Cristall’s stats don’t lie, this kid is fun to watch. He wants the puck on his stick and when he has it creative things happen. Cristall has a great release. He can score from range or wait for seams to open up and snap pucks home from all angles. Cristall isn’t shy about finishing his checks as F1 on the forecheck and plays a mostly reliable three zone game. His element is clearly offence, but I really appreciate his compete as well.

Sale excelled offensively at the Hlinka/Gretzky summer tournament in Red Deer. He displayed maturity beyond his years at the WJC in Halifax. Sale has an understanding of how to play the game with detail in all three zones and without compromising offence.

Should easily eclipse 50 goals this season. More of a shooter/finisher than playmaker. Extends plays around the crease and below the goal line. Quick to space off the half wall. A proven leader at a young age – he is the Captain in Owen Sound and also wore the “C” at the CHL Top Prospects Game.

Used in all situations at the USNTDP. Plays quick and fast and has the ability to beat opponents 1-on-1.

Dynamic off the rush. Makes plays in small areas. Play driver overall. Quick release. Top line NHL upside.

Yager has been an interesting prospect to view this season. The reigning CHL Rookie of the Year looked like the kind of prospect who would direct pucks on goal every chance he had. This season teams have keyed in on him more, resulting in Yager tracking to double his assist output from last season. His element remains his release, though. When he gets the edge off the rush, or finds pucks in tight quarters in the middle of the ice, he is directing the puck on net. His three-zone detail has room to improve.

The top of this draft is forward heavy. Sandin-Pellikka comes on the board at No. 13 for me. He’s a fantastic skater: agile, quick to space, and has the ability to walk the offensive blue line and direct shots on goal from distance. He was under duress by the end of the WJC, but he will be better for the experience. Axel projects to be a two-way/transitional defenceman at the NHL level.

Splitting time between the men’s team and the J20 in Sweden. He has a quick release, can drive the play off the rush, and produces offence from the weak side flank on the power-play. His element is offence. There is room for growth on the defensive side of the ledger.

A quick strike forward who empties the tank every shift. Brings high end compete and skill. Difficult to contain in tight quarters. He generally has a shoot first approach. Used in all situations at the USNTDP.

A coveted right shot defenceman. Moves very well. He’s not shy about leading or joining the rush at the pro level in Switzerland. Defending – in terms of better containing his opponent and timing his gaps – will improve with more experience. Distributor more than a shooter on the power play.


An energetic and active defenceman who leans “transitional D” and can quarterback the power play.

A big, strong, skilled forward with excellent puck touch. He gives opponents all they can handle coming off the wall and battling net front in the offensive zone.

A rangy centreman who extends plays along the boards and around the crease. Danielson is defensively aware, and has some bump to his game as well.

Skilled winger who displays great vision and playmaking ability. He leans distributor more than shooter. Gauthier is dangerous from the weak side flank on the power play and assists defensively by collapsing down in his zone.

A power forward with a quick release. A big body who is hard to defend around the crease. His ability to extend plays in the offensive zone leads to scoring chances. Wood’s skating will need some attention before he arrives in the NHL.

Every time I view Ritchie, he seems to end up on the score sheet and contributes offensively. He goes about his business quietly, however, and is capable of more. If his engine goes to another level, he has the potential to play a top six role for the team that drafts him.

He can be a threat off the rush and has the skill set to beat opponents 1-on-1. At times his overall detail wanders, but there is no question he wants to make a difference and competes.

His element is offence. Dragicevic quarterbacks the power play in Tri-City and isn’t shy about leading or joining the rush at even strength. In time he will need to play with more determined detail defensively, but there is no questioning his offensive potential.

A potential top six forward on projection. He’s equal parts distributor and shooter. A solid skater who can be a transition threat. His hockey IQ is reliable enough that he can be used in defensive zone scenarios.

Stenberg plays a quick and fast game that should translate nicely to the NHL in time. He’s very competitive, hard to contain, and brings at worst secondary offence. He’s the kind of prospect who has the skill set to play up and down the lineup.

Willander flies under the radar compared to some of the other defencemen on the list, but he is in the mix as a first-round consideration. He’s a beautiful skater who can escape pressure from below his own goal line and lead the rush on his own with his escapes. Willander is more of a distributor than a shooter, but he can definitely get pucks to the net from distance – and could do it more often.

Musty brings offence. There is no question about his element. He has fantastic hands and the ability to make plays around the net. He’s also a big body who can be difficult to leverage against. I have no issues with his skill set when he is dialled in and competing. There have been some nights his off-the-puck detail and 200-foot compete has lacked. He’s a player to keep a close eye on down the stretch.

The jury is out on Halttunen as we enter the stretch drive of the season. I expected more. He’s an elite shooter from the weak side flank on the power play, but has not played with consistent impact this season. He’s a big body who moves well when engaged, but again he needs to push himself more to play to his identity. Trending very flat for me at this stage of the season, with potential to drop further in the ranking. Time will tell.

Infectious player who brings high end energy, compete, and skill. Lind is a throwback. He extends plays with his battle, finishes every check, blocks shots, you name it. He’s one of my favourite prospects in the entire draft class. Added weight and strength required as he matures into a pro.

The captain of Finland’s U18 team, he’s young for this draft class (August 23, 2005 birthdate). He brings compete, detail, leadership, good pace and skill.

Allen’s year has been a bit of a roller coaster, but he appears back on track. He was the captain of Team Canada’s Hlinka/Gretzky team in the summer. I’ve seen him play with much more detail recently. His puck play has been sound and his body positioning/defending has been consistent. I’m monitoring his game closely down the stretch.

A big, strong, right shot defender who leans two-way defenceman more than transitional. Bonk has some bump to his game defensively, but needs to work on his routes to checks at times down low in his zone. Overall, he has been on the rise in recent months and continues to evolve.

Brindley has recently been trending up offensively after a strong showing at the WJC representing Team USA. He competes extremely hard, plays a quick/darting game, and battles in the trenches. Opponents need to be aware of his battle game despite his stature. Brindley is used in all situations at the college level and projects to be a player who can slide into a variety of roles up and down the lineup.

Ziemmer is proving to be a very dangerous player on the power play, where he has twelve goals so far this season. Although he has somewhat of a short stride, he has the ability and sense to recognize how to slip between checks and get to the net. Ziemmer historically has been a point producer. He brings a potential offensive element and could land on a top NHL power play unit.

One of the craftiest stick handlers in the entire draft class. His ability to make pocket plays in small areas is something to behold. Sawchyn will need more strength and definitely more open ice speed before arriving at the pro level.

A competitive defender who can contribute in a variety of roles. Plays quick and fast. Secondary offence at the pro level is possible. Not shy about transitioning pucks on his own when space is available. A two-way/transitional defenceman on projection.

He always seems to be around the play. Hunter is active in the offensive zone, pinching down to extend plays. His defending is mostly reliable and he’s very competitive. A player who makes himself noticeable every viewing.

Strbak was very noticeable for Team Slovakia at the WJC. He was used in an elevated role and deployed in all situations. He’s sneaky physical and handles the puck well. His game at the USHL level hasn’t been as consistent and is something I’m monitoring in the coming months.

When Rehkopf’s game is on, he gives opponents fits with his puck touch and size. He’s difficult to defend off the rush when he uses his long reach – and body – to shield pucks. There are nights he reminds me of Anthony Mantha in his draft year, but there are also nights I notice he isn’t competing as hard as he needs to. He has tons of potential. I’m monitoring his push back and willingness to impact the game every shift.


In the coming weeks I will be updating and building out my list ahead of the draft in Nashville. Thanks for reading!

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