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2023 NHL DRAFT: Bell’s Post-Draft Lottery Mock Draft: The Top-16

With hockey fans across North America holding their breath, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly finally put an end to one of the biggest questions of the NHL season: where will Connor Bedard end up?

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Bedard sweepstakes, jumping up from the third-overall selection to the top spot, ready to snap up the young phenom. This jump resulted in the Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets sliding down a spot each, picking at numbers two and three, respectfully.

The NHL Playoffs are still rolling on, so the back half of the first round is not yet set, but the top-16 are ready and eager. Here’s a look at how the first 16 selections could round out during the first day of the 2023 NHL Draft on June 28th.

Connor Bedard. Photo by Candice Ward.
  1. Chicago Blackhawks: Connor Bedard, C, Regina Pats (WHL)

In the same year that Patrick Kane was traded, and Jonathan Towes played his last game, the Blackhawks don’t have long to wait for their next face of the franchise. Bedard will step into the NHL next season and should make an immediate impact in Chicago. The centreman is a generational talent that will jumpstart the team’s turnaround. With core pieces like Lukas Reichel, Kevin Korchinski, and Frank Nazar already in place, the Blackhawks have the makings of an extremely dangerous team that could see their fortunes turn extremely quickly. Having another first-round pick and four second rounders will only help bolster that bright future.

2. Anaheim Ducks: Adam Fantilli, C, University of Michigan (NCAA)

The Ducks may slide a spot, but earning the right to select Adam Fantilli is hardly a consolation prize. Fantilli would be the top prospect in a normal draft and the Ducks wouldn’t have to think too hard about this choice. Fantilli is coming off of a Hobey Baker Award in the NCAA as the league’s top freshman, a rarity for a freshman in the league. He’s going to be a No. 1 pivot in the league - likely soon. Imagining him playing with Trevor Zegras should have Ducks fans drooling. Along with prospects in place like Mason McTavish, Jamie Drysdale, Sasha Pastujov, Pavel Mintyukov, and Olen Zellweger, Anaheim looks poised to turn a corner.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets: Leo Carlsson, C, Orbero SK (SHL)

This is where it will get very interesting. On the one hand, Matvei Michkov’s ceiling is otherworldly. On the other, Leo Carlsson’s ceiling is also very high, with a much higher floor, and he fits a need for the future. While drafting based on the best player available is ideal, relying on need in tough decisions can be beneficial. Carlsson has the potential to be the 1C for the Blue Jackets for the next 10+ years and looks ready to make the jump next season. They do have one more first-rounder that they can use to bet on high skill. With David Jiricek, Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger, Kirill Marchenko and several other young players ready to take over, Carlsson could be one of the main, final pieces of this future core.

4. San Jose Sharks: Matvei Michkov, RW, SKA-St. Petersburg (KHL)

The San Jose Sharks patiently wait and prepare to be patient for a couple of more years as well. Michkov has arguably the second-highest ceiling in this draft class, but his floor looks lower than Fantilli and Carlsson. But the Sharks are betting for the long-term and betting on skill here. Michkov’s signed in Russia through 2025-26, which may be perfect timing for the Sharks, giving time for William Eklund, Thomas Bordeleau, Filip Bystedt, and many other of their up-and-comers to get this team rolling in the right direction. They also have another pick in the first round to bolster this future. The Sharks may come out with an early steal here if he comes anywhere close to his ceiling.

5. Montreal Canadiens: Will Smith, C, U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)

With their first of two first-round selections, the Montreal Canadiens don’t waste any time here, taking the best player available. Will Smith just had one of the best seasons in the history of the USNTDP and easily becomes one of the main pieces for the club moving forward. Using his high-end ability to stickhandle into open space and create chances, there’s too much talent here to pass up. Imaging a future top line of Juraj Slafkovsky, Smith, and Cole Caufield doesn’t hurt either. The Habs are stocked with high-end prospects and Smith would easily be the top. He’s likely to spend one year at Boston College but will be worth the wait.

6. Arizona Coyotes: David Reinbacher, D, EHC Kloten (NL)

The Arizona Coyotes might surprise here, biting on the first defender in the 2023 NHL Draft. With Victor Soderstrom not quite panning out as the team had hoped, they’re in need of a top defensive prospect and David Reinbacher could be just that. The Austrian rearguard looks like the top defender in the class and plays a mature, mobile game that the Coyotes need moving forward. He has the potential to become a strong top-four defender at the very least. With prospects Logan Cooley, Dylan Guenther, and Connor Geekie the future up front, Reinbacher would be the main piece on the back end. Adding the fact that the Coyotes also pick at No. 12, they’re in a great spot to make this pick.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: Zach Benson, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)

Coming into the draft, Zach Benson might be one of the more underrated prospects after leading the Winnipeg Ice in points on a team with Matt Savoie and Geekie. The Flyers have many excellent players in place for the future and Benson would be a major piece of that along with 2022 fifth-overall selection Cutter Gauthier. Benson’s work ethic may just match Gauthier’s, plus he brings an excellent scoring ability. Despite his 5-foot-10 frame, it’s not hard to see him becoming the future 1C. At the very least, he should be an excellent top-six asset that drives the play.

8. Washington Capitals: Ryan Leonard, LW, U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)

For the first time since 2007, the Washington Capitals are selecting in the top 10. The Capitals have done well in recent years considering their draft position, albeit taking some swings on players that had health scares in their draft years like Hendrix Lapierre and Ivan Miroschnichenko. Being able to select Ryan Leonard here would be a massive boost to the farm system. Leonard is a pedal-to-the-medal, highly intelligent winger that brings a great deal of skill as well. The Capitals only have five picks in the 2023 NHL Draft and will need to make every one count. Landing Leonard here does just that.

9. Detroit Red Wings: Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (Allsvenskan)

While it wasn’t a perfect season for Slovakian-born prospect Dalibor Dvorsky, he stole the show at the World Under-18 Championships and has done enough to warrant a pick in the first half of the draft. The Detroit Red Wings could be an excellent fit for him, as much as it is for them. The Red Wings have some excellent defensive pieces in Moritz Seider and Simon Edvinsson on top of high-end wingers Lucas Raymond and Marco Kasper. Dvorsky could be the future 1C they need but should be a top-six pivot if not the top line. He has good size, plays smart, and with proper development could become a special player.

10. St. Louis Blues: Axel Sandin-Pellikka, D, Skelleftea (SHL)

With the final selection in the top 10, the St. Louis Blues use their first of three first-round picks in this draft on defender Axel Sandin-Pellikka. The Swedish rearguard is in the conversation for the best d-man in the class, thanks to his high-end skating and his ability to create offense. The last time the Blues used their first-round pick on a defender was back in 2012 when they selected Jordan Schmaltz. They have some strong forward prospects in the system, but the defensive core is lacking. Sandin-Pellikka would be an immediate fix for that and while he’ll need some development time, he has the potential to become a top-two defenseman.

11. Vancouver Canucks: Oliver Moore, C, U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)

The Vancouver Canucks has some great pieces all around their prospect pool, so taking the best player available is key. At this point, that player is Oliver Moore, the third player to be selected from the USNTDP so far. The centerman is arguably the best skater in the class and he can stack skills at a very high pace. Looking back at this draft in five to 10 years, Moore could very well be one of the steals of the draft. He immediately becomes the top player in the system and while he’s likely to spend at least one year at the University of Minnesota, he’s not far off from cracking this lineup.

12. Arizona Coyotes (via Ottawa Senators): Eduard Sale, LW, Brno (Czechia)

With their second pick of the first round, thanks to the Jakob Chychrun trade with the Ottawa Senators, the Coyotes now turn their attention to the forward corps, selecting Czech winger Eduard Sale. Sale is the best player available at this point thanks to his strong skating and great puckhandling. There have been some great, early success stories for players coming from the top men’s league in Czechia, including David Jiricek and Jiri Kulich. Sale will look to add to that and could jump to the AHL in 2023-24. He has the talent to be a top-six forward if he can find a little more consistency.

13. Buffalo Sabres: Gabe Perrault, LW, U.S. National U18 Team (USDP)

The fourth player selected from the USNTDP in just 13 selections, Gabe Perreault led the program in goals, assists, and points this year. There’s some risk here as he tends to be more of a passenger on plays and he’s not the best skater, but the Sabres can afford to take a swing with a plethora of young prospects ready to take over and some already doing so. While he has some risk, he also has high reward with his offensive ability. He has a knack for finding the open ice and can be a dual threat in the offensive zone, via a pass or shot. There’s a reason he led the USNTDP in points. The Sabres have several play drivers in place for the future, so some of the risk here may be mitigated.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins: Colby Barlow, LW, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)

With the Pittsburgh Penguins on the verge of turning the page and a fairly bare prospect pool, they need the best player available. That’s Colby Barlow, who becomes the first OHLer off the board. Barlow is a high-end goal scorer who has been rounding out his game this season. He has the potential to be a top-six winger and should be relied on heavily to produce goals in the future. The Penguins have used their first-round pick just twice in the last eight drafts and don’t have another selection in this draft until the third round. They need to start drafting as much talent as possible and Barlow would be a major step forward in that regard.

15. Nashville Predators: Lukas Dragicevic, D, Tri-City Americans (WHL)

Once known for their powerhouse defensive group, it’s hard to believe that the Nashville Predators haven’t drafted a defender in the first round since 2016 (Dante Fabbro). Look for that to change this year. In Lukas Dragicevic, the Predators land a potential top-four fixture in the not-too-distant future. He’s a typical modern-day defender that excels on his feet with great four-way mobility. He also has a great shot and can dish it out very well. There’s some work to be done in terms of his defensive play, but he’s one of the top defensive prospects available in this class. The Preds have stocked up in other areas recently with Yaroslav Askarov, Joakim Kemell, Fedor Svechkov, Phi Tomasino, Zach L’Heureux, and Luke Evangelista, with Dragicevic fitting in very nicely.

16. Calgary Flames: Brayden Yager, C, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)

After selecting just three players in the 2022 NHL Draft and with some prospects looking ready to make the jump (especially with Darryl Sutter let go). the Flames need to re-stock the cupboard. Brayden Yager would be a big piece of that. The centreman is a borderline elite goal scorer who showed this season that he’s as good a playmaker as he is at finding the back of the net. Along with Matt Coronato, Connor Zary, and Jakob Pelletier, Yager would help solidify a very impressive future forward corp. There’s a chance they could look for a defender here, but with the state of their system, taking the best player available is the best choice - and that’s Yager.