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2023 NHL DRAFT: Movers and Shakers for 2023 – Fast second half risers

Our 2023 NHL Draft Guide has dropped (found here). As is the case every year, massive amounts of time and effort went into covering this year’s draft crop. Additionally, as is the case every year, there were players who made huge pushes up our list late in the year. Let’s take a closer look at ten of those players as a means of celebrating the release of this year’s guide.

Tom Willander 
Photo: Niclas Jönsson / BILDBYRÅN / 
Tom Willander - Defense - Rögle BK (J20)
Midseason Rank: 42
Final Rank: 23

Willander was a player who really took a lot of time to truly appreciate this year and thus the steady rise over the course of the draft season. To start the year, the focus was on Theo Lindstein and Axel Sandin Pellikka, but Willander’s calming influence as the second pairing anchor for Sweden internationally helped to draw attention to him as a pretty solid prospect in his own right. The real coming out party was the World Junior A Challenge at midseason, where Willander took over as Sweden’s number one defender and was a tournament all-star. This was followed by a great performance at the IIHF U18’s, where he helped Sweden capture a silver medal. The only thing missing from his season was significant time spent with the Rögle men’s team in the SHL, but the reason for that is legitimate. Willander intends to play for Boston University in the NCAA next year and, as such, his time in the SHL had to be limited. Overall, the discourse surrounding Willander this year among our scouting staff was that the perception of his potential changed later in the year, pushing him well into our first round. He’s such a smart player and his mobility gives him a real chance to be a difference maker at both ends, perhaps as a second pairing anchor in the NHL too.

Anton Wahlberg - Wing/Center - Malmö (SHL, J20)
Midseason Rank: 53
Final Rank: 28

A big and athletic forward out of Sweden, Wahlberg’s strong play in the second half of the year improved his projection. This included an impressive run as a third liner with Malmö of the SHL, in which he helped the Redhawks avoid relegation. Like a few other Swedish players, Wahlberg also had a strong U18’s for Sweden in helping them capture a silver medal. Last year the San Jose Sharks took a chance on a similar player in Filip Bystedt with a first-round pick and the early results of that have been great. As such, we see an NHL team doing something similar with Wahlberg this year. For a bigger forward, he skates well, and he already controls the wall and dominates touches down low. That heavy, mature, North American style game usually translates well. How much offensive upside Wahlberg possesses remains a mystery, but we like the physical tools.

David Edstrom - Center - Frölunda HC (SHL/J20)
Midseason Rank: HM
Final Rank: 31

The player who moved up our rankings the most this season, Edstrom showed remarkable growth in the second half culminating with a terrific performance at the U18’s. Thanks to an injury to Felix Nilsson, Edstrom was bumped up the lineup for Sweden and given more responsibility and he took that and ran with it. Edstrom has a pro frame and projects as a quality two-way pivot. Given how much his offensive game and on puck play improved in the second half, it seems likely that he will be an NHL first round selection this year. How much further runway does he have to improve? That remains to be seen, but we really like him.

Nick Lardis - Wing - Hamilton (OHL)
Midseason Rank: 98
Final Rank: 32

Early on this year we were concerned over Lardis’ inability to work between the dots as a member of the Peterborough Petes. But a midseason trade to Hamilton made all the difference as he became the focal point of an attack, and it completely changed his mindset and approach. He’s still slight; there is a definitive need for him to get stronger on the puck. He’s also not your average “smaller” player in the sense that he plays a fairly straightforward north-south game thanks to his speed. But his production in Hamilton was mighty impressive and his combination of speed and scoring ability gives him a solid top six upside. NHL scouts still have concerns, but his unbelievable first round for Hamilton in the OHL playoffs really eased some of ours. Jordan Kyrou was knocked for similar reasons (by both amateur and NHL scouts) and he turned out alright.

Gracyn Sawchyn - Center - Seattle (WHL)
Midseason Rank: 57
Final Rank: 41

Sawchyn, an intelligent and skilled pivot with the Memorial Cup runner up Seattle Thunderbirds, is another player that took some time to truly appreciate this year. Coming out of the U.S. NTDP, it was the first year that our Western scouts had seen Sawchyn and with no true former base to work with, it took some time for them to be comfortable with his projection. This is especially true considering that he’s not the world’s most dynamic mover for a sub six-foot player. That said, he does so many other things well as an offensive player and makes his linemates better with his vision and play driving ability. Some may hold his disappearing act later in the WHL playoffs and in the Memorial Cup against him, but we appreciated his entire body of work this year and understand that injuries may have hampered his late season performance.

Jacob Fowler - Goaltender - Youngstown (USHL)
Midseason Rank: 85
Final Rank: 45

Even though Fowler is our fourth ranked goaltender available this year, he rocketed up our list in the second half to be part of the conversation for the top netminder available. Fowler was great for the United States at the World Junior A Challenge and carried that confidence back to the USHL where he ended up being the USHL goaltender of the year and the MVP of the Clark Cup playoffs. He’s not as athletic or as big as some of the other top end guys, but he always seems to be in control of the game thanks to his high end compete level and advanced technique and approach.

Oscar Fisker Mølgaard - Wing/Center - HV71 (SHL)
Midseason Rank: 81
Final Rank: 46

A Danish forward playing out of Sweden, Fisker Mølgaard just has such a safe projection as a middle six NHL forward. He proved his versatility playing much of the year in the SHL as a 17/18-year-old. He competes hard in all three zones. He attacks inside of the dots. He is an intelligent support player. He skates well. There are many paths to the NHL for a player like Fisker Mølgaard and that’s why he moved up our list later in the year. Could he be a first-round selection? Well, that would depend on how an NHL team views his high end ceiling.

Danny Nelson - Center - U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Midseason Rank: 88
Final Rank: 49

After starting the season shuttling back and forth between the wing and center, a permanent move to center lower down the lineup really helped Nelson’s development in the second half. The shift in role from complementary offensive player to primary shut down pivot brought out the best in Nelson’s natural athletic gifts. He became a go-to penalty killer for the U.S. U18 team and, he not only consistently shutdown the opposition’s best, but he became a primary play driver at times too. It was terrific for his confidence. As one of the most improved players on that strong NTDP squad, it only made sense to have Nelson as one of our biggest risers on our final rankings.

Easton Cowan - Wing - London (OHL)
Midseason Rank: HM
Final Rank: 78

Early on this season, it was apparent that Cowan was a draft eligible player to watch. He developed terrific chemistry with fellow draft eligible forward Denver Barkey and the two affectionately became known as “The London Twins,” in OHL circles. However, later in the season and into the playoffs, he forced a lot of scouts to re-evaluate their projections for him, including us. He became more than just a high energy support player for London during their long playoff run; he became a primary play driver on the team’s top line with Barkey and Ryan Winterton. In a recent conversation with an NHL scout there is a lot of buzz surrounding Cowan being a potential top 50 selection this year.

Juraj Pekarcik - Wing - HK Nitra (Slovakia)
Midseason Rank: HM
Final Rank: 79

You never want to put too much stock into a single tournament, but Pekarcik’s performance at this year’s U18’s was certainly eye popping. Playing primarily out of the Slovak men’s league, Pekarcik didn’t get a ton of ice time at that level, so seeing him play a first line role at the U18’s was incredibly interesting. One of the youngest players available this year (with a September 12th birth date), it was interesting to compare his play from the summer’s Hlinka/Gretzky Cup with his U18 performance; the improvement was evident. Given his size and skill package, Pekarcik has firmly put himself on the radar for the first two rounds.