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2023 NHL DRAFT: Round by round review – Brock Otten’s favourite picks and questionable selections.

NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 28: An NHL microphone setup for press conferences during the Upper Deck NHL Draft, June 28, 2023 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire)

The 2023 NHL Entry Draft has come and gone. I was fortunate enough to be in Nashville for the event, representing McKeen’s. Covering the draft is always such a whirlwind, as you try to balance conversations and social media analysis, while paying attention to each and every selection. Every year, when I reflect back on the draft, especially day two, it seems like I come across a few players that make me say, “wait…they got drafted!”

The draft itself also represents the conclusion of a season’s worth of hard work. It’s not just the draft guide. It’s all the coverage leading up to that; live viewings, video work, reports, notes, etc. This year, 99 out of McKeen’s Hockey’s Top 100 were drafted. While the accuracy of an independent scouting organization’s coverage is not truly assessed until five or ten years down the line (in comparison to actual NHL draft position), the immediate feedback given by that sort of parallel (with the opinion of NHL scouts) is encouraging and fulfilling.

So, let’s talk about my review of the draft. Chase Rochon, who was with me in Nashville, has written a comprehensive article that ranks and grades the performance of each team through his lens. I’m going to be doing something a little different. For each round, I’m going to highlight my two favourite picks and the pick that I have the most questions about. I’m also going to highlight five of my favourite players who went unselected this year.

Round One

Favourite Selection - Oliver Moore, 19th to Chicago

The opinions on Moore’s offensive upside vary. But at 19th, even if he only ends up as an Andrew Cogliano type role player, the value is great. But, if he does end up as a Dylan Larkin type, it suddenly becomes one of the best, if not the best pick in the first round. The best skater in the draft and one of the better defensive forwards in the draft, Moore was a personal favourite of ours at McKeen’s.

Favourite Selection - Ryan Leonard, 8th to Washington

Simply put, I would have taken Leonard earlier than this and preferred him to a few of the players who went ahead of him. Every year we look around the NHL playoffs and see teams finding success because of players like Leonard. This is someone who can have a similar impact in the league to the Tkachuk brothers. Leonard can really do it all on the ice; his game is so mature and consistent. This is the perfect selection for a team who wants to keep their competitive window open. Leonard may only need one year in the NCAA with Boston College.

Questionable Selection - Charlie Stramel, 21st to Minnesota

I know that his season in Wisconsin didn’t go according to plan, but why were NHL scouts so willing to give him a pass for poor play when they weren’t willing to do the same for the likes of Cam Allen or Caden Price. Because he’s a big, athletic pivot? So is a guy like David Edstrom and he went later in the first, despite showing a much steeper development curve than Stramel. If I was the Wild, I would be doing everything in my power to get him out of Wisconsin next year and into the WHL, where his power game would be highly appreciated.

Round Two

Favourite Selection - Lukas Dragicevic, 57th to Seattle

I’m far from a Dragicevic hype man. I think his game is flawed and I didn’t think he deserved to be a first-round pick (unlike others on the McKeen’s team). However, in the late second round? The upside is well worth the risk outside of the top 50. Seattle is a team that has drafted extremely well, and they could afford to bank on Dragicevic’s insanely high offensive potential. They drafted Ty Nelson last year and his defensive game made great strides this year. Dragicevic can do the same.

Favourite Selection - Danny Nelson, 49th to New York Islanders

Nelson was one of the most improved players in the second half of the draft year after switching to pivot full time and emerging at the U.S. shutdown center on the U18 team. He’s got size. He’s athletic. His on puck play and scoring ability improved greatly over the year. Is he someone that is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential? Did playing behind two unreal centers in Smith and Moore hide his abilities?

Questionable Selection - Brady Cleveland, 47th to Detroit

Quite frankly, I just feel that there were better defenders on the board still at this pick. I don’t see the upside with Cleveland. I think he can be an NHL defender in some capacity. He is a physical rock in the defensive end. But I don’t see the mobility or skill that would lead to him playing a significant role for Detroit in the future. This is especially true since I believe Detroit drafted a better shut down type in Andrew Gibson only a few picks earlier.

Jacob Fowler

Round Three

Favourite Selection - Nick Lardis, 67th to Chicago

We ranked Lardis 32nd fully knowing that he would end up falling a bit in the draft. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with it. Lardis was one of the OHL’s best players in the second half and in the first round of the playoffs. His speed is electric, and his shot will play. Other parts of his game will need to improve, but the upside is quite high. He could be a great linemate to Connor Bedard in the future.

Favourite Selection - Jacob Fowler, 69th to Montreal

I’ve said many times on social media and in work for McKeen’s, that Fowler is my favourite netminder in the class. He’s like DJ Khaled, all he does is win. He was terrific in the USHL this year. He was terrific at the WJAC’s. He is so composed and focused in the crease. Sure, there is a need for him to improve his quickness and agility, but that can happen in the NCAA with Boston College, where he could start for a great team and be a Mike Richter contender as a freshman.

Questionable Selection - Emil Pieniniemi, 91st to Pittsburgh

Simply put, we didn’t see the upside with Pieniniemi. We ranked him 191st for a reason. The profile grades out about average across the board and that screams projection concerns. What is he at the next level? I may have been able to put all of Pittsburgh’s selections in my questionable selection spot, if I’m being honest.

Round Four

Favourite Selection - Larry Keenan, 117th to Detroit

In reality, the third or fourth round was probably the right spot for Keenan to go. He’s a major long-term project. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t love the pick. A similar player in Sam Rinzel went in the first-round last year. Keenan combines size, mobility, and skill together to give him outstanding upside if everything hits. I also love that he is heading to Penticton and then UMass, two outstanding programs. His development will be in good hands.

Favourite Selection - Luca Pinelli, 114th to Columbus

I wasn’t as high on Pinelli as some of my contemporaries who cover the OHL, but even I can admit that this was terrific value for Pinelli. If his quickness improves, he could be a really good middle six player at the NHL level; someone who can bring serious versatility to a coach in the future. His motor never quits and his vision/sense in the offensive end is high end.

Questionable Selection - Konnor Smith, 97th to Anaheim

The allure of Smith is that he’s a mammoth defender who plays an ultra-aggressive defensive game. He’s a real throwback to yesteryears. But the mobility, puck skill, and puck management will all need to improve drastically in order for him to be an NHL player. Other similar defenders have been taken out of the CHL in recent years and many have not even been signed. Inside the top 100, I would have had many other preferences…especially if the target was a potential shut down type.

Round Five

Favourite Selection - Cam Allen, 136th to Washington

Allen did not have a great year, there’s no denying that. But he was arguably the top defender available heading into this season. He still has upside, even if his decision making leaves a lot to be desired. Hopefully an offseason reset, in combination with consultation from NHL coaches at development, helps to get him back on the right track. In the fifth round, you won’t find better value.

Favourite Selection - Eric Pohlkamp, 132nd to San Jose

The USHL defenseman of the year award is a pretty prestigious one to win. Guys like Owen Power, Neal Pionk, Brandon Montour, and Jeff Petry have won it in recent years. Pohlkamp is a very interesting player. His game does need a fair amount of refinement; it can be very erratic. However, he also has some very good tools, including mobility, a mammoth point shot, and a physically aggressive approach. He’ll be able to take on an immediate top four role in Bemidji State next year and we should get an idea pretty quickly as to how well his game translates to the NCAA level.

Questionable Selection - Melvin Strahl, 156th to Columbus

Strahl is a goaltender who wasn’t on our radar this year. In fact, I don’t think he was really on the radar of any independent scouting organization. For good reason it would appear too, as he struggled in the J20 this season, even getting demoted to the J18 level. I would have definitely preferred a handful of other netminders at this spot, if goaltending was the target.

Jeremy Hanzel. Photo by Brian Liesse.

Round Six

Favourite Selection - Jeremy Hanzel, 187th to Colorado

Our Western scouts at McKeen’s loved Hanzel as one of the top re-entry guys available this year. He was outstanding for Seattle through the season and into the playoffs/Memorial Cup. On a Thunderbirds team that was stacked with NHL talent, Hanzel was often the team’s best defender. I would be shocked if he returns to the WHL for his overage season. He could have an immediate pro impact similar to Ryker Evans.

Favourite Selection - Filip Eriksson, 165th to Montreal

Kind of a random one here as there were a bunch of great value picks in the sixth round. We actually didn’t even have Eriksson ranked, but I would have had him ranked on my own list. He didn’t play a ton this year due to injury, but he was good at the J20 level and even looked comfortable in the SHL in a cup of coffee. The athletic tools need to improve, but the IQ will play. Can the speed and strength improve as he plays more? These are the types of players you take in the later rounds.

Questionable Selection - Yegor Yegorov, 176th to Calgary

Another questionable goaltending selection if you ask me. The stats weren’t terrific by MHL standards (to give you an idea, a .915 save percentage placed him 42nd among MHL goalies this year). He also was part of a three headed goalie platoon this year, posting the weakest stats of the three. Stats aren’t everything of course, but I love our Russian scouts and Yegorov really wasn’t someone who was brought to our attention by them. Again, give me Stephen Peck, Alexander Hellnemo, or Noah Erliden here over Yegorov.

Round Seven

Favourite Selection - Aiden Fink, 218th to Nashville

Fink piled up the accolades this year in the AJHL. He was the league’s MVP. He won the Centennial Cup. He was one of the best players at the WJAC’s. He’s small and he’s not a dynamic skater. That recipe was sure to make him fall. But in the seventh? That’s outstanding value for Fink, who has terrific offensive potential. Penn State will be a great spot for him too.

Favourite Selection - Tyler Peddle, 224th to Columbus

Mr. Irrelevant! Peddle took quite the mighty tumble thanks to a pretty indifferent season in the QMJHL this year on a middling Drummondville team. But he still has great power forward potential, particularly as a goal scorer. The athletic profile is interesting and at the back of the seventh round that could end up being a great pick for the Blue Jackets. The next Josh Anderson?

Questionable Selection - Sebastian Bradshaw, 221st to Dallas

Hard to truly argue against a seventh-round selection. They’re all longer shots. But Bradshaw is an interesting one. He’s a big kid, but he only played in the AYHL this year with Elite Hockey Academy, a school in Connecticut. He wasn’t the leading scorer on his team, and he didn’t exactly light up Ontario U16 and U18 before making the move south of the border. A London Knights U18 draft pick, Bradshaw seems headed to play for Brooks of the AJHL next year. A solid destination, no doubt, but I would have wanted to see him play at a higher level first. Especially given some of the players still on the board

Best of the Unselected

1. Francesco Dell’Elce - Defense, St. Andrew’s College, CISAA

This one shocked me. I knew that some scouts were concerned about his slight frame and defensive IQ, but I didn’t think that he’d go completely undrafted. His offensive potential from the blueline is through the roof and I think that alone was worth a late selection. He’ll have a great chance of being selected in the coming years. He’s going to play with BCHL powerhouse Penticton next year and then head to UMass after that. Strong play at either of those spots could put him on the re-entry radar over the next few drafts.

2. Stephen Peck - Goaltender, Avon Old Farms, USHS Prep

Another one that shocked me considering that both Slukynsky and Guimond were selected. Peck helped Avon Old Farms capture the New England Prep Championship this year and he was one of my favourite goaltenders eligible this year. Tracks the play really well and is incredibly composed in his crease. He’s got a scholarship to Michigan in his back pocket, but likely suits up in the USHL or NAHL next year.

3. Joe Connor - Center, Avon Old Farms, USHS Prep

Speaking of Prep champion Avon Old Farms, insert their leading scorer Joe Connor, who had a really good year for a Prep level player. He was good for the U.S. at the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup in the summer. He played great in the prep circuit and was also solid in a cup of coffee in the USHL. Do I wish he were a more dynamic skater given his lack of size? Absolutely. But he competes hard in all areas of the ice, and I really like his odds of becoming a quality NCAA player for Northeastern in the future.

4. Hannes Hellberg - Wing, Leksands IF J20, J20 Nationell

In my opinion, Hellberg was one of the top re-entry guys available this year after he was named the J20’s top forward this year and led the J20 circuit in playoff scoring. Hellberg also only missed being first time draft eligible this year by a few weeks, with an early September birth date. He’s a big winger with a great goal scoring touch. I know that Hellberg already signed with HockeyAllsvenskan for next year, but I would have loved to see him come to the CHL to find success like Lucas Edmonds.

5. Ondrej Molnar - Wing, Erie Otters, OHL

Look, I understand why Molnar wasn’t selected. An undersized winger who had trouble getting inside the dots at the OHL level this year while playing for a bad team. Additionally, that floorball incident in Slovakia hangs over his head, forcing the move to the OHL and preventing him from competing internationally. Yet, this is also a player who came into the season as a first-round candidate because of his skill and ability to impact the game in transition. The offensive potential is still sky high.