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MCKEEN’S 2023 NHL DRAFT GUIDE – The McKeen’s team sleeper picks

One of the questions consistently asked of us on social media is “who are your favourite sleepers this year?” The concept of a draft “sleeper,” or a player currently flying under the radar is something that fascinates many draft followers. Everyone has their favourite, so we asked our scouting team to supply theirs! This article is included in our recently published McKeen's 2023 NHL Draft Guide. If you are not a subscriber check out more info here.

Brock Otten (Director of Scouting)
Joey Willis of the Saginaw Spirit. Photo by Natalie Shaver/OHL Images
Joey Willis - Center - Saginaw Spirit

The stat line won’t wow you. The physical tools won’t wow you. Yet, this is a player who consistently passes the eye test. On a deep Saginaw team, he consistently found a way to be noticeable. He has strong two-way instincts, is creative, and is a really strong playmaker. This was Willis’ first year playing above the AAA level, so no wonder the physical tools are lagging behind. Lots of room for this player to grow with increased confidence.

Larry Keenan - Defense - Culver Academy

Keenan is a very raw defensive prospect from the prep scene. He’s going to require a ton of patience as his game adapts to playing at the higher levels. However, he may be one of the most electric skating defenders available this year and he’s 6’3. His athleticism is off the charts good, and he is headed to a program (UMass) with a great track record for developing defenders.

Eric Pohlkamp - Defense - Cedar Rapids Roughriders

For my money, one of…if not the best re-entry player available this year. The USHL’s defenseman of the year is just a really fun player to watch. He’ll need to alter a few things to adapt his game to the next level, but he has a really intriguing upside. His point shot is one of the best available this year. He skates well. He defends aggressively. The rapid progression he showed this year in his second USHL season was remarkable. He also looked great at the World Junior A Challenge playing against some pretty good other players.

Derek Neumeier (Assistant Director of Scouting)
Josh Van Mulligen — Defense — Medicine Hat Tigers

A person might see Van Mulligen's minuscule point totals from this season and assume that he's not a good prospect, but that would be unwise. His value is at the other end of the ice, disrupting the offensive efforts of the opposing teams. He combines his long reach with clean footwork in all directions to close gaps and get his stick in shooting lanes. His capacity as a puck transporter is improving too, and it could make a lot more progress down the road as he adds strength and power into his lower body. He has the tools to become a true defensive specialist in the NHL one day.

Isac Hedqvist — Wing — Luleå

Hedqvist flew under the radar this season because he didn't play for Sweden internationally, but he didn't look out of place in the SHL games that he dressed for, which measured him up well against his top countrymen in this year's draft class. He's a winger who overcomes his smaller stature by being smart, tenacious, and playing with a competitive edge. He's around the puck a lot with his efforts, and when he wins them, he knows how to drive them to the opposing net. With such great pro tendencies already, it bodes well for how his game will grow over time.

Vojtech Port — Defense — Edmonton Oil Kings

It's a real shame that Port suffered a season-ending injury with a lot of hockey left to go, because he was making a real statement with his play. The rebuilding Oil Kings were an unmitigated disaster all season, but the import Czech defender was unfazed and just kept chugging away, logging big minutes in all situations and doing a lot of positive things in his shifts. He knows how to use his large frame to his advantage, he skates and handles the puck well, and he isn't afraid to be a focal point for his team. There could be a lot of untapped potential here.

Adam Tate (Western Region Scout)
Ty Halaburda - Wing - Vancouver Giants

I wrote about Ty Halaburda back in December as a notable mid-round candidate and I’m still on the Halaburda Hype Train now. His Vancouver Giants were eliminated early in the playoffs, so he was added to Canada’s roster for the U-18’s in April. He had a decent tournament, but I think he’d be the first to tell you he didn’t play as well as he would’ve hoped. As for his outlook as a pro, his ceiling is likely as a bottom six winger, but I think he’ll be able to thrive there. His skating is his best trait, but I think his hockey awareness is good as well. There is the potential to provide some secondary scoring and penalty kill utility at the bottom of a team’s forward lineup.

Matej Deraj (Central European Scout)
Maroš Jedlička – W/C – HKM Zvolen, Slovakia

Jedlička is already a double overager and may even end up not being drafted again, but his game would fit perfectly on the North American ice. He is a physical winger with solid skating, offensive skills, and more than a solid size (6´2”, 201 lbs). He likes to drive to the net and finishes his checks. He´s been a key part of Zvolen´s offense in the Slovak top tier league for two years in a row and has drawn a lot of NHL interest. He projects as a middle-six physical winger with a scoring touch who is able to play on both special teams.

Chase Rochon (Video Scout)
Aiden Fink - Wing - Brooks Bandits

Aiden Fink is a unique prospect in this year's draft class mainly because he is one of the only players on our ranking coming from the AJHL playing for the Centennial Cup champion Brooks Bandits. Fink isn't only undervalued because of his strength in the league but also because of his smaller frame of 5’9”, 152lbs. These factors do not stop Fink's dynamic offensive ability as a high-paced winger with great offensive tools, which he uses to drive the net. Fink has a real knack for scoring goals and using his awareness to find open space to take advantage of his quick release.

Chapin Landvogt (Central European Scout)
Arno Tiefensee - Goaltender - Mannheim Adler - DEL

Imagine being a 6’4”, 190-pound goaltender by the time you’re 18, heading to the WJC, and then falling into anonymity after getting shellacked in two outings on the world stage. Like a phoenix out of the ashes, you get your shot in a top European pro league with a top address atage 20 - and you run with it. We mean, you go 13-10, pitch 3 shutouts, and rack up a 2.43 GAA and .910 save percentage. Then you’re the starter in the playoffs, dialing in for a 2.07 GAA and .914 save percentage in 12 outings. You’re even in heavy consideration for an appearance at the World Championships. Well, we’ve just described the story of the calm, collective, and focused Tiefensee, who’s likely coming to an NHL franchise near you this summer.

Joely Stockl (Ontario Regional Scout)
Easton Cowan - Wing - London Knights

Easton Cowan has been an intriguing player all season long, but his playoff performance offensively alongside Denver Barkey has been something to behold. The combination of his smarts and work ethic is what makes Cowan so unique in this draft class, and these are the two driving forces in his game. Cowan translates as a 200-foot utility player at the next level who can provide secondary scoring. He is a forward that can play on both special teams units, plays with undeniable energy, and will give 110% effort on every single play. His offensive production late in the season is giving teams a reason to call Cowan’s name earlier rather than later in this year’s NHL draft.

Mark Dube (U.S. and Video Scout)
Noah Dower Nilsson - Wing/Center - Frölunda HC J20

Dower Nilsson is coming off a very impressive season in the J20 Nationell finishing 7th in the league in scoring posting 54 points in 37 games, tops among all draft eligible players. He also had a solid U18 showing although playing a limited role on a pretty strong team. Dower Nilsson possesses that raw talent that if developed properly could turn out to be a great pick up for any NHL team that selects him. He has good compete and has some scoring upside which are two attributes that every GM loves in a prospect. It is easy to see him becoming a solid middle-six player.

Viktor Fomich (Russian Scout)
Bogdan Konyushkov - Defense - Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (KHL)

When a player is undrafted a couple of times already and is in his last year of draft eligibility, it takes something special for him to finally get noticed. If we look at the basic stat line it looks good, but not too special for defenseman Bogdan Konyushkov, which is likely the reason there isn’t much mainstream talk about him outside of Russia, yet even just pure stats can be more interesting if we look at those closer and at the right angle. First thing that stands out in case of Konyushkov is that despite his age he made his KHL debut just this season and actually led his KHL team in average ice time, as his cerebral game on both ends convinced coach Igor Larionov to immediately give him an opportunity for a leading role on the team. And if we look at advanced stats, those are telling that this trust paid off really well, as Konyushkov is among the league’s leaders in both completed pass amount and percentage, as well as in the puck battle win percentage — quite a debut season I’d say. As a bonus Konyushkov is right handed, just in case if everything described above isn’t convincing enough yet about him potentially being a very intriguing prospect for the coming draft.

Ethan Hetu (U.S. Regional Scout)
Will Vote - Wing - U.S. NTDP

5’7” and 159. Those are the two numbers that will hurt USNTDP forward Will Vote the most in the draft process. His height and weight, respectively, numbers that pose a real challenge to his pro projectability. The number that won’t hurt Vote one bit when scouts dig into his game in advance of the 2023 draft? 110. That’s the percentage effort Vote gives on every shift, and what makes him an intriguing sleeper candidate. He proved this year that he can thrive in a role as a complementary player, leveraging his work rate, hockey IQ, and shooting ability to elevate his linemates. Would his profile look a whole lot better if he had the type of standout skating scouts look for in players his size? Absolutely, but it’s hard to watch the kind of nightly game Vote plays and not expect him to find a way to make it work at more challenging levels of competition.