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2023 NHL Draft Grades: 1st Round

By Nicholas Mullick Twitter: @NicholasMullick

One of my favorite aspects of sports is draft day, where many athletes become available to be selected by teams. This is especially true in the NHL. Even though the NHL occurred last week, I will still provide grades for the entire 1st round of the draft.

I want to make a special note that if I assign a “Milbury Grade”, it means it is an F Grade. This is an homage to Mike Milbury, who is regarded as one of the worst GMs in NHL history.

Now that this has been clarified, let's get into the draft grades.

1. Chicago Blackhawks - Connor Bedard, C, Regenia (WHL) Grade A+

If anyone is surprised that the Blackhawks selected Bedard here, then you obviously missed a lot. We all knew who was going to be picked first. Bedard is easily the best prospect on the board, and almost everyone has labeled him as a generational player. If developed correctly and if the Blackhawks make the right moves in their rebuild, he should be the face of the Blackhawks franchise.

2. Anaheim Ducks - Leo Carlsson, C, (Orebro SHL) Grade B-

Over Adam Fantilli and Will Smith? That kind of surprises me because I think Fantilli and Smith are better prospects. Do I hate this choice? Absolutely not, as I think Carlsson is a solid prospect and I guess the Ducks felt he had higher potential and was a better fit. The two things that make me nervous about Carlsson are his lack of speed and physicality. However, considering how dynamic and versatile he is as a player, this should pan out.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets - Adam Fantilli, C, (Michigan) Grade A+

I am stunned that the Ducks passed on Adam Fantilli, as he was clearly the second-best prospect in this class. It's their loss, and Columbus gains tremendously, as Fantilli possesses the majority of the tools you want in a prospect. I bet Columbus was rushing to submit this selection to the commissioner, recognizing that Fantilli is a franchise-changing player. I can even envision him as a future captain of the Blue Jackets. And my goodness, the combination of him with Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine is quite scary.

4. San Jose Sharks - Will Smith, C, (USNTDP) Grade A

Another no-brainer selection here. The Sharks honestly were in the best spot as they could sit back and take the best player on the board. Luckily for them, Will Smith is their guy. Will Smith is such a playmaker, and while he will likely spend some time at Boston College, his talent is too good to pass on. Smith has the potential to be a franchise player or a top-six player for the Sharks.

5. Montreal Canadiens - David Reinbacher, D, EHC Kloten (SNL) Grade B+

The moment the Canadiens acquired Alex Newhook via trade, I had a feeling that they would select either a winger or a defenseman here. With this pick, the Canadiens decided to go with the best defenseman available. While many did not consider Reinbacher a top-five prospect, I understand why the Canadiens chose him as he fills a significant need. Reinbacher should develop well and be a valuable asset for the Canadiens in the long term.

6. Arizona Coyotes - Dmitri Simashev, D, (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl) Grade: D+

Really, the Coyotes drafted Simashev here? I'm not so sure about this pick, as he is currently signed with the KHL until 2026. While the talent is undoubtedly there, as he has become a phenom in Russia, I'm not convinced he was worthy of being selected 6th overall. For a player of his size to be so physical, a great defender, and show offensive flashes, he deserved to be a first-rounder, but perhaps not as high as the 6th overall pick.

7. Philadelphia Flyers - Matvei Michkov, RW, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) Grade: A+

You thought Columbus was in a hurry to make their first draft choice with Fantilli, but imagine how Philadelphia felt. I firmly believe that if Michkov didn't have contract issues with Russia, he would have made the Blackhawks' decision of who to pick first much more difficult. This guy can capitalize on opportunities with his strong scoring ability and playmaking skills. Although Michkov won't be available until 2025-26, it will be worth the wait for the Flyers.

8. Washington Capitals - Ryan Leonard, RW, U.S. NTDP Grade: B+

I bet the Capitals were disappointed that Michkov couldn't fall to them, as I'm sure Michkov would have loved to play alongside Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. With this pick, the Capitals choose Ryan Leonard, who, in my opinion, was the second-best winger available. He plays with toughness and has the potential to be a great goal scorer at the next level.

9. Detroit Red Wings: Nate Danielson, C, Brandon (WHL) Grade: C+

I'm not shocked that the Red Wings went with a center here, as it was their biggest need. Personally, I would have preferred Yager or Dvorsky, as I believe they are more well-rounded prospects. However, Danielson is a solid choice as well. I suppose the Red Wings feel he is more NHL-ready compared to the other two and see him as a safer pick, which I can understand. Danielson handles the puck well, plays a two-way game, and has the potential to be a valuable player on the second or third line.

10. St. Louis Blues: Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (Hockey Allsvenskan) Grade: B+

The Blues made a great choice by selecting Dalibor Dvorsky, who was the best player available on the board. Dvorsky possesses excellent puck vision, adaptability, and versatility, making him a strong contributor on offense. I prefer this pick over the Danielson selection because I believe Dvorsky is a more dynamic and exciting prospect.

11. Vancouver Canucks: Tom Willander, D, Rögle BK J20 (J20 Nationell) Grade: B+

Vancouver had a significant need for defense, considering they didn't have a pick until the 3rd round. It's not surprising that they selected Willander, the next best defensive prospect available. Given his potential as a two-way defender, it justifies the slight reach. My only minor criticism is that the Canucks didn't trade down, but perhaps they didn't receive a good offer or simply felt that Wilander was too good to pass on.

12. Arizona Coyotes (from Ottawa Senators): Daniil But, LW, Loko Yaroslavl (MHL) Grade Milbury

Okay, I have no idea what the Coyotes are doing now. But is an intriguing prospect, however being taken in the 1st round is a reach. In my assessment, he was a 2nd/3rd round prospect for this draft, so the Coyotes' decision to select him in the Top 12 is puzzling. Additionally, he is currently under contract with the KHL until 2024-25. While he may have a high ceiling, he also carries a very low floor. To succeed, But needs to work on improving his skating, which is a significant weakness. He is undoubtedly a long-term project, and one can only hope that he develops well.

13. Buffalo Sabres - Zach Benson, LW, Winnipeg (WHL) Grade: A

Buffalo already possesses a lot of exciting young talent that bodes well for the future, and selecting Benson further adds to that. It seems Benson's size caused him to drop in the draft, but he has immense upside. With his high hockey IQ and smooth shooting ability, Benson should have been a Top 10 pick. Nonetheless, Buffalo gains from this situation. If he develops effectively, he should become a strong asset for the team in the future.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins - Brayden Yager, C, Moose Jaw (WHL) Grade: A

The Penguins indeed need to secure a center for the future, especially considering the aging Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Yager is a great starting point, given his impressive shot and quick release. He also exhibits speed and can be effective in breakaways and creating scoring opportunities.

15. Nashville Predators - Matthew Wood, RW, UConn (NCAA) Grade C-

Oh boy, I find myself having mixed feelings about the Predators selecting Matthew Wood. On one hand, there are aspects of this choice that I appreciate, such as his power and potential to become an elite playmaker. However, there are concerns about his skating ability and passing skills, which could limit his effectiveness. Additionally, this pick seems like a bit of a reach, considering that there were supposedly better prospects available on paper.

16. Calgary Flames - Samuel Honzek, LW, Vancouver (WHL) Grade C-

Honzek brings a physical presence to the table, which could benefit Calgary considering their need for more physicality in their prospect pool. He also contributes on offense, showcasing his playmaking ability. However, it does appear to be a bit of a reach, as I don't believe Honzek possesses as much potential as some of the other prospects available. In my evaluation, I had Honzek as a late 1st/early 2nd round pick in this class, but the Flames must see something in him that I don't. If it were up to me, I would have chosen Gabe Perreault at this spot.

17. Detroit Red Wings (from New York Islanders): Axel Sandin Pellikka, D, Skelleftea (SHL) Grade A

Wow, I'm quite surprised that the Red Wings selected Pellikka at this spot, but it's a pleasant surprise because I really like this pick. Pellikka is a promising prospect known for his versatility, and having depth in defense is always valuable. With players like Simon Edvinsson, Moritz Seider, and Axel Sandin alongside Pellikka on the same team, it should be a terrifying defensive lineup if Axel develops well.

18. Winnipeg Jets: Colby Barlow, RW, Owen Sound (OHL) Grade: A-

I am somewhat surprised that the Jets didn't trade down in this position, considering their need for defenseman prospects. It's likely they weren't pleased to see the Red Wings select Pellikka. While acquiring extra picks would have been nice, there is value in obtaining promising winger prospects who possess scoring ability, physicality, and speed. Barlow is the best option in that category, and although I would have considered a trade, I can't fault the Jets for selecting Barlow here.

19. Chicago Blackhawks (from Tampa Bay Lightning): Oliver Moore, C, USA U18 (NTDP) Grade: A

With the Blackhawks having already selected a center in Connor Bedard as the 1st overall pick, one might have expected them to choose a different position with this selection. However, the Blackhawks surprised once again by picking Oliver Moore, and I have to admit that I really appreciate the direction the Blackhawks are taking. Moore has immense potential, and his strongest attribute is his skating ability. If the Blackhawks can develop him effectively, he and Bedard could become a truly terrifying duo for opposing teams in the future.

20. Seattle Kraken: Eduard Sale, RW, HC Kometa Brno (Czech Extraliga) Grade D

Well, I have to say Sale is a decent prospect, but there were certainly better options available at this spot. It's surprising that they passed on Gabe Perreault. When assessing Sale, he does possess a solid shot and has some offensive skills. However, his two significant weaknesses are inconsistency and underutilization of his size. If the Kraken want to make this pick successful, they'll need to exercise patience because Sale will require time to develop.

21. Minnesota Wild: Charlie Stramel, C, Wisconsin (NCAA) Grade C-

It has been quite a fall for Charlie Stramel compared to where he was a year ago. He was once seen as a potential top prospect in this draft class, but he did not have a great season last year, and as a result, his draft stock fell. Honestly, it's a somewhat puzzling move that the Wild chose Stramel here. However, I don't completely hate it, as I had Stramel as an early late first/second-round prospect. His puck handling and protection skills are still great traits to have, and he can be a valuable asset for the penalty kill in Minnesota. Perhaps he had an off year and can rediscover his form from two years ago. Nonetheless, the Wild are taking a bit of a gamble with this pick.

22. Philadelphia Flyers (from Los Angeles Kings via Columbus Blue Jackets): Oliver Bonk, D, London (OHL) Grade C

Ehhh, I have mixed feelings about this pick by the Flyers, but I can understand their reasoning. Bonk does bring a solid level of physicality, good passing skills, and a decent shot. The Flyers are in desperate need of defensive help, which likely influenced their decision. However, there were better choices available, as Bonk doesn't have a standout ability that sets him apart. A significant concern is his lack of strength, which is crucial in the NHL. Bonk will require time before he's ready to make an impact.

23. New York Rangers: Gabe Perreault, LW, USA U18 (NTDP) Grade: A+

I was absolutely stunned that Perreault fell to this point in the draft. He is a major threat as both a passer and a shooter, showcasing a high hockey IQ. Perreault even broke the single-season point record in his program, highlighting his offensive capabilities. Although he may not be the best skater and lacks grit and physicality, his overall skill set is incredibly valuable. This pick is undoubtedly a steal for the team.

24. Nashville Predators (from Edmonton Oilers): Tanner Molendyk, D, Saskatoon (WHL) Grade B

While the Predators may have reached slightly with this selection, I still believe Molendyk is a very solid choice. He possesses fantastic skating ability, excels at distributing the puck, and shows potential as a two-way defender. Molendyk's speed is a valuable asset in the NHL. While he may not be the most physical defender, there are many positive attributes to like about Molendyk's game.

25. St. Louis Blues (from Toronto Maple Leafs): Otto Stenberg, C, Frölunda HC (SHL) Grade B+

The Blues made an excellent draft choice by selecting Stenberg with the 25th overall pick. Stenberg stands out as a great passer with a strong sense of awareness and a nice shot. However, one area for improvement is his defensive play, which can be addressed with good coaching and development. This pick has the potential to be a steal if Stenberg can replicate the level of play he demonstrated in international tournaments.

26. San Jose Sharks (from New Jersey Devils): Quentin Musty, LW, Sudbury (OHL) Grade: A

Musty was indeed the top prospect available at this point, and once again, it is the Sharks who benefit from selecting the best player available. Whenever I watch Musty's tape, his playmaking abilities become apparent. He demonstrates creativity in his offensive contributions to the team. The one area for improvement is his consistency, but with good coaching and proper development, that can easily be addressed.

27. Colorado Avalanche: Calum Ritchie, C, Oshawa (OHL) Grade: B+

This pick is a sensible one for the Avalanche. The team was in need of forward prospects, especially after trading Alex Newhook. Ritchie was the top prospect available on paper and would have likely been drafted higher if it weren't for his shoulder injury last season. Ritchie shows promise with his playmaking ability and has a high ceiling. I do believe he needs some additional development time, and fortunately, he will have that opportunity with the Avalanche, given how strong of a team they were last season.

28. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Boston Bruins): Easton Cowan, RW, London (OHL) - Grade Milbury

WHAT! The Maple Leafs selected Easten Cowan in the first round? It's surprising because many, including myself, didn't have Cowan anywhere near the first round. While he has good puck passing ability and plays with a lot of energy, there isn't much else that stands out about him. He's a very inconsistent player, particularly when it comes to his offensive skills. I really don't understand what the Maple Leafs are thinking here, taking Cowan three rounds too early.

29. St. Louis Blues (from Dallas Stars): Theo Lindstein, D, Brynäs IF (SHL) - Grade D

I'm somewhat surprised that the Blues decided to keep this selection. Considering they entered the draft with three 1st round picks, I thought they would trade down for more picks. Nevertheless, they chose Theo Lindstein. While I don't dislike Lindstein as a prospect, there were certainly better prospects available. I understand the decision to go with a defenseman here since they had already selected two forwards, but personally, I would have preferred Mikhail Gulyayev. Lindstein did have a point per game average during his time in the SHL, and he is a solid passer, but he can make poor decisions on the ice and can struggle offensively. Lindstein may develop into a good player, but it will take time for him to reach his potential.

30. Carolina Hurricanes: Bradly Nadeau, LW, Penticton (BCHL) Grade B+

Carolina's biggest need this offseason is to acquire scorers for their team. Nadeau is precisely the type of player they are seeking, having led the BCHL in scoring. He also possesses a nice shot and is a decent skater. Although Nadeau may be undersized, he has been drafted by the right team that requires his offensive skills. With the support of this regime, Nadeau should develop well.

31. Colorado Avalanche (from Florida Panthers via Montreal Canadiens): Mikhail Gulyayev, D, Omskie Yastreby (MHL) Grade B

This is a typical selection for the Colorado Avalanche when it comes to defensemen, and it's one of the reasons they have had great seasons in recent years. Gulyayev brings speed, mobility, excellent puck-moving skills, and a great shot. He fits perfectly into their model. However, he needs to improve his awareness and play with more physicality. If he can address these weaknesses, this will be yet another excellent pick by the Avalanche.

32. Vegas Golden Knights: David Edstrom, C, Frölunda HC (J20 Nationell) Grade A

Congratulations to the Vegas Golden Knights, not only for winning the Stanley Cup but also for selecting a truly solid prospect in David Edstrom. I really like this pick for the Golden Knights because he brings physicality, strong faceoff skills, and great size. While he could benefit from some development in his skating and shooting ability, the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to Edstrom.

So those are my draft grades. Hopefully, each prospect performs well in the coming years and succeeds in the NHL. My question to you, the readers, is whether you agree with these draft grades. Please let me know in the comments section which grades you agreed or disagreed with.


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