2023 NHL Draft

2023 NHL Draft Sleepers And Intriguing Late-Round Pick Possibilities

2023 NHL Draft Sleepers And Intriguing Late-Round Pick Possibilities

The 2023 NHL Draft will feature 224 selections, meaning there are plenty of prospects that could qualify as sleepers and potential late-round gems.

Jun 20, 2023 by Chris Peters
Fargo's Cole Knuble Scores Last-Minute Goal

Every year, there are a number of players I’ve gotten some views on that I liked, but probably not enough to include in a top 100. There will be 224 players selected over June 28-29 and probably as many as 350 players that have a reason to believe they at least have a chance to be drafted.

That leaves an awful lot of prospects potentially on the cutting room floor when I make my rankings. As I’ve done each year, I try to identify a number of prospects that I feel should be drafted even though they did not fit within the Top 100 structure this year.

Also Read: Chris Peters' Top 100 Prospects For The 2023 NHL Draft

So let’s take a look at some of the players I think would be good picks from the late-third round to the end.

Jake Fisher, C/W, Cretin-Durham Hall/Fargo Force

Among the Minnesota high schoolers I found most intriguing for the draft, Fisher has a lot of pro traits. He has size, athleticism, he can skate and he was absolutely dominant in the Minnesota ranks this season. He didn’t score as much for Fargo when joining them this season in the USHL, but you could see him finding ways to impact the game even if he didn't hit the scoresheet. He was one of the last cuts from my Top 100 and while there's always some risk to using a high pick on a player who played a large chunk of the season against weaker competition, Fisher checks a lot of boxes with the eye test.

Damian Clara, G, Farjestad J20

Who doesn’t love a good goalie project? Clara, who is an Italian international, is a massive netminder at 6-foot-6, 207 pounds with a projectable athletic toolkit and some exciting overall upside. He moved to Sweden this year where he played for Farjestad’s U20 team and is on loan to play in the Allsvenskan next season with Brynas. There’s a deep crop of goalies this year, but Clara has enough quickness and competitiveness to land a mid-round selection. 

Cole Knuble, C, Fargo Force

A re-entry after going unselected last year, Knuble pushed his game up another level this season. He led Fargo offensively all season as they claimed the regular-season title and finished as a runner up in the Clark Cup Playoffs. The son of former NHLer Mike Knuble is below average in the size department, but long on work ethic and he showed improved overall skill and skating this year. The Notre Dame commit had 66 points in 57 games and was an absolute force in the playoffs with six goals and nine points in nine games. I don't think Knuble will go until the very late stages of the draft, but I think he should be picked. I thought he deserved a chance to go last year, too.

Luke Mittelstadt, D, University of Minnesota

A third-year draft-eligible who was passed over last year despite an exceptional season in the USHL, Mitteldstadt followed that up with an effective, productive freshman campaign with the Golden Gophers. He played some of his best hockey toward the end of the season for the national runner up and also played for Team USA at the World Junior Championship. Mittelstadt moves pucks well, has good vision to find seams and get pucks up ice quickly. He’s an average defender with compete that can go in and out. Still, he’s going to be the kind of player that attracts major attention as a college free agent if he does not get picked. A team that needs more mobility and puck movement from their back end would do well to add Mittelstadt in the second half of the draft. 

Paul Fischer, D, U.S. National Under-18 Team

A top-four defenseman for the U.S. National Under-18 Team, Fischer saw a lot of tough defensive matchups and handled himself well in the defensive zone. He defends at a high level, has good mobility and plays a mature game. That said, he has limited offensive upside that significantly impedes his NHL projection. Fischer moves pucks adequately, but has limited skill and infrequently impacts the game in any meaningful way offensively. That said, his athleticism, defensive sense and effort level gives him a chance to play down the road. 

Carter Sotheran, D, Portland Winterhawks

An athletic 6-foot-3, right-shot defenseman, Sotheran is an intriguing talent. He played his first year of junior hockey this season with Portland and more than held his own. He can produce a little bit, but I think the offense will come even more now that he has some more experience. I think he's still pretty raw, but you look at the athletic toolkit and that's a player who is always going to have a chance to prove themselves. He didn't get a ton of consideration for my Top 100 because I think there's so much more for him to accomplish in his young career, but the ceiling is absolutely there that a team could take an earlier-than-expected swing on him.

Rodwin Dionicio, D, Windsor Spitfires

An explosive run offensively with Windsor helped Dionicio get onto the draft radar as a second-year eligible. He’s a 6-foot-2, 205-pound defenseman with hands. Defensively, he’s only OK, but he has some really good skill and with creativity from the back end. Dionicio also has a solid shot. There’s enough tools there to suggest some additional development time could give him a chance, but I wouldn't be picking him until later in the second half of the draft.

Zaccharya Wisdom, RW, Cedar Rapids RoughRiders

A second-year eligible, Wisdom was on this same list last year and I think he’s put himself in a better position to be drafted. He saw an 18-goal boost to his previous year’s total and more than doubled his point total from his rookie season, registering 48 points in 59 games. Wisdom would make sense as a very late pick because he has good size, skates well, works hard off the puck and is an aggressive forechecker. There are reasonable questions about his overall playmaking ability and hockey sense, but he is a north-south player that can provide depth down the line and is committed to being aggressive and competitive off the puck.

Attilio Biasca, C/W, Halifax Mooseheads

A third-year eligible, Biasca finally seemed to put everything together this year. He was a standout at the two World Juniors this year, posting 10 points in 10 games over the two tournaments. He matured in his game off the puck, while still possessing a good motor and some skill to produce. If he goes, it probably will be in the seventh round, but I thought he made a legit case for himself throughout the season and at the World Juniors. 

Aaron Pionk, D, Waterloo Black Hawks

A third-year eligible for the NHL Draft, Pionk rounded out his game in his first full season in the USHL. He showed improved two-way capabilities at the junior level with 12 goals and 36 points in 60 games, but also matched up well with top-tier competition. Heading to Minnesota Duluth like his older brother, NHL defenseman Neal Pionk, Aaron is going to one of the better finishing schools for NHL defensemen. A team that doesn’t draft him now may be chasing him as a college free agent in two to three years anyway as he has size and athleticism teams are often trying to bring in, in the spring. Also, he is handy around a Zamboni.

Frantisek Dej, C, HC Modre Kridla Slovan

A 6-foot-4 center with good mobility, Dej has some clear pro tools. The questions is if he has enough hockeys sense to put it together. In Slovakia’s second pro division this year, he performed at a high level and showed an ability to make plays and produce. Internationally at both the World Junior and World U18, he was not much of a factor offensively. He played a limited role at the WJC, but was a substantial forward for a Slovak team that finished fourth at U18s. You’d like to see more pop from him, but the eye test can be somewhat friendly to the player. He’s worth a late pick due to the athletic package, but patience will be required.

Thomas Milic, G, Seattle Thunderbirds

Could this finally be the year Thomas Milic hears his name called? He's done pretty much everything within his power to be drafted, but teams are still hesitant because of his size. As a barely 6-foot goalie, teams are often resistant to take goalies, but Milic won the World Juniors with Team Canada as its primary starter, won the WHL title and helped his team get to the final game of the Memorial Cup tournament. He has good quickness and competitiveness. The winning pedigree he has suggests a team is going to take a chance on him. But his NHL projection remains tenuous. We'll see if someone bites, but if they do, I expect it will be quite late on Day 2.