2023 NHL Draft

2023 NHL Draft: Blackhawks, Flyers Among Teams To Select New No. 1 Prospect

2023 NHL Draft: Blackhawks, Flyers Among Teams To Select New No. 1 Prospect

Connor Bedard, Matvei Michkov, Leo Carlsson and Adam Fantilli are among players who are now the new No. 1 prospect for the teams that selected them.

Jul 3, 2023 by Chris Peters
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We’ve talked a lot about the depth of the 2023 NHL Draft for years and that there was a number of high-end prospects that were going to make a significant dent in their prospect pools. Perhaps there is no greater indication of the quality of the class in the sheer number of organizations that have drafted their new No. 1 prospect.

At the top of the draft, it’s usually pretty obvious those players are going to be among the best in their class. Top-five picks are rare to acquire and the players available in those slots are often of a higher quality, but that’s especially true this year.

READ: 2023 NHL Draft Grades

However, a number of teams lower in the first round also picked up their top prospects. In some cases, that was a low bar to clear with very few high-end prospects in their system. That said, I counted 12 teams that drafted the player I would place at the top of their class at this juncture.

Here’s a look at those teams.

Chicago Blackhawks: Connor Bedard, C

Bedard isn’t just the best prospect in the Blackhawks’ system, but the best in the entire NHL. He is the centerpiece of the team’s rebuild and joins a young core that now includes fellow first-rounders Oliver Moore, Kevin Korchinksi, Frank Nazar, Sam Rinzel, Lukas Reichel and Nolan Allan, as well as two high-end goalie prospects in Drew Commesso and Adam Gajan, who were each second-round picks.

Bedard is expected to start next season with Chicago, which has been diligently working to surround him with established veteran players on short-term contracts. Getting Taylor Hall and Corey Perry, two Hart Trophy winners, to help usher in the young phenom alongside some of the young players they’ll be filtering into the lineup should help lay a nice foundation for the early Bedard years.

Chicago has to feel that their fortunes and their rebuild have instantly changed following the last two drafts with Bedard providing the rocket fuel and the centerpiece every team needs to find their way back into the Stanley Cup conversation.

Anaheim Ducks: Leo Carlsson, C

The Ducks have recently graduated high-end prospects like Trevor Zegras, Jamie Drysdale and Mason McTavish, which opens up room for Carlsson to take up the mantle. Perhaps a surprise pick on the draft floor, the Ducks feel very confident they have a long-term No. 1 center in Carlsson.

With his size, his hockey sense and two-way play, perhaps Carlsson could be the next Aleksander Barkov that helps propel Anaheim forward. Though I thought Adam Fantilli was the better overall fit, Carlsson’s all-around game is substantial. He’s skilled, he can make plays and he can score. 

He also allows the Ducks to decide if Trevor Zegras is a long-term center or if they can move him back to the wing to open up more of his offensive game. Having strength down the middle gives the Ducks a lot to look forward to and they’ve got some legit pivots in Carlsson, McTavish and 2022 first-rounder Nathan Gaucher. Anaheim also has a loaded defense prospect pool as the Ducks could start feeling like they’re turning a corner here and can start focus on competing again.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Adam Fantilli, C

The Blue Jackets have been in desperate need of a No. 1 center and they should have one now with Fantilli. The Hobey Baker winner checks so many boxes for this team. He has the size, the speed, the skill and the physicality to be a handful for teams in the Metropolitan Division for years to come. 

With Fantilli, they have the franchise center. David Jiricek, selected No. 6 overall last year, very well could be a franchise No. 1 defenseman, while there’s a number of younger players ready to make a significant mark on the franchise like Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger, Kirill Marchenko and a host of other prospects that should find roles at the NHL level.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets have some elite NHL players on their roster already with Johnny Gaudreau, Patrik Laine and Zach Werenski all world-class talents who can help usher in this young group.

The Blue Jackets were going to get a big-time center with their No. 1 pick no matter who they got, but Fantilli may ultimately be the best overall fit. He can be the centerpiece this team continues to build around.

READ: 51 Players With USHL Ties Selected At 2023 NHL Draft

San Jose Sharks: Will Smith, C

The Sharks have good prospects, but it’s less clear that they had a legit game-breaker. They get that with Will Smith who is a play-driving center with elite skill. While his defensive game is still going to need work for him to maximize his value and versatility, he’s going to score. Smith has elite vision and hockey sense that should allow him to dictate play and beat NHL defenders and goalies.

Looking around the rest of the system, the Sharks have a strong two-way pivot with size in Filip Bystedt, they have a hard-driving scoring winger in Quentin Musty, who was selected in the first round this week. Additionally, there’s still time for William Eklund to find his game and Thomas Bordeleau showed promise last year.

With Smith, San Jose has a prospect they can hang their hat on. He might not be a franchise-altering player, but he does push them forward. Smith probably has one to two years at Boston College before he’s able to make an NHL impact, but he’ll be worth the wait.

Philadelphia Flyers: Matvei Michkov, RW

The Flyers have a legit top-tier prospect already in Cutter Gauthier, who I think is going to be one of their franchise cornerstones. That said, Matvei Michkov has a chance to be a franchise-changing superstar. He is among the most skilled and has the highest offensive hockey sense I’ve seen. His ability to score is unrivaled among current Flyers prospects and once he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL, he could be special.

Gauthier is the more easily projectable top-two center with skill, athleticism and skating ability, but Michkov has that more mysterious upside based on his hockey intelligence and skill that it’s hard to quantify. There may be some boom-bust potential with Michkov, but if he hits, he’s going to be explosive.

Philadelphia is starting to rebuild a young core. Michkov and Gauthier are at the top, but others like Cam York, Tyson Foerster, Oliver Bonk and others have a chance to put their stamp on this franchise. There is some more pain ahead for the Flyers, especially since they’re still going to be waiting on Gauthier at least one more season and Michkov potentially three more seasons. That said, they’re in a much better position as a franchise now.

Washington Capitals: Ryan Leonard, RW

Honestly, this one was a close debate. I think the Capitals have two top-of-the-lineup wingers in their midst after drafting Ryan Leonard this year and Ivan Miroshnichenko last year. I give Leonard the slightest edge here because Miroshnichenko still has some catching up to do on his development after fighting and beating cancer last year. Assuming Miroshnichenko gets up to full strength, he has substantial upside.

So this is kind of a tie in my mind. Leonard and Miroshnichenko actually have a lot of similar qualities. Leonard might be a bit meaner and more physical, but has similar scoring skill and skating ability. If both of these players hit, the Caps are going to be awfully tough to play against.

Leonard slipping to No. 8 where the Capitals could nab him was fortuitous. They’re heading into the final stages of the Alex Ovechkin Era and are getting older as a team in general. The arrival of Leonard and potentially Miroshnichenko around the same time could be massive for the future of the franchise. 

Meanwhile, the Caps just saw their AHL affiliate with the Calder Cup with both Hendrix Lapierre and Connor McMichael playing roles as they look to establish themselves further in the organization. After years of not having a lot of high-end players in their system, the Caps are starting to compile some with Leonard and Miroshnichenko right at the top.

St. Louis Blues: Dalibor Dvorsky, C

I am such a believer in Jimmy Snuggerud, who went in the first round to St. Louis last year. Also Zachary Bolduc has shown a low of promise as a top-tier offensive talent in the last few years in junior. That said, I think Dvorsky's value as a two-way center with scoring pop puts him atop the prospect pool. It isn't by a significant margin, but St. Louis is starting to build up a young core that they should be able to rely on more in the next two to three years.

Dvorsky has more development to do and I think he's got big-time potential. While I think Snuggerud can be a top-line wing, I think Dvorsky ends up no worse than a No. 2 center. He can drive play, get after it defensively and he's got a goal-scorer's shot. The combination of skills he brings to the table could allow him to impact the lineup in more ways than the other two players. 

The top of the Blues' prospect system got a very nice boost, particularly with Dvorsky and Otto Stenberg.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Brayden Yager, C

The Penguins have a dearth of talent in their prospect system, which allowed the No. 14 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft to instantly become their top prospect. Don’t get it twisted, though. Yager is a high-end offensive talent who gives the Penguins the kind of prospect they have not had in their system regularly enough. 

Alongside last year’s pick, Owen Pickering, the Penguins now have a few A-rated prospects. It was a low bar for Yager to clear, but he is a substantial talent within this system. Now we’ll see if he sticks around or if he becomes trade fodder like so many prospects before him. Dominik Simon is the only player drafted by the Penguins since 2015 that has appeared in more than single-digit NHL games for the team and is no longer part of the organization.

Winnipeg Jets: Colby Barlow, LW

This is another one that is very close. With Cole Perfetti graduating from prospect status to full-time NHLer, Chaz Lucius continuing to deal with injury troubles, and some other prospects still finding their way, I actually think there’s a reasonable case for Barlow to be the new No. 1 prospect in this class.

Both Brad Lambert and Rutger McGroarty, picked in last year’s draft, had strong seasons. That said, I think Barlow might be the best long-term player among the group. He has the right mix of abrasiveness and higher-end scoring ability. 

The Jets hit on so many of their early picks when they returned to the NHL, but a number of those players have moved on. Now they’re entering a bit of a different era for their franchise and Barlow really could be one of the leading players. I think his goal-scoring potential is quite high with a legit shot. While I think McGroarty, Lambert, Lucius, Nikita Chibrikov, and some of the young players in their system are going to push things forward, I think Barlow could end up being the most important player in the group.

He could be the captain of the Jets one day.

New York Rangers: Gabe Perreault, LW

I think Brennan Othmann is a high-end talent who is going to make a positive impact on the Rangers, but it’s hard to discount the good fortune New York experience by having Perreault fall in their laps at No. 23. They got one of the best playmakers of the 2023 Draft and one of the smartest players in the class. The Rangers have a number of high-end finishers, with Othmann potentially being one in a year or two. Now they also have an elite set-up man who can score himself.

Perreault is at least two years away from making an NHL impact, but I fully expect him to make the most of his time at Boston College and become an impact player for the Rangers down the line. His size and skating are among concerns now, but he has improved his feet a bit over the last year and should get better as he gets stronger and physically develops more. The upside you get from a player with Perreault’s hockey sense is really special.

Colorado Avalanche: Calum Ritchie, C/W

With recent high picks that the Avs did have making the NHL quickly and the rest of their prospects being picked low in the first or outside of the first round, Ritchie did not have a high bar to clear here. Oskar Olausson still has a ways to go to reach his potential, and while Ritchie does, too, I like his chances of making a bigger impact.

The Avs do not have a deep prospect pool, which is why they have become more aggressive tapping into the undrafted free agent market.

Ritchie gives them a skilled forward with some size. Since he played through injury all year, I’m not sure we saw him at his best and would expect a big bounce-back season next year. He’s going to need some time and some extra development, but there’s upside there. 

I’d also put Colorado’s second first-rounder, Mikhail Gulyayev right behind Ritchie as the No. 2 prospect. The Avs did well to get back into the first round and also use a second-round pick to acquire Ross Colton. It was a good couple of days for GM Chris McFarland that allow the Avs to be a little more forward looking.

Vegas Golden Knights: David Edstrom, C

This is another situation with a lower bar to clear. The Vegas Golden Knights only have Brendan Brisson still in their system as a first-round pick and while he has a high-end scoring ability, Edstrom is the player with the higher ceiling due to his size, position and skating ability.

The last pick of the first round, Edstrom is a 6-foot-3 center who can skate. His ability to get to the interior and make plays is going to go a long way. We’ll see if he’s just the latest first-rounder to become trade fodder for a team that wants to keep chasing Cups, but because of their light prospect system, Edstrom ascends to the top here.