The 2023 NHL Draft may also be referred to as the Connor Bedard show.
The race to the bottom to land the superstar-caliber Regina Pats center was as much a focal point as the quest for the Stanley Cup in 2023. The Chicago Blackhawks won the right to choose Bedard at the draft lottery May 8.
Bedard may be the grand prize, but he won’t be the only high-quality player available at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on June 28 and 29.
Here’s a look at my mock draft ahead of the first round. Keep in mind that trades are likely, but aren’t accounted for in this, and most teams will draft the best player available since many won’t contribute to their teams until at least 2024.
Note: NHL Draft Odds are current as of 4 p.m. ET on June 26 and are courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.
NHL Round 1 Mock Draft 2023
|1||Blackhawks||Connor Bedard||C||Regina (WHL)|
|2||Ducks||Adam Fantilli||C||Michigan (NCAA)|
|3||Blue Jackets||Leo Carlsson||C||Orebro (Sweden)|
|4||Sharks||Matvei Michkov||RW||SKA-St. Petersburg (KHL)|
|6||Coyotes||David Reinbacher||D||Kloten (Swiss)|
|7||Flyers||Dalibor Dvorsky||C||AIK (Sweden)|
|9||Red Wings||Zach Benson||LW||Winnipeg (WHL)|
|10||Blues||Nate Danielson||C||Brandon (WHL)|
|11||Canucks||Tom Willander||D||Rögle (Sweden)|
|12||Coyotes (from OTT)||Gabriel Perreault||LW/RW||USA-NTDP|
|13||Sabres||Matthew Wood||RW||UConn (NCAA)|
|15||Predators||Colby Barlow||LW||Owen Sound (OHL)|
|16||Flames||Axel-Sandin Pellikka||D||Skellefteå (Sweden)|
|17||Red Wings (from NYI via VAN)||Brayden Yager||C||Moose Jaw (WHL)|
|18||Jets||Calum Ritchie||C||Oshawa (OHL)|
|19||Blackhawks (from TB)||Daniil But||LW||Yaroslavl (Russia)|
|20||Kraken||Samuel Honzek||LW||Vancouver (WHL)|
|21||Wild||David Edstrom||C||Frölunda (Sweden)|
|22||Flyers (From CBJ via LA)||Dimitri Simashev||D||Yaroslavl (Russia)|
|23||Rangers||Charlie Stramel||C||Wisconsin (NCAA)|
|24||Predators (from EDM)||Oliver Bonk||D||London (OHL)|
|25||Blues (from TOR)||Eduard Šalé,||LW||BRNO (Czechia)|
|26||Sharks (from NJ)||Otto Stenberg||C||Frölunda (Sweden)|
|27||Avalanche||Andrew Cristall||LW||Kelowna (WHL)|
|28||Maple Leafs (from BOS via WSH)||Quentin Musty||LW||Subury (OHL)|
|29||Blues (from DAL via NYR)||Michael Hrabal||G||Omaha (USHL)|
|30||Hurricanes||Kasper Halttunen||RW||HIFK (Finland|
|31||Canadiens (from FLA)||Tanner Molendyk||D||Saskatoon (WHL)|
|32||Golden Knights||Gavin Brindley||RW||Michigan (NCAA)|
NHL Mock Draft Round 1
1. Chicago Blackhawks: Connor Bedard, C, Regina (WHL)
When the Blackhawks landed the No. 1 pick, they received more than $2 million in season-ticket deposits in less than two hours.
That’s the type of prospect Bedard is: a landscape-shifting talent that alters a team’s trajectory overnight. Bedard had 122 goals and 243 points in 119 games in his past two seasons in the Western Hockey League and dominated the World Junior Championship with 23 points in just seven games for Canada.
We all saw what Connor McDavid did in Edmonton and what Auston Matthews has meant to Toronto. That’s what Bedard will do for Chicago.
2. Anaheim Ducks: Adam Fantilli, C, Michigan (NCAA)
In any other year, Fantilli would be considered an option at No. 1. Instead, he’ll serve as the Jack Eichel to Bedard’s McDavid.
Still, the Ducks are going to land a smart, big, and highly skilled center at No. 2. The Nobleton, Ontario native won the Hobey Baker Award in 2023, becoming just the third freshman to win college hockey’s award for best player (Eichel in 2015 and Paul Kariya of Maine in 1993).
Fantilli led the nation in points (65) and shared the NCAA lead in goals with 30 while helping the Wolverines reach the Frozen Four. He also was a contributor, with Bedard, to Canada’s World Junior Championship gold this season.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets: Leo Carlsson, C, Orebro (Sweden)
Things get a little bit less certain after the top two, but Carlsson has emerged as the consensus No. 3 pick. Like Fantilli, he’s a big and highly skilled center who earned the top ranking from NHL Central Scouting’s list of European skaters.
Despite the fact he won’t turn 19 until December, Carlsson has proven capable of playing against men. He spent the past two seasons competing in Sweden’s top league and posted 10 goals and 35 points in 44 games this season as a 17-turned-18-year-old.
4. San Jose Sharks: Matvei Michkov, RW, SKA-St. Petersburg (KHL)
Some prospect analysts have Michkov as the second-best player in the draft, talent-wise. The 5-10, 172-pound wing had 25 points in 43 games in the KHL, widely considered the second-best hockey league in the world.
But his contract in Russia, which locks him in with SKA through 2026, is a problem. He’s not the first player whose stock will drop due to a contract in Russia, but just the most recent — you might remember Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was drafted in 2010 but didn’t make his Washington Capitals debut until 2014.
San Jose has two first-round picks, and 12 picks in this draft, and could bring in another first in a potential trade for defenseman Erik Karlsson. The Sharks are in full-on rebuild mode and can afford to take a flier on a highly skilled forward who will be NHL ready when the Sharks are ready to compete again in a few years.
5. Montreal Canadiens: Will Smith, C, USA-National Team Development Program
There’s a case for the Habs choosing defenseman David Reinbacher with this selection, but Montreal management couldn’t pass up the opportunity to choose Smith if he fell to them. The Massachusetts-born prospect is coming off a 42-goal, 104-point season for the NTDP.
Smith is headed for Boston College in the fall but would likely join Montreal after the Eagles season ended in 2024. Whenever he joins Montreal, Smith will make a dynamic 1-2 punch down the middle with top-line center Nick Suzuki for the next decade.
6. Arizona Coyotes: David Reinbacher, D, Kloten (Switzerland)
Reinbacher is the consensus top defenseman in the draft and the closest thing to a No. 1 among this year’s crop of blueliners. He also could make history as the third Austrian-born defenseman to be chosen in the first round and would be the highest selected ever if he goes in the top seven.
Reinbacher is 6-2, 185 pounds and was a 0.48 point-per-game player as an 18-year-old while playing in the top pro league in Switzerland last year. He’d quickly become the top Coyotes defense prospect amid a collection of recently chosen defensemen like 2019 first-round pick Victor Soderstrom, 2021 second-round pick J.J. Moser, and the No. 29 pick of the 2022 draft Maveric Lamoureux.
7. Philadelphia Flyers: Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (Sweden)
The Flyers would certainly take Reinbacher if he were available since they are lacking blue-line depth and just traded No. 1 defenseman Ivan Provorov to Columbus. But they could also stand to improve their depth down the middle since Sean Couturier is coming off a back injury that cost him the entire 2022-23 season, and Kevin Hayes is likely to be traded this offseason.
Nate Danielson would also be an option with this pick. But at 6-1, 201 pounds, Dvorsky fits the mold of a Flyers center, which former Flyers-turned-front-office members Danny Briere and Keith Jones know first-hand matters to a fan base that’s grown tired of dysfunction and a lack of identity.
Dvorsky, who had 17 points in 55 games over two seasons in the top league in Sweden, can complement Couturier if he’s able to return to form, since he’s signed through 2030. Or Dvorsky would replace the 2020 Selke Trophy winner as Philadelphia’s No. 1 center if Couturier can’t.
8. Washington Capitals: Ryan Leonard, RW, USA-NTDP
The Capitals have a successful history of selecting wings in the first round since they landed wings and NHL mainstays like Marcus Johanssen, Tom Wilson, Filip Forsberg, and Andre Burakovsky along with superstar captain Alex Ovechkin in the first round over the past two decades.
Leonard is arguably the best goal scorer in this draft, coming off a 42-goal, 76-point season for the NTDP. He also would give Washington’s veteran-laden lineup a jolt of youth, especially on the right wing which it has not spent a first-round pick on since Wilson was selected 16th in the 2012 draft.
9. Detroit Red Wings: Zach Benson, LW, Winnipeg (WHL)
The Red Wings could trade out of No. 9 if there’s a player they really like since their system is left-wing heavy and general manager Steve Yzerman is known for doing unpredictable things. But Benson, at 5-9 and 163 pounds, is tough and tenacious, which is why scouts have compared him to Canadiens mainstay Brendan Gallagher.
Benson could ultimately be Detroit’s replacement for Tyler Bertuzzi, a fellow gritty left wing the Wings traded to Boston at the deadline. Plus, you can’t argue with Benson’s results since he had 36 goals and 98 points, the third-most in the WHL behind only Bedard and Dallas Stars prospect Logan Stankoven of Kamloops.
10. St. Louis Blues: Nate Danielson, C, Brandon (WHL)
The Blues won the Stanley Cup in 2019 with smart and skilled players like Ryan O’Reilly, Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko and a cast of big, hard-working role players like Ivan Barbashev, Brayden Schenn and others.
Thus, selecting a center like Danielson, who checks in at 6-2 and 185 pounds, is a step toward contention. Danielson takes a ton of faceoffs and is extremely smart, and even though it may take time for him to reach the NHL, once he gets there he will remain there.
The Blues have two other first-round selections to take a greater risk, or can even trade up if they’re interested in a different player, but Danielson would be a solid selection at No. 10.
11. Vancouver Canucks: Tom Willander, D, Rögle (Sweden)
The Canucks are high on the 6-1, 180-pound blueliner, and their NHL-level defense is aging. Wing Colby Barlow is an option here too, as is Danielson if he falls, but Vancouver’s front office has not drafted a blueliner in the first or second round since Quinn Hughes and Jett Woo went with its first two selections in 2018.
Willander is by all accounts one of the best skaters in this year’s draft. Although he’s committed to attend Boston University in the fall, Willander could end up skating for the Canucks when the Terriers’ season ends, especially if Vancouver qualifies for the playoffs in 2024.
12. Arizona Coyotes (From Ottawa): Gabriel Perreault, LW/RW, USA-NTDP
After addressing its blue line with its own first-round selection, Arizona could then consider adding to its loaded core of young forwards. This is the wing portion of the draft, and the Coyotes selected centers with each of their first two picks in 2022, Logan Cooley and Conor Geekie, plus have 2018 first-round pick Barrett Hayton already on their NHL roster.
Perreault is one of the most skilled playmakers in this draft and is coming off a 53-goal season for the NTDP. Like Smith and Leonard, Perreault is headed to BC in the fall but could help the Coyotes’ fledgling offense down the road.
13. Buffalo Sabres: Matthew Wood, RW, UConn (NCAA)
Arguably the most talented winger, the 6-4 197-pound Wood is ranked No. 4 in Central Scouting’s list of North American skaters, but is projected by most as a late-lottery selection despite his exceptional size and speed. He was the youngest player in college hockey in 2022-23 yet still led the Huskies in points, posting 34 in 35 games.
Wood’s style of play would also pair ideally alongside the player he models his game after, Tage Thompson, a fellow former Huskies player who at 6-6 is also enormous, on Buffalo’s top line for years to come.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins: Oliver Moore, C, USA-NTDP
Much has been made of Pittsburgh’s depleted prospect pipeline, but the highly skilled 5-11, 195-pound Moore would give its center group a jolt of youth. Sidney Crosby will be 36 on August 7, Evgeni Malkin will turn 37 on July 31, and Jeff Carter will turn 39 on New Year’s Day.
Thus, Moore would make a solid selection as the Penguins try both to win one more championship with the core of Crosby and Malkin but also with an eye on the future.
Moore has been called the fastest player in the draft by prospect analysts, and although he’s committed to the University of Minnesota for at least his freshman year, could slot into Pittsburgh’s lineup before Crosby’s deal is up on July 1, 2025.
15. Nashville Predators: Colby Barlow, LW, Owen Sound (OHL)
Predators general manager Barry Trotz likes big, physical North American players, and at 6-foot, 195 pounds, Barlow fits the bill. Nashville has also had a hard time scoring due to its inability to draft and develop young forwards.
But Barlow is a well-rounded and physical player that scored 46 goals, the fifth-most in the OHL last season. By all accounts, he’s not ultra-skilled but plays a smart, heavy style the Predators are known for.
16. Calgary Flames: Axel Sandin Pellikka, D, Skellefteå (SHL)
Sandin Pellikka’s stock has dipped a bit since he was the No. 3 European skater from Central Scouting at the midterm rankings, but it’s fallen since to No. 7, and at 5-11, 180 pounds, he’s a bit undersized.
Still, the Flames system is devoid of young, high-end defense prospects, since they last spent a first-round pick on a blueliner when they selected Juuso Välimäki also at No. 16 in 2017. Sandin Pellikka is, by all accounts, the top puck-moving blueliner in the draft and is coming off a 36-point season in 31 games in the top pro league Sweden.
It would take time for him to graduate to Calgary, but targeting a defenseman with its first-round pick would be a step in the right direction in filling an organizational need. Calgary only has four non-NHL defensemen under contract for 2023-24, and just one defenseman among its top-10 prospects according to The Athletic.
17. Detroit Red Wings (From NY Islanders via Vancouver): Brayden Yager, C, Moose Jaw (WHL)
Yager’s stock has dipped since he was the No. 5 North American skater and finished 11th among continental skaters. At 5-11, 166 pounds, Yager could stand to put on some bulk, especially if he is going to keep playing center.
But the Red Wings could afford an skilled-yet-undersized center since Dylan Larkin is their No. 1 center in perpetuity, and Andrew Copp sits as the No. 2 option. Yager would add some speed to their rebuild since he projects as a No. 1 — or 1A center, which almost all contenders have — and would enable Copp to more appropriately slot as a No. 3, especially as he ages.
Detroit would almost certainly jump at taking Yager, a top-10 talent according to some, or Calum Ritchie if Yager is off the board before No. 17. Adding either Yager or Ritchie to Benson would make a great first round for Detroit.
18. Winnipeg Jets: Calum Ritchie, C, Oshawa (OHL)
Winnipeg’s current competitive window is waning, and it needs to address its center deficiencies since Mark Scheifele‘s contract is up after 2024, and teams are swarming restricted free agent Pierre-Luc Dubois for either a trade or offer sheet after July 1.
Ritchie, a 6-2, 185-pound prospect, has the requisite size and talent for a lottery-type pick since he was exactly a point-per-game player for Oshawa, producing 59 points in 59 games. Some worry about his compete level and consistency, but if he can firm some of that out, all the tools are there for a great NHL player.
19. Chicago Blackhawks (From Tampa Bay): Daniil But, LW, Yaroslavl (Russia)
But is a fascinating player, especially given his 6-5, 203-pound frame. He had 32 points in 32 games for his junior team, and by all accounts has elite hands for a player of any size.
Landing Bedard is cause for excitement, but adding a raw talent like But, who some have compared to Patrik Laine, would equal a home-run draft for the Blackhawks’ rebuild.
20. Seattle Kraken: Samuel Honzek, LW, Vancouver (WHL)
The Kraken have built a championship-competitive roster through shrewd talent evaluation and smart drafting. Not only is Honzek a geographically convenient pick, but the Slovakian-born forward also fits the organizational mold of hard-working players.
Honzek would add a much-needed dose of size since he checks in at 6-4, 186 pounds. But he also can produce offensively, proven by his 56-point season for the Giants, who finished as the WHL’s second-worst offensive team.
You can bet bet general manager Ron Francis and coach Dave Hakstol are giddy at the prospect of adding a player that big, tough, and skilled to Seattle’s fledgling roster.
21. Minnesota Wild: David Edstrom, C, Frölunda (Sweden)
The first of two likely first-round centers from the NHL factory of Frölunda, Edstrom combines size (6-3, 185 pounds) with strong hockey sense. Minnesota, which drafted center Joel Eriksson Ek at No. 20 in 2015, could choose to back to the Swedish well by taking Edstrom here.
Edstrom, who just turned 18 in February, was a point-per-game player in junior and stood out by posting 13 points in seven games at the U18 championship. He held his own among men, producing four points in 11 games in the top league in Sweden.
22. Philadelphia Flyers (From Los Angeles via Columbus): Dimitri Simashev, D, Yaroslavl (Russia)
The Flyers may have lost out on Reinbacher with their first first-round selection but could land the gigantic 6-4, 198-pound Simashev, who like Provorov hails from Yaroslavl, a city northeast of Moscow.
The Athletic’s Corey Pronman has Simashev rated as his No. 10 prospect, and Philadelphia offloaded Provorov, its No. 7 pick in 2015 and undisputed top-pair defenseman, to pick a prospect like Simashev in the first round.
With Simashev’s size and tools, the Flyers landing him would be a home run, despite the fact he’s under contract in the KHL for two more seasons.
23. New York Rangers: Charlie Stramel, C, Wisconsin (NCAA)
Simply put, Stramel looks like a New York Rangers draft prospect. He’s big (6-3, 212 pounds) and skilled and American, which matches general manager Chris Drury and coach Peter Laviolette‘s profiles and styles of play.
The Rangers top-two centers, Mika Zibanejad and Vincent Trocheck, are each signed through the end of the decade, and it feels like only a matter of time until Filip Chytil takes the reins as the team’s No. 2 center.
But Stramel is a good skater and can play down the lineup in a fourth-line or penalty-killing role, which would only enhance his case for the Blueshirts.
24. Nashville Predators (From Edmonton): Oliver Bonk, D, London (OHL)
Nashville has not spent a first-round pick on a defenseman since taking Dante Fabbro in 2016. But with the selection it received in exchange for Mattias Ekholm, it would have to consider the 6-2, 180-pound blueliner who had 40 points in the OHL as a 17-year-old.
Bonk has NHL pedigree as the son of former NHL forward Radek Bonk. You’d have to think Trotz, who coached Radek in his two seasons in Nashville, would be pining to land the versatile blueliner in this spot.
25. St. Louis Blues (From Toronto): Eduard Šalé, LW, Brno (Czechia)
St. Louis would almost certainly take But if he’s available, since it would undoubtedly be fascinated by his size and skill. But after first picking one of the best center prospects in the draft, the Blues could then land the No. 4 international skater in Šalé with the second of their three first-round selections.
Šalé played in the top league in Czech last season and posted seven goals and 14 points as a 17-year-old. He’s 6-2 and 174 pounds, which makes him a good-sized wing, and he’ll have the opportunity to mold his game to the North American style by playing for Barrie in the OHL this season.
26. San Jose Sharks (From New Jersey): Otto Stenberg, C, Frölunda (Sweden)
After taking a flier on a high-risk, high-reward talent like Michkov, San Jose would be wise to target Stenberg, a super-smart, 5-11, 180-pound prospect from Sweden. Stenberg is arguably a better prospect than Edstrom, since Central Scouting has him ranked sixth-best European skater.
The Athletic’s Corey Pronman compares Stenberg to Alexander Barbanov, a left wing in San Jose’s system that could end up being a linemate. Again, San Jose could land another first-round pick if it trades Karlssson, but would do well to end up with two of the top-five European-born forwards in the draft.
27. Colorado Avalanche: Andrew Cristall, LW, Kelowna (WHL)
Colorado’s system is defense and right-wing heavy, so it would be wise to add a left wing at this pick. Cristall is one of the most skilled players in the draft, yet questions come up with his size and skating ability since he checks in at just 5-10, 167 pounds.
Still, if Cristall joined the Avs, he could add a dose of playmaking to a star-studded lineup. Though he could potentially struggle keeping up with Colorado’s lightning-fast roster, Cristall wouldn’t have to drive play individually but still could produce with his dynamic skill and shot.
28. Toronto Maple Leafs (From Boston via Washington): Quentin Musty, LW, Sudbury (OHL)
It’s hard to believe the Maple Leafs’ window could be on the verge of shutting, but Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander will each have their contract expire by July 1, 2025 without new deals.
Musty could be gone by this spot, since big, skilled OHL prospects are highly desirable among NHL execs. But if he’s not, you’d have to believe president Brendan Shanahan and GM Brad Treliving would have to choose the 6-2, 200-pound wing, who would give Toronto’s system some elite skill and size.
29. St. Louis Blues (From Dallas via NY Rangers): Michael Hrabal, G, Omaha (USHL)
On the heels of 6-6 goalie Adin Hill backstopping a team to the Stanley Cup, St. Louis could choose the 6-7, Czech native as the first goaltender off the board. By all accounts, he’s the top netminder in the draft, despite the fact he’s ranked second on Central Scouting’s list of North American goalies.
The Blues have a lot of money committed to Jordan Binnington yet should start looking toward their goaltending future as they earnestly commit to rebuilding, especially with the last of their first-round selections.
Goalies are a questionable draft commodity, despite playing the most important position, since their development and mental makeup will ultimately determine what they become. But Hrabal is the surest bet among the goalies in this draft, which is why he’d be the only one chosen in the first round.
30. Carolina Hurricanes: Kasper Halttunen, RW, HIFK (Finland)
Carolina has an organizational edict not to choose defensemen in the first round and has not had a first-round pick since it took Seth Jarvis at No. 13 in 2020. Halttunen is huge, listed at 6-3 and 207 pounds, and has a lethal shot, which Carolina’s goal-starved offense and system could really use.
The Hurricanes could consider trading up to take Šalé or down to accrue assets and ultimately choose Halttunen or someone else in the second round. But they’ve had a ton of success targeting European forwards, especially those from Scandinavia like Elias Lindholm, Sebastian Aho, and Eetu Luostarinen, each of whom is a solid NHL player.
Plus the Canes have Finnish-born forwards like Aho, Teuvo Teräväinen, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Jesse Puljujärvi on the roster. Halttunen could thrive with his fellow countrymen and in a smart organization that can develop players.
31. Montreal Canadiens (From Florida): Tanner Molendyk, D, Saskatoon (WHL)
The Canadiens would almost certainly target Danny Nelson from the NTDP if he’s available and they lose out on Smith with their initial selection, since they’d likely end up taking Reinbacher at No. 5.
But if all goes as I believe, Montreal will add another puck-moving defenseman to its system in Molendyk. Montreal needs high-end defensemen, especially given the uncertainty surrounding its most recent first-round blueliner, Logan Mailloux, who went at No. 31 in 2021.
But Molendyk, who just turned 18 in February, features skating that is “especially enticing," according to Chris Peters of Flo Hockey. At 6-0, 182 pounds, he’s appropriately sized for the modern NHL, especially given his ability to transport the puck.
32. Vegas Golden Knights: Gavin Brindley, RW, Michigan (NCAA)
If Brindley is available, he’d make the perfect Golden Knights player. He’s smart, skilled, and at 5-8, 165, a scrappy and high-motor player who reminds me of Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Marchessault with more playmaking and less sniping.
Still, Brindley finished tied for third in goals (18) for Michigan last season and was fifth on the star-studded Wolverines in points with 38 in 41 games. His compete level is tailor-made for Vegas, which organizationally targets highly skilled players with a chip on their shoulder.