Hockey Prophets

Hockey Prophets Top 32 Prospects For The 2023 NHL Draft


The 2023 NHL draft will always be known for Conor Bedard first and foremost, but it could also become one of the deepest group of high-scoring, NHL superstars of the last decade. Beyond the generational talents of Conor Bedard, there are two or three others--Fantilli, Carlsson, Michkov--who could easily be considered as first-overall talent in any other draft year, and another ten or so that could be top-five prospects. This is a great class that will likely be talked about for years to come.



Conor Bedard




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Height: 5’10 (177 cm)

Weight: 179 (81 kg)

Age At Draft: 17.95

Points per Game (normalized): 2.51

A/P Score: -5.29 (2nd)

Key Strength: Tremendous scoring ability

Key Question: Can he prove his generational potential?


There is so little left to say about Connor Bedard that has not already been published in a hundred different articles everywhere on the web. However, one key point that will not be mentioned anywhere else is Bedard’s Age/Production Score©, which in his case puts him second all-time among forwards, behind only Sidney Crosby and—remarkably—ahead of Conor McDavid. What that means is that of the nearly three thousand forwards in the dataset, only Crosby has a better overall draft-year point production normalized by age. Better than McDavid, better than Patrick Kane, better than Aleksander Barkov, better than Auston Matthews.

Bedard's off-the-charts scoring drive and competitive nature are bested only by his actual scoring ability. His shot comes ripping off the blade of stick with such devastating speed and accuracy that many times goalies are just frozen, seemingly hoping that the puck will just hit them. He can slip through traffic with or without the puck, finds the empty gaps in coverage, and the punishes every small mistake that his opponents make.  

One aspect of Bedard’s game often overshadowed by his raw scoring ability is his physical play. Despite his size, Bedard can often be seen battling against much bigger players at both ends of the ice. He uses his elite balance and strength on his skates to leverage bigger players out of position, and his non-stop effort means that he can often outwork his opponents and again take advantage of the little spaces he creates.

Bedard is a complete hockey player with a generational-level skillset and work ethic, and no amount of description can adequately encompass just how good he is.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Starts in his own end, hits the blue line with speed, dekes a defender, then snaps a shot from the circle that beats the goaltender over his glove for his first WHL goal.”



Adam Fantilli




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Height: 6’2 (188 cm)

Weight: 187 (85 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.71

Points per Game (normalized): 2.23

A/P Score: -4.08 (8th)

Key Strength: Game dominance

Key Question: Why did he have to be in the same draft class as Connor Bedard?


In the summer of 2015, there was no question that Connor McDavid would go first overall, and Jack Eichel was relegated to the second spot despite being one of the absolute best draft prospects on the planet. The exact same scenario will play out in the summer of 2023. Adam Fantilli is the best hockey player in the 2023 draft class, bar only one generational player (see Bedard, above). Fantilli has the complete set of NHL tools and his dominance of NCAA hockey (he outscored last year’s third-overall draft pick Logan Cooley and won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s best player) despite being the third-youngest player in college hockey proves that he is ready to play in the NHL right now.

Fantilli takes over games. He has excellent skating that includes great acceleration off his glide—a change of speed that gets him to loose pucks first and close down opponents before they have the time to react appropriately. He plays a solid defensive game that combines his skating, intelligence and a surprising physicality for such a highly skilled player. Fantilli finishes his checks, puts shoulders into puck carriers at the boards and backchecks hard. In fact, his neutral- and defensive-zone play would on its own be good enough to get Fantilli to the NHL as a quality bottom-six forward.

However, when the puck moves up ice, Fantilli shines. Patient with and without the puck, Fantilli shows a highly intelligent offensive game. He changes angles of attack with fakes and edgework, passes on the move as he sees opportunities open up, and persistently keeps defenders off balance with speed and smarts. His shot is hard, accurate and snaps off his stick regardless of body position. Not only are his skills elite, but he rarely takes a slow shift. Instead, his drive to get the puck on net, whether from his stick or a teammate’s, makes him a constant attacking presence in the offensive zone.

Fantilli’s entire game translates so well to NHL play that there is no doubt he will become an All-Star in the world’s best league. Much like Eichel, however, Fantilli has the misfortune of being caught in the same class as a Connor that is generational lock at number one.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Great backcheck effort, a two-step change of speed and long reach to disrupt the backdoor chance to Cooley.”



Leo Carlsson



Orebro HK

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Height: 6’3 (190cm)

Weight: 194 (88 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.51

Points per Game (normalized): 1.60

A/P Score: -3.02 (29th)

Key Strength: Combination of size and intelligence

Key Question: Can he develop a physical game that matches the rest of his skill set?


Leo Carlsson, like Fantilli, is a victim of timing and circumstance, and although there is nothing wrong with being drafted in the top five of any NHL draft class, he would likely be considered a potential first-overall pick in any other year. Carlsson may fall short of Fantilli’s speed and acceleration, but he easily makes up for that in his incredible hockey intelligence and body awareness. Carlsson consistently puts himself in the right spot on the ice, uses his size and length as an advantage to leverage opponents and shifts position to gain tactical advantage. He is much stronger than other players in his age cohort, and his success in Sweden’s top men’s league shows that he is physically ready to play in any league in the world.

However, his scoring ability and hockey intelligence are the attributes that make him ready for the NHL. He easily dominates positional battles at the crease, and then his stick skills and vision allow him to make fast, accurate assessments of next steps once he gets the puck. He has an almost effortless-looking ability to move the puck to shooting position or to an open, more dangerous teammate. He can dangle when necessary, but more often he will choose to pass off and move his feet to find better space on the ice.

His skating ability is good enough that he can match pace with all but the fastest players, and he has a smooth agility that means he his a highly maneuverable big man, a smart power forward with excellent hands, and a player that any NHL general manager will happily select as soon as they possibly can. Carlsson has a bright NHL future and should become a dominant top line threat driving even a powerhouse team.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Not a hitter, but goes to the net, battles. Uses his size as a tool, not a weapon.”



Matvei Michkov



SKA St Petersburg

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Height: 5'10 (178 cm)

Weight: 159 (72 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.55

Points per Game (normalized): 2.10

A/P Score: -3.79 (12th)

Key Strength: Scoring as a result of possession play

Key Question: When will he come to North America?


Michkov is an excellent player who has played most of the last season and a half behind the Russian veil as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Russian team has been banned from international tournaments, so no one has been able to see Michkov play against his peer group for quite a while. However, he has been playing in the KHL, and his success there as a U19 is practically unrivalled. In 30 games with SKA St Petersburg and HK Sochi, Michkov scored 9 goals and 11 assists. His 0.67 points per game is third all-time for a U19 player, behind only Eeli Tolvanen and Yevgeni Kuznetsov. In fact, if looking only at his 27 games with Sochi, the 0.74 points per game would make him first overall on the list.

Michkov powers his game with a special blend of skill and tenacity with the puck. Off the puck, Michkov shows his game awareness by anticipating the flow of the offensive attack, finding cracks in the coverage and working into open spaces. He is a quality skater—more maneuverable than he is fast—and he uses his balance and agility to either evade or absorb contact. Michkov’s play elevates when the puck is on his stick to near elite level. He can change directions, use an array of head, shoulder, hip fakes to turn defensemen, and all the while scanning the ice to take advantage of coverage mistakes. If a defenseman turns or steps the wrong way (usually after Michkov forces them into a bad decision), Michkov can punish them with a crisp pass or a by ripping his deadly shot on net. His ability to control the puck, through traffic, with creativity, stickhandling and footwork that at times can mesmerize fans and opponents alike makes Michkov perhaps the best puck-possession forward in this well-stocked draft class.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Michkov just gets his shot away whenever he wants.”



Will Smith



US National Team

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Height: 6’0 (183 cm)

Weight: 172 (78 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.29

Points per Game (normalized): 1.89

A/P Score: -3.36 (17th)

Key Strength: Terrific hand skills: shooting, passing, stickhandling

Key Question: Can he increase his effort level to match consistent NHL pace? 


With the puck on his stick, Smith controls the pace of play, slowing or speeding the tempo by handling, curling, delaying and then snapping a game-changing pass into nearly invisible scoring chances. His passing and vision are remarkable, with crisp, accurate passes and the intelligence to help create passing lanes with crafty puckhandling. Smith’s passing and vision are at such a high level that they allow him to incorporate a lot of deception into his game. The opposition has to be so alert to his puck distribution that he can quickly put an entire defensive squad off balance with a simple shoulder fake. That deception can also help set up his laser shot, but he often shows pass preference above taking a shot. Even so, his 51 goals prove that he has a scorer’s knack for the net. Often his goals come from converting chances rather than sniping corners from range, but when he senses the chance, he can absolutely rifle a puck on net.

Smith also works hard on the forecheck and in his own end. His work rate is a bit of an enigma, though. He creates turnovers on the forecheck by pressuring defenders into making bad puck management choices, haranguing them until they mishandle the puck or make a bad pass trying to escape the pressure. In his own end, he plays solid positional defense and can be effective as a penalty killer.

Still, at times Smith does not play with the urgency expected from such a high-talent player. His pace at times can look unmotivated, particularly when he stops moving his feet in transition. Sometimes it looks like he wants to slow the pace of play, or maybe he is conserving energy, but it can also look lackadaisical or sloppy. Admittedly, the probability of Smith upping his overall consistency in pushing the attack all over the ice is extremely high. However, if he does not, he could start to struggle with the intensity of play at the highest levels. Given his talent, intelligence and hand skills, he should ultimately have no problem upping his work rate on every shift.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “There just isn't a pass that he's afraid to make.”



Dalibor Dvorsky




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Height: 6’0 (183 cm)

Weight: 187 (85 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.04

Points per Game (normalized): 1.61

A/P Score: -2.69 (42nd)

Key Strength: Getting pucks on net

Key Question: How much will the rest of his game develop?


Dvorksy plays a straightforward, attacking-the-offensive-zone style no matter where on the ice he might be. From the defensive zone, he positions himself in the spots on the ice where he is best able to create turnovers or convert giveaways into immediate attacks, working more to regain possession than defending the net. He has a long reach which he uses to take away passing lanes, and his lateral mobility helps him step into spots to intercept passes.

Once he or a teammate gains possession of the puck, Dvorsky launches toward the offensive zone. He makes good reads in transition to move the puck up ice quickly, and take smart skating lines to open up the ice for potential incoming passes. He has good straightline speed, too, which helps force opponents defending the rush into uncomfortable decisions.

Once in the offensive zone, Dvorsky has an almost single-minded focus of getting the puck on net. He does not force shots, but given a scoring opportunity, he takes it. If he does not have a clean shot, he will move the puck the player who does.

Dvorsky has a lot of upside to his game because of his high work rate, competitive nature and pure offensive skillset. He played most of last season in Sweden’s second-tier men’s league, and likely will play there  for another season. However, with his style of play he is going to be well-suited to North American hockey, and will likely come over to play sooner rather than later.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “If the puck reaches him in the slot, its immediately on net.”



Gabe Perreault



US National Team

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Height: 5'10 (178 cm)

Weight: 163 (74 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.15

Points per Game (normalized): 1.87

A/P Score: -3.39 (18th)

Key Strength: Offensive dynamo with two-way work ethic

Key Question: Is he a product of his linemates?


The list of all-time single season scorers in the US national team’s development program looks a lot like a grouping of NHL stars: Auston Matthews, Jack Hughes, Matt Tkachuk, Cole Caufield, Jack Eichel, Trevor Zegras and on and on. The name at the top of that list at the completion of the  2022-2023 is Gabe Perrault. He became the first player in that programs decorated history to break 130 points in a single season, and his 2.10 points per game puts him behind only his linemate Will Smith (2.12) and Jack Hughes (2.24).

Perreault’s combination of so successful in the offensive zone is his combination of quick hands and feet, incessant movement and hockey intelligence. His acute awareness of puck movement and traffic patterns in the offensive zone allows him to consistently get himself into the right body position in the area of the ice that gives him the highest probability of finishing a developing scoring chance. There are so many instances in which Perrault scores by simply being in the right spot to capitalize on a loose rebound, a pass from a linemate, or a turnover and attack opportunity. He has a fast release and an accurate shot that can beat goaltenders from the circles. Perrault also shows great vision and passing to set up his linemates, as well.

Perrault comes from a hockey family. His father (Yanic Perrault) played 859 games in the NHL and scored over 500 points during his long career. Yanic has spent the last decade as a development coach in the Chicago Blackhawks organization, as well. Gabe’s brother was selected 27th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2020 NHL draft, and his sister Liliane was the top goal-scorer for Mercyhurst University last season. That kind of immersion in the game of hockey is evident in all aspects of Perrault’s play, from the scoring ability, to the backchecking hustle, to the high-level desire to win. The one question that lingers—and only a little—is whether or not Perrault’s production last season was based on ability or a function of playing on one of the most powerful lines of U18 hockey on the planet. Watching Perrault shows his dynamic ability to fill the net and make an impact on the game, and those qualities are typically independent of linemates. He has a bright NHL future in front of him.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “He gets back to the defensive zone with urgency, and he's active and capable when back there. Good penalty killer, too.”



Ryan Leonard



US National Team

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Height: 5'11 (180 cm)

Weight: 190 (86 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.44

Points per Game (normalized): 1.47

A/P Score: -2.08 (98th)

Key Strength: Hard-nosed, gritty top-line winger

Key Question: Which part of his game will be most effective at the NHL level?


Ryan Leonard, the third piece of the powerhouse USNTDP top line, plays an NHL-style game that could make him a prized commodity at hockey’s top level. Although he does not have great size for the type of aggressive game he plays, he mixes in a tremendous shot and great vision with his tenacity and intensity.

Leonard’s game is built up from a foundation of work ethic and determination. He plays hard on every shift regardless of game situation and what the requirement is at the time. That means he can be highly effective as both a penalty killer and a potent powerplay force low on the right side. His skating is fast and smooth on his edges, so with his hard-skating style he is both a great backchecker and forechecker and he is the kind of player who will do what it takes to regain puck possession.

On the attack with the puck, Leonard uses his speed to push defenders back, and then has the patience to hold the loaded puck until the opponents are forced to commit and act. Leonard then has the skill set to utilize the defense’s posture against them and either unleash a hard, accurate shot of pass off to the better option which is vision allows him to find easily.

The one aspect of his game that sets Leonard apart from his talented linemates is his physical play. He is nasty down low in the corners and in puck battles; hitting, shoving, crosschecking, punching, elbowing. He is not above getting his hands dirty or getting involved in rough play after the whistle. If a defender comes at him, he will use the reverse hit to keep punish them for it.

With his combination of excellent hand skills, fast skating and a grinder’s mentality, Leonard will no doubt be a fan favorite when he hits the NHL. The one and only concern is that his physical play might not be as effective at the NHL level, but his aggressive and intense passion on the ice is unlikely to change. Fans and coaches will love that.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “He did it all, and his passing, shooting, vision and skating made him a scoring threat on nearly every shift.”



Zach Benson




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Height: 5'9 (175 cm)

Weight: 170 (77 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.13

Points per Game (normalized): 1.63

A/P Score: -2.71 (44th)

Key Strength: Near-elite offensive instincts

Key Question: Can he maintain his dynamic play against NHL players?


Zach Benson is always fun to watch because of his innate, instinctual ability to find the right spot on the ice and amazing game intelligence in the offensive zone. As a small player at 5’9 and 170 pounds (despite having added two inches in height and more than ten pounds of weight over the last year or so), Benson’s knack for slipping into open spots at the precise moment he needs to, or just maneuvering through the trees in the offensive zone, sets him up for utilizing his high-end offensive skills. Over the last two years in the WHL, Benson has refined his game from a player who often tried to do too much and into a player who flows within the game and adapting his talents to the immediate requirements of the play around him. He has become much better at puck management and a far more natural player who finds the openings instead of forcing them.

Benson’s high work rate at both ends of the ice, and his quickness, makes him a quality penalty killer and defensive player, as well. He does not have dominant straight-line speed, but he works his edges well and his acceleration provides him that necessary elusiveness that he needs at his size.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Puck scramble at the net, and Benson is the only one who sees the puck escape to the side. He snags it and wraps around for a goal that no one else saw coming.”



Colby Barlow



Owen Sound

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Height: 6’1 (185 cm)

Weight: 187 (85 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.37

Points per Game (normalized): 1.34

A/P Score: -1.76 (142nd)

Key Strength: Goal scorer

Key Question: How much will the rest of his game round out?


Barlow has an NHL shot and very good game intelligence, and at 6’1, 187 that will likely be enough to get him selected in top 15 with a high-probability of being an NHL top-six scoring winger. Barlow has excellent hands down low, helping him to grab loose pucks and immediately get them back on net before others around him can react. He has a variety of shooting weapons, and within the high-danger area between the dots he can beat just about any goaltender with his lightning wrist shot or one-touch redirections. From middle distance, his wrist shot is still strong enough to make goaltenders uncomfortable, but he can also rely on a quality slapshot and accurate one-timer.

Barlow show valuable game awareness and the ability to read the play both offensively and defensively. He consistently sets up in spots on the ice to disrupt opponent passing lanes or open lane for his teammates. He has good hands and the ability to make passes that spring his linemates into open ice. There is not a lot of hesitation in his game anywhere in the rink, whether that means moving quickly through transition or feeding recovered pucks off the boards to the open man.

Barlow’s skating needs work, especially in his turns and edgework. He can look awkward in his turns and his first-step lateral mobility is slower than desired, but Barlow should be able to improve that over time to get him closer to NHL standards. When he does, he might be able to elevate his game to close to NHL star levels.  


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “On the penalty kill, intercepts in his own slot, then a beauty short pass to open up the breakout for Gauthier.”



David Reinbacher



EHC Kloten

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Height: 6’2 (188 cm)

Weight: 187 (85 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.68

Points per Game (normalized): 0.67

A/P Score: -0.90 (255th)

Key Strength: Shut-down defender with high hockey iq

Key Question: How much offense will he provide at the NHL level?


This 2023 NHL draft class may be dominated by elite forward talent, but Reinbacher makes a case to be among the top ten anyway as this year’s top blue liner. His combination of size and physical presence with elite defensive hockey intelligence makes him a formidable opponent that even the game’s top forwards have a hard time beating. Reinbacher positions himself so well in the defensive zone, and uses his footwork to take efficient lines to neutralize opposing puck carriers time after time. Speedy forwards find themselves trying to turn a player built like highly mobile brick wall who will force them to the boards and then bruise them off the puck with a hard shoulder check. He has the footwork and reach to cancels any attempt to deke around him. In short, he looks like an NHL defenseman already, and is only the second U19 defenseman all time to have played meaningful games in the top Swiss men’s league (behind only NHL star Roman Josi).

On top of all of his defensive acumen, Reinbacher is also a right-handed shot, which will make him even more desirable to NHL gms. He has a hard slap shot from the point, but is not a goal scorer. His strength on offensive lies more in releasing attackers up ice, or moving the puck to attacking forwards in the offensive zone. His production in the NHL will come from assists, and over time he should become an effective powerplay puck mover, too.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Attackers are reversing the puck just to avoid having to take on Reinbacher.”



Andrew Cristall




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Height: 5'9 (175 cm)

Weight: 175 (79 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.40

Points per Game (normalized): 1.76

A/P Score: -2.93 (33rd)

Key Strength: Hard-working, two-way scorer

Key Question: How much will his size restrict his game?


Andrew Cristall works as hard in the defensive zone as he does generating offense, which is prodigious even on a bad day for him. His feet are in constant motion, and even though he tends to use crossover steps to generate acceleration, he has good power strides and straightline speed, too. He is highly agile and shows good balance even as bigger players try to lean into him and knock him off his feet.

Cristall was Kelowna’s top scorer by a good margin, finishing nearly 20 points ahead of second-place Gabriel Szturc, and his 95 points saw him finish sixth overall in WHL scoring (4th in point-per-game production). He is patient with the puck on his stick, and while in possession he is highly adept at picking out the best possible choice among the many options his patience allows him to find. He rarely rushes the play.

On the other side of the puck, he works incredibly hard to disrupt opponents, showing the same patience and intelligence on defense. He stays in lanes, takes proper angles to pressure the puck, reads plays and jumps passes, and will get physical on the boards and in the corners when necessary. The downside, of course, is that Cristall is a below-average-size player and some of his effectiveness in the WHL will evaporate against the bigger men at the upper levels of hockey. He will have to work hard, and make the necessary adjustments, but he has enough skill and mobility to make him an effective scorer in the NHL.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Carries into the ozone, flicks the puck to left point then goes straight to the crease.”



Samuel Honzek




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Height: 6’3 (191 cm)

Weight: 195 (88 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.63

Points per Game (normalized): 1.30

A/P Score: -1.51 (207th)

Key Strength: High-end vision and passing ability in a big body

Key Question: Can he improve his offensive output on a more talented team?


Honzek plays with offense on his mind and a huge scoring drive that motivates his play in all three zones. He has a sharp, fast release on both his passes and his shot which allows him to complete passes before defenders can adjust or beat goaltenders before they can set their feet. Honzek’s vision and passing accuracy set him apart from most of his contemporaries. He consistently provides perfectly-weighted pucks onto his teammate’s sticks, even through tight traffic areas. He has fast, soft hands and puckhandles with confidence through transition.  

In addition, Honzek is also a smooth, well-balanced and swift skater, which combined with his large frame makes it difficult for defenders to contain him or push him to the outside. Instead, Honzek can cut and dangle his way toward the high-danger area and then use his shot or vision and passing to create multiple problems for defenders.

Honzek has the body, mentality and offensive skill set to be a highly-coveted NHL centerman, but will need to improve his physical play off the puck to be truly effective and top-end at that level.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Carries toward the slot, dangles, then slips a fast-release pass low right side. Excellent look.”



Axel Sandin Pellikka



Skelleftea AIK

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Height: 5'11 (180 cm)

Weight: 180 (81 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.30

Points per Game (normalized): 0.89

A/P Score: -2.01 (71st)

Key Strength: Excellent skating transition defenseman

Key Question: How high is his development ceiling?


Sandin Pellikka is likely the only other defender in this year’s draft class that has a legitimate argument for being a top-ten draft pick, and if he were slightly bigger, most NHL teams would certainly have him ranked near the top of their lists. Another in an ever-lengthening list of silky-smooth, offensive defensemen that Sweden keeps producing year after year, Sandin Pellikka moves with effortless grace. He is not the fastest skater in the draft class, but he may be one of the most enjoyable to watch on his feet. That graceful quality that he shows in his skating exists in all aspects of his game, from his passing and puckhandling to his heads-up read of the play as he carries the puck up ice. Everything about his play is just grace embodied.

Easily the top transition defenseman in the draft class, Pellikka is also reliable in his own zone, and make few defensive mistakes. He will need to get stronger on his feet, especially at the front of the net, to battle against the behemoth NHL centers that opposing teams will try to match him against, but he plays a smart enough game and already has the experience from Sweden’s top mens league that he will learn to adapt as necessary to be an effective NHL defender.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Everything in his game looks so easy.”



Matthew Wood




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Height: 6’4 (192 cm)

Weight: 197 (89 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.39

Points per Game (normalized): 1.20

A/P Score: -1.35 (26th)

Key Strength: NHL shot

Key Question: Can he improve his skating enough to make him an effective NHLer?


Matthew Wood is a shooter, through and through. What he lacks in skating ability (stiff-legged, upright, wide turning radius) he makes up for with his dynamic and extremely hard, right-handed wrist shot. He can beat goaltenders from distance, and he gets his shot away quickly with pinpoint accuracy. Wood’s passing game also contains some of the that same accuracy, and is made more effective as opponents have to respect the shot, opening up options that likely would not otherwise exist.

His lack of maneuverability is a restriction, but his game awareness helps limit some of the ineffectiveness created from his poor skating. He can make up for his lack of explosive acceleration by taking up smart positions on the ice at either end of the rink. Where his skating hurts him most is in transition as he can lose a step or two during the rush, but as a trailer with his powerful shot, he actually can benefit from being a couple of strides behind the rushing attackers in the first wave. His skating does not therefore pose much of a concern on his future scoring. He was UConn’s top scoring as a freshman, with 34 points in 35 games, and he has shown an ability to score at any level he has played in, even in top international competitions.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Great read to intercept the Del Mastro exit pass, drives across the line and rips a shot from the high slot.”



Quentin Musty




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Height: 6’1 (185 cm)

Weight: 200 (90 kg)

Age At Draft: 17.98

Points per Game (normalized): 1.47

A/P Score: -2.35 (71st)

Key Strength: Converting offensive chances

Key Question: Can he improve his play off the puck?


Musty is an extremely talented offensive player who can also be one of the most frustrating players on the ice when he does not have the puck. Musty has an excellent wrist shot that comes off his stick with a lot of heat, but he can also have the required light touch on his passes when necessary. He can loft a puck and drop right on the stick of a cutting player at speed, or zip a hard pass through feet to find a far-side back door play. His skating is above average, and he has an NHL frame at almost 6’2 and 200 pounds.

However, at times Musty can try to do too much, taking on multiple defenders and coughing up turnovers instead of throttling down and looking for teammates. He is subject to standing around at times waiting for a puck to come to him instead of moving his feet and working to create opportunities. He will beavertail and clap and call for pucks, and when the puck goes elsewhere, he sometimes will just stand and wait for the next chance. As such, he can be infuriating to watch and is not putting in the work to help his team. That kind of one-sided play will not work at the higher levels of hockey and Musty is going to need to learn to simplify and up his work rate if he is going to reach his true potential as a top-six NHL winger.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “When he shows his skill with a simple play, he shines.”



Riley Heidt



Prince George

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Height: 5'10 (178 cm)

Weight: 180 (81 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.26

Points per Game (normalized): 1.43

A/P Score: -2.06 (102nd)

Key Strength: Smart, physical inside game

Key Question: Can he maintain his edge and play against much bigger players?


Riley Heidt a smart, tool-based player who likes to get into the high-danger areas and outwork opponents. His hockey intelligence shows in all the small things he does so well, whether its picking out the right pass, choosing the outlet, position in his own zone, or working himself into openings in traffic. He makes fast choices well, and rarely looks like he is chasing the play because he already knows what he wants to do as the play is developing around him. His shot is high quality, fast and accurate, and he has a knack for getting pucks on net even under duress. And because he does like to play his game in the greasier parts of the ice, he is often under duress.

Heidt may be only 5’10, but he has a strong, muscular frame and shows good balance on his skates. He will use his intelligence and strength on his feet to wedge under bigger players, or just outwork them down low until he can create the advantage he wants and get the puck on net. He can be a productive top six NHL forward as long as he can maintain his effectiveness in tight.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Finding chances for shot attempts and using them.”



Lukas Dragicevic




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Height: 6’1 (185 cm)

Weight: 194 (88 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.18

Points per Game (normalized): 1.10

A/P Score: -2.95 (13th)

Key Strength: Top offensive defenseman in the draft class

Key Question: Can he defend against NHL forwards?


Perhaps no player at the high end of the 2023 NHL draft class has generated as much consternation among experts as Lukas Dragicevic. He has all of the tools to become an elite offensive defenseman at the NHL level, but many pundits question his skating ability and—more importantly—his defensive capabilities, particularly as a projection to an NHL future.

One thing about his game that is beyond reproach is his ability to generate offense. He has great hands and can carry the puck through neutral zone transitions with ease and looks equally comfortable passing off the rush. He is quick on his feet, and is patient with the puck, shifting and waiting for lanes to open up and his forwards to get into open scoring positions. He was Tri-City’s most relied upon defenseman in all situations, and was his team’s top scorer with 75 points in 68 games. In fact, his scoring totals put him 31st overall in al WHL scoring, and fourth among defensemen. In fact, Dragicevic’s had one of the most productive U18 seasons any blueliner has seen in the 21st century (only Ian White’s 2001-2002 season produced more points).

The arguments begin and end with two aspects of Dragicevic’s game: his skating and his defensive play, both of which are essentially tied closely together. However, in multiple viewings, Dragicevic seemed adept at both, showing clean skating up ice, quick lateral movements and turns, and quality defensive lines to cut off attacking forwards. He needs work on net-front positioning and holding position when play moves up ice, but he did not seem to show fundamental lack of defensive play or awareness. Any deficiencies appear to be correctible, and Dragicevic appears to be a player willing to work hard on his development.

Of course, his future potential in the NHL will require solid and steady defensive play. History has plenty of examples of high-scoring defensemen who were never able to crack the NHL (Ryan Murphy, David Rundblad, Stephen Elliot, etc.), but at this point Dragicevic seems to be a player who can adjust his play and still allow his high-powered offensive ability to shine through.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Minute and a half left, tied game, and he's diving at the offensive blue line to keep his powerplay unit in the offensive zone.”



Brayden Yager



Moose Jaw

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Height: 5'11 (180 cm)

Weight: 170 (77 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.49

Points per Game (normalized): 1.16

A/P Score: -1.20 (310th)

Key Strength: Natural, high-end hockey player

Key Question: What is his true ceiling?


Pucks love Brayden Yager. Wherever he goes on the ice, the puck finds him and follows him around like an eager puppy waiting for a little attention. Yager may not be the flashiest, or fastest, or biggest, or most dynamic hockey player of his draft class, but he is certainly among the most well-rounded and most fun to watch. Everything he does on the ice is quality. His passing is top notch, and he consistently makes the right puck management decisions.

Yager is constantly on the move without wasting effort, and manages to simplify and pace his game within the requirements of the flow of play. He will pause and slip into an open area and the puck will be there waiting for him. He can make short or long passes, hard or soft, or put a snapping shot on net. He just has a knack for the game of hockey and impacts play on every shift.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Never seems to force the play, but he's always involved.”



Oliver Moore



US National Team

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Height: 5'11 (180 cm)

Weight: 195 (88 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.43

Points per Game (normalized): 1.14

A/P Score: -1.15 (339th)

Key Strength: Elite-level skating

Key Question: Can he elevate his scoring to an NHL level?


Any faults in Moore’s game can be rectified with his magnificent skating. He has elite speed and uses it for both defense and offense. His quickness and acceleration make him a great penalty killer, and once he creates a turnover his speed immediately puts the other team into retreat. He can beat almost any defender on the rush, and his speed and mobility is just as effective with the puck as without. He has a good shot and decent offensive awareness, but everything starts with his feet. Perhaps more important than he sheer skating expertise is Moore’s fantastic work ethic on the ice. He has excellent stamina and constant pushes the play with energy and movement, making him particularly dangerous on the forecheck where he forces opponents into bad decisions with the puck. He has a good, hard shot with a fast release, so any turnovers he generates can be immediately converted to a threatening shot on net. Moore’s game has a lot of imbedded upside potential, so it would not at all be surprising to see him drafted close to the top ten.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Wires a nasty wrist shot from the high slot, through a screen, beats the goaltending glove side just inside the post.”



Calum Ritchie




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Height: 6’1 (185 cm)

Weight: 174 (79 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.44

Points per Game (normalized): 1.00

A/P Score: -0.76 (586th)

Key Strength: Hockey intelligence in the middle of the action

Key Question: Has his development curve flattened?


Calum Ritchie has an NHL build and high-level hockey intelligence that will make him a solid NHL center who should see steady game minutes in a middle six role. His skating is good, with solid forward speed built on long, graceful stride mechanics and deft edgework, and he is stable and well-balanced under contact. He makes fast, reliable reads which grants him an ability to make quick, one-touch passes to open sticks, so he can be highly effective on fast connections for scoring plays. He will drive the net with and without the puck and at times uses his positioning to just draw defenders away from the point of attack.

One drawback in Ritchie’s game has been the lack of a true, high-caliber shot. As such, he has been less effective as a scorer than hoped, and his 59 points in 59 games is not as productive as desired for a scoring, draft-year center. However, his Oshawa team as whole was not a high-scoring squad, so he was not surrounded by a lot of powerhouse scorers that could help him generate offense. He did tend to fare better in international play with Team Canada, putting up nine points in seven games at the World U18 tournament and ten points in just five games at last summer’s Hlinka-Gretzky Cup. The biggest concern is that Ritchie’s ceiling may cap out at a two-way middle-six role, but if he can continue to develop his offensive game as he grows and moves up the hockey ladder, he could see some upside in his scoring potential.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Digs in on his edges to shift a bit to his right and get into a better space in the slot.”



Nate Danielson




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Height: 6’1 (185 cm)

Weight: 186 (84 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.75

Points per Game (normalized): 1.15

A/P Score: -1.00 (417th)

Key Strength: Disruptive two-way Center

Key Question: Can he generate offense in the NHL?


Danielson stands apart from the other WHL forwards on the list because he might be the best two-way center of the lot. Danielson is simply hard to play against. He is strong on his skates with long, determined strides and good edgework, but more than that he has a hardcore work ethic to hound and harass opposing players. His dedication to the defensive aspects of his game elevates his play beyond just a good defensive forward. In fact, his protection and awareness in his own zone would likely make him good enough to reach the NHL even without his equally effortful work up ice. He is a good, smart passer who makes the small details of the game look easy. He can lift a puck three feet into the air and drop it on a stick ten feet away, flat and perfect, to spring an attack. He has a hard shot that can cause trouble (he was easily the top goal scorer for the Wheat Kings with 33 tallies in 68 games). His leadership qualities on the ice are apparent in everything he does, so it was no surprise that he was captain of the Brandon squad. Danielson is likely to have a long NHL career, if at worst as a shutdown center who will chip in offense, but could be even more than that. Fans and coaches will applaud his efforts every game.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Killing penalties, and why wouldn't he? Workhorse, too, as he was out there for nearly the entire two minutes.”



Mikhail Gulyayev



Omskie Yastreby

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Height: 5'10 (178 cm)

Weight: 170 (77 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.18

Points per Game (normalized): 0.91

A/P Score: -2.18 (49th)

Key Strength: Fits the mold of transition defenseman

Key Question: What is his opportunity in North America?


Gulyayev is the epitome of the NHL transition defenseman of the last decade: smaller than average, good mobility with and without the puck, heads up carrying the puck through the zone and quality puck distribution. He has excellent change of direction which makes him capable of sticking with the shiftiest forwards and also gives him the required elusive qualities as he carries the puck through the neutral zone. His speed and skating is very good, and he wins most puck races or dashes to loose pucks with enough time to get his head up and scan for options. He is a good passer but prone to telegraphing his attempts at times. He times his attacks and pinches well without giving up too much in defensive responsibility. His shot will not scare NHL goaltenders from distance, so Gulyayev’s prime offensive contributions will be distributing the puck on the powerplay and as a member of an offensive rush. His overall draft position and ultimate NHL success will owe a lot to an NHL team thinking that Gulyayev will have the upside to enable to have a successful transition to North American rink size and style of play. There is definite downside risk that Gulyayev will struggle in the tighter NHL game.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Smooth puck transition, carries out of his zone, through the neutral zone and nice zone entry.”



Koehn Ziemmer



Prince George

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Height: 6’0 (183 cm)

Weight: 210 (95 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.56

Points per Game (normalized): 1.31

A/P Score: -1.57 (188th)

Key Strength: Well-rounded winger

Key Question: Is the sum of his parts good enough to be a top-six NHL winger?


Koehn Ziemmer is going to be an NHL forward because he has all of the tools to do so. His is a very good skater who is first to a lot of loose pucks due to a good first step and fast-read game awareness. He works hard in all three zones and is willing to battle physically on the boards or in front of the net. Ziemmer plays a high-energy, kinetic game and that energy translates into constant pressure on his opponents to protect the puck when they have possession or up their efforts to prevent Ziemmer from driving the net front when they do not.

If Ziemmer was more offensively gifted he would easily be a top-ten player in this draft class. He likes to shoot and will shoot from anywhere on the ice, but he is more effective in the high-traffic areas in front of the net.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Likes the spinning shot on net low. Hasn't worked yet, but he'll try it from anywhere.”



Eduard Sale



HC Kometa Brno

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Height: 6’1 (185 cm)

Weight: 175 (79 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.31

Points per Game (normalized): 0.87

A/P Score: -0.48 (824th)

Key Strength: Driving offensive zone play

Key Question: Will the NHL game pace overwhelm his patience?


Eduard Sale is a bit of an enigmatic player, at times looking the part of a graceful, creative winger who can turn defenders inside out on his way to the net, and at other times simply disappearing into the background for the entire game. He has fleet, effortless skating and size that works well in an NHL lineup. His acceleration is good, and he can easily get to speed in a few strides, and remain a shifty skater even as he reaches top end power. The biggest problem with Sale’s game is that despite actively watching him play and focusing on only him, he can often leave the viewer wanting something more to hold on to. Unlike some of the top prospects in this year’s draft who seem to make an impact on every shift, Sale can go several shifts and often entire games without making an impact at all. He will hold the puck, wait for an opening, and make a play, but too often the moment has passed and nothing has happened to change the game. The potential is there, the problem is simply whether or not Sale will ever put it all together and start to generate consistent, effective offense that can make a difference. Some team will take a chance, that is certain. But will it pay off?


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Slick move to pull the puck between the forechecker's skates and then move it out of danger.”



Ethan Gauthier




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Height: 5'11 (180 cm)

Weight: 183 (83 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.42

Points per Game (normalized): 1.05

A/P Score: -0.90 (486th)

Key Strength: Net-front battler who scores

Key Question: Can he have success in front of NHL nets?


Gauthier’s trajectory as a hockey player will be incredibly interesting to watch due his style of play. No one has to look around the ice to try to find Gauthier at any one time, because he will almost certainly be planted right at the crease. His skating speed is above average, and his acceleration is good, but his balance and strength on his skates might be among the best in his age cohort. When he wants to be in a spot, it is almost impossible to move or shove him away from that spot. That balance grants him a high-level puck possession game as he does not get knocked off pucks easily. He finds loose pucks and bangs them home quickly, which is how he will earn his pay in professional hockey. The biggest concern, of course, is whether or not he will be able to maintain is style of play in the NHL. If not, finding ways to create offense away from the slot may prove difficult for Gauthier.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Down low near the top of the crease, slams home a nice feed from the low right circle.”



Daniil But



Lokomotiv Yaroslavl


Height: 6’4 (193 cm)

Weight: 198 (90 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.37

Points per Game (normalized): 0.80

A/P Score: -0.25 (1,063rd)

Key Strength: Smooth skating winger with great puck command

Key Question: Can he contribute in the NHL if he does not improve his scoring?


Daniil But impresses immediately with his height and smooth skating in and out of traffic while dangling the puck as if it was glued to his stick. At 6’4 and 200 pounds, the big winger is surprisingly agile in stops and starts and quick changes of direction off his edges. His turns are wide because of his long legs, but he leans into his turns and can accelerate out of them with strong first steps to easily build admirable speed. But will also use his size to his advantage with physical play when necessary, but he appears to rather shake an opponent than force his way through them. His fast hand skills and stickwork make him highly elusive despite his rangy size.

What But lacks, unfortunately, is a true powerhouse scoring ability. He has good vision and passing skills, but he lacks a dangerous shot from outside the dots, and his style of offense does not translate well to the kind of muckracking, dirty goals down low that help compensate for that. If he cannot deke his way to an opening or move the goaltender with a deceptive drag, he can struggle to get the puck in the net. Beating NHL-level goaltenders with a fancy move will be a lot more difficult than getting it past Russian MHL netminders, so But will need to expand his offense generation to be an effective scorer in the NHL. If he cannot do that, there may not be a lot of room for him in a big-league lineup in North America.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Half-hearted snap shot off the boards looks more like trying to create rebound trouble than an actual scoring attempt.”



Kasper Halttunen




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Height: 6’3 (191 cm)

Weight: 215 (97 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.06

Points per Game (normalized): 1.02

A/P Score: -1.03 (405th)

Key Strength: Hard, accurate shooter

Key Question: Is his shot enough to get him to the NHL?


Kasper Halttunen has a grade-A shot: hard, heavy, and nasty. His snap shot snarls and his slapper can make goaltenders back into their crease. His overall game matches his shot, and he brings the same surly kind of physical play into the corners and along to boards. He hits hard, driving his body into puck carriers until they cough up the puck so that he can get another opportunity to get off a shot on net. Unfortunately, despite having one of the best shots in the draft class, the rest of Halttunen’s game is mostly average or a little better. He is an okay skater, with average speed and adequate agility, but he will never win a footrace against the game’s better skaters. He is prone to overly simple play in his own end or in transition, but he is not a lazy player. He just simply is not the highly creative type who will dazzle with his stickwork or carve through a defense. What he will do is try to blast the puck through anything in the way of goal. Like a middleweight boxer who leads with his chin, Halttunen will just keep coming forward, throwing haymakers until one lands.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Finally gets a chance to unleash, and his rocket snapshot is low and dangerous, but stopped.” 



Gavin Brindley




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Height: 5'9 (175 cm)

Weight: 157 (71 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.73

Points per Game (normalized): 1.17

A/P Score: -1.09 (366th)

Key Strength: Speedy workhorse with skill

Key Question: How much will his size limit his upside?


Gavin Brindley had a great year at the University of Michigan last season, playing right wing on the Wolverine top line with Adam Fantilli. Brindley plays a fast, attacking style maximizing his effort with blazing speed and offensive intelligence. He goes hard on the forecheck, and anticipates both opponent and teammate decisions so well he often gets to the exact right spot at the right time to make a play. As such, he makes some kind of impact on nearly every shift and gets a lot of puck touches each time he is on the ice. He plays equally hard in his own zone, and is a responsible defender. The limit to his game is his size at 5’9, 157 pounds and his scoring skills are not as good as his skating and tenacity. He will need to work on his toolkit, and likely will take longer to make break into the NHL, but selecting Brindley could come with big rewards for a team willing to be patient with his development.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Races to beat an icing late, up a goal, two minutes left. What hustle!”



Noah Dower Nilsson




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Height: 5'11 (180 cm)

Weight: 185 (84 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.18

Points per Game (normalized): 1.12

A/P Score: -1.24 (293rd)

Key Strength: All-around hockey player

Key Question: Can he be electric enough to elevate his game beyond a bottom-six role?


Noah Dower Nilsson finished the 2022-2023 season as one of the top all-time U18 scorers in the Swedish junior league history, finishing the year with 26 goals and 28 assists in just 37 games, tying him for seventh in league history in total points. He also played for Sweden at the U18 world championship tournament where he scored six points in seven games. The most startling aspect of Dower Nilsson’s game is the fact that there is nothing starting about his play, at all. He is just a consistent, steady, middle of the road hockey player who packs his lunch, goes to the rink, works hard all day, and goes home with some points and win. He is noticeable on the ice because he is always involved in the play, no matter where he starts his shift, and more often than not when he heads back to the bench his team is in a better position. He is a puck possession, no-nonsense player, and because of that he is likely to have a nice, long, productive NHL career that not many people outside of the team’s fan base will ever talk about.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Good skater, smooth edge work and good form. Will get even faster over time.” 



Dmitri Simashev



Lokomotiv Yaroslavl


Height: 6’4 (193 cm)

Weight: 201 (91 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.40

Points per Game (normalized): 0.29

A/P Score: 0.49 (1,535th)

Key Strength: Excellent skating

Key Question: Can he develop a defensive game?


Simashev (But’s Loko teammate) is a big, free skating defender with terrific speed and maneuverability with the puck. He excels at creating or joining a rush up ice, and as the speed to outrace all but the fastest of forwards. He can stickhandle through traffic at speed, and if the play get turned against him, his skating allows him to flee back to his own zone without losing contact with the counterattack.

Unfortunately, despite his skating and transition ability, once he gets out of the neutral zone, Simashev struggles. He is not particularly adept at getting the puck on net, and his passing is only a little above average. He moves the puck well, but looks far more comfortable carrying on a rush than distributing to teammates. Nor does he show much of a shot (Simashev scored just one goal and eleven assists in 33 MHL games this season).

Defensively, Simashev looks like a player itching to fly up ice and get away from his own net. His skating helps cover up a lot of mistakes in his own end, but playing defense is not a top priority for him. In fact, his usage on penalty kills was limited and sometimes non-existent.

Simashev is a project defenseman who can skate, and his skating is truly what will get him the possible nod from an NHL team in this draft class that lacks many high-end defenders.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Looks like a defender who is far more comfortable leading a rush up ice than he is defending his own zone.”



Beau Akey




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Height: 6’0 (183 cm)

Weight: 175 (80 kg)

Age At Draft: 18.38

Points per Game (normalized): 0.71

A/P Score: -1.24 (183rd)

Key Strength: Two-way play with intelligence

Key Question: Can he become more than a two-way middle pair blueliner?


Beau Akey is a true two-way defenseman who can be equally effective in his own end as he is pushing play up ice and contributing in the offensive zone. He combines strong skating technique and speed with intelligence and some physical play to keep attacking forwards away from the front of net. He has the agility and lateral mobility to force the play to the outside, and then works hard to win puck battles. In possession, he tends more to rush the puck than pass off to the forwards, but he is a talented puckhandler with a variety of moves and fakes that often sees him hitting the offensive with possession at speed. Akey’s shot has improved somewhat over the last couple of years, and his scoring improved admirably last year (from 16 points in 61 games two years ago to 47 points in 66 games last season). Akey may lack a superstar skill set, but he also shows a well-rounded skill set and two-way mentality that should make him—at worst—a quality middle-pair blueliner at the NHL level.


Brian’s Favorite In-Game Note: “Joins the rush, but not at the cost of defense. He doesn’t cheat up ice, but his speed gets him to the zone at the right time anyway.”